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Understanding the Block System® – Warm-up

In any successful exercise program there is a beginning, middle and an end. A warm-up is required to prepare the body both physically and mentally for the class that is about to commence. Very often the warm-up of a class will set the tone and pace for the remainder of the class. This is also the ideal opportunity to get your client/s to focus and get into the ‘zone’ for their Pilates practice. Remind your clients that the next hour is an investment in their health and well being and to concentrate on what is important – their bodies.

The Warm-up Block in the Block System™ typically consists of a selection of mat work exercises. Traditionally a class will start with a roll down where the instructor and client have the opportunity to feel, see and sense tight areas, look at alignment and focus on correcting posture.

This phase of the class will also help the instructor determine what to focus on for the remainder of the class. Very often the warm-up can be used to construct the rest of the class and choosing the right exercises for that specific client. This requires that the instructor knows the work very well and can make the right choices from the vast selection of exercises available.

Let’s look at the different warm-up sequences and why it is important to incorporate these exercises in the warm-up block.

Basic Warm-up

This sequence of exercises is introduced to beginner clients till they are comfortable and understand the concepts.  These exercises will establish key components in the understanding of Pilates besides warming the body up.

  1. Pelvic Curl (Spinal Mobilization): In my opinion the ultimate warm-up exercise for the spine. Moving and mobilizing the spine through flexion/extension and waking up the inner core for functional movement.
  2. Supine Spine Twist (Spinal Rotation): This is the first opportunity for the client to work on and feel spinal rotation. Great opportunity to cue the use of obliques. At the same time this exercise stretches tight pectoral muscles.
  3. Chest Lift (Spinal Flexion & Stabilization): Now is your chance to work on and explain pelvic-lumbar stabilization. This exercise set the stage for so many abdominal exercises that will follow that the instruction and understanding of this exercise is fundamental to the execution of supine abdominal exercises. This is also the first exercise where the client needs to lift their head off the floor. Good cueing and explanation are key to make this exercise a success.
  4. Chest Lift with Rotation (Spinal Flexion & Stabilization): This exercise is a continuation from the chest lift and demands even more pelvic-lumbar stabilization. This is often the most difficult exercise to teach in the warm-up sequence, but it is essential for correct recruitment of the obliques and disassociation of the upper and lower body.
  5. Leg Changes – Single and Double (Pelvic Lumbar Stabilization): This exercise tests pelvic-lumber stabilization. It tells you all you need to know about the client’s ability to stabilize and the understanding thereof. Often the challenge is not in movement, but in the stillness.

Progression from the Basic Warm-up to the Intermediate Warm-up:

The Intermediate warm-up is slowly introduced to the client almost one exercise at a time. Because every client is different it will depend how and when you will introduce the next level of warm-up exercises. Often modifications and assists are essential in this process. This is up to the instructor to make an informative choice.

Intermediate Warm-up

The Intermediate sequence of warm-up exercises is a continuation from the Basic warm-up with added range and intensity.

  1. Roll-up: Because the roll-up is early in the session focus is on the ‘stretch’ aspect of the spine and naturally the activation of the abdominals. Wheeling your spine on and off the floor is a wonderful warm-up for the spine, get focused and enhance the recruitment of the inner core.
  2. Supine Spine Twist: As above
  3. Double Leg Stretch: There are several variations of the double leg stretch in the warm-up sequence. The studio double leg stretch places less demand on the neck and is often first introduced before the mat double leg stretch.
  4. Single Leg Stretch: This exercise is a combination of chest lift and leg changes. Challenging pelvic lumbar stabilization on a deeper level with the added use of long levers.
  5. Criss Cross: This exercise is a combination of chest lift with rotation and leg changes. Only once chest lift with rotation is established, is this exercise introduced.

Note that all the warm-up exercises can be modified to suit the needs for the individual. There will be times that some of these exercises will not be appropriate for certain populations and then you as the instructor either have to modify it or use an assist, e.g. Supine Spine Twist – Modify it by keeping the feet on the floor or use a ball as an assist to rest the lower legs.

Time spent on the warm-up should not exceed 10 minutes. Keep the warm-up section of the class focused, controlled and effective. The warm-up block is essential in any class construction and the Block System©, use it as the foundation for a well balanced class to follow.


Theo van der Riet – Botha
BASI Pilates™ Principal Instructor

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