Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Thanks for joining me in the 4th and potentially last installment of this series exploring components and strategies for finding length in the low back.

Welcome new subscribers!

It’s lovely to have you.

In the first installment of this series we looked at 2 major skills which create a long, open and strong low back: the engagement of the ribs (a gateway to the opening of the middle back) and the crucial use of the seat.

The second post in this series examined the first of the oppositional forces: the skill of finding the ribs/upper stomach.

In the third post I answer a subscriber question about finding length in the low back in one of our most infamous Pilates exercises, the Teaser! Check it out.

This week we’ll look at the 2nd oppositional force – often an elusive one to find  – and discuss strategies for finding and engaging…

the bottom.

Our seat.

Popo (Romana's word).

Butt (Jay's word).

Derriere. Buttocks.

And away we go!

Full Disclosure

For me, the seat struggle is real.

I am happy to share with you some of the exercises and strategies that have helped me wrangle my popo in my Pilates workout.

It's just so easy to randomly squeeze the bottom, but remember we're after an oppositional force here…so the name of the game is a familiar one:

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

That being said, it's really just the lowest, underneath part of the bottom we're after.

It's my hope that you'll find each of the following exercises as helpful as I have found them.

Here's to a high bottom and a supple low back 🙂

Footwork/Pumping on the Chairs

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of ItStrategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Let's begin at the beginning.

Lying onto the Reformer to begin the Footwork we will warm up the lower body. But how to use the center far more than the legs can be challenging.

On the Gratz Reformer you can use 2 springs only – or even drop down to just 1 spring – and find more of your stomach and seat without the legs leaping at the chance to fight some springs.

This is one option and a great place to start.

However, we need several strategies here to outsmart our bum.

Taking the Footwork vertical on the Chairs is an advantageous shake-up for the body. Control the pedal up with your seat and stomach and your bottom will soon be on fire!

Standing Pumping!

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of ItStrategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Another of my favorite vertical options for finding the seat, the Standing Pumping gives you 2 more places to find the seat exercise that's perfect for you.

And some exercises may speak to you (and your seat…) more than others…

On the Wunda Chair you can start with a lighter spring – the same strategy we employed for our Footwork on the Reformer. I like to use 2 springs on the bottom, and then as you get stronger and find the seat more efficiently you can change to the heavier spring setting of 1 top + 1 bottom.

On the Wunda Chair you must balance on your own.

On the High Chair the spring is considerable, but you do have a nice place to hold onto and gather yourself (and your butt).

Try this exercise on both of these apparatuses and see what will work best for you.

When pressing the pedal down, hold it down for a moment and distribute your weight evenly on both legs. This will help you find the seat on both sides, the working leg and the standing leg.

We need a better distinction than ‘working leg' I think…I mean, what's not working?

#fullbodyworkout

Single Leg Spring on the Cadillac

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of itStrategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of it

Leg Springs on the Cadillac have been one of my most hated exercises. I know I have professed to love them now, but it has taken me nearly 16 years to feel like I do them even reasonably well.

It has been a combination of the Single Leg Springs on the Cadillac and the Spine Corrector that has made all the difference for me.

The Single Leg Springs are a great way to whittle away at overworking legs and hips in the Leg Spring Series. These are simple exercises that pack a big wallup connection-wise.

I like the spring coming from the opposite side, but you can use the spring on the same side too.

I also enjoy using the lighter arm springs for a while because I know my strong leg muscles will want to fight the heavier spring.

Using the lighter springs will allow my legs to chill out and pretend we are on the Spine Corrector!

There are 4 parts that I find to be effective:

  • Frog-ish – the leg goes out and in – a la Frog – but the orientation of the leg is parallel, therefore Frog-ish
  • Straight Leg Lower Lift – the Walking and the Scissors build on this one
  • Bicycle – this one builds on the skills of the previous 2.
  • Single Leg Circle – yup. Just like on the mat. Great for peeps that don't use their stomach when they do it on the mat…

Thigh Stretch

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Think of this one less like an exercise and more like a way of life.

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

The Thigh Stretch is a recipe for finding length in the front AND the back.

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

And we find this exercise ALL OVER THE STUDIO.

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

There's an appropriate Thigh Stretch for everyone.

Wow. Something for everyone?

What a system!

We also find ourselves in the position of Thigh Stretch in countless other exercises: Chest Expansion, Semi Circle, anything done kneeling really, anything on the stomach…you see where this is going…

The Thigh Stretch is a lesson in how to negotiate this body position.

It's the verticality of the Thigh Stretch that helps me to find length.

L-E-N-G-T-H!

It's truly a combination of my 2 favorite Pilates words: Lift and Length.

So for your next Thigh Stretch play with both of these: lift up in the waist and lengthen the tailbone down toward the apparatus.

The verticality + up in front + down in back = some sign of life from your bottom.

Seize the day!

Wait for it… the awareness will build over time and you will become master of your own popo.

And wouldn't you know I can't say enough about the Thigh Stretch?

The Spine Corrector

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of it

Thank you so SO much Joseph Pilates for your brilliant invention the Spine Corrector.

The Spine Corrector is one-stop-shopping for your body.

It also covers everything mentioned in this post!

Need a thigh stretch? We've got it here.

Trouble finding your bottom? Welcome…

Need to open up the low back?

Yup. This is the place.

Every time I use my Spine Corrector I think “My God, why do I not do this every day??”

Oh yeah, it's that good.

Always remember the purpose of the Spine Corrector apparatus.

It's nice to play on and do lots of things…but it's genius at what it does best: opening up the back (correcting the spine). Opening opening opening…the front and the back.

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of it

Big kisses to you JP.

Have some tips to share to get your butt in gear?

Leave me a comment and let's have a chat!

The Pilates System: Strategies for a Tight Low Back Part 3

The Pilates System: Strategies for a Tight Low Back Part 3

For Suzy

Check out these Teasers from back in the day at Jacob's Pillow under the watchful eye of contrologist extraordinaire, JP.

I clearly remember looking at this photo years ago and wondering why everyone is rolled so far back toward the mat…

I can lift up and sit up really high in this exercise.

And it's not really that hard to do.

Hmmm…

The Tremor of Truth

Recently I received a question from a subscriber:

It's really difficult for me to do the Teaser on the mat. I pop onto my sitz bones, I can do the teaser on the Cadillac and the Reformer, but I really struggle on the mat! I find it incredibly hard to get the sufficient lumbar flexion needed! Any tips?

This is a great question.

I agree, to find length in the low back in the Teaser on the Mat can be a challenge.

Truly the epitome of the 2-way stretch, the Teaser has finally coerced me to find more length in my low back.

And ultimately this length will give the Teaser its shape: the Teaser is a round exercise.

Just say NO to balancing on your butt

When I moved to California early in my Pilates career, I was repeatedly praised for how high I could sit up in the Teaser. So I kept right on doing it.

For years…

Now I like to call this too-high-up position ‘balancing on your butt.'

And I could stay up there for days.

My stomach is doing nothing.

One day just a few years ago Jay Grimes helped me find out what all the fuss is about.

“You're coming up too high, roll back down a bit”

What??

Dutifully I rolled back a little bit toward the mat.

Shake-ety, shake-ety, shake… oh yes, I see.

Well now that's a lot of work.

Who knew?

I love it when that happens. You can tell immediately, it just feels like the truth.

Or as Romana Kryzanowska would say “Now something is happening!”

Enjoy this short video tutorial on how to find length in the low back in our most favorite exercise, the Teaser.

If you've got questions, leave me a comment.

I love to chat about our beloved Pilates Method 🙂

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

In my weekly lessons (mostly on the Reformer because I am obsessed), Karen Frischmann has been encouraging me to reach my legs/thighs long and away from my center.

At first I admit I had no idea what she was talking about.

It was not until months later in the midst of the Overhead on the Reformer that I understood.

I am my own Spine Corrector.

Over time, using the entire Pilates system, the gifts we receive from each of the various apparatus get built right into our bodies.

How nice.

It's no secret that the firm support of all the apparatus act as a template for the shape of our backs: lying down on the Mat, Cadillac and Reformer; upright and tall along the Electric Chair and Arm Chair.

But what about the round apparatus? Surely they are our teachers too.

31 Days of the Hundred

March MATness 2016 coaxed me to get up close and personal with my Pilates Mat exercises.

In the Hundred, figuring out how to maintain the length and strength of my back despite my legs reaching lower became one of my pet projects for March (and beyond, evidently).

A noble pursuit.

I begin my Hundred lying down and lift everything into position.

Wherever I park my legs I can get the job done, but are they really connected to my center?

Perhaps not.

Enter the Spine Corrector.

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

The Spine Corrector is an amazing apparatus that truly lives up to its name. With the opening and ‘correcting' of the spine, this apparatus also promotes an opening of the hips, thighs and shoulders.

Over time, the muscular action we cultivate in the Spine Corrector exercises will infiltrate the body.

And elsewhere in the system we've got numerous occasions to be our own Spine Corrector:

  • High Scissors and High Bicycle on the Mat
  • Other inverted exercises: The Overhead, Corkscrew, Control Balance
  • The Hundred and the Ab 5 on the Mat: Yes you are working your stomach, but there's a lot of hip opening and seat action to complement your abs of steel.

One clear example is the High Scissors and High Bicycle on the Mat.

We do the identical exercises on the Spine Corrector.

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the HundredI am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

Now you see the Spine Corrector…and now you don't!

Or do you?

Now let's take that same idea and apply it to another inverted exercise, the Overhead:

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

S-t-r-e-t-c-h those legs up and over the imaginary Spine Corrector behind you.

Now to the Hundred to look for length in the back by being our own Spine Corrector.

Perhaps the hardest of all…

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

I can use the same feeling in each of these examples: the same scoop of my stomach and I can imagine reaching my thighs and legs over the apparatus which is now imaginary.

An integral facet of our minds, imagination is a fantastic tool to control our muscles.

Romana Kryzanowska spoke about the 5 parts of the mind inherent in our Pilates workout:

Pilates is “Intelligence guided by the will using memory and imagination assisted by intuition.

You know how I feel about control.

The mind in charge of the body.

My favorite.

It is called ‘Spine Corrector

Remember the Spine Corrector is best at doing just what its name suggests. As it lengthens and balances our various curvatures, our lower body learns a new way of moving along the Spine Corrector.

And over time…you are your own Spine Corrector!

Give these tips a try in your next workout.

Questions? Leave me a comment and let's have a chat.

March MATness 2016: The Recap

March MATness 2016: The RecapFirst off, let me offer a hearty congratulations for every single one of you who took up the challenge of March MATness this year.

We all deserve a few minutes each day to care for our bodies with the Pilates Mat exercises. What a treat!

Yes, there are days when for whatever reason you must keep your workout quite short. A couple days I managed to sneak in only the Hundred. Other days I did my full Mat workout perhaps even with an ending on the Spine Corrector. Most of my March workouts were somewhere between 1 exercise and all of them.

Now for Romana's famous question:

What did you learn today in March?

1. Day 2 – already feeling fabulous

Not surprisingly, even on March 2 – only 2 days into the MATness – I could feel the effects of my efforts in my body. I felt great. Lots of energy and just more comfortable in my own body and brain. Several of my colleagues on Facebook reported they felt awesome too.

A few days into March, my husband began using a mantra: “abs glistening in the sun.”

I decided it deserved to be a hashtag.

#MM2016

#absglisteninginthesun

2. ‘Me time' is FUN!

Given my druthers and a clear schedule, I truly love my Pilates workout. Working on the Mat exercises each day helped me to appreciate my time for self-care. It almost functions as a form of meditation – a focused “quiet time” for the body and spirit.

Although I am hardly quiet in some of the exercises… Lots of grunting during the Side Kicks Kneeling…

3. Structure and Creativity

The framework of the 34 Mat exercises in Return to Life is a perfect backdrop for the kind of a workout you'll plan for each day. I know what exercises I need to get in and if I'm short on time I still make sure to include my ‘favorites' and my ‘necessaries.'

How about a brief day of only rolling exercises? Why not?

And I tried to make sure my workout included the exercise for that specific day, as a little celebration and thanks for Joe Pilates.

How did he know I need that Swimming exercise SO MUCH?

4. The daily check in with your body

As an unbalanced person (take this as you will) I've been working on not overusing my strong side.

My daily Mat workout helped me to pinpoint the exercises in which I like to overwork.

I got better and better at finding them as I worked diligently each day. Lots of Pilates detective work helped me to learn more nuances about my body.

5. A workout REALLY doesn't take that long at all

Even with the inclusion of every Mat exercise in Joe's original system, my maximum time spent on the Mat was under 30 minutes.

And I was wiped.

I've certainly got more than enough time in my day to fit in my workout. Even if I've only got 25 minutes.

#noexcuses

6. OMG the Hundred got better!

Wonders. Never. Cease.

I have been steadily working to create more length in my back and have my legs at a lower level.

Sure I can just park my legs low and hang them off my pelvis, but how will I live with myself??!

I could still continue to pump on and on, but what am I really “warming up” then? My arms??

A daily dose of the Hundred helped to efficiently warm up my center by working fiercely to keep the back long.

7. The Order of the Universe

Finally it dawned on me that March MATness is not only a celebration of Joe Pilates original system, it's also a gateway drug to the order of the exercises as well.

O frabjous day!

It made my heart warm to see so many lovely Pilates friends on Social Media beginning with the Hundred on March 1 and proceeding each day to the next exercise. What a lovely way to celebrate and learn the order of the exercises.

Now we need a month beginning with ‘R' for the Reformer.

Oh and that month has to be like 80 days long…

Rocktober anyone?

How was your March MATness experience this year? 

Share your successes in a comment below.

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab FiveThe infamous Series of 5.

Stomach Suicide.

The. Ab. Five.

No matter the level of practitioner, these 5 iconic Mat exercises challenge our connection and stamina. They teach us control, lower body connection and determination.

They remain dreaded beloved by clients and teachers alike.

Located early on in the order of the Mat exercises, the completion of these 5 exercises gets you dialed into the workout and grateful to sit up for a bit afterwards.

Who doesn't enjoy a little dessert (Spine Stretch Forward) when you've finally completed Criss Cross?

Yum.

Single Leg Pull and Double Leg Pull

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

The first 2 exercises in the series come from Joe Pilates.

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

They are featured in Pilates' manifesto Return to Life. They are also referred to as Single Leg Stretch and Double Leg Stretch.

Hmmm… let's think about the addition of the word ‘stretch' into the names…

Single Straight Leg Stretch, Double Straight Leg Stretch and Criss Cross

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

Romana Kryzanowska, Joe Pilates' chosen protege, added these 3 exercises (to which Jay Grimes says: “Because they’re good”) because she saw too many “poochy bellies” and Romana did not like “poochy bellies.”

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

(Click here for more information about my awesome blue Mat!)

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

And they are good. They never disappoint.

Single Leg Pull and Double Leg Pull are in my opinion ‘wind-relieving’ exercises to help to stimulate digestion and ultimately rid the body of toxins. They are a great strengthener of the entire trunk and the deep breaths of the Double Leg Pull again lead to a stretch and a wringing out of the entire system: stretch out and lengthen, and then fold up completely.

Just what we need to be doing.

TMI?

I get by with a little help from my stomach

As a beginning practitioner you may work through these exercises at a deliberate pace, perhaps resting your head in between exercises.

Slowly you will build strength and endurance.

With more proficiency you'll proceed gradually toward a brisk pace with no stopping until post-Criss Cross.

In any event your stomach will be on fire before you reach the 5th exercise.

And why are the hardest ones at the end?

Wait. 

What if the Series of 5 wasn't about your abs?

?????

Yup.

Let's entertain a new spin on this legendary series.

Back to the Lower Body

Continuing my fixation on all things lower body…let's look at the reach away from the center.

Yes, there is a lot of pulling into the center in each of the five exercises, but there is also a long reach away from the center. Hmm.

The reach of the lower body.

A-ha!

My bottom is a Spine Corrector and why it's okay to say so

Take a look at these 2 photos:

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

The above photo is Scissors done on the Spine Corrector.

Look familiar?

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

Hmmm…coincidence?

What if we were to fasten in the upper stomach on the Mat in the same manner that one must to work the Scissors (Single Straight Leg Stretch) on the Spine Corrector?

Our scoop will work fiercely to anchor the trunk into the Mat as we reach the legs long and away.

We can mine all the benefits of the apparatus and take it with us to the Mat.

What???

Yes.

The outward reach of the lower body will allow us to elongate the thighs and ultimately open the hips.

Just like our friend the Spine Corrector 🙂

OMG hello #premiseofthemethod…

You'll open up in the front just in time to sit up for Spine Stretch. How convenient!

Open up in the front, and then you'll open up the back.

Sounds like a plan.

The Song Remains the Same

Later we'll turn this exercise onto its head and tackle the High Scissors and Control Balance at the end of our Mat sequence.

Uhm…

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

Stay tuned in 2016

For those of you who enjoyed my series on Transitions on the Reformer you can look forward to more Transitions – this time on the Mat – coming up in the next few months.

Yippee!

It's also not too late to enter to win a FREE Skype lesson. The deadline for entries has been extended to January 15.

So get your New Year's workout on and show me your stuff!

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

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