A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

You know me – I am a big fan of my Pilates workout. I never want to skip any of my exercises – if you skip them they don't get better right?

I love all the fun advanced tricky moves – they jazz me up!

However, my understanding and my Pilates practice have matured.

So let's take a little Pilates Field Trip back to where it all began.

The Basic System!

Great power resides in the fundamental exercises you've been doing for years decades. 

I've documented my progress in my Another One Bites the Dust series here and here.

The Another One Bites the Dust series takes a look at a few exercises I hated at first and I now adore. It includes some basics and a couple doozies. Despite our newfound love affair, Snake/Twist and the BreastStroke are NOT basic exercises.

Why bother with the Basics?

A client/colleague of mine suggests the basic exercises are actually the hardest to do well and that's why we learn them first. These things take time…

Kinda true.

Who really feels they excel at the Hundred?

Does anyone have a perfect Elephant?

The Pilates method is skill-based. Like any sport or movement discipline we learn fundamental skills to serve us throughout our Pilates career. Akin to a martial art, Pilates sets us on a path to mastery.

Oh and CONTROL (that old thing?).

Complete control of our body and mind.

Our modus operandi in all things Pilates. Who's in charge here anyway? You or the exercise?

Here's a little test: examine the exercises you find to be extremely difficult.

What fundamental exercises lie within? And how good are you at them? 

More questions to ask yourself:

In Snake/Twist on the Reformer, do you struggle to return the carriage with control?

More. Elephant.

Are you unable to lift your hips off the mat for Corkscrew, JackKnife and Overhead?

More. Roll Like a Ball.

Are you wobbly when you do the Mountain Climb on the Wunda Chair?

More. Kneeling Knee Stretches. More. 2×4 exercises.

Get Cozy with 3 Basics

In today's post we'll revisit 3 basic exercises on 3 different apparatus.

As we explore each of these basics keep in mind a few questions:

  • How does this exercise serve the body I am now?
  • What have I figured out? What is still a mystery?
  • How does perfecting one basic skill translate across the greater Pilates System?

If you enjoy this post and would like to see other basics featured in future posts, just leave me a comment below. I thank you already…

1. Pelvic Lift on the Reformer

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

We learn Pelvic Lift on the Reformer in our very first lesson.

But what's really going on here?

Pelvic Lift brings our workout full circle. It echoes our Footwork series at the top of our Reformer workout with the added element of holding your hips up off the mat. At a certain point I learned (and perhaps you did too) to place my hands underneath my tailbone as a guide to keep the pelvis level.

Okay my pelvis is level but what am I doing?

First let's examine the order of the universe.

Pelvic Lift is our last exercise done lying down before our Control Push Up series and our Splits. Here we strive to have one more moment of length in the low back and low body before getting up onto the Reformer never to lie down again until we finish.

More complex versions of the Pelvic Lift – and where we'll need this skill – include Short Spine Massage, Long Spine Massage and Shoulder Bridge on the Mat. I could name a few more, but you see how this goes, we only have one exercise…blah-ty-blah-ty-blah-ty…

#lengthintheback

Think about the length we cultivate in the Short Spine Massage:

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

The tailbone reaches long and away from our ribs as we make our way slowly – deliciously – to the carriage.

The Pelvic Lift is a tiny version of this same stretch.

Pelvic Lift has our rib cage/middle back anchored to the carriage as our belly scoops in and our tailbone reaches long and away toward the footbar.

Finding my Pelvic Lift skill was so satisfying. It's one I'd been doing for years of course, but yet it remained shrouded in mystery for a while.

2. Pull Up on the Wunda Chair

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

The Pull Up is one of our basic exercises on the Wunda Chair. Every exercise on the Wunda is a challenge even the first ones we learn.

The Pull Up is pure powerhouse.

Find your lift deep in your center or the pedal is reluctant to move. Sure you can cheat and shift your weight off the pedal and onto your arms, but you'll only regret it later.

Where might your Pull Up skills come in handy?

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

Yes the Kneeling Knee Stretch series is a basic exercise but perhaps the most complex and formidable of our fundamentals.

The Pull Up skill will help to address the shape of the back in the Knees Off which often suffers.

How about more advanced exercises served by the Pull Up?

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

Tendon Stretch anyone?

Although a strong Elephant is also essential for success in the Tendon Stretch, your Pull Up skill will create the lift and rhythm for this exercise. Oh and that gorgeous back shape!

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

When you first learn Snake/Twist on the Reformer, you may only learn the very first bit:

Getting up into the starting position with control and the carriage in.

Not easy.

This is a pure Pull Up/Powerhouse move. With a bit of Elephant thrown in for style!

And now our Pull Up is not straightforward – arms on different levels, one one leg, etc…

Oh dear…

3. One Leg Circle on the Mat

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

Oh gosh, I've hated the One Leg Circle on the Mat for years…

In my first ever beginning mat class years ago I was just so thankful to have survived the Roll Up. The One Leg Circle was my exercise to rest up before Roll Like a Ball.

I've noticed a common theme with me and the Mat exercises. Ones in which my first thought was “What's so hard about this exercise?” have become my MOST challenging exercises to do properly. One Leg Circle, Single Leg Kick, Leg Pull – ooh I see a little theme here – I must beware the one-sided exercises!

If only I'd known…

One Leg Circle is the first exercise we learn that is one side at a time. And it's a nice one. We get to lie down. In the studio you may get a strap on your foot and some handles.

But what's really going on here?

The One Leg Circle is a shining example of choreographic distraction. Our circling leg is so flashy and right in front of us it's hard to focus on anything else right?

But you must focus on EVERYTHING else.

Pilates Mantra: The part of your body that is just lying/sitting there doing nothing should actually be doing all the work.

The One Leg Circle is about stability. One leg is “resting” on the mat? Imagine you are standing on that leg.

Yes. treat the One Leg Circle like you are standing on one leg with the other one reaching out in front of you. Wowza – how hard would that be? Stay tuned, if you're disciplined and consistent, it's bound to happen and soon.

Let's see where else we'll find our One Leg Circle skill:

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

Not too long after learning your One Leg Circle you'll be introduced to its unstable cousin, the Side Kick Series. Another exercise I loathed for years…which I dearly love now. Unbelievable.

Now lying on your side, your support is minimal but your body must be controlled and strong as you move your leg not only in front of you but eventually LOTS of places.

In our Reformer workout, our beloved Tree will turn into not only the One Leg Circle (with a box underneath) but also our first taste of the High Bridge.

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

Now you'll need your stomach and your stability of that standing leg!

Later in our Pilates career we'll confront our One Leg Circle in the Star with minimal support and a reaching leg that also eventually behaves very fancily…

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

Note my “deer in the headlights” expression no less. Clearly I'm surprised to find myself in this position…

Thanks Joe Pilates! You never leave us unprepared.

Want to see your favorite Basic featured in this series? 

Let's have a look! Leave me a comment below.

 

 And here's where to find me in 2017.

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Hey there all you Pilates cats and kittens 🙂 I hope you had a great week of oppositional reach from your strong center.

A hearty thanks for being awesome subscribers and sending your Pilates love. It totally makes my day. I'm so glad you find the posts and videos to be helpful to you on your Pilates path.

And I'm thrilled to learn my posts have now been translated into Portuguese, Spanish and Korean.

Thank you so much friends, hugs and kisses to you!

Current Pilates Obsessions

A lovely by-product of surrounding yourself with Pilates apparatus is the ability to dial deeply into each apparatus. Current obsessions include the Toe Corrector, Foot Corrector and the Ladder Barrel.

If you've been following my blog for a while you may recall I broke a bone in my foot earlier this year.

Along with some therapeutic massage, I've been putting my Foot Corrector to the test.

Just a few standard exercises are really making a difference. And my feet need maximum correction…

The exercises are essentially the Footwork exercises of Reformer fame:

  • Toes

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

  • Arches

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

  • Heels

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

  • Tendon Stretch (which I like to call The Massage – not sure it has an official name? And the socks help to move smoothly as you press.)

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Actually I didn't know my foot felt stiff and owie until it felt amazing again.

Clearly Joe Pilates wasn't kidding: pay attention to apparatus promising ‘correction' right there in the name.

Now for the Hacks…

One of the challenges in my workout is the delicate balance between precision/working properly and pace. Our Pilates exercises should MOVE!

The magic is in the movement.

I've used the following hacks with great success. Essentially I pick one thing that strikes my fancy and apply it over every exercise I will do.

Literally. Try it on and see what happens in the exercise.

How does my one thing feel in this exercise? In the next? In the one I hate? Etc…

1. The Pilates Concept Hack

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Initially Pilates trains our bodies with exercises fully supported by the apparatus which gives us vital feedback.

Think about all the lying down exercises done on the Reformer, Cadillac and Mat. Even the High Chair gives us a fully supported seated position.

The support and feedback of the apparatus teaches us how to find length in the back. I believe this to be the major tenet of Joe Pilates' work.

I desperately need the concept of ‘finding length in the back' in exercises where I am devoid of support or contact with the apparatus.

Can I remember what the apparatus has taught me repeatedly over all these years?

This is not a test. This is for the win!

Read more about this hack in a recent post: One Pilates Uber-Concept PLUS Introducing the Workout Quickie

2. The “It's just like that other exercise!” Hack

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Got a favorite exercise that illuminates a challenging skill? Seize the day!

This hack is a favorite of mine. You know my fondness for The Long Back Stretch.

It's my favorite game of “Let's pretend.”

And it's really an offshoot of our signature hack: We Only have One Exercise.

Treat yourself to a workout in which you search for the Double Leg Pull in every exercise. It's a game-changer.

Check out these recent posts to see this hack in action:

3. The Apparatus Hack

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Every day I become more enamored with the Spine Corrector.

Again, the word ‘corrector' in the name should be all the information we need. It can be one of our greatest teachers.

The Spine Corrector should be everyone's favorite hack.

Jay Grimes describes the Pilates Method as “all about opening.” The Spine Corrector fits brilliantly into this POV.

Perfectly positioned to open the back, the hips, the shoulders –  it's pretty much the place to open the body and enhance your execution of your Pilates exercises – the Spine Corrector is the Pilates equivalent of your best friend.

Other than moi…

Let's spend some quality time with our Spine Corrector this week:

Oh and then there's the Arm Chair:

Thanks for reading and have a great week.

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Wanna experience the blog live and in person? Join me this fall!

Upcoming Fall Workshops

Sunday November 27, 2016 Studio B Pilates+Barre, Tyler TX

You’ll love this jam-packed day of Pilates Continuing Education: I’ll be offering private lessons, a Mat class plus 2 workshops: A Cadillac Refresher – the Unsung Heroes(3 PMA CECs) and Strategies and Exercises on the Wunda Chair (3 PMA CECs)Register today

Thursday-Saturday December 1-3, 2016 Excel Pilates, Washington, DC

Join me for my post popular posts Live! and in person: On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises (4 PMA CECs) and On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises (2 PMA CECs). I’ll be teaching my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and Progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs) as well as a Mat class, private and semi-private lessons. Register today

Saturday December 17, 2016 LauraBPilates Studio, Raleigh, NC

In Raleigh we’ll have a full day of Pilates Continuing Education: private lessons and my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs)Register today

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips For a Full Body Workout

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

One of the very first things I noticed as a beginning Pilates student (way back in the day) was a newfound integrity in motion.

I am not a runner, but I'm spritely and often I'll break into a sprint just to get somewhere faster. If I could cartwheel there I just might…

One day – just a few months of Pilates under my belt – I broke into a run and felt my whole body hang together with a strength that was new. And different. And that had an ease of motion.

Fast Forward…

Last Sunday during a group workout at Vintage Pilates, Jay gave me a (seemingly) tiny correction.

Single Leg Circles on the Mat: Jay suggested that as my right leg circles I should strive to keep my left heel constantly pressing into the mat.

Simple enough, right?

Amazingly challenging for me to do. It at least tripled my effort in the exercise. Left side = lazy side for me.

Surprised, I had to ask:

“Why is that so hard?”

Jay's response spoke to the premise of our beloved Pilates Method.

“Now you've got everything working.”

Of course. Nothing working too hard and nothing getting a free ride. Balance in the body.

A full body workout.

A New Obsession

I'm happy to share 3 of my favorite ways to coax ourselves (and our clients!) into experiencing the Pilates Full Body Workout.

1. The Pilates 2×4

May I present to you the humble Pilates 2×4: one of the best ways to entice the body to find strength in standing positions.

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

It's amazing the amount of feedback this little Pilates treasure will give you. Use it regularly to connect the lower body into your center and it will infiltrate and work its magic when you are bereft of apparatus.

Bereft of apparatus = the Pilates Mat exercises

Trying to figure out how to use your butt when you are upside-down in the Control Balance?

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body WorkoutThe 2×4 has got your back. Literally.

Read more about this little gem in these posts:

2. The Magic Circle

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

One magical Magic Circle moment I dearly love can be found in an exercise we teach every day.

The Magic Circle not only makes the exercise better, integrating the whole body, but it also confronts the student with a glimmer of ‘there's clearly more to be had here with this whole Pilates thing…'

The exercise is the arm spring series done lying down on the Cadillac.

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

People love these exercises – they want to strengthen their upper body, tone the back of the arms, etc… And yes, that's all happening, but gosh darn it, I want MORE!!!!

Plus you're working hard, yet lying down and beautifully supported by the Cadillac. So comfy.

Let's insert a little magic here and the transformation to full body workout will be complete.

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

Let me be clear: this is not a new exercise.

I am not creating a way to incorporate the Magic Circle into the Arm Spring exercises.

It's not to kick your ass.

I am using the Magic Circle for a reason: as a teaching tool.

Using it for a few moments, gently squeezing the circle and pressing into the feet as though you were standing will enliven the entire lower body all the way up into the center and the upper stomach.

You'll get all the bigger muscles engaged to help out with the exercises.

Everything working.

The Full Body Workout!

That's what I'm after.

And you'll know who might benefit from this help. You'll get a sense that your student knows what to do, they just need a bit of resistance to get it all going.

Once they get the feeling, take away the circle and just have the legs in the same position but together. Now they will remember the connection with the circle and fully engage all of the body in these exercises.

This is not simply a series of arm exercises. This is full body integration, friends.

All brought to you courtesy of the Magic Circle.

It's done all your work for you 🙂

I like to call this phenomenon a scrubbing bubbles exercise.

Curious? More deets in these posts:

3. The Order of the Universe

You already know of my love for the Order of the Exercises. Find more intel on Joe Pilates' order of exercises and how it benefits your workout in these posts:

The order of the exercises thoroughly prepares you for what's to come in your workout on the Reformer and the Mat. Learning a skill in one exercise with the help and support of the apparatus may assist you in a subsequent exercise when the support goes away.

My favorite example of this (and there are MANY) is the help you get from the Swan – done on the Ladder Barrel or the Reformer – to get a full body workout in the Pulling Straps and T exercises.

Who doesn't want help with those? Grrr…they used to be decidedly some of my least favorite exercises.

Now with the help of the Swan (and my butt!) I find them to be a welcome challenge.

The Swan

In the Swan the lower body is connected to the Reformer. You can use your feet to get support and engagement from the entire lower body.

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

Let's take this ‘lower body Swan feeling' to the Pulling Straps and the T, where the lower body is not connected to the apparatus and the feet are free.

Pulling Straps and T

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

Now you can get the big muscles of the stomach and seat (SEAT!!!) to give you greater integrated strength.

Brilliant!

Read more about cultivating the lower body:

The Pilates Exercises and the Lower Body: Strength for Life!

Try out these tips yourself in your next Pilates workout.

Be on the lookout for the part of the body that appears to just be sitting or lying down – the unflashy part of the exercises.

It is these parts “in repose” that ultimately must do the heavy lifting.

Questions?

Leave a comment below and let's have a chat 🤓

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Previously I spoke of my newfound respect for the Long Stretch Series on the Reformer.

For years I didn't fully consider the import of these 7 exercises: Long Stretch, Down Stretch, Up Stretch, Up Stretch Combo, Elephant, Elephant with One Leg and the Long Back Stretch.

They seemed fine really.

Not a walk in the park and not a one-arm Snake/Twist either. We had a great relationship.

The Song Remains the Same

The Long Stretch Series teaches you how to use your lower body effectively.

Remember that our lower body is most of our body, the lion's share, if you will.

Within this series you'll use your lower body:

  1. in a round shape
  2. in an an arch
  3. in an undulating combination of round and arch in two ways
  4. in a round shape one side at a time, and
  5. facing upward and upside-down

Joe Pilates had a love for all things emphatic, it seems.

“Do you get it yet??” he asks us all the time.

A Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

One particular gem within the Long Stretch Series is the Up Stretch.

A bit of a wolf-in-sheep's clothing this one…

The Up Stretch is the foundation for all kinds of delicious Pilates tricks.

You know the ones: all the way from Semi Circle and Snake/Twist to the Flying Squirrel and everything in between.

The Up Stretch is the first time in our Reformer order where we have just 2 fixed points and a moving middle. The hands and feet are connected to the apparatus and a flip-ton of action goes on in the center.

Think of the undulation of Up Stretch and Semi Circle, for example.

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Semi Circle is a gift! You've got your head and shoulders supported by the carriage. Enjoy it while you can.

Soon that will all go away in the Headstands:

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Now just the head and 2 feet are connected to the apparatus with a moving shape in between.

Can you see the Up Stretch in this exercise? All turned around and with no hands?

My old favorite

I love to cultivate the Up Stretch when working on my former nemesis: Snake/Twist on the Reformer.

The feet are no longer on the moving part of the carriage, and now you're turned around a bit again just like the Headstands.

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Don't be distracted. Just use your mad Up Stretch skills – your lower body – and get the job done.

Let's take it vertical!

The working title for this Guillotine-cum-Cadillac exercise is Monkey on a Stick. It's really just Semi Circle (Up Stretch) now working in a vertical plane.

On the Guillotine the bar your feet are on is not completely fixed, it moves a bit.

Aha! A new wrinkle on our road to Pilates Circus stardom…

Plus guess who's favorite exercise it is? ♥

#jaysfave

Listen for the spring noise that is challenging Murat Berkin's foot position. He makes it look easy of course and does a great job of controlling the bar.

1 fixed point + 1 moveable point = the plot thickens!

Another low body exercise done on the Cadillac is Rolling In and Out.

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus TricksThe Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus TricksThe Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus TricksThe Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus TricksThe Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Here the lower body is fixed and the upper body's point of contact is the Roll Back bar (which moves!).

The good news is you are kneeling. Now challenge yourself to make Rolling in and Out a lower body exercise and not an arm exercise.

Thank you Up Stretch!

The Ultimate Up Stretch

For those of you who signed on for Pilates circus tricks, now is your time to shine.

The Flying Squirrel, an exercise few practitioners do at all is what the humble Up Stretch can prepare you to do.

Your fixed points of contact – alas – are not fixed at all…

Gravity awaits you at every turn…ready to wrap you in its clutches and face plant you on the mat…

Strive to find your Up Stretch in mid-air.

It's a wild ride!

Enjoy Christina Gadar's excellent Flying Squirrel at 1 minute in.

Never underestimate the power of a meat-and-potatoes exercise in our beloved Pilates method. Cultivate your best Up Stretch and it will reward you tenfold.

Know that even if you never reach the Flying Squirrel your butt will look nice 🙂

So how's your Up Stretch?

Share your thoughts and questions in a comment below.

Related post:

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 6

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 6

Welcome to Episode 6 of Transitions on the Mat.

We're about halfway through the Pilates Mat exercises.

Happy March MATness 2016! 

On the 23rd Day of Match MATness Joe Pilates gave to me...

Post Spine Twist into Jackknife

  • Lie back along the mat.
  • Use the handles on the mat if you have them (if not, arms are long at your sides).
  • Begin your Jackknife.

The Side Kick Series

If you are able, lower your legs all the way down to the mat to complete your Jackknife.

My preference is to start the Side Kicks Series with my right leg, so I will lie on my left side first.

  • Lie on your left side.
  • Line up your elbow, shoulder and hip along the edge of your mat.
  • Bring your feet onto the satellite box (or just beyond the front edge of your mat).
  • Begin your Side Kicks Series.
  • Roll onto your stomach to transition to the other side.
  • Repeat on your right side.

Teaser

  • Finish your Side Kicks Series.
  • Lie onto your back.
  • Center yourself top to bottom and side to side.
  • You are in the same position as the beginning of the workout pre – Hundred.
  • Begin your Teaser!

Hip Circles

A challenging variation of the Teaser, try not to get too bunched up about this one.

  • Come up for your final Teaser.
  • Bring your arms into position for the Hip Circles.
  • Complete your Hip Circles.
  • Return to your Teaser position and roll down to the mat to finish.

Enjoy this short vlog!

Missed an episode? No prob.