The Shape of All Things Pilates

shape of all things pilates

The exercises of the Pilates Method are all interconnected. We have one exercise, or main theme, and countless variations to challenge the body.

Variation: a formal technique where material is repeated in an altered form.    Wikipedia
At Vintage Pilates, owners Karen Frischmann and Sandy Shimoda have organized the Pilates exercises into Body Shapes, the shape of the body in each exercise.

The shape is made by the trunk of the body, the center. That’s where everything should be going on, right?

Utilizing these shapes as a guide can help to ignite the center and enable you to work more efficiently.

All of Joe’s exercises fall into one of 5 body shapes:

  1. Tall Back: includes such exercises as Going Up Front on the Electric Chair, The Star on the Reformer and Leg Springs on the Cadillac (the Tall Back lying down)
  2. Round: includes The Roll Up, Roll Over and all the Rolling exercises
  3. Arched Back: Swan, High Bridge, Rocking on the Mat
  4. Side Bend: Side Bend on the Short Box, Side Bend on the Mat, Side Sit Ups on the Ladder Barrel
  5. Twist: Spine Twist on the Mat, Twist on the Short Box, The Standing Twist

When you find the shape of the exercise, for example the Round shape of the Roll Up, it is this same Round shape you will find in every other Round exercise, Roll Like a Ball, Teaser, The Roll Over, etc…

There are of course exercises that are a combination of 2 or 3 of the shapes, for example, The Saw on the Mat (Tall + Twist + Round) and the Snake on the Reformer (Round + Arched)

Welcome to the first of a series of posts on The Shape of All Things Pilates.

1. The Tall Back

The word ‘Tall’ was carefully chosen as ‘tall’ implies the journey necessary to get there. One must strive to be ever taller. The words ‘flat’ or ‘straight’ may be misleading or even controversial to some, but we can all agree on working our muscles to be a long Tall Back shape just like Joe in the first illustration at the right – the first shape of Spine Stretch Forward.

I find this shape to be deceptively challenging. Just sit up, right?

What about the Tall Back when lying down for Leg Springs or Arm Springs on the Cadillac? Here you can feel the mat beneath you and determine if you are indeed Tall…

Joseph Pilates explains in his 1934 Reader’s Digest article:

Essentially using the mat underneath you as a guide, you can use your muscles to make the tallest back – or longest in this horizontal case – that you possibly can.
Here’s some tips for finding the Tall Back as you workout at home:

1.Up Against the Wall

Sit with your back against the wall. Use the wall as a guide when you roll up in the Spine Stretch Forward exercise on the Mat. What parts of the back are not along the wall? The back of the ribcage? The lower back? Does your tailbone point down to the mat or out behind you? Just notice.

See if you can roll up to find a taller shape with each repetition.

2. Tall Back, Meet the Long Back

Explore the Tall Back lying down. One of my favorite exercises to find this shape is in the One Leg Circle on the Mat. The primary objective in the exercise is to anchor the back into a tall lengthened position that remains solid as one leg circles. It is especially effective if your mat is equipped with strap and handles that will assist you by providing resistance.

3. Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Tallest of them all?

Even without the wall behind you or in a non-lying down exercise, why not check out your shape in the mirror? You know you want to 🙂 Our perception of what is a tall long line can often be different than what actually goes on in our body. The mirror tells no lie. And teachers, you can be just as ruthless with yourself as you are with your students. What fun!

Leave a comment below and share your favorite Tall Back exercise with us.

Next time we will discuss the Round shape – this one includes some fun with the rolling exercises and some angst as well with the Neck Pull 🙂

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Andrea Maida

Andrea Maida

A native of Pittsburgh, Andrea began her study of the Pilates method in 2000. She holds two comprehensive certifications from Romana’s Pilates in New York and Excel Movement Studios in Washington, DC.  Andrea continues to study with numerous world-class instructors including Romana Kryzanowska, Jay Grimes, Sari Mejia-Santo, Junghee Kallander, Cynthia Lochard, and Kathryn Ross-Nash whenever possible. Andrea was privileged to be in the inaugural class of The Work at Vintage Pilates under the direction of Jay Grimes, 1st Generation Master Teacher and student of Joseph Pilates.

From the Community

  1. Avatar

    Barbara Treves

    Member since 2013

    This is great Karen & Sandy – breaking down the Pilates series into the 5 basic shapes is very helpful. Thanks for your dedication to keeping the work as originally conceived alive and well!

    • Andrea Maida

      Andrea Maida

      Member since 2012

      I agree Barbara – thanks for sharing your comment 🙂

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