By Carrie Pagès • Edited by Amanda Altman
When I first opened my studio in Wilmington, NC, in 2002, I had one Reformer and one Chair—and zero clients! I had just moved to a new town and opened my studio “cold,” the latter of which I definitely would not recommend. With so few apparatus, I was limited to teaching only private lessons, so the early years of building my studio were slow going. I got one new client at a time, and subsequently one new piece of equipment at a time. I knew adding more apparatus meant I would be able to offer more budget-friendly opportunities for my clients, and within five years, I had enough to hold eight-person Tower classes. My clients were coming in more and getting better results, which made for a busy studio!
I quickly learned that teaching groups on the equipment comes with its own set of challenges. Even with a small group, you’ll encounter mixed fitness levels, different workout goals and at least a few people with limitations. That’s why planning ahead for group classes is essential. For me, the most important part of my planning is minimizing equipment changes; grouping exercises together helps to maintain flow and keep clients focused.
The exercise sequence that follows demonstrates how I would structure a class. The workout is primarily a standing upper-body flow that enhances postural awareness. It’s especially beneficial, and challenging but doable, for clients who prefer nonstanding exercises. All too often, I see clients come into the studio and get in their comfort zones on the apparatus. It’s a nice way to begin a session, to help the client connect to their body, or as an ending, since it promotes postural awareness.
Keep in mind that while I do list specific areas of the body that are targeted during each movement, I truly believe that every Pilates exercise is for the whole body. From the top of your head to the tips of your toes, there should be energy throughout the body—simply standing up should be an exercise. Sharing and teaching this concept to my clients is one of my main intentions in every session. If we can teach this to our clients, they will be able to perform their “many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.” Just like Joseph Pilates envisioned.
Prop: sticky pad (optional)
Spring Setting: arm springs attached at shoulder height
Breath: Inhale on the exertion, and exhale on the release, but see cues throughout.
• Make the spring tension lighter by standing closer to the Tower; stand farther away for heavier resistance.
• As the spring tension intensifies, the tendency is for the lower body to relax. Stay engaged and active throughout.
• Keep your pelvis neutral with your ribs connected at all times.
• Do this series three times a week for optimal results.
Purpose: strengthens the arms and postural muscles; improves balance
Setup: Stand facing the Tower in Pilates stance (heels together, toes fist-width apart) while holding the arm springs in an overhand grip at shoulder height. Lean away from the Tower, straightening your arms.
1. Inhale, pulling the handles toward your chest, opening your elbows to your sides.
2. Exhale, straightening your arms with control. Do 6–8 reps.
Tips: Try to keep the position of your body stable. Press your heels together with the strength of your inner thighs. Think of drawing your kneecaps up to activate your thighs, but don’t “squeeze” your glutes. Keep your ribs connected throughout, and your shoulders stabilized while moving your arms.
Advanced: Lift your heels throughout.
Purpose: strengthens the arms and postural muscles
Setup: Stand in Pilates stance facing the Tower, holding the arm springs by your hips with your palms facing forward.
1. Inhale, pulling your arms behind you; hold for 1 breath.
2. Exhale, returning your arms forward. Do 3–5 reps.
Tips: As you pull back, externally rotate your arms. Be mindful not to lock your elbows and to keep your wrists straight. Also, refer to the tips from High Rows.
Purpose: teaches how to stabilize the shoulders while turning the head (I call this the “Check Your Blind Spot” exercise); improves posture and balance
Setup: Stand facing the Tower in Pilates stance, holding the handles in front of your body with your palms facing back.
1. Inhale, pulling your arms toward your hips; hold.
2. Look to your left, then right, then back to center as you hold your breath.
3. Exhale, returning your arms to the starting position.
4. Repeat the sequence, looking right first.
5. Do 3 sets.
Tips: No matter which way you’re looking, be mindful that your opposite arm and both shoulders remain still. I always have to remind myself that Chest Expansion is not an arm exercise; the focus should be on stabilizing your shoulders while moving your head. Work the springs slightly lighter than you think you should—consider any arm work a bonus!