Efficiency Part 2: Only As Much As Is Necessary
How much energy do you need to use? How much effort does it take to do any action? Are you making a choice of how much muscular energy to exert in each exercise for each muscle or are you just making a general effort? It’s equally as passive to go “full out”, “balls to the wall”, “blow your load” as it is to walk through an exercise simply moving, but with no energetic “determination”. Those who are gripping and squeezing and tightening are equally as inefficient as those who don’t work for a muscular connection at all.
The last Efficiency article posted was Part 1 of 4 in the series : Efficiency…Part 1 of 4: Order of Muscular Engagement. This Part 2 of 4 article is all about making sure that you’re being efficient and teaching Efficiency of Effort. This must be a considerable part of the focus from the beginning as well as in advancement in Pilates. Only use the effort needed to accomplish the exercise appropriately…no more, no less. How do we make choices? And how could it be that more is not necessarily better, right or good? Conservation of energy needs to apply to all aspects of life, not just your choice of light bulbs or wash cycle. When you do an exercise, now you must consider how much engagement of any muscle you use. Not every muscle fiber needs to go into full-on-mode. Not all muscle fibers need to work in any given exercise. Sometimes all. Sometimes some. Sometimes none. When you observe a person or animal and note seeming effortless movement. Was it truly effortless or was it truly the appropriate effort for the task at hand. Whether it be a great jumpshot in basketball, a phenomenal flip in gymnastics, a stunning short spine in Pilates or anything else…what you’re likely seeing or sensing is the efficiency of energy: no more and no less than is needed. When there is grunting and grimacing or movement without beauty…there is an inefficiency.
I’m not saying all beings have to have the unattainable “perfect” form. I’m saying that efficient effort of muscularity is beautiful to observe and to feel.
Let’s take The Hundred on the Mat as our first example. How much energy do you need to exert for each part of the exercise? First consider what the exercise is for. What are you trying to accomplish in The Hundred?
-Warm up and strengthen the cardio-vascular system/heart and lungs.
-Strengthen the abdominals and muscles of the spine.
-Strengthen the hip flexors.
-Strengthen the musculature of the shoulder girdle and those that support the shoulder joint.
-Focus the mind in transition from the outside world to the body-mind workout of Pilates.
Let’s look at the components:
-Abdominals are working to lift the upper torso, stabilize the full torso and stiffen the spine (yes I just said “stiffen the spine” which simply means keep it firmly still…even though this is of course an active action [redundant] of opposition as well as stiffening.)
-Multifidi and back extensors work to stabilize the spine in dividing the superior posterior pelvis
-Hip flexors are working to keep legs lifted and outstretched.
-Quadriceps keep knees extended/legs straight.
-Adductors of the femur keep legs together.
-Trapezius and Rhomboids in conjunction with Serratus Anterior keep the scapulae/shoulder blades on the back side of the body.
-Anterior Deltoids pump the arms up and resist the lowering of them down
-Diaphragm works to take in air and relaxes to expel air. -The conscious brain must work to coordinate the actions and transition from the “chaos” of the outside world to the moving meditation of exercise, namely Pilates.
Wow…the list goes on and on…we can consider muscles of the neck, arm, etc…but I’ll work for this lesson efficiently without going further on the bits he pieces…
Just taking the Abdominals: how much effort does it take to do its job here? Lie on the floor and give it a go.
-Really…how much effort does it take in your abdominals?
-How much do you have to pull in and up?
-And on which muscles are you most focused?
-Are you actually using the muscles that really do the intended jobs?
-Or are you “holding your abdominals as tight as you can” even if it’s more effort than the exercise requires?
-What of your adductors?
-Are you hugging your legs together so they can help stabilize your pelvis and connect your legs together so that your hip flexors can be as efficient as possible in keeping your legs uplifted?
-How tight are your hugging them?
-So tight that compression and grip have overtaken simple stability?
Go through each muscle group’s job and see: am I using too much, not enough or just the right amount of energy?
Another example: The Footwork on the Reformer…
Have you ever had a client who starts the footwork and nearly goes into a full jump? I remember a client of mine in Los Angeles, a master of Capoeira and black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. After having done a basic mat, we went to the reformer. Set up for the first footwork and it was no surprise that he muscled the exercise as one would expect a beginner with such strength to do. 4 heavy springs and you would have thought he was doing jump board on 1 light spring. (Of course, he was a first-timer doing what first-timers do…he needn’t have “gotten it” by any means). I bring him up because he clearly used more effort that was necessary. Against the resistance and pull of 4 springs, we need to slightly use more energy than the springs to press the carriage out with our legs and resist with just the right amount of energy that the carriage does move, but at the same pace as when used when we pressed out. Too much on the out and we jump. Too little and we either don’t move or we don’t achieve straight legs. Too much on the in and the carriage barely moves or moves so slowly that we’re practically not moving. Too little and the springs yank in and the carriage crashes into the frame. (P.S. – When the carriage crashes the answer/cue is not “use your Power House…the answer/cue is “stabilize your torso with your deep abdominals, resist the springs with your legs”.
So…like The Hundred, How much energy do you need to exert for each part of the exercise? First consider what the exercise is for. What are you trying to accomplish in The Footwork?
– Strengthen Legs (Indeed, it’s a leg exercise. Not a “Power House” exercise. A leg exercise.)
– Warm Up or Challenge the Cardiovascular System
– Create or deepen a leg to torso connection/coordination: moving legs with a stable torso
– Hit specific reflexology points with each portion of the footwork (yes, let’s not dismiss the value of this)
Let’s look at the components:
– The Quadriceps work to straighten the legs pushing the carriage out and countering or working with the hamstrings resisting the carriage in.
– The Hamstrings work stabilizing the knees to “Straight” while the quadriceps press out.
– The Adductor Group works to keep the legs in a relatively neutral position maintaining strong and efficient alignment of the legs. They also assist in stabilizing the pelvis so the legs can be most efficient.
– The Abdominals work to help stabilize the torso (pelvis, spine, etc.) so that the legs can be most efficient.
– In fact, all torso muscles (abdominals, back extensors, multifidi, etc. QL, Shoulder Girdle Muscles, etc., etc., etc. work to stabilize the torso, arms and head so that the legs can be most efficient.
Because this is a leg exercise.
So…are you doing and cueing with efficiency in The Footwork on the Reformer?
I think two examples are enough for you to start taking a look into each and every exercise. Any more would be inefficient on my part.
Being efficient means using only what’s necessary to create the desired result. It also means using as much as is necessary. Make sure you’re using and cueing the right amount.
There’s some good homework to play with! Clearly, from the work above, you must consider what each exercise is for, what body parts do what and how much they need to work against what and with what. What tools and what challenges do you have before you. Then use only the amount of effort needed.
You see…all in all, exercise is meant to help you be more able. More Ability. If you under-spend your energy, you’ll get no value from the work. It will likely be a waste of your energy (see article from May 2008 Half Effort is Wasted Effort) and you will be depleted with no discernible movement forward toward a health/fitness goal. If you over-spend your energy, you’ll also get no value from the work. Likely, you will be aching from overuse and build up of lactic acid or muscles will develop without balance or compression develops rather than balance and control (oh, right, this is Contrology, the science and art of control…making physical and mental choices)…or all of these things. When Contrology is really happening and efficiency is practiced (it is a practice…it doesn’t just happen), then you will be more able in the short and long term.
Now, practice and enjoy! Ask questions when they arise! Please drop your questions and thoughts here in the comments so that all can benefit from both your question (as many will have the same one) and the answer as well as your shared experiences from your thoughts!
Boston, MA: January 13
NY, NY: January 15
NY, NY: January 27
Atlanta, GA: February 1-3 (Pilates on Tour) Sessions at local studio
Vicenza, ITALY: February 9-10
L.A./Manhattan Beach, CA: February 23-24
London ENGLAND: April 26-28 (Pilates on Tour); sessions at Pi Studios
Rhinebeck, NY: May 19
Austria: June 8-9
Denver, CO: July 12-14 (Pilates on Tour)
(And many more that are in the midst of confirmation)
Again, please go to www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com for full information on these workshops
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