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

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

I require my clients to sit on the Reformer with control (without the use of their hands).

There shouldn't be a noise or a plop when they sit.

They are also required to descend to the Mat from a standing position.

Again, no hands, please.

The goal is to lower oneself to the floor with control. No noise.

As you might imagine, I often hear groans of exasperation from some.

And yes, it may be considerably hard to do at first.

But it's also essential for longevity and quality of life.

Boom.

Uhm, and it's actually a thing, peeps:

Look familiar?

Maybe I should start deducting 1 point per plop…

The Lion's Share

No matter who you are, your lower body is a considerable amount of your total body weight.

In the Pilates Method, when I refer to the ‘lower body' I am talking about everything from the upper stomach (mid back) all the way down to the toes.

The lower body is the lion's share of the body.

Often Pilates practitioners and teachers, myself included, can overwork the upper body in exercises that are in fact lower body exercises.

Years of study of the method have helped me to learn how to better use my lower body instead of muscling through and overusing my upper body.

The lion's share of the Pilates exercises are – in fact – lower body exercises!

Which makes sense – that's the largest part of the body – so it's bound to be helpful to use it effectively.

All this is ultimately in service of Pilates as a full body workout.

No lower body? No full body workout.

Oh it weighs heavily on my Pilates mind…

With a tight low back and tight hips/thighs, I spend considerable time thinking about the lower body and especially how to find length in the back. Sorting it all out into a long lower body requires consistent practice and repetition.

Whoever you are, it would serve you well to find length in the low back and low body.

Got a swayback?

Like me, you'll need to seek out more scoop and seat to gain length for your back.

What about a flexible, long and sinky back?

You too will need to find lift and length to elongate the back and cultivate the low body.

The majority of the back is also part of the lower body.

In our industry, many names and concepts surround the creation of a long, strong and supple back.

What exactly should be going on here? Labels include the word ‘imprint' and keeping the back and/or the pelvis in ‘neutral' (read more on this here).

I believe we are all after the same thing, whatever we choose to call it: decompression and health of the back.

Length in the Low Body

So how best to approach our search for the low body?

Mercifully, in the Pilates Method we have a brilliant arsenal of apparatus to be our helpers. And hey, when we are standing up, the floor willingly becomes another apparatus to support us.

Shazam!

In keeping with my modus operandi we'll look at the order of the exercises to offer lower body support we can rely on. A couple simple standing exercises will also challenge our strength to stand.

Wait a minute.

Regardless of our position in the exercises: lying down, sitting up, kneeling, lying on the stomach, up on one leg/arm, in a twist – the lower body must strive to be elongated??

Yup. That's why we need to practice so much.

It's a tall order (you were hoping for a pun, yes?).

The Order of the Universe

Using the order of the exercises is one way to find out where you can get help from the lower body before the exercises in which you still need it, but there's no help in sight.

In search of the lower body…one example:

In the Order of the Reformer exercises, the Swan exercise immediately precedes Pulling Straps and T Straps in the Long Box series.

Whether you like Swan on the Ladder Barrel or on the Long Box – you've got your feet firmly planted and poised to find help from the apparatus.

  • Press into the heels and see what jumps to life in your bottom and center.

The Pilates Exercises and the Lower Body : Strength for Life

  • Moments later when you lie onto the Long Box for Pulling Straps, remember what the support from the apparatus from the Swan created in your body.

The Pilates Exercises and the Lower Body : Strength for Life

  • Repeat at least 3x per week. 🙂

My Dreaded Long Stretch Series

Yes, eventually I have to adjust my attitude for this series.

Oh but it's become just so bloody hard…and vital…and essential for all the fun, crazy, tricky exercises I love to do.

The Long Stretch Series is where you begin to find your lower body and see what it can do for you.

The Pilates Exercises and the Lower Body : Strength for Life

To find the lower body and successfully execute this series: Long Stretch, Down Stretch, Up Stretch, Elephant and Long Back Stretch has become a pet project of mine.

Everyone has to have a hobby…

Stand on your feet, yo:

The Pilates Exercises and the Lower Body : Strength for Life

The Short Box and the Straps

It's true.

The Short Box is all about the back and posture.

However, let's look closer:

The Pilates Exercises and the Lower Body : Strength for Life

What is attached to the apparatus?

Remember the Lion's Share of the Body?

Well, now it's sitting on the box and attached to two straps.

The skill here is how to make the best use of the straps to hook into the lower body. Use the lower body well and create even more resistance from which to lift and soar ever higher in your posture.

Dig down deep to lift up, my friends!

The Strength of Standing

My father turned 90 this year. Mom's not far behind at 88.

After the Thanksgiving holiday we started decorating their house for Christmas. Mom planned to add ornaments to the tree a little at a time, but wanted help with the lights and the angel on top.

Standing up (without holding on to anything) and working with both arms on a task proved to be the most tiring activities. And not just for the nonagenarian set.

As we age, we desperately need the strength to stand and work at something with the upper body without tiring: cooking a holiday dinner, decorating a Christmas tree, unpacking groceries, you name it.

There's even an exercise (or 500) for that.

Can you say Bean Bag?

I forget how awesome this device can be.

Oh it will kick your ass, even if you use it without any weight in the bag at all.

Now let's see you stand up tall. For. Ever.

Bean bag down:

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

And back up!

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

Musculoskeletal fitness, it turns out, is very important. Prevention Magazine

Contest Deadline Extended!

It's not too late to dazzle me with your transitions on the Reformer.

Enter by January 15 to win a FREE Skype lesson. Check out the deets below:

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

Get ready to get your lift on!

Just when you thought it was safe to venture back onto the Reformer…

I am quite fixated on the Long Stretch Series. So much good stuff to be squeezed out of these 5 standard issue – yet elegantly insistent – exercises.

Glad to have you with me on this journey.

Check out last week's post to continue your Long Stretch Series geek-fest.

Repetitio est mater studiorum

One of the things I most enjoy about the Order of the Reformer Exercises is the ability to mark your progress.

The use of repetition is a key element to long term changes in our bodies.

Our bodies they are a-changin'

Many years of practicing Pilates can result in amazing changes in our bodies. As our bodies continue to change, so does our experience of the exercises.

Often we arrive at an old familiar series with newfound awareness.

Now we can demand more of ourselves than just yesterday's choreography and connection. Nuances may appear.

We may discover new muscles now under our control.

Imagine.

MORE control.

However, a perfectly innocent series may also become a new bugaboo.

In the spirit of it's-gonna-get-worse-before-it-gets-better I feel compelled to write this post about my new love/hate of the Long Stretch Series.

But first let me say this:

OMG the Long Stretch Series helps everything else!

Not a surprise.

When one exercise gets better, they all get better. Because you've found some extra muscles, no doubt.

At the risk of repeating myself, I have once again learned the value of lift.

The Long Stretch Series

Let's take the name at face value.

We'll use the 5 exercises in this series to find a length in the body that will ultimately give us a full-body stretch.

That sounds lovely.

What's moving?

The lower body – what I like to call the lion's share of the body – will be attached to the moving carriage in every exercise.

This gives us information: these are lower body exercises.

The upper body is attached to the stationary footbar and functions as a point of departure, let's say. It is not the mover in this series.

Closing the Springs

The Long Stretch Series is a perfect example of the muscular action required to close the springs on the classical Reformer.

It's lift!

Everytime. In every exercise.

If you've got to work to return the carriage completely the Reformer is compelling you to create lift in the body.

It's instant Pilates Method with this series.

Thanks, Universal Reformer!

We only have one exercise.

Joe Pilates is so tricky. Putting us in a horizontal position for the Long Stretch and expecting us to find lift.

Oh right, Down Stretch.

Thanks Joe, I get it.

The Demands of the Exercises

Long Stretch

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

“One piece of steel from your head to your heel!”

Back to the name again.

What are the demands of a long body position? A long back and long strong legs.

Let's go back to that long back part…

A long back (or tall back, in lift-speak) demands a long neck and open chest, a lift in the waist, ribs that are in and up to lengthen the mid-back, a working seat to help open the front of the hip (yup it's gotta be long as well) and easy reaching legs.

Oooh, so demanding…

I can do this more easily standing upright, but along comes the Long Stretch and I am stymied.

It's hard to find this long body position in mid-air.

No feedback from an apparatus in sight.

I have heard it said that Long Stretch and Down Stretch are really the same exercise, except you are kneeling in the latter one.

This is absolutely true. Let's use the lift in the Down Stretch to sort this out.

The lift in Down Stretch is impossible quite clear.

Down Stretch

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

I find Down Stretch to be supremely challenging.

The body position is precariously close to where my body just wants to let it all hang out and fall into the low back.

It's Lift! to the rescue!

Mine the opposing forces in your body: make the lower body push the carriage out even as you bring the carriage in.

Your lower body wants to stay out there, yet your lift is insistent to close the springs.

I. Smell. Two. Way. Stretch.

Up Stretch

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

Up Stretch is a gold mine that's jam-packed with skills to prepare you for crazy advanced exercises to come.

Put in diligent practice here and reap the benefits you'll use for Snake Twist, the Headstands and even the infamous Flying Squirrel.

Yes.

Get. Busy.

Elephant

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

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

Elephant is another skill-builder extraordinaire. You'll need lots of mad Elephant skills to find success in exercise favorites like the Pull Up on the Wunda Chair and Snake/Twist on the Reformer.

A teacher client of mine has decided that in Pilates one learns the “basic” or “foundational” exercises first because they are all so bloody hard it will take a lifetime to do them properly.

A fair point. The Hundred or the Elephant done well is no easy task.

Again my Reformer is my teacher. Without working the lower body properly, my carriage is very reluctant to close completely.

“I'm sorry,” says the Reformer. “Nope, this is not a leg exercise, try again.”

Well, at least repetition is my friend…

Long Back Stretch

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

This exercise has become a favorite of mine in recent months.

I find it to be the epitome of length in the lower body.

Yes.

Remember the moving carriage you are attached to?

This is not an arm exercise.

The Long Back Stretch is the juice behind every exercise in Pilates where we actively reach through the heels.

Think about it:

  • Short Box – the long reach of the heels to anchor the lower body on the box
  • Tower on the Cadillac – reaching through the heels in an effort to lengthen the entire back on the mat
  • Stomach Massage Series – the repetition of lowering the heels in the first 2 exercises in this series. Joe Pilates says “Do you get it?!”

Is it coincidence that the Stomach Massage follows the Long Back Stretch in the order?

Stomach Massage then followed by the Tendon Stretch?

This cannot be a happy accident…

Put the Long in Long Stretch, Baby

Persevere in your meat-and-potatoes exercise series like the Long Stretch Series.

Dig deep to discover the skills that will carry you all the way to High Bridge and beyond in your Reformer repertoire.

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

Use the one-leg version of the Elephant to work on one-sided exercises. It's bursting with information on how to better your Tendon Stretch with one leg.

Take some help when you can get it!

Got a series that's become a bugaboo?

Gimme the skinny in a comment below and we'll hash it out.

#pilatesproblemsolving