Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

For Sally

The Tendon Stretch on the Reformer and its MANY variations is a hot topic for Pilates practitioners and teachers. It's an exercise for which I constantly revise my plan of action.

Elusive some days and a glimmer of hope in the next lesson…it's a roller coaster of a ride.

Oh I can get it done and muscle through it of course.

But I've come to understand that the Tendon Stretch is not an upper body exercise. Hmmm…

Shocker!

Just because you've got that footbar in your hot little hands does not make it an arm exercise.

Repeat the previous sentence 3 more times.

Every Day a Little Tendon Stretch

As a super challenging exercise, the Tendon Stretch is a work-in-progress for me. I am happy to share tips and tricks that have been successful in my workouts – and you may find other exercises that speak to you as well.

If you find an exercise to be helpful to find the lower body, the stomach and seat, by all means go for it. You cannot go wrong.

#pilatesproblemsolving

Remember your mantra:

Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

The Reformer helper exercises are in order, so as you workout you'll get a few moments to contemplate the Tendon Stretch along the way. A little Pilates foreshadowing…

We'll begin with our old friend the Elephant.

1. The Elephant

Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

Oh Elephant, is there anything you can't do? ❤ ❤

The Elephant gives us the basic shape and action of the Tendon Stretch. The position here is more manageable and open and also less precarious than the Tendon Stretch. Less upside down if you will.

Here you are looking for length in the back of the body which you'll need later on as well.

Use the points of contact you have with the Reformer to your best advantage:

  • Reach to the Footbar like you would reach forward in Mat exercises like the Roll Up and the Spine Stretch.
  • Plant your heels firmly into the carriage.

You'll explore these same connections when you get to the Tendon Stretch.

2. The Elephant with One Leg

Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

Not to be confused with the exercises known as Arabesques, the Elephant with one leg maintains the same round shape we need in the Tendon Stretch.

This is very important for our purposes here.

Later on, after you're a champ at the Tendon Stretch, feel free to Arabesque all over the place.

This is perhaps the first time in the Reformer sequence that you will work a one-leg variation. Guess when the next one will be?

Remember your premise for using the apparatus in the first place. You get support and assistance whenever and wherever you are connected to the Reformer. Two legs on the carriage? No problem. Take a leg off and it now has to work on its own without much support on one side. This is often challenging.

And if you already know you have a weaker side, it can be VERY challenging.

Relax, if you didn't like a challenge you wouldn't be doing Pilates in the first place and now look you've made it all the way to the Tendon Stretch with one leg. BRA-VO!

3. Stomach Massage Series #1

Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

I find the lifted curve of the 1st Stomach Massage exercise to mimic the same Tendon Stretch position you'll soon encounter in the very next exercise – so it's a great time to cram.

Thanks, order of the exercises!

Here you'll use the lift of your back and the feet reaching into the footbar to be able to then recreate these connections upside down (and on one leg) in the Tendon Stretch.

You can maintain the lift better in your Tendon Stretch with the Stomach Massage position in mind. Otherwise I find it easy to just drop over my legs – and although I think I have lift – it's really just gravity.

PS – It feels like Elephant. ?

4. Tree

Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

Another crazy helpful exercise is the Tree. I like this one for refining all things one-sided. A great Tree goes a long way. If you can do the Tree well, you can do anything!

Look at the photo above of the Tree.

Now compare it to the photo of Tendon Stretch with one leg at the top of this post.

Joe Pilates' favorite pastime: If you can do it right side up, surely you can do it upside down.

The Tree is especially helpful for the Tendon Stretch with the leg to the back. Use your fabulous mind  to mimic the support of the strap on your foot here to gain support for the leg reaching back in the Tendon Stretch.

5. The 2×4 exercises

The Pilates 2×4 exercises can be a wonderful tool to work on connecting the lower extremities into the center. You can work your entire body soundly with these simple, effective and brutal exercises.

Pilates projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon StretchPilates projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

Let's take it vertical.

You can do it plain and you can do it fancy.

Standing in the heels-together-and-toes-apart (V) position we have what is essentially the 4th Footwork exercise also – awkwardly, for my purposes – called the Tendon Stretch.

Lift, control and balance are necessary to ground the feet and ignite the center of the body.

Repetition is the Mother of all Learning

Time.

Time is another component to factor into these challenging exercises. The one-leg variations are an exercise in stamina as well. Steady practice over many years is often necessary.

I have been doing the Tendon Stretch as a regular part of my workout for over a decade.

For many years I am sure, it was quite bad. But you must begin somewhere. Now in my lessons I get really jazzed to get another morsel of clarity – a glimmer of “Oh, it's just like that other exercise!”

Revel in the amount of time you have to traipse along the Pilates Path.

Persevere in your Tendon Stretch on the Reformer and use these 5 exercises to aid you on your noble quest. Know that other exercises may be of a great help as well. Some other helpers that come to my mind include:

  • Pull Up on the Wunda Chair
  • Tendon Stretch on the Wunda Chair
  • Long Back Stretch on the Reformer
  • The Roll Up

…and the beat goes on. La di da di dee…la di da di dah…

Lift my leg, whaaah? 

Yes, a word about transitioning to the one-leg variations:

Here's a video tutorial to work on lifting one leg to the side. Start with the leg to the side variation before adding all the other ones. You should be quite solid and secure in the standard version with 2 legs first.

Share your progress in a comment below 🙂

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

This one's for Anouk. Thanks for reading my mind 🙂

First off, these 2 exercises really need new names.

Referring to Mat exercises #29 and #30 is a bit of a kerfuffle:

  • Leg Pull
  • Leg Pull Front
  • Leg Pull Up
  • Leg Pull Down
  • Leg Pull Back

Seriously, WTF?

Joe Pilates named them thusly:

#29: The Leg-Pull – Front

#30: The Leg-Pull

Lately I have found all of these labels supremely unhelpful in the understanding and execution of the exercises.

Frankly, they kinda suck.

Too much emphasis on the ‘Leg' part makes my body unwilling to find its center.

And I could do without the Yoda syntax.

Oh, but I digress…

Yay! A Pilates Project!

The Leg Pull exercises demand the full-on Pilates Project treatment. I've chosen 3 exercises for each of the Leg Pulls to aid us on our quest. Feel free to add/suggest other exercises that speak to you that I may not include here.

(We only have one exercise!)

The plan:

  • Use your stomach to pull your leg into the center.
  • Reach your leg all the while in opposition to your lifting the waist up and out the top of your head.
  • I. Smell. Two. Way. Stretch.

Don't all my plans start with ‘Use your stomach?'

#29 The Leg-Pull – Front

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

Fave correction to date courtesy of Sandy Shimoda:

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

Oh, I'm all for it.

1. Long Stretch

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

In the Long Stretch we find ourselves in the same position as the Leg Pull – Front (LP-F) and on the Reformer it's clear how to use your stomach to move the carriage.

Pay attention to the trunk of your body as the carriage closes and the arms draw in slightly underneath the body.

Feel yourself getting longer and more lifted like the top of your head could reach all the way to the wall in front of you.

Feel your feet firmly attached and “holding onto” the carriage.

This connection to your lower body is what you'll need for the LP-F on the Mat.

Make no mistake: this is a lower body exercise.

2. Tendon Stretch (Footwork series)

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

This wonderful exercise is a great one to mine all you can out of the low stomach. Give yourself the luxury of working on your Leg Pulls lying down, and use just 2 springs if it's hard to get in touch with your scoop.

In the LP-F, often as the heels reach away the low back can be compromised, the hips can lift, there's no telling what may go on.

In the Tendon Stretch you can work on the control of the back, seat and hips with the feedback of lying down on the carriage.

Grow tall as your heels reach under the footbar with control.

Push into the footbar with the balls of the feet and lift the waistline in and up.

Great control here = greater success for when your hips, back and seat must find the long shape of the LP-F.

3. SideKick Series

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

Lately my favorite exercise to reference, you can find myriad benefits in the Side Kick series. Here we are faced with a similar challenge as the LP-F, how to keep the back long and solid as one leg moves behind us.

Super!

Being on our side offers slightly more feedback about how the back (mis)behaves as we reach our leg behind us.

Keep the trunk of the body long and strong. No wiggling!

Concentrate on the (potentially) wonderful stretch across the front of the hip, thigh and stomach as you control your leg reaching back. A nice reward for keeping the shape of the back solid.

Reach equally into both legs because that's what you'll be faced with in the LP-F.

#30 The Leg-Pull

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

If you have any tendency whatsoever towards hyperextended joints, nothing dumps you faster into your knees than this exercise.

Ha, Ha, Ha! I dare you to lift one leg, my knees sneer at me.

Finding lift in the back and support from your seat will help keep you above the fray and make you master of your destiny (and of your knees).

1. Shoulder Roll Down/Sari on the Cadillac

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

You gotta love this exercise: super similar/more manageable to work on the needed strength to reach one leg up without dropping the hips.

Connect your feet into the push-thru bar at every point leading up to when you will lift your hips off the Cadillac. You can do this by pushing into it as it comes toward you.

Don't let it push you.

Control the push-thru bar and you'll get strength and support from your stomach and bottom to stay lifted in the position.

Concentrate on the reach of both legs evenly – the one that will stay on the bar and the one that will reach up.

I know this (almost) goes without saying, but pull your stomach in fiercely as you reach the leg up. Consider it a reach rather than a kick and you'll be halfway to using your stomach already.

2. Double Straight Leg Stretch/Double Leg Lower-Lift

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

The Double Straight Leg Stretch gives me a great assist in connecting my upper stomach all the way to my toes. In other words, I can really get my lower body connected into my center. Because I simply must. It is this connection that you will need in the Leg Pull. The Double Straight Leg Stretch can make it much more tangible.

Keeping your upper body circled up into the position can be a challenge all by itself. You can find more of your upper stomach and seat here by curling up as though you could “lean” your upper body on your legs as they lower. Almost like the upper body follows the lower body as it moves.

Caution: a will of iron may be necessary!

Really reach the legs long and away from you – keep them light and reaching up, up and away!

You can give yourself an extra help on the inside (your stomach) by increasing your reach away from the center.

3. Table on the Wunda Chair

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

The Table on the Wunda Chair is yet another gem in the ‘Lower Body Exercise' department. I must note that all of the exercises I have included here with the Leg Pulls – as well as the Leg Pulls themselves are lower body exercises. This theme in Pilates truly deserves its own post as I have spent years trying to do these exercises with my upper body – well maybe not all of them…

See what you think.

When you begin to lift into the position for the Table, is your first move to shift backward and push with your arms?

Guilty.

Now let's focus on the lower body. Gather your stomach and seat and reach your knees away from you and forward as you lift up into the position. Shift more forward than you think necessary and you'll have your shoulders right over your wrists.

Worst-case scenario, the pedal goes down. No big deal, thank God it's not Opening Night 🙂

If you have managed to keep the pedal closed, your feet on the pedal will feel like they are way behind and underneath you.

That's a whole boatload of work to do. Let's make pumping the pedal optional.

Make a strong Table position first.

So many exercises, so little time…

Even as I finish up this post my mind swarms with other potentially helpful exercises…

Have a go.

See what you might add to the list as we work steadily toward our goal of Leg Pull Virtuosity.

You're awesome. Thanks for reading!

Share your successes in a comment below.

Pilates Projects: 10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake

Welcome to the first post of my new blog series: Pilates Projects.

In the Pilates method, the mastery of a complex exercise can require strategy. What luck!

We've got a whole system of perfect tools for the job.

February 10, 2013 began the Chinese New Year. The Year of the Snake. Yes, I am late, but I've still got half of 2013 left to strengthen my Snake. I had best get busy.

Holy frijoles if we ever have a Year of the Twist. Yeesh.

Build your Snake well and the fireworks will come.

The Snake (also referred to as Snake/Twist to include the next exercise in the series) is a complex exercise originally done on the Reformer. It requires skill, great control and coordination of the body and mind. And by mind I mean the desire and will to do this exercise. One must want to do the Snake, it's not really gonna show up on its own…

10 exercises + 5 apparatus = 1 Awesome Snake on Reformer.

Often one or more components of an intricate exercise may create a roadblock to the exercise. For this reason I have chosen 10 exercises with which to closely examine, refine and breakdown this exercise into more manageable parts. The better you become at these 10 exercises the better and stronger your Snake will be. When one exercise gets better, everything gets better.

The Warmup

I suggest doing at least a 30 minute warm up if you plan to work just these exercises before applying them to the Snake. Another plan would be to complete a Reformer workout of a similar duration which may or may not include the Snake, then work the 10 exercises, perhaps comparing your first Snake to the one afterward. See how you do.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer1. Reformer: Up Stretch

Up Stretch is an exercise you most likely have been working for some time. It is straightforward in its symmetry and provides the same lower body action as the Snake. The stomach must reach all the way to the feet on the initiation of the Up Stretch and the lift at the end is exactly what you need to bring the in the carriage at the end of the Snake. The legs are on the moving part of the apparatus which feels more helpful to push into than the position of the feet on the stationary footbar in the Snake. This is a lower body exercise – and it can help you to find the lower body initiation in the Snake as well.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer2. Reformer: Up Stretch Combo

This challenging variation is exactly what you will be doing in your Snake with the exception of the one-sided-ness. You are getting the lift of the Arched Back shape in this combo and the scoop of the return. You also get some “help” here as you push into the moving part of the carriage to train the lower body for the Snake. In the Snake you must push into the stationary footbar and not be seduced into using your arms to push out the carriage. Best to work this one well first before even attempting the Snake.

 

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer3. Reformer: Elephant

Oh Elephant, is there anything you can’t do? One of the first Reformer exercises you learn, the Elephant never ceases to be at once helpful and challenging. The Round shape of the Elephant is essential to perfect your control and return the carriage all the way home in the Snake.

 

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer4. Cadillac: Arm Springs

The Snake requires back strength to control the upper body on a moving carriage. The shoulders can otherwise be in a precarious position as the body opens up in space above the carriage. Both Arm Springs (lying down on the Cadillac) and the next exercise can help to connect the arms and shoulders into the back.

 

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer5. Cadillac: Back Connection with the Roll Back Bar

This exercise is essentially the first part of the Chest Expansion exercise. The roll back bar is attached to the standing arm spring hooks at the end of the Cadillac. With straight arms press the bar down and toward you. HOLD. Using just this first maneuver you have a terrific vantage point of the fingers, hands, wrists and elbows as you work the bar to connect the arms into the back. Place your hands just as you would place them on the footbar on the reformer: long wrists, all the fingers squeezing the bar evenly and thumbs on the same side as the fingers. Make sure the heels of the hands have contact with the bar. Let the squeezing of the fingers help you anchor your shoulders into the sides of your back. Reach the bar down toward the floor as much as you can – and remember it’s not how far you stand away from the bar that matters. Stand as close as you need to get the connection. As you push down on the bar use the feeling of the extended spring and your force pushing down to lift your stomach in and up in opposition. Take that help from the spring while you can get it.

Now for the part that’s like the Snake: as you return the bar stay connected to your back – the arms reach out to return the bar just as they reach when you start to move the carriage in the Snake. Here you can practice keeping the shoulders less active and get the reach and lift from your back. True this is not in extension like the snake, but well, enjoy it while you can.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer6. Spine Corrector: Swimming

Now you’re going to take the connection you found in the previous exercise and add the element of back extension. Use your oppositional reach of arm and leg to create a strong diagonal of strength through the front of the body. Reach your right arm away from your reaching left leg and vice versa. Lengthen your whole body along the back and stomach.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer7. Wunda Chair: Pull Up

Similar to the Elephant on the Reformer, the Pull Up will give you the necessary lift to return the carriage when performing the Snake. You can even use your bottom to push into the pedal as it comes up. In fact I highly recommend it.

 

 

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer8. Wunda Chair: Pull Up with 1 Leg

Here you can make your Pull Up skills more closely resemble those you’ll need for the one-sided Snake. Even with one foot hugging close behind the other one and off the pedal, squeeze the legs together and again find the bottom.

 

 10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer9. Wunda Chair: Side Pull Up

Building on the previous 2 Pull Up exercises you can now get more of the feeling of the Snake with your whole foot (Yay, the heel!) now able to push into the pedal. Try not to let the pedal push you up, control the pedal by pushing into it with the stomach, the bottom, the heel. Keep the free leg in the crossed-in-front-of-the-ankle position, again to approximate the position of the legs in the Snake. Each of these 3 Pull Up exercises illuminates the Snake in a slightly different way, so I like to use them all.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer10. Mat: Double Leg Pull

What more can I say? We only have one exercise. Can’t be Snake-worthy without a strong center, the two-way stretch out of it and the breath. Arm yourself with the Double Leg Pull as your mantra and move, move, move!

And now…To the Snake I Say!

 

Now you have practiced your scales and you are prepared and nimble for the Beethoven Sonata that is the Snake on the Reformer. The skills have been built into your body to be at the ready for this tricky maneuver. Now I have to quote Jay Grimes: “Take your time. Enjoy it up there!”

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer

Stay tuned!

Upcoming Pilates Projects include: Control Push Up Reverse, the Star and the Elephant. Plus accompanying videos via Pilatesology.

Leave a comment below to suggest your favorite fancy exercise to be featured in this series. 

Isn't every day a Pilates day?

Build a Better Backbend with the Spine Corrector

Build a Better Backbend with the Spine Corrector

Why Spine Corrector?

If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.

Joe Pilates, Return to Life

In keeping with Joe’s philosophy it makes sense that he would invent an apparatus capable of correcting and encouraging the spine to become more flexible. Jay Grimes often speaks of Pilates as being ‘all about opening' and the Spine Corrector (and Small Barrel) is a perfect example. We can open the entire front of the body including the chest, shoulders, hips and thighs while strengthening the back and the bottom.

Joe has given us the magnificent Spine Corrector. I know many exercises have been taught here: the Mat exercises, the Rowing Series and the Short Box.

But it is called Spine Corrector.

I believe this name defines its raison d’être. So let’s put it to good use.

Here you'll plant the first seeds of back bending which will one day grow into the apple tree of the High Bridge.

Whoa…Daddy.

The no-pillow zone

99.99% of the time gravity is not our friend.

Constant and diligent work is necessary to keep our bodies lifted, upright and vibrant.

What luck! Pilates injects moments of inversion into our workout to help us out.

Lengthening the back over the hump of the Spine Corrector for the Arm Circles can allow the neck and upper back to hang upside down for a brief respite before returning to our upright and often hunched-over lifestyle.

This position may not be the epitome of comfort at first, but

  1. this is your workout
  2. you’re not going to be be there forever
  3. you are not propped up to watch television.

So lose those pillows!

They do not allow the ‘corrector' to work it's magic on your upper back and only support the tension that you are working to fix in the first place.

Build a Better Backbend with the Spine Corrector

Look! Here's the top half of your backbend! You are long, supported and building strength for the backbends on all the other apparatus where it may not feel quite so luxurious.

Here you can see a connection to other back strengthening exercises as well, for example Rowing #3 and #4. Now you are further challenging yourself in this extended position, with the upper body just as connected into all of the back. So work your Rowing well. All roads lead to the High Bridge.

Mat + Spine Corrector = A Match Made on 8th Avenue

Often underused today, the Spine Corrector was the Mat's best friend in Joe’s studio. After a full Mat workout or even just a portion of one the Spine Corrector was often a natural progression to continue your workout. Two great tastes that taste great together!

It also happens to be a great place to introduce the Scissors, Bicycle and Shoulder Bridge exercises before you must face the harsh reality of doing them on the Mat sans Corrector.

It’s a great place to work on so many things, really. “Don’t worry, we fix.”

Build a Better Backbend with the Spine Corrector

Now to work on the lower body part of the backbend with the Scissors, Bicycle, Shoulder Bridge, etc… to open the hips and thighs.

This is the long reach of the lower body connecting it into the back, stomach and bottom.

Keep yourself rooted into the Spine Corrector underneath you and create length and strength in the low back for a safe and strong backbend. You can find this same lower body reach in the Leg Springs with the back long and supported by the Cadillac. As you reach into your straps for the Short Box on the Reformer, you will again get this preparatory work toward the High Bridge.

Build a Better Backbend with the Spine Corrector

And then of course you can get busy with your love/hate of all things one-sided all over again. Reach little left leg, Reach! You can do it! 3 cheers for our voluptuous round friend Spiney C!

Related Posts: One Sure-Fire Way to Backbend in Pilates

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