The Pilates System: Russian Splits on the Reformer

The Pilates System: Russian Splits on the Reformer

Hey there all you awesome Pilates people,

I hope you've had a good week of dynamic opposition in your workouts. Thank you so much for the emails, comments and good cheer you've been sending my way. It's lovely to hear from you!

London and Portsmouth I will be comin' atcha very shortly. Private and semi-private lessons are filling up – please send me a message if you'd like to snag one for yourself.

I would so enjoy meeting you.

Can't get to see me in person?

Check out my YouTube channel for workouts, exercise tutorials and Pilates inspiration.

Schedule an Internet Lesson and have a full-on private lesson with me wherever you are in the world.

All Hail the Russian Splits

The Russian Splits in our order of the Reformer exercises is potentially the very last exercise of your Advanced Reformer workout.

Now we'll work into the full split for which our Front Split exercise has deftly prepared us.

Like our Side Splits and Front Splits, the Russian Split is 3-exercises-in-1.

For security in this exercise, place a pad on the headpiece of the Reformer and also, if necessary, on the footbar for your back foot.

  • Facing the back of the Reformer, stand on the carriage with both hands on the shoulder blocks.
  • Place your back leg into position on the footbar first.
  • Support yourself with your hands on the shoulder blocks and step your front foot into position halfway onto the headpiece.
  • Keep the back leg straight. Bend your front leg into a deep lunge position.
  • Holding onto the shoulder blocks, extend your front leg forward 3x. Be careful not to lock out your knees.
  • Now repeat the same thing but with no hands: arms cross in front or place hands behind the head.
  • Bring your hands back to the shoulder blocks, straighten both legs and close the carriage.
  • Now for that split: without locking the knees, power the exercise with the back leg and center, reaching the carriage out for a full split 3x.
  • Despite the seductive split, work to close the springs with control. Find your Elephant for efficient carriage-closing goodness!
  • To exit the exercise, bring the front foot onto the carriage first and then bring the back leg down.
  • Repeat on the other side.

What could go wrong?

For years I struggled to keep my back leg even remotely straight.

Tight hips and a sluggish butt make this split exercise a challenge. The next day you may wonder “Why does my butt hurt so much? What have I done? Oh yes… the Russian Split…”

Giving your heel a firm placement on the footbar will assist you as you reach through the back leg.

I like to imagine I am working my back leg (although it remains stationary) in tandem with the movement of the front leg.

I smell 2-way stretch!

Work to find your center to power the action of your front leg. Pull your leg into center more than pushing out the carriage.

Finding your seat will help to marginalize the thighs and hips which may try to take over…

Balancing in this deep squat position can be a challenge. Work this exercise well with your hands on the shoulder blocks before you take your hands away.

30 Day Wunda Chair Challenge: UPDATE!

Today is Day 6 for me.

Even with only a few days into the challenge I feel a new strength in my standing positions. And I mean in life – standing at work all day long and feeling my center instead of in my hips and legs.

Hmmm…

Day 1 got my hopes up for the Star. I felt very strong and successful in the exercise.

Alas, on Day 2, my Star skills were nowhere to be found. Oh well, 28 more days to go.

To soothe my ego after the Star debacle, I added the Twist for myself as a yummy stretch and a feel-good ending.

Find more information on the Twist here.

Lest we forget our trusty companion the Small Barrel…

For the record, I continue to work my Small Barrel exercises before hopping onto the Wunda.

We need our skills of Frog and Scissors wherever we go in the Pilates studio.

On the Wunda Chair we have a wham-bam series of 3 exercises at the end: Going Up Front, Mountain Climb and Star. The Small Barrel skills remind us the center is king!

I am amazed at the ease one can find in the strength of the center. We must resist! the tendency to make the Mountain Climb a max-out-your-legs exercise.

Thanks to the Small Barrel – and of course Karen Frischmann – I was surprised and delighted to have greater stamina, balance and control despite being perched high on top of Mt. Wunda.

Although some #pilatesproblemsolving will be necessary for the Star… stay tuned!

Enjoy this short tutorial.

Stay tuned for more tutorials on the Wunda Chair exercises. Leave your requests in a comment below.

And here's where to find me in 2017!

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

If you've got a keen eye on your Instagram feed you may know I broke a little bone in my foot a few months ago.

Rushing around my home, alas I was a victim of my own powerful stride and I smacked the hell out of my foot on a solid piece of furniture.

*sigh*

Please note the furniture has since been rearranged…

I thought I had learned my lesson over a year ago.

In life and in Pilates, repetition is the mother of all learning.

The Magic is in the System

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

My injury demanded I omit exercises done on the ball of the foot for several weeks.

I kept hoping thinking I could skip Long Spine Massage for whatever reason. Probably because it's challenging and I don't love it, but alas, anything in the straps felt perfectly fine.

What a luxury to have a full Pilates studio at my disposal to return from an injury. I am also an expert at working around foot injuries now…woo hoo!

What you don't like you do twice

In my Monday lessons with Karen Frischmann, I predominately work on the Reformer. It's one of my favorite workouts. Now, forced to omit exercises to accommodate my injury, imagine how much time I had left in the hour.

Boatloads.

Plenty of time to work toward more strength and connection in the exercises I don't do well.

Womp womp…

Enter the Leg Spring Series…done anywhere.

Cultivating Frog and Leg Circles

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

Just between you and me, I have strong, eager leg muscles. They just want to do everything.

With the help of Frog and Circles on the Reformer, the Spine Corrector and my friend the 80″ Gratz Reformer I am working toward a full body workout here as well as in a host of related exercises: Short Spine Massage, Long Spine Massage and the High Frog.

Don't Settle for 1-way Stretch. You deserve 2.

The Pilates exercises done lying down can be deceptive.

Sure we gladly use our scoop and lift if we are sitting up on the Short Box, but it can be challenging to find our oppositional reach when we're so comfortable and reclined.

Whatever shall we do?

Remember what we do at first lying down, you can bet Joe Pilates will expect us to perform the same tasks and more sitting up, upside down, on one leg, while twisting, etc…

Short Spine Massage

Short Spine Massage takes us from the very same starting position…

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

to vertical.

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

Clearly we need lift to accomplish this maneuver, so why not go for even more of it before we begin?

Long Spine Massage

Joe Pilates presents same scenario in the Long Spine Massage.

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

Again we begin lying down and our lift must take us up and off the carriage.

Use your in-and-up lift to oppose the reach of the lower body and get a glimpse of the “massage” the name promises.

High Frog

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

High Frog is an advanced exercise that follows Short Spine Massage.

It's really the same Frog we did lying down.

It's also the Tower exercise we do on the Cadillac (This one I had to leave out as well, so I was very appreciative of my quality High Frog time). But jus' sayin'.

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

What a system!

Use your lift well in the Frog lying down and create a strong, lifted and successful High Frog.

Speaking of the Cadillac…

With my new skills of lift in the Frog and Circles on the Reformer imagine my surprise when I revisited the Leg Circles on the Cadillac.

Now on a stable surface instead of a moving carriage, the lift remains the same.

Of course.

I just may learn to love the Leg Spring Series after all…

As with any injury, we always learn more about or beloved Pilates Method and more about our own body's experience of the exercises.

It almost makes it worth breaking the little bone in my foot.

Almost 🙂

Enjoy this short video tutorial. 

Leave your questions and share your successes in a comment below.

Thanks for watching!

Fix your Feet, Fix your Powerhouse: The Pilates 2×4 Exercises

Fix your Feet, Fix your Powerhouse: The Pilates 2x4 ExercisesFix your Feet, Fix your Powerhouse: The Pilates 2x4 Exercises

I dearly love my weekly lessons with Karen Frischmann.

I learn so much about the method, I find balance in my own body and I understand more deeply how Pilates as a system all hangs together.

About once a year I have a little check-up lesson with Jay Grimes.

I have questions for him of course. And I will have had plenty of time until my next lesson with him to work on corrections or comments he made.

While doing the Footwork in my most recent lesson with Jay he asked me a question.

“Have you been doing the 2×4 exercises?”

For a nanosecond I thought he was giving me a compliment. I soon came to my senses and thought he was telling me that my feet needed work.

Well… no.

Too fixated on the Reformer to venture elsewhere in the studio, I vowed I would work on the 2×4 exercises after every workout.

It would take more than half a year to follow up on his advice.

#procrastinationheals

About 7 months later I dusted off my 2×4 and got to work.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Jay suggested it would be helpful to work on the 2×4 exercises in front of a mirror.

Great, I'll be my own Pilates teacher.

Fix your Feet, Fix your Powerhouse: The Pilates 2x4 Exercises

I focused initially on 2 of the standard exercises:

  • Tendon Stretch – the vertical version of the 4th Footwork exercise
  • A classic 2×4 exercise I learned under the name ‘Standing Foot Exercises‘ – a combination of Tendon Stretch-esque movements: bend the knees, lift the heels, straighten the legs, lower the heels, and its reverse.

Looking in the mirror proved to be invaluable.

I have a disobedient foot/leg/side. Perhaps you do as well?

Now I could see my naughty foot and fix it.

That's when the fireworks went off in my center. One small adjustment in my foot/leg turned on all kinds of connections on that side of my powerhouse.

Aha!

Could this be Jay's intention all along?

Who doesn't want to fix their powerhouse?

With any Pilates exercise or variation that I deem ‘good for what ails me', I like to get feedback from Karen in my Monday lessons.

Karen is great at taking what I bring into my lessons and shooting it into the stratosphere of connection. We mined a ton out of the 2×4 exercises and they began to seep into all of my workout.

What's to be done when you cannot connect your lower body into your center because you are upside-down in the Jackknife?

Add a little 2×4 to the mix!

The repetition of the 2×4 exercises in my body can be called upon in exercises where my feet are not in contact with any apparatus.

Perfect for all those upside-down Mat exercises!

Put the ‘Full' in ‘Full Body Workout.'

What's good upside-down HAS to be good for standing up. Good standing posture is no easy feat (oh where would I be without the foot puns).

It's a challenge to fully utilize the lower body in standing exercises and ignite the powerhouse.

#2x4totherescue

I love to use the 2×4 as a teaching tool for the Standing Arm Springs series on the Cadillac.

Remember the Standing Arm Springs are not just arm exercises!

You must rely on all the muscles that make a strong standing position to find success in the Standing Arm Springs.

Let's take a few examples:

Fix your Feet, Fix your Powerhouse: The Pilates 2x4 ExercisesFix your Feet, Fix your Powerhouse: The Pilates 2x4 ExercisesFix your Feet, Fix your Powerhouse: The Pilates 2x4 Exercises

It's easy to get caught up in the upper body action of these exercises. But what's the standing body doing?

Just the simple act of balancing on the 2×4 for the Tendon Stretch exercise will connect the lower extremities into the center.

The 2×4 exercises communicate so much more than I ever could with my words.

A Scrubbing Bubbles moment

Who doesn't want an exercise that does all your work for you?

The 2×4 is a game changer.

It's a great tool to enliven the lower body and prepare you for the Standing Arm Springs.

OMG where can I get one???

The 2×4 – sometimes called the ‘upholstered foot exerciser' is available from most Pilates equipment manufacturers.

Here's a link to one made by Gratz Pilates:

http://www.pilates-gratz.com/collections/accessories/products/upholstered-foot-exerciser-bar

Alternatively, check out this post on pilatesology.com and make your own 2×4 in minutes!

https://pilatesology.com/2015/04/diy-how-to-make-your-own-pilates-2×4/

Enjoy!

How do you make the lower body come alive?

Share your Pilates Secrets in a comment below.

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

The Thigh Stretch is a straightforward and elegant exercise.

We find it all over the Pilates studio on every apparatus.

I'm hopelessly in love with the Thigh Stretch on the Reformer, it's true.

You can also enjoy the Thigh Stretch on the Ladder Barrel, the Spine Corrector, Cadillac and Mat.

Everybody Thigh Stretch

Make no mistake about it, the straightforward exercises in Pilates – you know, the ones in which you have to hold yourself all together in a nice long straight line – are very challenging to do well.

It behooves us to get everything working to ensure an effective stretch and opening of the hips and thighs.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but everyone can just lean back and play thigh stretch for a bit.

But how to really get the job done?

You know the drill: low belly in and up, ribs in and working and the long downward reach of the tailbone to activate the under part of the seat. Awesome.

No biggie.

Who you callin' a “big chunk?”

Wait.

Let's think about the body.

Take a good look at the body.

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

I do realize this dude is perfection, but I wanted to make it worth the look…

Back to business!

Unlike the eyelashes, the hips, thighs and buttocks play a significant part in connecting the lower body into the center.

Strong and potentially overdeveloped leg muscles can impact the low back, can impact the way the upper body sits on top of the waist, can impact the placement of your head on top of your body (where DOES that go anyway…).

With this in mind, perhaps it's not by accident that we find so many opportunities to find a Thigh Stretch exercise all around the Pilates studio.

Sage advice to me from Sandy Shimoda:

Never miss an opportunity to get a thigh stretch!

Yes, please.

I'm a leg man, myself…

The muscles of the legs can turn into the real workhorse of the body. The thighs, often the shoulders too, are big muscles that are right on the front of the body where we can see them. And use them.

A lot.

In my experience both as a teacher and a practitioner with a gymnastic background, the thighs and the low back can impact one another greatly.

Tight hips and thighs often come along with a tight low back.

I use the Thigh Stretch often as a touchstone exercise.

I can use the verticality here to help with other similarly shaped exercises like Shoulder Bridge on the Mat, Rolling Stomach Massage on the Cadillac, Chest Expansion anywhere, Swan, etc…

You get the picture.

The hips can often be difficult to parse out. How much seat to use to not get all clench-y and pushy with the hips? And old habits die hard…

Luckily we have the Thigh Stretch and our dear old friend:

Thigh Stretch

Thigh Stretch is a great teacher of length actually. It is a huge boon to your backbends for sure.

What is a backbend other than a big ol' thigh stretch?

You see what I mean.

Use length from your Thigh Stretch and you'll give your Backbend a strong support from the seat and lower body. What a nice treat for your back!

Thigh Stretch is a huge component of every Backbend in the Pilates Method.

Wanna better backbend? It's only a Spine Corrector away…

But for now, let's start simply.

Ladder Barrel

The most basic version of the Thigh Stretch is done simply standing at the Ladder Barrel.

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

You've got to love the Pilates Method: how else would we know that stretching the thighs is a good stomach exercise?

The Ladder Barrel provides support for any individual, even the very tight-thighed ones. Adjust the placement of your foot/leg on the barrel to get the perfect stretch for your body.

It's really a lovely place for the Thigh Stretch.

Cadillac

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

Thigh Stretch on the Cadillac is a wonderful precursor to the Reformer and Mat versions.

Here you've got help from the springs and a stable non-moving surface to get your act together.

All-in-all a lovely place to begin your Thigh Stretch journey.

Add in a little Chest Expansion here as well and you have the tools necessary to prepare you to work on these same 2 exercises on the Reformer.

Spine Corrector

Don't forget the Thigh Stretch inherent in the Spine Corrector exercises Leg Circles, Scissors, Bicycle, Shoulder Bridge. These exercises are a great place to find length over the hump of the corrector.

Even if you don't want to get so fancy so quickly, you can enjoy just a bit of inversion with a simple Thigh Stretch.

It's another great way to get at the lower body connection just like you did standing at the Ladder Barrel.

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

Most importantly, the Thigh Stretch exercise, as well as the more elaborate exercises done here, provide us with feedback from the Spine Corrector.

Often a template to inform the back position, the Spine Corrector gives us information about how successful we are in opening the hips, thighs and low back.

The ribs and low back must be fastened into the apparatus to ensure maximum stretch and opening of the front of the body.

‘Cause then you'll take it vertical!

Reformer

The Reformer version of Thigh Stretch is your preparation for the next exercise, (you guessed it) the Backbend.

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

However, the Reformer version of the Thigh Stretch begins just as simply as its Cadillac counterpart.

Keep the body as one solid piece of steel as you lift back into the exercise. No wiggling!

The moving carriage and strong springs (3!) up the challenge on the Reformer and dare you to lean back and just pull with your arms.

Don't be seduced! It is not a backbend yet!

Connect your low stomach to the straps in your hands: reach the straps out and lift the stomach in and up in opposition.

The spring will not move easily but be patient and keep your position strong.

Be Your Perfect Z

Imagine the length one must cultivate in the Thigh Stretch as the shape of the letter ‘Z'.

The fingertips and toes are reaching away in opposition (hey there's your 2-way stretch!) and the body must lift up ever taller.

Give it a try.

Dare I say 3-way stretch?

You may be surprised by how much your toes reaching away can make your bottom wake up and do something.

To quote the amazing Karen Frischmann:

This workout brought to you by the letter ‘Z'!

Mat

Now let's look at the ultimate version of the Thigh Stretch, sans any help at all, done on the Mat.

Yay!

See the ‘Z'?

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

Jay Grimes used to encourage us to sit all the way back to our heels.

In the past he promised a free dinner to those of us who could go all the way back and return successfully.

We must be getting better as there has been no talk of a free meal as of late 🙁

You know how I feel about food and Pilates…

and given the incentive of free food…

Yes!

The goal is to keep your position solid and go back as much as possible.

Just remember that though this may be the goal, it may not be today's goal.

Patience, friends.

And many joyous Thigh Stretches to you!

Got an exercise that shows up again and again in your workouts?

Tell us all about it in a comment below.

My Pilates Education Fantasy is at Hand!

My Pilates Education Fantasy is at Hand!

My first Pilates Teacher training program was a gateway drug to explore all that Pilates Continuing Education has to offer. Thanks Excel Pilates.

I felt I'd just begun to scratch the surface on these fascinating Pilates exercises and I couldn't wait to learn more, more, MORE.

Dear Joe Pilates,

It's been 15 years since my first Pilates Education Fantasy…

In the early '00s I was constantly on the lookout for workshops to satisfy the requirements of my training program and keep my training certificate current.

Alas, there were few choices.

I tried to envision the wide world of my Pilates future…

(insert hazy dream music and movie announcer VO)

Imagine a world where I can attend amazing and diverse Pilates workshops and conferences, perhaps even in exotic locations…

ALL. YEAR. LONG.

Maybe some of the education would even be focused specifically on the classical Pilates system…

Wow. SO cool…

Let's Fast Forward.

Today my mind spins out of control, awash in the choices and locations for classical Pilates conferences.

Pisa, Istanbul, Fort Worth, Chicago, Windsor, Mexico City, Sydney, Costa Rica, Seattle, New York City, San Francisco, Valencia, Greenwich, Atlanta, Berlin and Santiago, Chile.

Wowza. And that's this year alone.

Even my beloved San Diego got in on the action.

Sponsors wanted

I love Pilates education events of all kinds.

I'm dearly in need of a special sponsor to enable me to attend every single one of the amazing conferences that my Pilates heart desires…

Pilates Education Option #1

Destination Pilates events around the globe.

My Pilates Education Fantasy is at Hand!

Nice.

Often with multiple presenters and spanning 2 to 4 days, Pilates conferences are busy and filled with masses of information coming at you.

You'll have the opportunity to experience presenters that are new to you.

You'll be in the company of like-minded passionate Pilates people such as yourselves. It's a great way to connect in person with online colleagues and companies.

Workshops can cover a wide range of topics, concepts, populations and apparatus.

We use the word ‘event' for a reason. They're awesome.

But education conferences are only one item on the Continuing Education menu.

Pilates Education Option #2

Enhance your education every week – nay every day – if you work private lessons into your education plan as well.

The Value of the Private Lesson

IMG_2903

Private lessons. Yum.

This is where you'll work on your body and then bring your A-game to Pilates conventions worldwide.

I love private lessons.

Back in the day, my first Pilates small group class of 3 was an amazing next step after my initial Mat class series. One fateful day both of my group partners were absent.

Resulting in my very first private Pilates lesson.

Wow.

I learned so much about my body. Clearly this was the way to go.

Education of Body and Mind

So that's 2 amazing education experiences working in tandem to educate the body and mind.

Conferences and workshops…

  • enhance your eye
  • allow you to see different bodies in the same exercises
  • contribute to your overall Pilates Intelligence (intelligence: just one part of your Pilates mind)
  • encourage us to learn predominately by observation and problem solving
  • may include some hands on corrections
  • may include working out and feeling the work in your own body
  • connect you with colleagues and companies

Private lessons…

  • train the body directly and create long term change
  • give you information about you and your specific body's needs
  • enable you to feel hands-on corrections in your body
  • enhance the experience of the exercise in your body – an amazing teaching tool
  • increase your repertoire of exercises
  • foster concepts and connections that aren't currently on your radar

“No excuses,” says the Internet

Technology makes private lessons all the more easier to obtain. Skype lessons can be extremely beneficial for Pilates teachers, nerd enthusiasts and clients.

Whether you live in a remote location or you fancy lessons with a teacher who's not in your area, Skype lessons (or FaceTime lessons) are a great option.

Cohesiveness in your Pilates education

Let's be honest. It's a wide, wide Pilates world out there.

One teacher's ‘rules for living' may be in conflict with your previous training.

Another Pilates Teacher of Teachers may tell you NEVER to do x, y or z, while still other trainings encourage you to do exactly what you've previously heard is verboten.

In your vast experience as a student of Pilates, look to your body for the answers.

Feel the work in your body.

What feels like the truth?

What resonates with you on a visceral level?

Don't over think it. Simplicity is your friend on this one.

And once you've found your particular Pilates path – a training or mentorship plus your own workouts – dive in deeply…

Patience and Persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment or any worthwhile endeavor.

Thanks, Joe.

Join us for the best of both worlds of Pilates Continuing Education this October 1-4, 2015

Andrea Maida and Karen Frischmann in the house!

 My Pilates Education Fantasy is at hand.I'll be presenting these epic posts LIVE as a workshop!

Share your thoughts in a comment below.

I'd love to hear from you!