Bicycle on the Small Barrel and How it Fixed my Back

Bicycle on the Small Barrel and How it Fixed my Back

Hello dear readers! Gosh it's been a looooooong time.

If you're a new subscriber, Welcome! Thanks for exploring my archive of posts and signing on for the long haul. I hope to share even more of my experience of the Pilates Method in my own body as we finish out the year.

It's been a wild ride lately.

A big thank you to those who expressed concern at the lack of new posts in their inbox each week. Your sweet messages warmed my heart.

As for my disappearance, the short answer is I have been traveling and guest teaching since September.

How the Bicycle On the Small Barrel Fixed my Back

Cake-filled Vienna was lovely. Thanks to Andrea Seipel at Pilates Modling for a fantastic event!

I landed after at my usual haunt, Everybody Pilates in Portsmouth UK with the lovely Amy Kellow (where evidently I was all workity-workity and took no photos…boo…).

Bicycle on the Small Barrel and How it Fixed my Back

Seoul fused the ultra-modern with beautiful tradition. Thanks so so much to Nan Young  and your lovely teachers at The Control.

Oh and so delicious as well… too many food photos to show here but indulge me a bit…

Bicycle on the Small Barrel and How it Fixed my Back

And if Los Angeles and the French Riviera had a baby it would be Busan.

Bicycle on the Small Barrel and How it Fixed my Back

Where of course there was more food (and Pilates at Studio Define – Thank you Kyung Hye!).

Bicycle on the Small Barrel and How it Fixed my Back

The longer, more-involved and truthful answer for my absence is twofold:

  1. I indulged in a very satisfying closet/wardrobe renovation. Organizing and nesting pleases me greatly and I did nerd out HARD in this process.
  2. I discovered a little Pilates mystery going on in my body that I wasn't quite able to figure out. Honestly it was making me lose a bit of my Pilates mojo. I was cranky and Pilates wasn't helping.


Oh Small Barrel, are you my only friend?

Let's Recap

Lately I've been sharing my personal workout with you. I'm sure you all remember my Small Barrel Project – woo hoo – I had a big successful run on this 30-day challenge.

I couldn't get enough of it – I was invincible!!

Yeah! Bring on another one – how about a 30-day Wunda Chair Challenge!

Sadly, on the Chair I didn't fair as well. No matter how many times I mounted my Wunda I couldn't make the exercises feel as delicious as on the Small Barrel.

And as I like to say when confronted by a new Pilates mystery in my body:


Where's the juicy-feel-good-post-workout feeling I crave?

How/Why have I become so stiff? What gives?

Small Barrel 2.0

How the Bicycle On the Small Barrel Fixed my Back


I must return to the scene of the crime to make my body feel like a real person again.

2-3x per day I practiced all of my Small Barrel exercises hoping for a miracle.

If you've been reading for a while you know I am very reluctant to blame the Pilates exercises for any discrepancies in how my body feels.


It's not you, it's me.

Perhaps the Small Barrel had more to teach me.

The plan:

I began each workout with my #usualsuspects: Foot Corrector and Small Barrel. After a couple days I added just a bit of meat and potatoes exercises on either the Reformer or the Mat.

As much as it pains me not to do every exercise I do on the Reformer (cause if you skip them they don't get better) I must revisit the basics for a new(ish) reason:

I am cultivating a new skill and I want to visit it in as many straightforward uncomplicated exercises as I can – because they'll be easier to wrangle than all the snakes and backbends right now.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Please imagine me talking sternly to myself about this.

At first my Reformer workout looked like this:

  • Footwork
  • 100
  • Frogs and circles
  • Overhead (because I just can't stop myself)
  • Coordination
  • Stomach Massage Series
  • Short Box Series
  • Elephant 
  • Knee Stretch Series
  • Running 
  • Pelvic Lift

At first.

After about a month I added in Long Box 1: Pull Straps, T and the Backstroke.

Now a few months in I have added in nearly all my Reformer exercises – nothing super duper yet- no Backbends, no Headstands – but everything else is coming along nicely.

I may even figure out how to keep length in my back during extension exercises – holy cow that would be awesome!

Baby steps.

Repetitio est Mater Studiorum

Using the gift – GIFT I tell you! – of repetition I diligently work through my Small Barrel exercises. Slowly the more straightforward ones – Circles, Walks and Beats – help me to find length in my back.

Long the Back! Right? OMG what's that amazing sensation of ease in my hips and legs?? Excellent…

Each day doing my exercises hones my Long the Back! skills into the Scissors and – eventually and miraculously – into the Bicycle.

It's truly an amazing progression in this Small Barrel series. Each exercise building on the next, each subsequent exercise just that much more complex to challenge my new skill. Or at this point should I say “skill?”

Armed with my willpower and my Pilates Mantra I forge ahead!

I work to make each subsequent exercise feel exactly like the easier ones which precede it. 

Bicycle on the Small Barrel and How it Fixed my Back

And one day it comes to pass that I have an epiphany in the Bicycle

A word about the Bicycle

The Bicycle – done anywhere in the studio really – falls into the category of exercises I find to be problematic. Lots of flashy leg moves right in front of your eyes which distract you from your main goal of length in the back and connection in the center.

Choreography be damned! Who cares if I know what a Bicycle is supposed to look like? ONLY. CARE. ABOUT. THE. CENTER.

My discovery is, on the surface, so lackluster. However, this move is a crucial component of nearly every exercise.

With the Bicycle I learned I could bring my leg closer to my body by opening up my back. Not by overusing my hip and leg, but by a forlorn and neglected region of my powerhouse.

And you know what that means?

Bicycle on the Small Barrel and How it Fixed my Back

Back to the Elephant.


Time for some sad trombone

Cast your impatience aside for it does not serve you…

I now have a tiny window into just how much repetition it takes to create change.

A f*ck ton.

Every. Day.

The Elephant is our very first quintessential Pilates exercise meant to open the back of the body with every close of the carriage. So simple right?

Uhm, clearly chock full of Pilates goodness this one…

Have a basic exercise you return to time after time?

Share your Pilates strategy in a comment below.

And thanks for reading!

Stay tuned here for my workshop schedule for 2018…

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  1. Alessandra Niccolai says

    Wow!! It’s so nice to have you back!! ???? Although I’m fortunate enough to have joined in with some of your traveling adventures ????????????..
    how is it that just when I’ve been noodling some pilates nerd-isms that you miraculously write about it in a post ???? Recently I’ve had a more-than-usual achey low back… being short of time recently and with my spanking new reformer arriving ???? I just thought today that I have been neglecting my barrel exercises and need to get back to them pronto!! I’m also trying to suss out my other new toy – the foot corrector ???? I feel sure that these will help me with my search of the lower body reach and more length in my back… so I’m back to frogs & circles and the short spine massage with a renewed focus… oh and the short box… oh and elephant ????…which all feel totally different on my new reformer… (especially elephant ????) straightforward uncomplicated exercises rule ???????? #rockon and see you soon ????

    • Yaaaas… I’m back! So glad you are the same Small Barrel and Foot Corrector binge I am on. Later this afternoon I need to revisit my Reformer workout from my lesson with Karen on Monday. I have been feeling great for the past 2 days since a lot of Pilatesology filming and working out and my Monday lesson. Pilates + hot baths = happy wintertime 🙂
      Thanks for being such a devoted Pilates Nerd and subscriber! Looking forward to seeing you next week for more fun with your new Reformer… xox

      • Alessandra Niccolai says

        So glad you’re feeling better! Am looking forward to a foot corrector session when I see you next…????????.. definitely hmmmm…????????

  2. Carmen Lanteignr says

    Hi Andrea,
    Thank you for your post and inspiration. I too have been nagged with a unhappy left shoulder, which can morph into a kink in the neck. In between some physio and my wheat bag straddling my shoulders, I’ve gained some healthy respect for my injury. Thank goodness though for pilates and my amazing teachers helping me along my road to recovery!
    Be well my friend.
    Love ya,

    • Hi there 🙂

      Thanks so much for reading, Carmen – I hope you are well and enjoying the holidays – almost LOL! Yes, there’s always more to be had in this method – it was so nice to see you a bit online at Karen’s on Monday. I was wiped but felt so good. Keep up the good work, you and I will see you soon! xo

  3. A f*ck ton. true dat! I’m first hand witnessing this with the STAR. for the love of…will I ever raise the pedal? I’m so glad to read your return post too! Your posts always get me thinking and practicing harder but I so understand the closet pull! Also, glad to hear your back is feeling better with the Bicycle! Maybe the 3 of us can get down on the FOOT CORRECTOR in January! That thing…another avoidance only because it makes me work the parts that don’t like to work 🙂 Alessandra, looking forward to your nerdy notes on your new Reformer experience 🙂 Peace out. Rock on. xo

    • Yes, how about 1 topic for our class on January 19 can be the Foot Corrector. Everyone can try and we can use other exercises to use that Foot Corrector feeling as well. It will be a Lower Body extravaganza! Thanks so much for reading and being an awesome subscriber, Pilates nerd and friend 🙂 And hey, it’s almost January… Hang in there with the Star, I promise!

    • Alessandra Niccolai says

      I’m just sooo excited that the three pilates musketeers will be together again soon!! ????????????????????????I think that my new reformer experiences will be better explained over a cocktail or two..????????… and a full session on the wonders of the foot corrector will be most excellent ????????????… Cor I’m v impressed that you’re even attempting the STAR ⭐️- you star!! ⭐️???? I’m yet to snake ???? star ⭐️ or swan dive???? .. however am pleased to report that my knee stretches and short box are much improved ????????????… #nerdout???? #rockon #pilatesmusketeers????????????????????????

      • or three or four… 🙂 Yes!! Let’s do the FC/lower body extravaganzzzzzza! That will be awesome. Lately, I’ve been thinking about my butt….precisely because of the Star and how to “air-engage” it…it’s so hard and I know that this lack of air power is holding my progression back in many exercises. It’s not much of an attempt as I literally stand still like-a-statue when I do the Star = nothing happens. hahahahha but like you just said A, everything old is new again and that is what keeps this Kool Aid so yummy! xo #pilatesmusketeers #koolaidnerdout

        • Alessandra Niccolai says

          Hmm ???? Kool aid… must be an American thing..I’ll Google it… anyhoo I’ve just had an amazing lesson using my new toy- the foot corrector ???? And then did a basic reformer workout linking the two… this would definitely help you find your butt missy! ???????????? I’m calling it a basic workout, but there was nothing basic about it???? … if you get what I mean☺️… #everythingoldisnew⭐️ #pilatesmusketeers???????? #christmaspilatesnerdout????????????

          • Yeah – so KoolAid – a drink product of course, but rather a dark reference I’m afraid. Google Jonestown Massacre and then you will know we are all sick…

        • Ok Lower Body extravaganza we shall have! I too spend a considerable amount of time thinking – strategizing – planning – about my butt – LOL…Let’s keep investigating what would make your star better – look at that! A Pilates Project right here in our midst. I have one PP to work on over the holiday weekend so I will work this PP up as well – and then we can play 🙂 xox

          • Alessandra Niccolai says

            Yikes ???? I’ve Googled!! #drinkingthekoolaid ???? OMG ???? gotcha!! ???? need to keep up with your Kool hippie lingo????????… lower body extravaganza sounds Kool????????????… but please make sure you get some R&R over the holiday break????… #shinyhappypilatespeople⭐️⭐️⭐️ #merrychristmas????#pilateskoolaid???????????? #thinkimhashtagcrazy????

  4. Missy Zderadicka says

    Thank you for this post!! It really hit home with me as I have felt similar thoughts and pains in the last 6 months with my pilates workouts! Now to get my hands on a small barrel! I have missed your posts!! Nice to hear you have been traveling and keeping busy! Looking forward to more!!

    • Hi there 🙂

      Oh gosh, yes, RUN do not walk to get the Small Barrel LOL And thanks for the post love, truly appreciated. I hope you are well and have a lovely holiday and new year! Yes, it’s good to be back. xo

  5. OK so now I need to buy a Small Barrel!
    I have to laugh at ‘A f*ck ton’…cos when I was working in Thailand, in a past life….I had an allergenic reaction to green mango (doesn’t everybody?) and one of my colleagues said I looked like a Fạkthxng, if you can imagine the pronunciation…it means pumpkin!

    • OMG this is a funny story – thank you for sharing it – I had a laugh too. Maybe that’s how much repetition we need in Pilates – A P*mpkin. Oh gosh I crack myself up… digressing… ha

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