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!

Tree

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.

Whew!

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!

#pilatespremise

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?

Invigorated!

This is the spirit part of Pilates. Arriba!

Round 1: A bit of a crash and burn…

Well…

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.

Now.

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.

Perfect!

Reformer

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!

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.