Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Going up Front on the Wunda Chair – advanced variation with arabesque

Welcome to another installment of one of my favorite 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.

This time I kick it Romana-style with a Pilates-Projects-we-only-have-one-exercise spin:

If Going Up Front – Joe Pilates style – is not exciting enough for you, press on to the balance on the top of the Wunda Chair that I learned via Romana.

Although Romana Kryzanowska gives us this cadenza, it emerges out of a Joe Pilates staple: a challenging foundational exercise on the High Chair now turned into a 3-act play on the Wunda Chair.

Get ready, cause this one's a doozy.

Read with caution: this blog post might just kill you me.

For me this exercise is super hard and crazy, a balance exercise to defy my imbalances. I chose it specifically for a big challenge and for my own amusement.

I do hope you'll play along.

The Plan:

For each movement of the Going up Front arabesque sequence I've chosen a meat-and-potatoes Pilates exercise to help me get my powerhouse in order.

I'll focus on what I can do efficiently and with confidence rather than lament why my leg can't go very high, why I may fall off the Chair…etc…

Pilates is positive, right? It's up and forward.

Here. We. Go.

I found it very useful to have a “walk thru” of this one standing on the floor sans Chair. Too much thinky-thinky and I could fall to my death…so please embrace the value of a little rehearsal…

Going Up Front

  • One foot on top of the chair and the ball of the other foot on the pedal.
  • Pull the pedal up and down 2 times. Arms are reaching forward.
  • The 3rd time up you'll arrive on top of the chair to balance on one leg.
  • Bend your standing leg and reach further behind you with the other.
  • Bring your leg to the side, then to the front, bringing arms overhead.
  • Bend the free leg and bring your toe to your knee.
  • Rise up onto the ball of your foot.
  • Lower the heel and reach the leg further behind you, bending your standing leg.
  • Replace your foot onto the pedal and push it down.
  • Repeat on the other leg.

Ready for the first moment? I found a Reformer exercise that's a great set up.

Control Balance on the Reformer

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Once your foot leaves the pedal of the Wunda Chair you are in exactly the same position as you are in for the landing of Control Balance on the Reformer.

Except NOW you are on top of the Chair.

Even more reason to stand up strong in your powerhouse!

Tinkerbell on Crack

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Your first move after arrival is to bend the standing leg and reach further into your arabesque (bear with me on the fancy words). This is very reminiscent of the Kneeling Knee Stretch one-leg variation called Tinkerbell.

True, your foot is not reaching up toward your head as in the ultimate version of Tinkerbell (please!) but it is reaching long and away with the standing leg bent a la Knee Stretches.

Tendon Stretch – One Leg – Back to Side Variation

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

I know, this one's so easy to pull out of your ass…

Straighten and stand strong on your leg as you bring your leg from the back to the side. You'll need the same muscles and powerhouse you use in the challenging Back to Side variation of the Tendon Stretch.

Hey, look on the bright side: you might be perched atop the Wunda, but here's a help from that old beastie the Tendon Stretch.

Seize the day!


Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Yes, why not?

The Tree is an amazingly useful exercise for all things one-sided. Reach your standing leg into your imaginary straps (like on the Reformer) and lift your back and stomach as you bring your leg from side to front.

Oh yeah, and remember the goal of this balance sequence.

Can you reach your leg to be a teensy bit higher as you come from back to side?

A smidge higher as you go from side to front?

Trust me, the Tree will help.

2×4 Exercise – One Leg (Tendon Stretch)

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Strike a pose as you bring the foot of your outstretched leg to the knee of your standing leg (call it passé if you must) and rise up to the ball of the foot (relevé) on your standing leg.

Push down into the Wunda Chair and pretend it is the 2×4 exercise.

No biggie, right?

And get ready for one more fancy part before we get to do the other side!

Tinkerbell on Crack²

It's hard, yo, be happy you get another crack at it. Aargh…see how I did that?

Now you'll reach strongly behind you for another Kneeling Knee stretch-esque Tinkerbell. It will help you to lower your foot (finally!) and find the pedal.

Wait. It's not over until it's over.

Back on your 2 legs now, lift yourself tall to control the pedal down.


I'm gonna trust you'll do both sides.

Prepare yourself

Be safe, kids. Bring a friend for this one for a boost of balance confidence.

Not Junghee Won.

She'll step back and cross her arms: “I'm not gonna catch you.”

Although that is very motivating to not fall off…

“Why bother? It's so hard and I'm not a dancer.”

I have imbalances and this is a hard exercise for me. But let's see – it's been a few years really since I worked consistently on this variation – anything can happen right?

Consistent practice of the Pilates Method = Something wretched gets better.

Not Romana-doing-the-Star (:42) better, but more hey-that-was-okay better.

A Pilates check-in if you will.

Maybe even your Mat exercises will get better!


You don't have to be a dancer.

Just do all of these Pilates helper exercises in sequence and you'll look like a dancer.

Well, you'll feel like one. And that's the most important part.

Invincible, remember?


This is the spirit part of Pilates. Arriba!

Round 1: A bit of a crash and burn…


I think I need a Pilates Project to help me work on this Pilates Project…

And yes, the helper exercises are doing just that.

I sure do need the help + a healthy side dish of repetition-is the-mother-of-all-learning.

Let's add this after each workout and see what happens in a couple weeks…

Round 2: Several… weeks… later…

How about a little more of that dress rehearsal on the ground?

Build confidence. Find your muscles.

Focus your gaze and breathe.


Onto the Wunda.

Round 3: Karen Frischmann in the house!

Working on this exercise after my lesson at Vintage, Karen Frischmann had a few suggestions to further strengthen my center for the balance challenge.

Oooh and they all work so well! #karenisthebomb

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit EditionPediPull

Really anything with the arms here. Circles, Centering…

To get the connection of the arms into the center…which I dearly need to ensure I don't take a tumble. #springssohelpful

The center of the Pilates universe? The upper stomach.

A similar exercise on the Pedipull – but kind of in reverse – is the balance on 1 leg taking the other leg front, side and then back…surely this is an awesome helper exercise.

Plus you've got springs!

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit EditionCadillac

The standing single leg springs: not a surprise I left these out.

I cannot be trusted.

I have just started to be able to do them without falling over. This one is most useful for our purposes here: the leg to the back.

Super challenging.

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit EditionWunda Chair

There's a tiny moment on the way to the passé (where your foot will come to be placed at the knee of the standing leg) that can be helped by Going up Side.

Just the thought of Going Up Side gets me more connected to my seat at this particular moment in the balance.

Right when I'm sort of anticipating the ending and I need a little boost.



Believe it or not, the passé position is reminiscent of the leg position of the Snake/Twist exercise.  So I'm looking forward to trying that one out too.

You've come a long way, Baby, to use Snake/Twist as a helper exercise.

Pilates Projects: The Holy Shit Edition

Well it has been a wild roller coaster of a ride working on this exercise.

I hope you'll enjoy the short video. My client Gail joins me.

She loves this exercise. She's quite amazing. Gail has a great ability to recover her balance even if she has a bit of a bobble. Alas, I cannot always say the same for myself…

It's hard, yo.

Please know that this is captures just one moment on the journey of working on this challenging version of Going Up Front.

Got an idea for a helper exercise?

Share it in a comment below!

3 Essential Pilates Tips to Use in your Next Workout

3 Essential Pilates Tips to Use in your Next Workout


1. The IN: A positive spin on ‘suck'

I strive to be clear and concise with the words I choose. Experienced teachers are brilliant communicators and develop a knack for using words and concepts that speak to us universally.

In my first Pilates class, the action of the stomach, the scoop, as it was explained to me, is a pulling or “scooping” in of the belly while simultaneously lifting up. It is in this way that I would properly sculpt the stomach muscles. However, if I fail to pull inward and let my stomach push out, then a pushed-out-stomach aesthetic is what I would create. Eeek!

It is possible this is just my paranoid memory of wanting to do everything right, but I do often see clients tightening and bracing their abs outward instead of pulling in and up.

“No, in.”


“Suck it IN!”

I say let’s put a positive spin on ‘suck’. It is clearly communicative, but usually reserved for put downs. Sadly, it is often deep in negative land. ‘You suck,’ ‘That sucks,’ ‘Suck it.’ Yeah, not so positive.

But Suck it IN and you feel lifted and light and tall. Which brings me to #2…

Photo courtesy of Fredrik Prag of Pilates Scandinavia

Photo courtesy of Fredrik Prag of Pilates Scandinavia

2. The UP: Lift!

Pilates is positive. Everything is up and forward. Lift is inherent in all the Pilates exercises as you urge your muscles to to defy gravity. You can never go wrong if you get busy lifting.

However, in exercises like the Roll Up on the Mat, the lift can get lost. When rolling down, the ‘unrolling' part, in Rolling Back on the Cadillac and in the Hug (Round) on the Short Box it's easy to be distracted by what appears to be ‘down and backward' movement.

Let's examine what's going on on the inside: the Round shape of the body must have lift in there and it must not go away as you unroll your body. The lift must be in there to stretch and decompress the back as well as work your stomach.

3. The Springs: “How can we help?”

Joe Pilates designed his full complement of apparatus as a help to improve your Mat exercises. Much has been said about Joe Pilates' temperament, but it sure was swell of him to give us those springs. What a nice guy.

Proficient use of the spring(s) can make a huge difference in the exercise. The Springs can give you greater access to your Lift (Remember #2?) as well as good information.

The springs answer these questions and so many more:

  1. Are you in control?
  2. Are you working evenly on both sides?
  3. Are you pooping out before the exercise has finished?

Your primary objective on every apparatus is to control the closing of the spring(s). Yes, every apparatus! This is why we must practice. Keep in mind that the springs are a direct reflection of what's going on in the Suck/Lift of your Stomach.

So for example, let's take a look at lovely Fredrik up there on the Electric Chair in Going Up Front. His Lift is controlling the close of the springs and bringing the pedal up. This is an action shot. Bravo!

Do you have any favorite Pilates tips that you use in your workouts? I hope you'll consider sharing them by commenting below. I would love to hear from you. Thanks so much!