Fitness Goals And Pilates Update

At this point, 6 weeks into my daily Pilates course, Pilates is just about the only exercise I’m doing, not counting cardio and, of course, ballet.  But ballet is more for fun than for exercise so it doesn’t count…

I’m still loving my Pilates class. It’s gotten progressively harder, and there’s been so times when my muscles have been aching like never before. Some of those abs sequences, having the muscles tensed for minutes at a time – my core feels worked out like never before.  And then, just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, here come the exercises for the sides (obliques). There’s been so many times when I’m thinking ‘Lady, you’re killing us!’. In a good way, of course. In general my abdomen area feels so much stronger than before, even when I was doing the ab wheel exercises at home.

Thanks to my habit of laying sprawled on the couch  on my right side, causing the muscles to be stretched unevenly, my left side is stronger. I have noticed this during any  of the oblique-targeting exercises, as one side is much easier to do. Since noticing and making sense of it, I have started alternating the side I’m sprawled on. As a whole, I tend to pay much closer attention to my body’s alignment and all the asymmetries that need fixing, as well as to what my habits are doing to my posture.

It’s so interesting how the body works and how if the different parts are not used efficiently it  will wear down, how our habits and posture shape our bodies.  I’ve pondered long about how my body got it’s (pre-ballet, and definitely pre-pilates) lack of shape, and have come to the conclusion that it was likely due to me doing any movement the easiest way possible (such as standing with my knees hyperextended rather than engaging my muscles or slouching when I should be standing straight, dragging my feet while walking). I was always uncoordinated growing up, and nobody ever taught me how to use my body otherwise. Does a child need to be taught  how to use their body? Many may not, may have their ease of mobility be naturally-occurring, but others, like me, do.  From the time I was a baby who learned to walk at a late age, to being the only kid in the preschool yard who couldn’t climb on the merry-go-round, to falling over while trying to sprint at age 8, physical activities have not been my strong point.

Before I would have thought that there was no fixing it, that I’m just naturally clumsy, but I don’t any more.  I simply just had no idea of my body’s range of motion, of what my body could actually do. Sometimes I feel like this is what Physical Education class is really supposed to be about, except just mindlessly walking laps in the hot sun and being a prime opportunity for school yard and locker room bullying.

Anyway, at least I’m learning now. You have no idea how grateful I feel…

And the whole “shoulders back” thing, that alone has helped my body so much.  My upper back and shoulder  soreness is gone, my all-over-back tightness greatly reduced. I would say it’s gone, but the other night I slept in the wrong position and felt super stiff. My arms are so much stronger and I can now push up into the backbridge position like it’s nothing. While up in the backbridge position I’ve been working on tapping my feet, lifting them up slightly, trying to get comfortable with the feeling of just being up there. My upper body strength has increased enough to make a walkover possible in the near future, if only I get over my fears.

As for cardio, I’ve hit a plateau. On days that I use the treadmill, I’ve slowly increased my speed until most recently been averaging  a little over 9 minutes a mile.  But I haven’t increased the total amount of time ran (around 20-25 minutes). It’s not that I’m completely exhausted so much as I get bored or start thinking about other things I need to take care of. I’ve been good about getting myself motivated to go out there and run; I don’t want to ruin it by putting increasingly higher expectations upon myself. Better to keep it fun!

I’ve still been doing the jumping jacks and squat jumps as well.  These have helped me so much with jumping in ballet class.  I can really tell the difference, and when before jumping felt like it took huge amounts of effort it now feels almost effortless.

I’m really glad I made the decision to begin working out (5 months ago) and especially take that Pilates class.  I’ve read somewhere out there on the internet that it’s not necessary to cross train with ballet.  I don’t know why people say this, or if that advice only applies to children and not to an adult’s body.  For over a year and a half I refused to work out to supplement my ballet, telling myself that I would get stronger just through ballet.  And this did work – to an extent.  My barre work improved, and the small muscles that help you hold your balance or fondu or point your foot did develop, enabling me to get better. But as for my jumps – I was getting nowhere! I did countless foot exercises with my theraband, thinking that weak feet were the problem (to why I couldn’t point my feet midair).  My feet got stronger, but still, my jumping sucked. It wasn’t until after doing cardio consistenly I started to notice results. Perhaps this is because I was extremely out of shape and didn’t know it.  Perhaps this doesn’t apply to anybody (or any body) else. But all I’m saying is, if your seem to hit a ballet plateau, and you don’t already, it may be beneficial to do some cardio. I wish someone had told me…

8 thoughts on “Fitness Goals And Pilates Update

  1. Sarah

    This is such useful advice, after 4 months of ballet I’m just starting to realise that I need to be doing some training outside of my ballet classes, specifically some core strengthening and some dreaded cardio (booo!) I was thinking along similar lines to you, that ballet class would be enough, but even though my legs are amazingly strong now, my abs are as flabby as ever and pretty useless at helping me balance and holding me up, I’m still as wobbly as ever and I’m ready to pass out after a few simple sautes 😦 I’ve added some sit ups to my morning stretches, and I’ve just bought a brutal ballet conditioning dvd, I’ve only managed 20 minutes of a 50 minute workout so far before collapsing in a shaking mess on the sofa!)

    I’ve been reading through your archives (love your blog so much!) and see that you had trouble with your balance at first too, could you give me any advice about how you improved, was it working on your core? I’m having lots of trouble standing on one leg even when doing something really simple like a tendu to the side or front, it’s so embarrassing. I dread hearing my teacher say ‘lets move to the centre’

    1. kit Post author

      I was really reluctant to begin cardio too, trust me. Especially since I’ve never been a good runner. My advice would be to start slow, like a 2 minute jog, then raise it to 3 minutes next time (even if next time is not until a week later), and just slowly work up to it.
      Besides the stronger legs, I wanted to improve my stamina. Last spring, when during my final examination I was unable to hold my last pose – due to panting out of breath – it was a wake-up call.
      It took me over a year to be able to tendu in center without tipping over 😦 (that is probably not what you were hoping to hear, but it may put your learning curve in perspective.) The core strength does play a lot in to it, because as the working foot starts sliding out the first thought is ‘I’m falling!’ and then the body wants to “catch itself”. I needed to ignore that feeling and just pull up, tighten the core, tighten the supposrting leg. Besides just the superficial ab muscles I the deeper core muscles are involved as well. And the back muscles, which as I’ve learned in Pilate are considered part of the core. The feeling/image/whatever works for you of running a plumb line through your body, from the head through the supporting leg and being aligned over the supporting leg (instead of over both legs) really helped me with one-legged stuff too, like degages in center and passe releve.
      During barre, I would also try holding the barre with a super-light grip, barely resting my fingers on it, to see how I would fare without it, where my weaknesses were. Like, for example, I could tendu devant (front) without falling first, then a la seconde and derriere (back) was the hardest to balance in.
      Hope this helped!

      1. Sarah

        Thanks so much for such a detailed reply, that’s really helpful, particularly the stuff about shifting balance over the supporting leg, I think maybe that’s where I’m going wrong, just not doing that well enough, and thinking ‘oh no, I’m going to topple over in front of all these people’. Ballet really is a very steep learning curve, it’s seems almost vertical to me sometimes, but I can see some progress in my abilities, I can at least vaguely coordinate my movements and remember simple combinations now. I have a barre class once a week as well as a ‘normal’ class (no centre work at all, hurray!) and my teacher makes us let go of the barre and try to find our balance in releves, so I’m hoping this will eventually help me with my centre work. I really don’t want to work on my cardio, I always find it so boring, but I’m guessing I’ll need to get off my bum and make an effort if I want my stamina in ballet to improve 😦 Thanks again for all the great advice and taking the time to write such a helpful reply 🙂

      2. kit Post author

        You’re welcome 🙂
        I agree about the learning curve being very steep, especially when one is first starting out. After a while it starts to become a bit less vertical, but it took lots of time and practice.
        My first teacher ever would have us let go of the barre in releve, and I hated it, as there was just no way that I could balance back then, not even for a full second. After that I made balancing on releve a priority, but since my muscles weren’t ready yet I started to get a little bit of a sickle-ing habit. So I guess I’m saying I have mixed feelings about teachers making the students let go of the barre before they’re at least somewhat ready.
        I agree about how cardio can seem boring (I used to tease my friend who runs and call her a hamster on a wheel, lol), but the good thing is even in small amounts it seems to help – stuff like finding one song you like each time and jogging for the duration of it.
        And, just wanted to say, I am so pleased that you find the advice helpful 🙂

  2. Sarah

    Lol, had to laugh at you calling your friend a hamster on a wheel! But then you never see joggers smiling from the sheer joy of running, not the way people do in a ballet class, it always looks like it’s a bit of a chore instead of something that’s being enjoyed!

    I don’t mind letting go of the barre in releve during my barre class, I can balance for a few seconds and knowing the barre is right there sort of acts as a bit of a safety net. When it comes to centre though, I think I’m psychologically sabotaging myself to some extent by saying to myself ‘oh no, it’s time for centre work and I can’t balance’ and then panicking for the whole time. I’ve been trying to relax more during centre and not freak out, but it’s easier said than done! Hopefully, the more I do it, the more comfortable I’ll get being away from the barre.

    I really like your blog because (and don’t take this the wrong way), you struggled a bit at first and had to work hard to get to were you are now, and it kind of makes me feel like it’s normal not to be fantastic at ballet straight away, and that it’s possible to greatly improve with time and effort. I really hope that I haven’t offended you by saying that, I mean it as a compliment 🙂 Just out of interest, do you think you’d like to give pointe a try in the future? I’d sort of set myself a goal of getting good enough to try pointe after two or three years, but now I think that I was being a bit ambitious, plus, I love ballet in soft shoes so much that I’m not that fussed about trying pointe anymore.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling on in your comments, and just to say again, thank you for your fantastic advice 🙂

    1. kit Post author

      You made a real good point there – even joggers/runners who claim to enjoy the sport don’t smile while running! You know what’s weird though? I’ve caught myself smiling while walking and hiking. But running doesn’t lend itself to smiling (or much of anything but panting, lol)
      Don’t worry, I’m totally taking it as a compliment. Part of the reason I wanted to blog was that I was having such a hard time and wanted to share my experience. Sometimes it seems only the good times are shared on the internet, or something like that. Besides, I’m really amazed that even someone as unathletic as me can improve at ballet with enough persistence. I get a kick out of it in an “everything is possible” kind of way.
      As for pointe, I have to be realistic (which kind of contradicts my last “everything is possible” remark, lol) about my body and how my weight is proportioned throughout my frame. Yeah, I’ve seen pregnant dancers en pointe, so I know all kinds of things are possible, but they found their balance before their body mass was redistributed. For me, it’ll be a while before I can reliably balance for a long time on one leg on releve, so I don’t have any hopes for pointe in the near future. During my last semester though, several girls that were more or less on my level (except way better at releve balancing) went en pointe and I’ll be honest, I felt more than a little envious and left behind. That inner 10-year-old, I guess. But for the most part, I am totally ok with the idea of never going en pointe, or at least never getting off the barre (as in, I’d be ok with just doing like releve sous-sus or echappes at barre). I do love ballet on soft shoes though, it can look so pretty, especially with a high releve.
      And don’t be sorry – rambly comments are half the fun of blogging 🙂


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