Desperately Seeking Neck Pull on the Mat

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Desperately Seeking Neck Pull

Recently I shared my torrid love affair with the Snake/Twist on the Reformer

But nothing compares to your first, right?

Me and the Neck Pull, baby.

Now that's some tough love.

I first laid eyes on the scoundrel – now my beloved – in a Mat class. Alas, relegated to a foldable foam mat, my tight back would wait nearly 5 years to blossom more fully with the help of the strap on a studio mat.

It's a classic case of preparation meets opportunity.

What are the pitfalls here? What are the necessary elements to cultivate from the moment you begin your Hundred?

Years ago I confided to Pilatesology my great fear of completing my first Pilates teacher training program still unable to achieve full-on Neck Pull.

Global stretch of the entire back of the body and extension of the hip is what we're after.

Right there you've got some information: if you know you've got a tight part of your back it's likely to show up during the Neck Pull.

My luck had clearly run out when I had an intermediate mat class in my teaching schedule. A friend of mine – Kim Schraf I will remember you forever! – had a question about the Neck Pull (which I totally understand – like how do you frickin' accomplish it???) and asked me to demo. 

Nooooooo…

We theatre folk though, we never crack under pressure. We go for the standing O. 

Nailed it!

One Neck Pull in hand and all subsequent ones on standby. Cause I'm comin' for ya.

Strap-tastic!

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Desperately Seeking Neck Pull

Some facts about the strap:

  • The strap is not just for beginners.
  • The strap on the Mat is for everyone!
  • The strap will become your teacher too.

Who doesn't love a good apparatus?

Support, right? Assistance? Yes I need it. And gradually as one becomes more proficient and Pilates-savvy, the strap will dig into the body deeper than is possible without it.

The Order of the Universe

This past weekend On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises came to life at Excel Pilates in Washington DC.

It's one of my favorite workshops to teach. 

And there's a special Neck Pull moment I'd like to share.

(Want this post to be a video tutorial? Your wish is my command.)

Thanks so much to all the awesome Pilates peeps in attendance!

I got to nerd haaaaaaard…

Such a pleasure to meet new friends and see all my Pilates besties at Excel: Lesa, Louise, Michelle, Janice, Alix and Tatyana.

A special shout out to Tara, Ellen, Kathy and John. Got a little misty over Pilates and all of you lovelies. Mariska, always a delight…

And thank you so so much for all your kind words on the blog and tutorials. Love you!

“There IS a reason!”

Joe Pilates is truly looking out for our best interests. He has prepared us well. 

The gift of his order of the exercises is a treasure map to Neck Pull success. 

Let's take a look at a few roadside attractions on our journey:

The Roll Up

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Desperately Seeking Neck Pull

Ah yes, the prerequisite.

In my first mat classes I used to size up what might happen in the Neck Pull by how – goes – the Roll up. In the Roll Up you get a bit of help with the upper body lifting and reaching forward and the legs together. 

Later our arms will be all tied up behind our head. And our legs apart,

Considerably less helpful.

2. Time to warm up

The 18 exercises which precede the Neck Pull get the back moving and more supple.

Oh God it just has to right?

3. The Fab 4

Swan, Single Leg Kick, Double Leg Kick and Thigh Stretch, hone in on a crucial skill we'll need for Neck Pull success: strength of the lower body and the seat.

To fully execute the Neck Pull you must have sufficient extension of the hip.

OMG is it that whole ‘extending the hip' thing again? Sheesh…

Let me repeat. Your butt must work so your hips and legs don't tank the exercise.

Let's go.

Swan (Dive)

Desperately Seeking Neck Pull on the Mat

This one's a big flowing movement to get it all working now for the first time in this on-the-Stomach position. The back must work hard to open up the front of the body.

Single Leg Kick

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Desperately Seeking Neck Pull

Now we've got a fixed point from which to reach our lower body deliberately away one leg at a time. Re-emphasize the Swan lift of the upper body as your leg reaches away to the mat for the compete Double Leg Pull experience.

Double leg kick 

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Desperately Seeking Neck Pull

Double Leg Kick contains a boatload of foreshadowing of the following exercise: Thigh Stretch.

Both sides are working together now to strengthen the seat and open up the hips and thighs.

OMG it's not too early to get ready for March MATness 2017. 

Thigh stretch

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Desperately Seeking Neck Pull

You've strengthened in the last 3 exercises and now it's time to put it to the test. Now the seat and back of the body must support us as we control our lift into the Thigh Stretch

Keep this area on fire and don't let it go as you start your Neck Pull

How did you do?

Tangent (not a tangent…)

Remember our friend the Small Barrel?

Use this video every day for two weeks and watch your Neck Pull change.

Mat happens…

In 2017 I'll be teaching a Mat class at California Pilates Center in Oceanside.

(Wanna join on January 21st? Awesome! Register today.)

As you might well imagine, I've got boatloads of empathy for Mat class students who struggle with the Neck Pull

I also know that what you don't like, you do TWICE.

Oh yes, the struggle is real…

I've seen their Roll Up by now so how about a little love? Empathy-o-meter – off the charts!

If possible I like to pair up the students. One student does the exercise and their partner gets to be the strap. 

You can really hit home the concept of the 2-way stretch too. Yippee!

The “strap” student gently pulls their partner's heels and ankles on the rolling down portion of the exercise. My gosh it might even feel good and foster a bit of Neck Pull love for us all.

Arm yourself with your order of exercises and see what you think…

You'll continue this theme of hip extension with the next few exercises as well: High Scissors, High Bicycle and the Shoulder Bridge. Read more about them in a related post.

Only one more chance to catch me this December!

Saturday December 17, 2016 LauraBPilates Studio, Raleigh, NC

In Raleigh we’ll have a full day of Pilates Continuing Education: private lessons and my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs)Register today

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Up Stretch

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Up StretchThe Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Up Stretch

For Jayne

Hello and welcome to a brief tutorial on my new nemesis exercise: the Up Stretch.

With all Pilates exercises, the more our body changes so does our experience of the exercises. Now with newfound control we can tackle deeper nuances of an exercise and peel away at the artichoke.

Recently, in a tutorial on the Backstroke, we looked at moving beyond the choreography of the exercise to examine how the exercise will best benefit our bodies.

Let's take a look at this same theme, now in the Up Stretch.

What makes a successful Long Stretch Series?

The exercises of the Long Stretch Series encourage us to cultivate the lower body:

The Down Stretch exemplifies most clearly the “push-pull” aspect of the 2-way stretch. I find it to be a great help with all the other exercises in the series.

The Up Stretch is one of the more complex exercises in this series. Consequently the drive of the lower body feels much more tangible. It's almost an upside down Long Back Stretch.

Um…because it is…

Remember, the starting/ending positions of the Up Stretch are certainly helped by the Elephant.

Find an exercise in this series that speaks to you. Use it to perfect the others and see how you do.

And what about our old friend the Order of the Reformer Exercises? Help from Joe Pilates is always appreciated…

Be mercenary

To the casual observer, the choreography of the Up Stretch includes a moment when the carriage moves out and the hips lower toward the carriage.

Sometimes I wish I didn't have this idea in my head. Choreography has a way of hijacking the exercise, lessening its benefits.

What's really going on here?

Moreover, let's ask ourselves “What is this exercise doing for our body?”

Corrective exercise should serve our bodies well in LIFE – not just in the Up Stretch.

Enjoy this short video tutorial. 

Thanks so much for watching!

Wanna experience the blog live and in person?

Join me in December!

Upcoming Workshops

Thursday-Saturday December 1-3, 2016 Excel Pilates, Washington, DC

Join me for my post popular posts Live! and in person: On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises (4 PMA CECs) and On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises (2 PMA CECs). I’ll be teaching my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and Progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs) as well as a Mat class, private and semi-private lessons. Register today

Saturday December 17, 2016 LauraBPilates Studio, Raleigh, NC

In Raleigh we’ll have a full day of Pilates Continuing Education: private lessons and my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs)Register today

The Universal Reformer: Snake/Twist 2.0

The Universal Reformer: Snake/Twist 2.0

For Jacqueline

Hello and welcome to a short video tutorial on my former nemesis exercise: Snake/Twist.

Snake/Twist is truly a Pilates love story complete with drama, false steps, misunderstandings and hot makeup sex.

Three years ago I visited the Snake/Twist as a Pilates Project in one of my most popular posts. Clearly there are many of us who struggle with this bear of an exercise.

So if there's an exercise you just can't stomach right now, persevere!

What's going on here anyhow?

The Snake/Twist is a complex exercise. Joe Pilates threw a little bit of everything into this challenging exercise:

  • It's one-sided.
  • Your orientation on the Reformer is not straightforward. You'll need to find a diagonal line as you approach the carriage.
  • The basic iteration will move through 3 body shapes: Round, Arched and Twist. Later we'll add the one arm version and include a Side Bend as well. OMG, something for everyone.
  • Oh and it's a breathing exercise…

When Joe Pilates was making all the other exercises, he had a few things left over and thought, “Why not?”

In 10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake I mention the order of the Reformer exercises and how I use Corkscrew, the subsequent exercise, as a “Snake recovery system.”

I now realize in my execution of the Snake/Twist I couldn't really keep myself together. Body parts were falling out all over the place. Enter the Corkscrew to fix me all up again.

And that's fine.

I wasn't hurting myself. I just needed to put in my 10,000 hours of Snake/Twist.

Now 3+ years later I am learning how to keep myself together. And what do you know? I need the Snake/Twist so desperately.

Reunited at last!

I'm a bit twisted myself. No worries. Every Twist exercise I despise is just looking out for my best interests. Thanks, Joe.

What Smart Tools Do I Use Today?

Ultimately the best preparation for the Snake/Twist lies in all of your other exercises. Find what speaks to you that you do well and with confidence and you can't go wrong.

Remember your mantra:

The Universal Reformer: Snake/Twist 2.0

My favorite Snake/Twist helper exercises:

Up Stretch Combo

The Universal Reformer

This one is a must. Perhaps the most similar to the Snake yet done in a straightforward manner.

Woo hoo!

Make sure to include this one in your workout if you're planning to add the Snake/Twist.

Elephant

The Universal Reformer: Snake/Twist 2.0

If you want to return the carriage you'll need our trusty old friend to help. If you're adding the One-Leg Elephant as well, even better.

Swan

The Universal Reformer: Snake/Twist 2.0

I find the Swan helpful as I move into the arched position of Snake. It's easy to forget about connecting your feet into the center as you move away from them, opening the carriage.

Sigh…

Swan helps me find length instead of dumping into the low back.

Scissors on the Small Barrel

The Universal Reformer: Snake/Twist 2.0

This just in folks: you can open your body from the center instead of riding out too far with the carriage. What?? More on this skill in the video below.

Connection Prep

The Universal Reformer: Snake/Twist 2.0

Take support from the apparatus to connect all the limbs into your center. Use all 4 springs to hold the carriage in. Now you'll have time to perfect the crucial starting and ending position.

This is great prep. It's safe and effective and could really supplement the exercise for a while.

Step 1

The Universal Reformer: Snake/Twist 2.0

Getting up into the starting position without moving the carriage is an exercise itself. Part Pull Up on the Wunda Chair and part Elephant, you'll need this skill before you begin the full exercise.

More Snake/Twist, please!

If you're a Pilatesology member, view my Pilates Project on the Snake/Twist here.

If you'd like to become a Pilatesology member I hope you'll use my affiliate link to join. Just click on the Pilatesology banner in the sidebar on the right. Full transparency: please know I do receive a small commission if you sign up via my link.

Check out a free preview of the post via YouTube.

Enjoy this short video tutorial.

Thanks for watching! 

Wanna experience the blog live and in person?

Join me this fall!

Upcoming Fall Workshops

Sunday November 27, 2016 Studio B Pilates+Barre, Tyler TX

You’ll love this jam-packed day of Pilates Continuing Education: I’ll be offering private lessons, a Mat class plus 2 workshops: A Cadillac Refresher – the Unsung Heroes(3 PMA CECs) and Strategies and Exercises on the Wunda Chair (3 PMA CECs)Register today

Thursday-Saturday December 1-3, 2016 Excel Pilates, Washington, DC

Join me for my post popular posts Live! and in person: On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises (4 PMA CECs) and On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises (2 PMA CECs). I’ll be teaching my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and Progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs) as well as a Mat class, private and semi-private lessons. Register today

Saturday December 17, 2016 LauraBPilates Studio, Raleigh, NC

In Raleigh we’ll have a full day of Pilates Continuing Education: private lessons and my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs)Register today

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Hey there all you Pilates cats and kittens 🙂 I hope you had a great week of oppositional reach from your strong center.

A hearty thanks for being awesome subscribers and sending your Pilates love. It totally makes my day. I'm so glad you find the posts and videos to be helpful to you on your Pilates path.

And I'm thrilled to learn my posts have now been translated into Portuguese, Spanish and Korean.

Thank you so much friends, hugs and kisses to you!

Current Pilates Obsessions

A lovely by-product of surrounding yourself with Pilates apparatus is the ability to dial deeply into each apparatus. Current obsessions include the Toe Corrector, Foot Corrector and the Ladder Barrel.

If you've been following my blog for a while you may recall I broke a bone in my foot earlier this year.

Along with some therapeutic massage, I've been putting my Foot Corrector to the test.

Just a few standard exercises are really making a difference. And my feet need maximum correction…

The exercises are essentially the Footwork exercises of Reformer fame:

  • Toes

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

  • Arches

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

  • Heels

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

  • Tendon Stretch (which I like to call The Massage – not sure it has an official name? And the socks help to move smoothly as you press.)

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Actually I didn't know my foot felt stiff and owie until it felt amazing again.

Clearly Joe Pilates wasn't kidding: pay attention to apparatus promising ‘correction' right there in the name.

Now for the Hacks…

One of the challenges in my workout is the delicate balance between precision/working properly and pace. Our Pilates exercises should MOVE!

The magic is in the movement.

I've used the following hacks with great success. Essentially I pick one thing that strikes my fancy and apply it over every exercise I will do.

Literally. Try it on and see what happens in the exercise.

How does my one thing feel in this exercise? In the next? In the one I hate? Etc…

1. The Pilates Concept Hack

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Initially Pilates trains our bodies with exercises fully supported by the apparatus which gives us vital feedback.

Think about all the lying down exercises done on the Reformer, Cadillac and Mat. Even the High Chair gives us a fully supported seated position.

The support and feedback of the apparatus teaches us how to find length in the back. I believe this to be the major tenet of Joe Pilates' work.

I desperately need the concept of ‘finding length in the back' in exercises where I am devoid of support or contact with the apparatus.

Can I remember what the apparatus has taught me repeatedly over all these years?

This is not a test. This is for the win!

Read more about this hack in a recent post: One Pilates Uber-Concept PLUS Introducing the Workout Quickie

2. The “It's just like that other exercise!” Hack

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Got a favorite exercise that illuminates a challenging skill? Seize the day!

This hack is a favorite of mine. You know my fondness for The Long Back Stretch.

It's my favorite game of “Let's pretend.”

And it's really an offshoot of our signature hack: We Only have One Exercise.

Treat yourself to a workout in which you search for the Double Leg Pull in every exercise. It's a game-changer.

Check out these recent posts to see this hack in action:

3. The Apparatus Hack

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Every day I become more enamored with the Spine Corrector.

Again, the word ‘corrector' in the name should be all the information we need. It can be one of our greatest teachers.

The Spine Corrector should be everyone's favorite hack.

Jay Grimes describes the Pilates Method as “all about opening.” The Spine Corrector fits brilliantly into this POV.

Perfectly positioned to open the back, the hips, the shoulders –  it's pretty much the place to open the body and enhance your execution of your Pilates exercises – the Spine Corrector is the Pilates equivalent of your best friend.

Other than moi…

Let's spend some quality time with our Spine Corrector this week:

Oh and then there's the Arm Chair:

Thanks for reading and have a great week.

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Wanna experience the blog live and in person? Join me this fall!

Upcoming Fall Workshops

Sunday November 27, 2016 Studio B Pilates+Barre, Tyler TX

You’ll love this jam-packed day of Pilates Continuing Education: I’ll be offering private lessons, a Mat class plus 2 workshops: A Cadillac Refresher – the Unsung Heroes(3 PMA CECs) and Strategies and Exercises on the Wunda Chair (3 PMA CECs)Register today

Thursday-Saturday December 1-3, 2016 Excel Pilates, Washington, DC

Join me for my post popular posts Live! and in person: On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises (4 PMA CECs) and On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises (2 PMA CECs). I’ll be teaching my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and Progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs) as well as a Mat class, private and semi-private lessons. Register today

Saturday December 17, 2016 LauraBPilates Studio, Raleigh, NC

In Raleigh we’ll have a full day of Pilates Continuing Education: private lessons and my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs)Register today

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Backstroke

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Backstroke

Welcome new subscribers!

Today's post features a true workhorse exercise on the Reformer: the Backstroke.

Thank you for all your positive feedback on my recent video tutorials. Requests for exercises you'd like to see dissected in future tutorials have been rolling in…

Extra love to Jacqueline in Vancouver for suggesting Snake/Twist (my former nemesis) and to Jayne in London who requested the Up Stretch (current nemesis).

Duly noted and keep 'em coming!

Color me excited and scared…

1 Stellar Reason to Make Students Autonomous

To learn your workout is to move beyond “where do my legs go?” and dig deeply into the exercises to correct our bodies.

Watch out!

It's easy to be seduced by the choreography of an exercise without fully utilizing the exercise to serve our specific needs.

I like to ask myself:

“What has [insert exercise here] done for me lately?”

We learn the purpose of the Backstroke: to strengthen and prepare for Teaser, the subsequent exercise in our order of the Reformer exercises.

But how exactly does this happen?

The Backstroke proves to be an excellent exercise to find length in the back. Coincidentally (or is it?), lengthening the back is one of the things I seek in my own workouts.

Who couldn't use more of that?

Lately I've noticed a shift of focus in the way I approach my Pilates exercises. I have new control over my body which enables me to transcend the choreography of the exercises.

I know what to do, right? But what's it doing for me?

Moving beyond choreography, let's seize the exercise as our own. What can I do to make this exercise serve ME?

Right now in the Backstroke?

Where do I sit?

You'll place yourself at the very edge of the box. In this position you'll keep the straps taut and create a pressure on the handles. Sustain this pressing into the handles to work from the back and upper stomach.

Don't forget to wail on it during the moment of pause in this exercise. This pause is for a reason.

Make something happen. Get a little bit more lift and length in your back.

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the BackstrokeThe Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Backstroke

Now make it move.

When we first learn the Backstroke it's helpful to use a marked, deliberate pace.

  • Pull your stomach in. Keep your head up. Look into your stomach.
  • Arms and legs reach straight up. Straps are taut and the carriage is still.
  • Open the arms and legs no wider than the Reformer.
  • Arms and legs pull forward and the legs come together.
  • Pause to deepen the center into the box as you reach fingers to toes.
  • Pull in the arms and legs while keeping the straps taut.
  • Repeat.

So that's all in place. Excellent.

Now remember one version of the name of this exercise is Backstroke Swimming. You'll make the first part of the exercise like a moving swimming stroke followed by a moment of “gliding through the water.”

OMG remember the Rowing Series? It seems just a moment ago we were there…

#yougotskills

Now let's make it move:

  • Assume the starting position.
  • Reach up and forward with arms and legs. Move through your positions smoothly (this is the swimming stroke).
  • Hold and reach toward the toes (now glide through the water).
  • Return and go again.

Finding the Length

Sandwiched between Pulling Straps/T Straps (um, length please!) and the Teaser (open, low back, open…) the Backstroke looks like a great place to long the back.

From a choreography POV, the legs will circle and reach out to a lower position.

Note the location of the legs is not arbitrary. The lower body should be connected into and serving the center.

Hook the lower body into the center and you'll find more work in the stomach and more length in the back.

And it might get hot.

Enjoy this short video tutorial.

Stay tuned for more exercises that face a similar choreographic fate…

And thanks for watching!

Wanna experience the blog live and in person? Join me this fall!

Upcoming Fall Workshops

Sunday November 27, 2016 Studio B Pilates+Barre, Tyler TX

You’ll love this jam-packed day of Pilates Continuing Education: I’ll be offering private lessons, a Mat class plus 2 workshops: A Cadillac Refresher – the Unsung Heroes(3 PMA CECs) and Strategies and Exercises on the Wunda Chair (3 PMA CECs)Register today

Thursday-Saturday December 1-3, 2016 Excel Pilates, Washington, DC

Join me for my post popular posts Live! and in person: On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises (4 PMA CECs) and On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises (2 PMA CECs). I’ll be teaching my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and Progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs) as well as a Mat class, private and semi-private lessons. Register today

Saturday December 17, 2016 LauraBPilates Studio, Raleigh, NC

In Raleigh we’ll have a full day of Pilates Continuing Education: private lessons and my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs)Register today

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