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.

Zen and the Art of the Stomach Massage Series

Zen and the Art of the Stomach Massage Series

for Joy

Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China in the 12th century and has had a profound cultural influence.

“The aim of Zen is to achieve sudden enlightenment through meditation in a seated posture, usually under the guidance of a teacher and often using paradoxical statements to transcend rational thought.”

OMG that's Pilates!

As a new Pilates student, the Stomach Massage Series is among the first exercises you'll learn on the Reformer.

If you're in the habit of using the names of the exercises in teaching them to clients, you know what a potential disappointment this series is with its use of the word “massage.”

Most people at least get a chuckle at the name.

#wheresmymassage

Oh you'll have to work for it.

The Stomach Massage Series is a wonderful opening and lifting of the back of the body. You'll use the 4 exercises of this series to prepare you for huge amounts of lifting to come on the Short Box.

You've really got it all here: opening and lengthening of the entire back of the body, a brisk tempo to give you a steady rhythm to build stamina. This one moves!

#nowaboutthatmassage

In each of the 4 exercises in this series the stomach must be fiercely involved with every move.

  • Stomach in: press the carriage out.
  • Stomach in: reach the heels away.
  • Stomach in and lift: lift the heels up.
  • Stomach in and  lift: bring the carriage home.

This concentration of abdominal action results in a deep massage of our internal organs.

Those organs don't know how good they've got it.

The Stomach Massage Series repeats the action that we also see on the Mat with the Single Leg Pull and Double Leg Pull. I have previously described these two Mat exercises as “wind-relieving” for the same massage they offer our abdomen.

You know I'm dying to write a post about the myriad benefits the Pilates workout offers our digestive system…don't get me started.

The Stomach Massage Series:

SMS#1: Round

Zen and the Art of the Stomach Massage Series

All the springs give support to this tall lifted curve. If you are sway-backed like me, this a wonderful daily opportunity to open up the low back, to see how lifted up and un-sinky you can be!

Perhaps, also like me, you have learned that the goal of this exercise – of the whole series really – is to be able to sit very close to the front edge of the carriage.

This may indeed be the ultimate goal of the exercise.

However…

On this particular day with yourself or the body in front of you, you may find more success in the exercise by sitting a bit further back.

Find a spot where you can really have access to the lift up and out of the low back.

The springs should not sink you backward when you push out – and it is a lot of spring in this first exercise, so pick an advantageous location.

Keep your lift and back solid as your lower body is moving. Your head should not bob in the breeze… 🙁

It is in this first exercise that you'll set the tempo for the entire series. So get moving and then make sure to keep up with yourself!

SMS#2 Hands Back

Zen and the Art of the Stomach Massage Series

Stomach Massage Series #2 gives you a support to find even more lift in your back.

But those hands are not for leaning, make no mistake. You can use them to push down to get your back to lift higher, but not to prop yourself up.

Think that your arms are connected to your back (because they are), not just to your shoulder.

If you are in doubt, just lift your hands off the shoulder rests a fraction of an inch and see what happens. You'll find out in a hurry what should be holding you up.

Pants Off Dance Off

It may come to pass that during this lovely Stomach Massage Series #2, you start to slide back on the carriage and your pants start to…well, come off.

Through the years I have heard a few theories about why this happens in this series and, more importantly, I've learned how to keep my pants on.

#lifeskills

One former co-worker suggested that it's really your undergarments that are to blame for the de-pants-ing. If one were to go commando and workout it would no longer be a problem.

Uhm…and if this theory is an epic fail, then your ass just hangs out?

This is not a solution in my book.

And I did NOT test this thesis.

Keep your pants on!

“So why do my pants come off?”

I have heard teachers answer this questions numerous times thusly:

“If you use your stomach, your pants will stay on.”

While I do believe this to be true, it's not quite the whole story.

To work this exercise well (and avoid wardrobe mishaps) use this recipe for maintaining a well-fitting pant:

  • Press your feet firmly into the footbar.
  • Press your heels fiercely against one another.
  • Find your upper stomach and your seat. Use them to push into the footbar and move the carriage.
  • If you can work primarily in the powerhouse (stomach and seat) and less in the legs, you'll have a great chance of keeping your pants on.
  • Give it a go!

SMS#3: Reach

Zen and the Art of the Stomach Massage Series

Look Ma, no hands!

Now you'll find out how just how much support the Reformer afforded you. Here you must be just as lifted in your back without holding onto the carriage AT ALL.

The lower body retains its brisk and connected pace throughout the series and now it's all you've got.

See if you can keep your lift and fight against the carriage to stay up, up, UP as it closes. The carriage should never push you backward in this exercise.

Fight to stay upright.

SMS #4: Twist

Zen and the Art of the Stomach Massage Series

Ah look at that: a new element of twisting.

SMS#3 will get you totally dialed into the footbar. Keep the connection here and you'll be a twisting machine.

  • Keep your lower body straight on and centered and lift tall in your Twist.
  • Push into the footbar to help lift your back even taller.
  • Think of this as a multi-way stretch exercise with everything reaching out from the center: legs, top of head, fingertips stretching away from each other.
  • It can be your Star before the Star exercise!

The Order of the Universe

In the Order of the Reformer Exercises, the Stomach Massage Series fits neatly between the Long Stretch Series and the Tendon Stretch.

You'll see components here from the earlier part of your Reformer workout. The lower body movement echoes the Footwork series only now you also have the influence of the Rowing Series to lift you up into a seated position.

In the last part of the Stomach Massage Series you'll challenge yourself further with our first introduction of rotation: Twist.

Check out last week's post for more on pace and transitions in the Stomach Massage Series.

Thanks so much for reading!

Got some love for the Stomach Massage?

If you hate it with a passion leave your rant in a comment below 🙂

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions! Transitions!

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions! Transitions!

Tevye, of Fiddler on the Roof fame, works hard to perfect his Pilates transitions (Transitions)!

Transitions connect Joe Pilates' exercises into one continuous movement of dynamic stretching – which requires great strength and control.

Transitions consist of everyday pedestrian movements for which your Pilates workout diligently prepares you. You'll get up, get down, kneel, balance and turn, step up and down, reach and lift objects. You will strive for efficiency in these movements creating a deliberate but brisk tempo to your workout.

Aerobic, you say?

Yes, efficiency is the name of the game. The more efficient you are with the exercises and the transitions the more you will build endurance and stamina.

Often a transition may be more difficult than the exercises it connects.

Some common transitions on the Reformer include:

  • Lowering the footbar with your feet before the Hundred while lying down after the Footwork.
  • Sitting up and turning in a Teaser after the Hundred to remove 2 springs before Overhead OR Setting up the long straps for Frog and Circles – getting into them and out of them before Overhead.
  • The Teaser transition after Backstroke to remove a spring for the next exercise (Teaser).
  • Getting rid of the straps on your feet after the Long Spine Massage.
  • Efficient pace and tempo during exercise series like Stomach Massage, Short Box and Knee Stretches.

Transitions elevate the order of the exercises to dizzy new heights.

How cool are you when you not only perform the Backstroke and Teaser on the Reformer, but also connect them seamlessly while removing a spring.

What an icebreaker at parties.

Thank you so so much for watching and stay awesome, my friends!

Wanna see other transitions in a video? Look no further:

To efficiency and beyond!

On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises

On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises

This is more daunting – suddenly – than my previous post On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises.

My workout would have huge void without Joe Pilates’ original order of the Reformer exercises. JP’s original order is not an easy one to track down, mind you.

The Order of the Universe

The value of the order is such that once I begin my workout, that’s it.

There's no stopping in the middle…

or skipping things I don't like…

or doing 1/2 of my exercises…

No.

I feel compelled to finish what I’ve started. I must.

I wonder if Joe Pilates would be surprised by this fact.

Or if it was part of his plan all along… and for the record, an hour is PLENTY of time even if you will do nearly every exercise.

It is possible.

You’ll just not be dilly-dallying…

WWJPD?

Again, my primary interest is in ferreting out Joe Pilates’ original order: his original intent and purpose behind the major piece of apparatus with which he endeavored to reform mankind.

I firmly believe that Joe had a reason, a super objective, for his specific arrangement of his exercises and I continue to seek his guiding hand. It’s a great bit of Pilates detective work for your body and mind.

There have been changes over the years, some slight and some significant.

Of the Mat exercises, we have at least early documentation in Return to Life.

On the Reformer, despite Joe’s affinity for photo documentation, the order of exercises is more slippery. As a major piece of Pilates apparatus, the Reformer order has had more hands on it over the years, often to the point of becoming unrecognizable.

No order?

Isn't that chaos??!

Please note this examination is solely about the order and the exercises themselves…not about who should be doing them or if one is ready to do them, etc…

That’s a subject for another post.

My experience of the Pilates exercises in my own body will of course differ from every other person. But Joe Pilates has a way of distilling us into the humanity that we are: the same body systems and parts that probably need a similar kind of maintenance.

Am I the only newbie surfer with a tight hip out there?

Bueller??

Click here for a list of all the exercises in this post!

Footwork

This series is your segue from life outside the studio into your body, into your workout, into the here and now and your focus for the hour. The springs are sufficient to require you to anchor your body into the carriage and warm up the lower body.

The foot massage is an invigorating bonus.

The Hundred

Now that the lower body knows what to do and is getting hooked into your center thanks to the Footwork, the warm up continues with the upper body, some vigorous movement and deep breathing.

Together the Footwork and the Hundred make a good team.

Frog and Circles

I learned these 2 exercises as Leg Circles and Frog but Jay Grimes keeps them in Joe’s original order. The Frog is a simpler exercise to begin with and a throwback to the Footwork you have already completed. Your legs are also connected to each other which creates support.

The Leg Circles ask you to work the legs independently creating a further challenge. Both exercises work the connection of the lower body into the center.

So get ready…for what comes next.

For some individuals the Frog and Circles can remain here as a further warm up before the Overhead. For others they can be omitted and you can proceed right to the Overhead.

Overhead

It’s not a surprise that this exercise ultimately begins in the same position as you will begin the Hundred. Legs long over the footbar (which is down) and arms straight up with the straps taut.

You have been properly warmed up with lower body exercises: Footwork, Frog and Circles, and you’ve connected your upper body into the center with the Hundred.

You’ve collected all the ingredients for success in the Overhead.

You’re good to go.

Coordination

This exercise reminds me so much of the Double Leg Pull on the Mat.

I know, they all do right?

I enjoy the challenge of lengthening out, connecting into the inner thighs and the scoop of the stomach and then folding up into a tiny ball. Another opening and closing up exercise with deep breathing to work out the kinks.

I find it furthers the warm up before the first major exercise series: (don’t be scared) Rowing.

Here. We. Go.

The Rowing Series

A client of mine remarked recently that the Rowing series is challenging to do properly and that simply must be why it comes so early in the workout – when you are fresh and strong.

Hmmm. I like that.

The Rowing Series works to connect the upper body into the center, connecting the arms into the back.

Rowing 1+2 (Into the Sternum, 90°) work the front of the body and give a good lift and stretch to the back before the hard work it must do for Rowing 3-6 (From the Chest, From the Hips, Shave, Hug) which focus on the lift and strength of the Back.

Long Box 1

Swan

Whether done on the Long Box or on the Ladder Barrel, the Swan is a big flowing movement to get “the juices flowing” followed by exercises to work on the same long reach of the upper body connecting you to your back.

This theme of big movement followed by refining exercises will show up again and again: upper body free, lower body anchored.

Pulling Straps and T

Long Box 1 continues to refine the upper body connection. You're now on your stomach and working towards the same connection of the arms into the back.

Make no mistake, this is a full body exercise: upper body attached to straps, lower body free.

Backstroke

The arm movement reiterates the Rowing movements challenging the upper body connection in a new orientation. We have also added in the reach of the lower body, because we’ve already covered that in the Footwork, Frog and Circles and Overhead, right?

The addition of a second spring works to strengthen and prepare you for the Teaser, coming up next.

Don’t worry if your lower body connection is not perfect yet, you’ll get your chance to work more on this in just a bit…

Teaser

The same connection continued from the Rowing, albeit with added challenge. Yes, get the lower body connection involved as well if you can.

This exercise is the ultimate in control and 2-way stretch.

BreastStroke

What can I say? Is the work from the Rowing series paying off yet? Cause here we go again.

Big flowing movement? Check.

An echo of the Swan, the BreastStroke provides the upper body with resistance and gives support for the lower body.

Now for some refinement.

Hamstring Stretch

This exercise works on the strength of the muscles you have just encountered in the Breaststroke, and further opens up the front of the body.

You get your first direct connection into the straps with the lower body since Swan and the Frog and Circles – a little foreshadowing for what’s in store for you in the upcoming series.

Horseback

Really just a Teaser flipped forward onto another angle, see how you do with that upper body connection, cause it’s killing me by now.

Oh and a little more foreshadowing of the Long Stretch series, using the lower body to gain strength by holding onto that box.

The Long Stretch Series

In the Long Stretch Series we begin our work on the connection of the lower body, the legs, hips and buttocks into the center. The upper body is now just for balance. Bonne chance!

Long Stretch

Straightforward. Just move the carriage in and out with your lower body. Keep everything together like a solid piece of steel.

I repeat: the arms are only for balance.

Down Stretch

First and foremost a breathing exercise, it can feel nearly impossible to close the carriage when your oppositional forces are in full swing.

Each end of the body fighting for dominance: the lower body wins as the carriage moves out, and it resists like hell while the lift of the waist drags you back in again to close the springs (if you're lucky).

Up Stretch

Try to get as much of a full body massage out of this one as you can. The undulating motion of this exercise can challenge the stability of the upper body.

Again arms just for balance, reach from the upper stomach all the way to the toes to move the carriage.

Elephant

One of the 1st exercises we learn and a lifetime of opportunities to move it toward perfection, the Elephant is a lengthening of the entire back of the body, straightforwardly pulling the lower body into the center.

Long Back Stretch

The series of exercises on the Reformer often end with a “recap” exercise and this is one of them. The same reach out of the lower body now flipped the other way round.

Again NOT an arm exercise.

Stomach Massage Series

Now we regroup after the Long Stretch series with a familiar action in a new way. The lower body in the same movement pattern as the footwork, but no more lying down for you – you’ve done the Rowing right?

Let’s work on your lift in the Round and Arms Back. Can you keep it tall and taller in the Reach? Now let's move toward an entirely new element: rotation (Twist)!

Tendon Stretch

Holee fooooooook, the Elephant is back again with a vengeance!

Quick! Use what you’ve learned in the last 3 exercises: Elephant, Long Back Stretch and the Stomach Massage Series and tackle the Tendon Stretch.

Then show off your badass connection with the one-leg variations.

On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises

Short Box Series

I sweat more during the Short Box series than I do in any other section of the workout.

This is the real workhorse section of the Reformer.

First you get a nice massage (Round) and then you’ll do some serious work on your standing in the air (Reach) your side-bending (Oh joy, Side to Side) and your rotation again (Twist and Reach)! Around the World variations challenge the reach in both directions from your strong center and ultimately the Tree gives you the first taste of your High Bridge, completely stretching your back and your front.

Short Spine Massage

Of all the exercises that have the word ‘massage’ in the title, the Short Spine Massage definitely delivers.

Positioned here after the grueling work of the Short Box, Joe Pilates finally gives us something nice. It is later in the workout, you are warm and you can really take full advantage of this deep stretch of the body.

High Frog

After the thorough stretch of the Short Spine Massage, the High Frog further pinpoints the strength of the lower body reach in preparation for what’s to come.

Semi Circle

Another of the ‘recap’ exercises, the Semi Circle builds on the articulation found in the Short Spine Massage and further prepares you for the subsequent exercises (Headstands, Chest Expansion, Thigh Stretch, etc…).

I like to think of it as a unique Long Back Stretch – LOL.

Headstands 1+ 2

You’ve cultivated the strength of the back, buttocks and hamstrings in the previous 2 exercises.

The Headstands will now put that strength to the test as you work towards performing them ultimately without holding on with the arms.

Look Ma, no hands!

Now you’ll find out if your butt is working.

Chest Expansion

I like to think of this exercise as the upright version of the Pulling Straps and T. With less support than you had lying on the Long Box, you’ll cultivate the same connection to the back muscles.

Since we've been here before you get the added challenge of a kneeling position on a moving platform.

Notice we are getting more and more upright and above the carriage as we get further into the workout.

This is not an accident.

Thigh Stretch

Work here on the strength and flexibility of the lower body for back bending cause guess what’s up next. In the Thigh Stretch you’ve got some assistance to bring you back up again.

Try not to get too used to it…

Backbends

Backbends are really the ultimate in a thigh stretch, yes? Here you’ll use all you've cultivated in the previous exercises: the open front of the hips and the strength of the back to accomplish this challenging exercise.

You gotta ask yourself: Footbar up or down? Not for the faint of heart, this one.

Arm Circles/Swakate

The Arm Circles and Swakate further challenge the strength of the lower body. All of what you have been working on for the last 5 or 6 exercises, ostensibly the entire workout even.

What??

Remember your Leg Circles not being about your leg?

The same applies here: make yourself solid as a piece of steel and use the circling of the arms as a further challenge for your rock-solid self. Find your length in the back again as a Joe Pilates Backbend-recovery system.

Snake/Twist

What can I say? Hope and pray you’ve got it all together because this one’s a doozy.

So many skills and variables are represented.

It's our first return to an exercise where only the hands and feet are connected to the apparatus since our old friend the Elephant and his Long Stretch series compadres.

I feel this is significant.

Now we have, among other things, another lower body exercise, but your feet are not on the moving carriage, they are on the stationary footbar.

Aha!

Plus the extra-added benefit of challenging one side at a time, upper back extension and the Elephant all over again.

Et tu, Elephant?

Ooh and the one-arm version (foreshadowing!) will build strength for more challenging side exercises to come.

Can you tell I spend a lot of time thinking about this one?

Headstand with Straps

This is lovely spin on Chest Expansion, yes? Oh, this one's great – lots going on!

Building on Headstands 1+2, Chest Expansion and the preceding exercises, now in the Headstand with Straps you've got a more restricted position requiring (1) more flexibility and (2) more strength to control the resistance of the straps.

It can give a great stretch of the whole back and be a preview of the High Bridge. I have seen this exercise in a few slightly different locations in the order, always later on, when the body is very warmed up.

The next several exercises: Corkscrew/Tic Toc, Balance Control Off and Long Box 2: Grasshopper, Rocking, Swimming share a common theme.

For this group of exercises you find yourself on your own and without the resistance/assistance of the Reformer.

Hmmm…

On the Order of the Reformer Exercises

Karen Frischmann has described this section as an interlude. Exciting, no?

As interludes go, it's perfection: round exercises, rotation and backbending.

See how you do!

This is a test. I repeat, this is only a test.

CorkScrew/Tic Toc

The twisting and working of the sides pairs the Corkscrew nicely with the preceding debacle exercise. I personally think of this one as “Snake Recovery Protocol” and the Tic Toc further completes the Twist-o-rama.

And of course, a bit of foreshadowing…

Balance Control Off

OMG I f@**ing love this one!!

There are the exercises we suffer through of course, and thankfully there are those that are just super fun and I wouldn’t mind doing a few extra times.

I know, a big statement.

But what’s it doing for you? Why now? This is a global stretch of the entire back of the body – if you can get it. And once you’ve got it all long and strong, why not stretch ALL the way over and roll up to standing only to tumble back on again?

If you can, you've simply gotta.

With complete control, of course. You've come a long way since lying down for the Footwork.

“I dare you,” says the Reformer.

Long Box 2

Way back in the Naughty Aughties I remember Lesa McLaughlin‘s description of this series:

“Just 3 little exercises.”

These ‘3 little exercises’ are quite challenging here as well as on the Spine Corrector they are also wonderful. In any event, Grasshopper, Rocking and Swimming are a good incentive to proceed to the next challenging exercise – and hey, at least it’s not another backbend…

Long Spine Stretch

Here the word ‘massage’ may lure you in, but I’ll venture you need at least 3-4 decades of Pilates in your body to actualize any sort of massage.

Placed here, Long Spine Stretch follows the group of exercises (the aforementioned interlude) where you are on your own – using only your own strength in several different positions.

Now with the Long Spine Stretch – ironically a strength exercise in my opinion – you've got support, but there's not a ton of it and part of it's moveable. True, it's better than nothing…

If you were pleased with the previous exercises' absence of support, you've always got the version without the straps… but again, that's kind of another post.

My understanding is that you are looking for a lengthened position in the round shape on the way up – not so easy in those long straps – and then a long straight position solid as a rock on the way down to the carriage.

Oh and each repetition a bit longer and more lengthened, please. Yes, I’ll get right on that…

Do your best, you may just be on to something…or at the very least you’ve developed a new way to cheat.

#myfavoritepilatespastime

Mermaid

Included in the Reformer repertoire for those that need it, the Mermaid is a lovely thing. In theory it is a gentle exercise between two high-energy/high-exertion exercises: Long Spine Massage and Knee Stretch Series.

However, maybe there's a bit more going on…

JP does throw in a treat every now and then, but often it's a treat with a purpose.

The Mermaid returns us to the strength of the Side body for the first time since Snake/Twist (one-arm version). Here you've got lots of support and you're seated. Work on that lift!

Watch out for more strength of the Side body coming up.

High Bridge

The High bridge here helps you mine as much enjoyment out of the subsequent Knee Stretch Series as a backbend recovery system.

It’s also nice at the very end of the workout, followed by some rolling on the Mat.

The main point being: you are warmed up!

Remember way back at the Footwork? Under an hour and you're all ready to do an awesome backbend!

How cool.

Kneeling Knee Stretches

These 3 exercises are like the series of 5 abdominal exercises on the Mat: you learn them fairly early on and they never disappoint.

I like to refer to them as “the beginning of the end.” They are your last dash of strength, stamina and endurance.

And probably the reason that clients are so fond of Running (and lying down again).

Running

Now you’ve been up, down, around and everywhere, so the Running is a lovely place to collect yourself, your center and return to the place where you began this wonderful journey.

Remember way back in the Footwork? What does your body feel like now on the Mat?

It is a great place to check in to feel the fruits of your labors. And to catch your breath.

‘Cause you’ve been busy!

Pelvic Lift

This exercise is a nice hearkening back to the lengthening work you did earlier in the Short Spine and Semi Circle exercises. Simply to lengthen the back of the body one last time before the big finish exercises.

You’ll find yourself in a long lengthened back position in the next series, but it’s got to be solid and strong.

Here you get one last chance to be nice to it…it doesn’t yet know what you’ve got in store!

Control Push Ups – Front, Back and Side (Star)

Another spin on the Long Stretch Series, this series promotes lift and length in the back and adds the element of one side at a time. See – all that Side strengthening a few exercises ago gets revved up into the Star! (:44)

Reminiscent of the Leg Pull Front and Leg Pull exercises on the Mat, the body must stay long and strong as you lift one leg up and move the carriage about: facing down, facing up or as a Single-Side Sensation.

Side Splits

The Side Splits are about pulling both of your standing legs up and under you.

Literally pulling yourself together.

I mean, you’ve got to walk out of the studio at some point after your workout, yes?

Test yourself now: How far can you open the carriage and still keep your integrity and ultimately close the carriage again? This one is full of bells, whistles, cadenzas and riffs on controlling the apparatus both open and closed.

No part of this exercise is a walk in the park.

Front Splits

This exercise works on the opening of the hips necessary for better lunges and front splits. What you’ll cultivate here, you’ll use in the subsequent 2 exercises.

If you are like me and you don’t have the bendiest splits, feel free to refer to these split exercises as “Hip Stretches” LOL.

And again a tall strong back position to finish this one… we are getting more upright!

Russian Splits

I must confess I like this exercise more and more even though it is getting harder and harder.

The more you know 🙂

Yes, they all get harder, it’s true.

The Russian Split is actually a great help for the Snake exercise or any of the exercises where you must use the lower body to move the carriage while the feet are on the footbar, the non-moving part of the apparatus. And yes, I realize this one is quite an exercise to be a “helper” exercise for any others…

So again, enjoy the hip stretch!

Big Splits

I have heard this one called “Grande Finale” and “Grande Ecarte.” You have worked on your strength and flexibility in the split exercises that precede this one, now both are paramount.

The strength and flexibility of your split must control the carriage in and out.

Wowza.

Russian Squats

Just when you have wrung yourself out, performed a full reformation, who doesn’t want to stand up on the Reformer?

The Russian Squats were originally classified as “Men’s Exercises.” They require strength, stamina and a will of steel to even make yourself step up onto the carriage to begin.

Please find a friend to assist you the first time you attempt the Russian Squats.

Okay. 

I love the Reformer. 

Just wanted to get that in there…

A few changes in the Order of the Universe

The order I have specified in this post is the one I currently use for my clients and my own workout. I learned a slightly different order initially from my training through Excel Pilates and Romana’s Pilates.

Several lovely colleagues shared their experiences to help me present as much factual information as possible regarding inconsistencies in the order.

Do bear in mind of course that in Pilates often there is no black and white, clear-cut answer.

Every teacher from Joe Pilates to Romana to you and I responds to the skills and needs of the body in front of them. I’d wager that led to an eventual alteration of the order nearly every time.

But it's all interesting, n’est-ce pas?

Some notables:

  • Where in the world is the Short Box?

With her older clients circa early 1990s, Romana would direct them to keep the box with them after Long Box 1 proceeding directly to the Short Box Series. Romana herself was probably moving the box for them in those days and those particular clients were most-likely not doing Long Box 2 anyway.

However apprentices at the time continued to take the box away and bring it back for its encore performance as the Short Box. This group presumably would be progressing to Long Box 2.

Indeed, older orders from both Joe and Romana place the Short Box series considerably later in the order.

  • Uhm, Long Box 2 anyone?

Any good discussion of where to place the Short Box must include Long Box 2. Back in the day if one was to do the entire Reformer repertoire, the Short Box would disappear after Long Box 1 and return after Long Box 2, immediately preceding the Long Spine Massage.

Another order from nearly the same era flip-flops them, Short Box, then Long Box 2, then Long Spine Massage.

Jay Grimes does not care how many times you must get that box, follow the order in this post and you'll schlep it thrice.

Record highs on the nerdometer I know.

However, all scenarios make the same kind of sense: at the level where one does all of the Reformer exercises both the Short Box and Long Box 2 are essentially a bunch of backbends.

All of which leaves you super-psyched to do the Long Spine Massage. Necessary!!!

  • The sweetness of Short Spine Massage

Teacher Training Programs organize the Pilates exercises into manageable installments of Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced exercises. This is a necessary codification to teach apprentices how to be safe and effective teachers.

In my initial trainings I learned to teach students at the intermediate level (which is a large number of our clients) to do the Short Spine Massage after the Hundred.

Early on.

Ok, eventually one will do the Overhead in its stead. Same dif, yeah?

Well, let’s look at the names of the exercises:

Overhead vs. Short Spine (also called Spine Massage)

To be honest, I prefer to have my massage later in the hour when I am warm, sweaty and much more pliable. One can get so much more out of the exercise then, as opposed to Short Spine as the 3rd exercise in the routine.

And for those that do not do the Overhead yet, Frog and Circles are not exactly for sissies.

a rose by any other name would smell as sweet

You may know the exercise by a different name. Or maybe there's an exercise that is new to you and you LOVE meeting new friends.

Use the image below as a guide (and for further proof I didn't resort to a stunt double).

If you would like to purchase a poster of the Reformer Exercises mentioned in this post (similar to the image below), I thank you very much. Visit the shop.

On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises

Whew.

Got deets to share?

A quibble or a question?

Drop me a comment and let's investigate further.

Read this post again and you'll need to workout!

BOOK REVIEW: Pilates An Interactive Workbook by Christina Maria Gadar

Book Review: Pilates An Interactive Workbook by Christina Maria Gadar

Received one morning on vacation in Paris:

Hi Andrea,
I was wondering if you would like me to send you a copy of “Pilates An Interactive Workbook.” 
Warmest wishes,
Christina Maria Gadar

Pilates An Interactive Workbook is a wonderful new book by Christina Maria Gadar. I had been secretly wanting this book since it was released on August 29, 2013.

Good-fortune hovers closeby when in a magical city.

Need. More. Christina.

Christina Maria Gadar is one of my favorite Pilates practitioners. She completed her rigorous Pilates training under Joseph Pilates' protégée and Grand Master Instructor Romana Kryzanowska in 2000. She operates a world-class Pilates studio in Sarasota, Florida.

Should you be a Sarasota local I highly recommend you stop by for a lesson.

Although we have not met in person I have the highest regard and admiration for her thoughtful social media postings. The high standards of her studio are evident in her flawless videos, each featuring a different Pilates apparatus. She is a shining example of a connected and precise transition.

Have a look:

She nimbly zips up the mountain like a sprite in Mountain Climb on the Wunda Chair.

Calm focus is about her as she busts out even Swakate on the Arm Chair. It becomes an elegant exercise. Even as I watch I can feel its deliciousness…

BOOK REVIEW: Pilates An Interactive Workout by Christina Maria GadarSpeedy Delivery

The book arrived the very day she said it would, one day after my return from Europe.

It was bigger and more weighty than I expected and really said ‘serious.'

She even signed it – another fun surprise!

Although book reviews are not my usual style of posts, the idea for this review was entirely mine. Christina said she would be very happy for me to review it.

“I know there is no guarantee of a positive review, and I prefer it that way.”

Alignment trumps all. 

Pilates An Interactive Workbook sports the perfect tagline:

BOOK REVIEW: Pilates An Interactive Workbook by Christina Maria Gadar

Her POV – and indeed the POV of the Pilates Method itself – are in perfect alignment.

Oh gosh, I needed that pun.

A place for everything and everything in its place…

Christina has created a Pilates workbook that is part Exercise Manual and even more importantly part Exercise Journal. A place to keep all your thoughts, notes, corrections, etc… on a given exercise for handy reference.

Often the process of writing down the notes can help to cement them in the mind. Christina also wisely suggests that you write all your notes in pencil, “as your notes will change as your body changes.

There is no end to learning Pilates. Learn to savor each moment and each progression in your Pilates education. Then you will find yourself getting to the heart of the method.

The intended purpose of Pilates An Interactive Workbook is plainly stated. In bold, mind you.

“Please remember that this book is meant only for those who are already students of a certified Pilates instructor. Pilates cannot be learned from a book or video – only from a teacher.”

The italics are Christina's.

The Heart and Soul of the Method

All of the fundamental Pilates exercises on the Mat and the Reformer are in attendance. If the Reformer is at the heart of Pilates, the Matwork is surely the soul of the Method.

The Matwork is divided into a ‘basic' and an ‘intermediate' system. Also included are additional series aimed at the Pilates client/home exerciser which require only a small prop or a wall: Magic Circle exercises, Standing Arm Weights and the Wall series. Huzzah!

The Reformer section includes both fundamental as well as more challenging exercises such as Teaser, Semi-Circle and Side Splits. It is again a solid group of exercises on the Reformer that Pilates teachers use daily when working with nearly every client.

In the above photo you can see a sample of the page layout that is used throughout the book. This kind of organization is appealing to me. Nearly half to three-quarters of every left-hand page is reserved for your notes and observations on each particular exercise.

The thought of having all of my notes on the Backstroke together in one place is practically more excitement than I stand. Over time some notes would replace others of course, but collecting all of the notes would allow you to see what is improving over time, and what notes you got the very first time that you are still getting today…

***nerdgasm***

Get ready, here's another one.

 

I'm someone who's nerdy about the details.

The above photo also shows the ‘Detail' section located on many of the bottom left-hand pages. Christina is pictured here demonstrating the transition into the Corkscrew. Other Detail sections examine correct placement, show other secure and effective transitions between exercises and include tips for proficiency.

It's almost like having a teacher with you.

Imagine that.

Pilates for Life 

A large Detail section delineates the the various parts of the Reformer apparatus itself: head rest, carriage, the well, leather straps, etc… This section deserves to be quoted in its entirety:

In addition to being familiar with your individual workout routine on the Reformer, it is important to be familiar with the set-up of the Pilates apparatus. Knowing the set-up for each exercise will enhance your concentration and self-efficiency. It will also reinforce the proper techniques necessary for lifting, bending and and reaching. Before you know it, you will find yourself incorporating Pilates into every minute of your day.

Another gem:

The Reformer section does not begin at the Footwork Series. It starts with the very first moment of the workout: Lying down on the Reformer Apparatus. It is given the same prominence, value and design layout as every one of the exercises. Boom.

Pilates teachers everywhere are thanking you 🙂

A must for the self-proclaimed Pilates Nerd and enthusiast of all stripes, Pilates An Interactive Workbook clearly communicates the ideas and skills inherent and crucial to success in the Pilates Method:

  • Quality over quantity.
  • The imperative of learning a new exercise with a trained instructor before doing it on your own.
  • Practicing at home to make the most of your investment in Pilates lessons and take true ownership of your workout.
  • The Pilates Method is a complete system.

I am very happy to have this book. And to put it to good use. My Swan on the Barrel page is filling up!!

For more information on Christina Maria Gadar visit her at Gadar Pilates.

Book Review: Pilates An Interactive Workbook by Christina Maria Gadar

Do you own this book? How has it informed your own Pilates practice? Share your thoughts and join the conversation.

You can order the book for your favorite Pilates student here. (Even if it's you.)