The Four S's of Pilates

Cheryl Turnquist By Cheryl Turnquist

One of the interesting concepts of the Classical Pilates work that we practice and teach is something that we refer to as the 4 S's. I have found that, as instructors, we don't actually discuss these S's with our clients, but we are always thinking of them when we are working with you. These S's are: Strength, Stamina, Stretch, and Stability. We learn that the system of Pilates and all of the exercises inadvertently work all of these skills. And then, in a private session, we often think of an A,B,C,D format where we do: mat, reformer, Part C (where the S's come in) and an Ending.

The concept Strength could have different meanings depending on the body, whether it is core, upper or lower body. Or maybe even one side vs. another. Some exercises we us for strength include: the Series of 5 on the mat, Arm Springs, Leg Springs, Going Up Front and Pumping on the Chair, and Baby Chair Arm work.

Stamina refers to the ability to carry out that strength work in a longer term. Maybe with the Series of 5 you initially learn them by putting your head down in between each exercise, but as you progress, you keep your head up in between each exercise and go right from one to the next. Leg Springs and Standing Arm Springs on the Cadillac, Table on the Wunda Chair, and using the Jump Board on the Reformer are also examples of work on Stamina.

Stability refers to Pelvic Stability and the ability to maintain a stable pelvis while moving the arms, legs, or both. As we move our limbs further away from this centered, stable source, it becomes harder to maintain. Pumping on the High Chair is a great example of an exercise that works pelvic stability with movement of legs. And the Hundred is a great mat exercise where we need a stable center (including the head) while the legs are long and the arms are moving.

And lastly, Stretch. These days it feels like a lost component to our exercise routines. It used to be that the last 10 minutes of fitness sessions incorporated stretching. Now we leave it off because 'we don't have time'. So many Pilates exercises focus on stretch and all of them have in some way a 'Two way stretch' which means we work in opposition from our stable source to gain the most we can from each movement. Ballet Stretches on the Ladder Barrel, the Push Through Bar on the Cadillac and all of the mat helps us find those stretches that make us feel amazing.

Here are some examples of how we think of each concept when we are teaching you. If you are someone who runs a lot, maybe consistent 5K's throughout the year or maybe a marathoner, you would most likely have tight hamstrings, and lower body strength. But, you may not get to focus on upper body strength during your training and, while you may stretch, it may not be with the total body focus that Pilates can give you. We would focus on exercises that can help with these personal needs. Maybe we would choose Ballet Stretches on the Ladder Barrel to stretch those hamstrings and hips. And then we might do some Arm Springs either lying down or standing on the Cadillac to work some upper body strength.

Perhaps, you are someone who has a knee or hip replacement (or maybe both). You may be struggling with balance or stamina, especially in the recovery process. We could use Leg Springs on the Cadillac to help develop balance/ symmetry in the strength of the legs, and the repetitions of leg springs helps to build stamina in the work of your lower body. The Leg Springs series also work pelvic stability, which will lead to the balance of the legs working evenly.

Next time you take a session, ask your instructor what they see as an S that you are working on and why? Think about which of the 4 S's you feel you need the most and which you might need the least. Remember, we all need all 4, and sometimes 2 are our main focus (not just 1). Enjoy the process and you will feel amazing when you are done!!

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