So you've been doing Pilates for a while and your instructor seems to be upping the ante- all of a sudden you're upside down on a reformer, holding on for dear life wondering "what is she thinking?" Well, chances are she's thinking "this is going to be fun!" Just kidding....kind of. In all seriousness, one of the things that many clients will ask after they've been doing it for a while is "what level am I?" So read on and I'll tell you all about the different levels and why we have them in Pilates....
The base level of Pilates is known as Essential. This can refer to someone who's just starting out to even someone who's been doing it a while. Clients who may have certain injuries could stay at the Essential level for quite a while as we rehab the various injuries. In the Essential level we tend to utilize the breath pattern in a way that gets the breath to help you connect the muscles. So you'll find that for the most part the challenging part/exertion stage of an exercise is done on an exhale.
When you're just starting out with Pilates an instructor will focus on a more basic layer of teaching: choreography (teaching you what to move), breath pattern (matching your breath with movement), basic muscle firing (what are the primary muscles that should be working to create the movements) and correcting (are we keeping you safe during the exercises). Essential exercises tend to not be highly choreographic, they are more simple in movement to allow clients to focus on the above components and do them safely and properly. They also don't require your body to move too far out of a range of motion you might achieve in everyday life. On the reformer you spend more time sitting and lying down to keep your body safe on a moving surface until you learn more stability.
However, as you progress further through the Essential repetoire you will start to move your body in bigger ranges of motion and add more choreography. This is because your body is getting stronger and more flexible, leading you towards the next level- Intermediate.
Intermediate clients have achieved a level of understanding of Pilates, their own body's strengths and weaknesses and how to engage their muscles. You will move your body in bigger ranges of motion, exercises have more choreography to them, you may be doing more exertion on an inhale not just an exhale and your instructor will be adding a more detailed layer to their teaching. It's because we know you can handle starting to think about the primary and secondary muscles working. You'll notice on the reformer that now you kneel instead of sit to do arm work. It's harder and requires more balance and stability. This is a big sign you have moved up a level. One of the cool things about Pilates is that when you improve we don't just take the same exercises and add more weight or more reps. We teach you completely new exercises. This also ensures you should never get bored of Pilates. Many clients stay at the Intermediate level for quite a while. There's a lot to learn at this stage and like peeling the layers on an onion it takes to time to learn the layers of your body.
So what comes next? The Advanced level is the last level in Pilates. At this level you are taking your body into all sorts of different shapes. Remember when I mentioned being upside down? There's more weight bearing exercises at this level, better balance is required and you are using the breath patterns to challenge your body as well as help facilitate movement. You'll also find you are breathing in and out for longer, doing more movements in a single breath. At this point of your practice your lung capacity has probably increased as well.
Another great thing about Pilates is you can still be learning exercises at one level while trying ones out at another level. That's because the body most likely isn't evenly strong and stable. For example, if you have a shoulder injury you might be doing core and lower body exercises at the Intermediate level but still doing upper body exercises at the Essential level. Pilates will grow and evolve with you as your knowledge of your own body grows and evolves. Check out our social media pages to check out an example of progressing an exercise from Essential to Advanced.