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Ask Jo

In response to all the questions I am asked, I thought it would be a good idea to create a page where you could browse and find answers to the most commonly ask questions. Please email me with any questions you may have at



Like you I have read, and very much enjoyed, James Nestor’s book, Breath. I have also read Patrick McKeown’s The Oxygen Advantage. Both books demonstrate that we should be breathing in and out through the nose. Traditionally in Pilates we breath in through the nose and out through the mouth – should we be changing this ? What are your thoughts?

We do not really know how Joe taught breathing! We only have the words of the Elders or students. Jay Grimes taught me that Joe only wanted “quiet” breathing- like you were walking down the street and Romana always told loud breathers off! I know that in and out of the nose is taught just as much as through the mouth, so I do not believe Joe really taught a specific way- it was more about the quality of your breath.

Does that make sense? So it’s up to you!


I have a question and wanted to pick your brains… how to stop people hinging when doing swan prep/extension in prone… extend from crown of head, anchor pubic bone, think about sequential lift of spine from the head… but any words of wisdom on how I can enable people to not just hinge from their mid back?

So without seeing the person perform the move this could be a few different things….

1. I would move away from the cueing the spine completely. Instead talk about opening the whole front of the body, from the front of the feet to the eyes!. So not just lifting the chest but the bottom rib as when they hinge this is what they tend to leave this behind.

2. Often if an area is restricted, people will over-use above and below so in this case, if the thoracic is a bit locked they will pick the move up from the low back. I would then make sure that they can articulate in the mid back, maybe reduce the range of motion initially.

3. Almost on par with point 2, if they they lack hip extension they will tend to look for height out of the low back instead of opening the front of the hips.


Many people have weak gluts and are encouraged to ‘squeeze’ their gluts on exercises such as shoulder bridge and recently my physio said I should squeeze my gluts to strengthen them whilst performing shoulder bridge. My gut feeling, in line with what I’ve learned is that this is not necessary and will restrict movement and indeed not strengthen the gluts anyway. Clarification please Jo!

A great question! Although I would never disagree with what a physio or other physical therapist says, I would say that when we “squeeze” a muscle, it is over-recruited and not working as it functionally would. Simply get the bone alignment correct and perform the move and generally the muscle activation will happen naturally and to the optimum load required to perform the movement.


What do you do when you have big women in your class?

I currently have a lady who has a large build and enjoyed the barre work but when we come down to the floor doesn’t feel she is achieving in exercises like the 100. Now personally I fully understand how she feels as I was a size 24 when I tried yoga and totally hated it due to not being able to do the moves properly. I have done side lying and seated moves which is she ok with but I am feeling less creative when we are supine or prone. Do you have any suggestions at how I can make her feel more part of the class? I used the mat under the body for the 100 to help her curl and it was a disaster (use strictly voice LOL)

Firstly I Love the Strictly voice!! The questions I would ask myself are

Regardless of size and shape many clients struggle with exercises like the 100 due to inflexibility in the spine and strength, so firstly could be due to these but you have tried a supported spinal flexion and this did not help so…..

Is it that she struggles to flex in 100, one leg stretch etc, due to her size restricting the amount she can curl forwards and therefore she strains the neck and restricts breathing?

If so let her keep the head down, with support under head and squeeze a circle or mini ball to create a strong centre connection so that she still feels the benefit of the movement.

Is it difficult to bring the knees up above the hips?

If this is the case (and again this can happen to clients of any size or shape) it is due to the load of lifting both legs up being too much for the strength of the centre. She may need to stay with one leg lifted only or try with 2 but keep resting once she feels she loses alignment and the low back feels compromised due to the spine being pulled out of alignment by the weight of the legs. Another option is that you can support the weight of the legs by resting them on a chair or ball or feet against a wall. Over time gradually lighten the the legs until she can hold the position without the support.


Why and when would you use Pilates stance versus feet in parallel?

Pilates stance is a term we often hear in the industry and read in many Pilates books. It is often confused with a dancer’s first position. Pilates stance is where the heels are together and the toes are apart in a slight turned out position. If performed correctly it helps to engage and stabilise the lower body by activating the buttocks, hips and front and back of the thighs. Personally I use this as the “ultimate” final layer of an exercise, all the other jigsaw pieces need to be in place before I add this in. For example, the 100, I look for full and wide breathing, correct spinal curve, strong centre connection, strong arm movements, all before I add in the pilates stance. The other issue is that the stance should be constantly maintained throughout the move, many clients tend to just “hang out” in a slight turned out position rather than keeping a strong focus.

Parallel stance is a much more functional position I believe. The feet can either be sit bones apart or with in the inseam of the feet touching. Feet and knees are pointing forwards. This position really emphasises elongation and grounding. It encourages a strong midline connection which many clients lack. This would be my go to stance unless there was a specific reason why I would want to work in Pilates stance.


What is the difference between feet pointed and feet flexed in the Roll Up?

Flexed foot gives an excellent connection to the back line of the body and so increases stability, giving you a stronger base to articulate from. In flexion moves such as the roll up, it lets the whole body system know you are going to flex and therefore you flex better. Pointed feet enhances the front of the body and as the quads and hip flexors are already too dominant may create an incorrect movement pattern.

I have a couple of clients who are feeling it in their necks when they bring both legs to tabletop position (they are fine lifting single legs). Apart from propping up their heads, what other modifications could I make to alleviate this please?

So this could be due to the added load of lifting the legs pulling on the spine and causing them to tense through the neck and shoulders to anchor. There are a few strategies we could use:

  • Make sure the knees are in and not directly above the hip, bring them a little closer. This allows the lumbar spine to slightly flex and the abdominals to support the move more. It will also balance the “grippy hip flexors”
  • Make sure they exhale as they lift the legs and do it gradually to stop the upper body “snatching” to hold the load.
  • Lift one leg and then only lift the heel of the second leg as a prep to lifting the whole leg
  • Cue lifting the leg from the inner thigh rather than the front of the leg
  • Start the move with the knees pulled into the chest and then let them move out into the 100 position, rather than lifting from the floor.


How do I plan for a 121 compared to a group class?

121s have a very different dynamic to a group class. For my initial meeting of a 121 client, I tend to plan a session which uses all the spinal movements, hip movement and strength and pelvic stability. From my observations I would then plan a flexible, progressive programme. I would discuss the client’s goals to make sure that the sessions deliver what they want as well as what they need. A 121 can easily turn into a “chat” with some clients so I tend to really briefly outline the session at the beginning and say things like “Oh! We need to keep going to make sure we get to this great exercise at the end!” Flow can be on of the hardest things to bring to a 121 so I always pay close attention to my transitions, releases and stretches.

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