Want a Better Workout? Rest, Don’t Cheat


I have one rule in my classes (besides having fun) and it may surprise you. My regulars in class answer in unison when I ask “What’s my one rule?”…“REST!” Yes, I said it…rest. No, I don’t mean after class, that’s a given, I mean during class. This rule carries over into my own workout philosophy because I don’t like to waste time. I want to get the most out of each Pilates teaser, indoor cycle tap-back, and barre tuck I perform.

Each exercise should be the highest quality your body is mechanically capable of, in that moment, so that your brain and body make a motor map and program of that move. Performing each exercise with proper form often causes the body to fatigue more quickly because it is not “cheating” to make the move easier for you. 

An example of this “cheating,” or compensating, is locking out your elbows during a plank. The body knows this strategy requires less work from your core muscles, in particular, those muscles surrounding your shoulder, so it finds an easier way to load the forces onto your locked out elbow joints. But the elbow joint isn’t designed for this strategy and over time can cause wrist and elbow problems—not the intended goals. Connecting with your body to perform quality movement with the best possible form is the ultimate mind-body test and challenge.

Over the holiday break, I visited a new Pilates studio in my hometown. It was a lovely experience and the workout was great. I didn’t know anyone in the class, which is a good thing because when you are an instructor, many people look to you to see how long you can maintain a pose or how your form compares. No, really, I have had clients tell me this: “I watch other instructors to see how long they can hold their plank or teaser to gauge my own progress.” I am the wrong person to look at since I am resting every two minutes to make sure I recruit the right muscles. With that said, my goal in any group fitness class is to practice my best possible form while diving into the full range of motion and mechanics of each move.

But something happened in this particular Pilates class that made me realize my own limitations when I am teaching and motivating clients. I had not been telling them the whole story. I had been telling them the wrong thing for 15 years…or, at least, I had omitted this one crucial point that gives people the change they wanted. What is it? Let me explain it with the rest of my story at the new Pilates studio.

Here’s how it went down: I was next to a lovely person, she was about my age and had an athletic build on top of a great attitude. Toward the end of class, we were setting up for the most advanced move. To prep, I looked at the instructor, watched her form and listened to her cues, which were all great. Once I got into the position my thighs shook like mad, a sure sign of muscle fatigue. So I “rested” for a few seconds then returned to the move. Shaking ensued followed by more resting. Basically, I was dying with this one move and loving every second of it. Once we finished, my lovely neighbor next to me offered some friendly advice: “I noticed you were having trouble with that one. If you do it this way,” she showed me a modified hand position, “it is much easier.”  

I thought about this story for quite some time. And I realized, her goals are likely different than mine. She is gaging her progress in strength and flexibility by her ability to get through class without resting. It was then and there that I had my Oprah “a-ha” moment. I had been preaching my concept over the years but not clearly. Now I say, “Please, please hold your Pilates plank with your best possible alignment until you need to rest. I WANT you to feel the need to rest. Don’t let your body cheat for you. If you cannot hold this position, rest in order to recruit the right muscles. Focus on you and your form, not your neighbor’s, we are all different.” 

So there you have it. Rest. But before you do, give it everything you’ve got, even if it only lasts for a few seconds. Allow your muscles to perform the task at hand, without just going through the motions. Be confident in the reason you are present in that class. Your goals may be different from someone else’s so don’t worry about what they are doing and how long they are holding their plank. You do you, so that you get the most out of your workouts.

Originally published in Alexandria Stylebook: https://alexandriastylebook.com/want-a-better-workout-rest-dont-cheat/