Ask Rael Q & A: 23rd Issue

by Rael Isacowitz

I’ve taken the same Pilates class for months, and it’s starting to feel routine. How can I increase my challenge?

First, I thank you for not using the word bored, but rather routine. I get frustrated when I hear people say they are bored, as this says to me that they have completely missed the point of inner exploration and, truthfully, the essence of Pilates. Let’s face it, if you practice Pilates diligently, you have probably done a Pelvic Curl in most of your sessions and will continue to do so for years to come. However, a simple exercise like the Pelvic Curl can feel ever-fresh and stimulating every time you do it.

Undoubtedly we can get caught up in a rut and feel that the work is becoming routine. There are several ways to combat this. Adding new repertoire is of course a great solution, but the repertoire must be appropriate to your skill level and take into account any restrictions your may have. Another option is changing already-learned repertoire by modifying the choreography or adding accessories such as a ball, magic circle or weights. Again this must be done with discretion. The modifications should have a clear purpose and not be change just for the sake of change. Keep in mind that it is typically beneficial to progressively increase load on the musculature by increasing or decreasing the resistance. This in itself will make an exercise feel new and challenging.

Finally, introducing new concepts to think about is vital to keeping the work fresh. This may be from your own self-cueing or another teacher’s cues. It may come from an article you have read about the body or from a workshop you have attended. This is the deepest aspect of the work – the never-ending exploration.

That said, repetition is important, and a certain amount of a class should be about reinforcing movement patterns and exercises that are well ingrained in the body. It takes me back to my dance days, when I trained in the Martha Graham technique. The class would invariably start by sitting on the floor and going through a long series of routines that were very familiar and would take up probably 50% of the class. The second part would include new routines or ones that had not been done in a while. It was the same with ballet class, which would start at the barre and would flow in a familiar fashion each time.

Come to think of it, the same goes for my Ashtanga yoga practice. For years I studied and practiced the 1st and 2nd series, going through the exact same routine each time. This was part of ingraining the work deep in the body until it became like second nature. Slowly, I was taught elements from the 3rd and 4th series. This brings to mind a quote of Joseph Pilates from his book Return to Life, “Make a close study of each exercise and do not attempt any other exercise until you first have mastered the current one and know its routine down to the last detail without any reference to the text”.

I too, feel the need to discover something new each session, and as a teacher I want my students to leave with something new each time. But that something new need not necessarily be a new exercise or a new way of doing a familiar exercise. More often than not, it is something new inside myself; a new depth that I reach in the performance of the exercise. It will never feel routine, if you continue discovering more within yourself.

I encourage you, both as a student and as a teacher. to find a good balance between keeping things fresh, challenging and exciting, and reinforcing and practicing material that is familiar to you.


This article first appeared in the March 2013 issue of Pilates Style Magazine. Responses modified with updated event information. For more great stories about Pilates, check out the latest issue of Pilates Style, on newsstands nationwide, in the app store or at

One Response to “Ask Rael Q & A: 23rd Issue”

  1. Missy Soltero says:

    This article, although not brand new ;^), was such a refreshing take on how I’ve been feeling about my Pilates experience. Having practiced Pilates for 12 years now, I have definitely felt the pangs of “what next?” in my personal and teaching career. A sort of plateau. Although I feel the need to keep it interesting by introducing new exercises and concepts to my clients and to myself, the basic roots are always what I’ve held fast to. This article was a solid reminder to never let my own doubts serve a hindrance to the steadfast learnings of a life long practice.

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