Is the beginning of the classical matwork too flexion-focussed?



In the classical Pilates matwork, there are 11 exercises before we come onto our stomach and work on taking our spine into hyper-extension.


1. Hundred

2. Roll up

3. Rollover

4. One leg circle

5. Rolling like a ball

6. Single leg stretch

7. Double leg stretch

8. Spine stretch forward

9. Open leg rocker

10. Corkscrew

11. Saw

12. Swan


At first glance, that can seem to be really flexion-heavy and ab-dominant. What’s up with that? Here are a couple of reasons why this order might make sense:


1. It helps us organize our bodies and brains.

As humans, we spend a lot of time looking and moving forward. It’s the direction our eyes point and the direction we walk in. When it comes to organizing ourselves and figuring out where we are in space, moving forward is what is going to feel most natural, so it makes sense to use it as foundation before moving backward, twisting, or moving side to side.



2. Finding organized "neutral" spine extension

A flexed spine is when you’re rounded forward, an extended spine is when your back is “straight” or lifted, and a hyper-extended spine is when you take your spine backward (like a backbend). You’re working your back muscles when you’re just sitting up straight or when you’re actively pressing into the floor when you’re lying down. So there IS spine extension in the first 11 exercises! It’s happening when you’re laying your spine down on your mat and it’s also happening when you’re stacking yourself up to a “neutral” spine in spine stretch and saw. It’s actually kind of nice to interact with the floor or your mat as a solid, supportive surface to figure out what a neutral extended spine actually feels like. It's also nice to work on finding those muscles just coming to a neutral extended spine before using them again in a hyper-extension movement like swan, which is exercise number 12.


3. You really don't have to just focus on your abs or scooping your spine.

Related to #2: If you’re ONLY focussing on scooping and using your abs, that’s all you’re going to feel. But you can change the accent! For example you could try these:

- Focus on the lift up in spine stretch

- Focus on the reach and stretch of your legs in single leg and double leg stretch

- Focus on your lats, arms, and hamstrings resisting each other in open leg rocker

- Focus on keeping your chest and arms working in corkscrew


By changing the focus once and awhile, you’ll be able to use each exercise as a building block to the next so that you can continue to progressively get stronger and expand your abilities. While it's totally fine to switch up your mat flow and find variety in your movement process, the classic matwork is set up like an intentional, logical system, so it can be helpful to use the system at least once and awhile to see how the exercises blend together and to check in on your flow.


Why not give it a try and see what connections and progressions you find?