Why can’t I do overhead exercises? How can I work on this?

Shoulder Roll Down on the Cadillac

Hello there and welcome. And thank you for taking the time to read my blogpost.

OMG Speed Networking??

Last Friday I participated in a Speed Networking event hosted by Core Connections with Martin. Check out his IG @personalvictory. He's conducted inspiring interviews with many of my wonderful colleagues.

Full Disclosure: I'll chat with Martin on IG LIVE on February 2 at 7am PST. 

I stepped out of my comfort zone and signed up for the event. And I had a blast!

It was fun and I got to chat with colleagues who were new to me, some familiar faces I'd not actually met “in person” and also some dear, dear friends.

Thank you so much to everyone I got to hang out with for 5 or so minutes! I truly did not anticipate the kind words for my blogposts and YouTube videos. Sometimes I think I am typing to no one, and I just want to say if you have found value, information, or inspiration from my Pilates ranting, I thank you, thank you with all of my heart.

There is nothing I love more than a new way into greater connection or proficiency.

It can be so exciting! If you've enjoyed the workouts on my YT channel or you got a skip in your step after a sweaty Reformer workout with me – during this last year especially – I am beyond thrilled.

Pilates moves me, and please know that you've moved me as well.

Meanwhile back on the Mat…

Today I'd like to explore a question I received from an IG follower in Brazil. I love having Brazilians in my life!

The question is such a good one and it scares me a bit.

That's usually how I know it's time to get writing.

It's also a process I am currently in the midst of sorting out in my own workout.

But first a little history…

Back in the Day

Full disclosure, I've always been able to do the Pilates exercises in this “overhead” category: lifting the body upside-down. In my childhood and younger life, I had dance classes and I loved gymnastics. All the Pilates exercises where you get to be upside down were and continue to be my favorites.

I couldn't do the Roll Up or the Neck Pull at all, but the Overhead, Control Balance, and anything hanging from fuzzy straps on the Cadillac were in my wheelhouse and super fun.

I think one reason I stuck it out in my first Pilates Mat classes – while continually stuck trying to roll up and down on the Mat – was that I could see the teachers working on the Reformer across the room and doing Control Balance. Wow! When do I get to roll off the Reformer and roll back on again? Better keep working on my Roll Up.

Le sigh…

Yes. I would do the Roll Over.

Does that mean I was doing it properly?

No.

I was doing it because I could. It was familiar to me. It wasn't dangerous and it was only gonna get better.

Fast Forward

Many years later I realize the many compensations in my body – from sports, gymnastics, old surgeries, life, etc… – were enabling me to do these overhead exercises. Today I have considerable Pilates tools in my body and I'm beginning to find the integration necessary to lift my body overhead properly.

I'm refining and finding balance in my musculature to create a full-body experience. Less heave-ho, shall we say.

Oh, I was good at the heave-ho, so perhaps it looked like skill for a while.

But out there on the Pilates horizon, there is still ‘better.'

And I'm on the road to find it.

Getting a Leg Up (literally…)

As a human who looks down at the front of my body, it's hard to remember that the legs don't begin at the hips.

Only the ‘heave-ho' version of going upside down begins at the hips and legs.

You're going to need all of your back to lift it up and over.

This was news to me.

Joe Pilates starts us off with our back fully supported by the Mat and apparatus. The fundamental exercises are meant to give you an experience of what's going on back there. But depending on who you are, it may still continue to be a bit of a mystery (raises hand).

The Awareness is all…

You are now toiling in all your fundamental exercises on all the apparatus: Reformer, Mat, Cadillac, High Chair, Arm Chair, Wall. All these places where you can develop an ever-growing awareness of the muscles on the back of you.

You'll literally bring them to life.

Depending on who you are this may take months or years. And you've got to really want it. You've gotta put in boatloads of repetition, which will also be your teacher.

You must practice. Over and over. A LOT.

Your fundamentals will get better and provide you (over time) with new skills.

Progressing your workout beyond the fundamental exercises is the definition of preparation meets opportunity.

It puts the ‘method' in ‘Pilates Method.'

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in't”

As you begin to add more complex exercises – including our overhead friends – you'll always get a few of them which provide assistance. At first…

Exercises you are already doing will also help.

Above all, learn to ROLL correctly.

Consider the exercises on the Mat where you are taken upside-down for just a moment:

Roll like a ball

Roll Like a Ball

Open Leg Rocker

Open Leg Rocker 2013

Are these exercises already challenging? Do you roll more like a brick than a ball?

If you are stiff in your back (like me) you can benefit from a small cushion or towel on your mat. This tiny “spine corrector” will get you in touch with the part of your back that may have a hard time not only finding contact with the mat but also being on your radar in the first place.

You can see how to do this in my recent YouTube video. In this particular video, I use it to help the Teaser. In the very same manner, you can add the small cushion to inform the Roll Up and the rolling exercises. Once you feel what it can do for you, you'll be able to determine other places you might like its help as well.

Make Roll Like a Ball and Open Leg Rocker (over time) the best they can be. They will reward you tenfold and give you a glimpse of what it will be like to roll upside down with more strength + stretch = control.

Find more help to get the ball rolling in this post of many posts 🙂

It's the Reformer for the assist!

On the Reformer, you've got another great exercise to build on the fundamental rolling exercises from the Mat.

A big moment on the reformer is your lift off the carriage in the Short Spine Massage.

Depending on who you are/your particular Pilates training, you may have learned to do Short Spine Massage right after the Hundred: Footwork, Hundred, Short Spine Massage.

But it might feel kinda early in your workout for a full-on massage. And you'll be taken right up there by the straps whether you're ready or not. Which may be perfectly fine.

But if the Short Spine Massage is already a super challenging exercise to do – and taking you into that uncharted upside-down territory – that potential massage will be at best wasted.

What would happen if while you diligently work on your fundamental rolling exercises, you considered placing the Short Spine Massage later in your order of Reformer exercises?

Here's one possible scenario:

  • Footwork
  • Hundred
  • Frog/Circles – yes, remember them? they're not just for beginners…
  • Coordination
  • Long Box – Pull Strap/T-Strap
  • Long Stretch
  • Elephant
  • Stomach Massage Series
  • Short Box
  • Short Spine Massage
  • Kneeling Knee Stretch Series
  • Running
  • Bottom Lift

In this order example, I've kept all the fundamentals and added a few extras on your way to complex exercises like the Short Spine Massage.

Now with SSM placed later in the workout, you're warmed up, and you've got a chance to let your rolling practice from the Mat (now with assistance from the straps) inform your Short Spine Massage.

So every time you workout on the Reformer, you'll repeat and reinforce and practice your upside-down skills.

Every time you train on the Mat you'll use your little helper prop until the memory of that prop is emblazoned on your mind and infiltrated into your body.

Over and over again.

You'll know when you don't need to use it anymore. Your body will also let you know if you still need it and you try to get rid of it. Just sayin'.

Every Day a Little Cadillac

You've now got your diligent practice going within your Mat and Reformer repertoire. Now you'll add some Cadillac exercises to assist with your goal of going upside-down.

Leg Springs

Leg Springs on the Cadillac

The Leg Spring Series is your Cadillac fundamental friend to bring awareness to all of the back of you. These you have probably been doing for a long time. If you have also added the Airplane with the Board for assistance, that's even better.

Woo hoo!

Shoulder Roll Down

The Shoulder Roll Down on the Cadillac

The Shoulder Roll Down will be a manageable start to going upside down. You'll learn to support the entire back of the body in the air, with the assistance of that stout wooden Push Thru Bar.

Tower

Tower on the Cadillac

In the Tower, you'll apply the same skills from your Leg Springs and the Shoulder Roll Down, now in a shape more reminiscent of the target exercises: Corkscrew, Jackknife, Overhead, Control Balance.

Use these helper exercises every time you workout. Your own personal Pilates Project.

Your ‘this is for you' section.

The Complex Reformer Project

Today's post is just one example of what I like to call a PIlates problem. It's one that you often refine in your own workout and one that you encounter with each and every client as you work to apply the Pilates system.

How can you use the Pilates System to learn new skills?

It's just two weeks until my February workshop, The Complex Reformer Project.

In a total of 8 workshop hours, you'll tweak the Pilates Project POV to look for skill sets in the fundamentals for all those fancy exercises just like our upside-down friends.

Overhead.

Control Balance.

High Frog.

Limited availability. Reserve your spot today.

Pilates Problem Du Jour: Long Back Stretch on the Reformer

Long Back Stretch on the Reformer

Hello there!

Welcome to a brand new week full of Pilates possibilities.

If you're a recent subscriber, welcome! I'm so glad you've joined me on the Pilates Path.

I'm gonna level with you – this week's post scares me.

But, then again, so does the Long Back Stretch.

Let's get after it.

The Long Stretch Series

Long Stretch Series on the Reformer

Progressing from the fundamentals to the more complex exercises can be a prickly path to navigate.

And yet that's exactly where you find yourself every time you transition from the Elephant to the next exercise in the series, the Long Back Stretch.

Joe Pilates has a way of lulling us into a sequence like we can predict what's to come, only to throw in a zinger at the end that's literally upside down and backward.

The bulk of the Long Stretch Series resides solidly in the meat-and-potatoes exercises of the Pilates Reformer repertoire.

Or in Pilates-training-program speak: we are deep in the heart of the Intermediate System.

As you make your way along your Pilates path, you might add the exercises of the Long Stretch Series (over time) to your workout in the following order:

  • Elephant
  • Long Stretch
  • Down Stretch
  • Up Stretch
  • Long Back Stretch
  • Up Stretch Combo

The Long Back Stretch/Up Stretch Combo is a bit of a toss-up. Some students may not see either of these exercises for a while.

Now take a look at them in Joe's order:

  • Long Stretch
  • Down Stretch
  • Up Stretch/Up Stretch Combo
  • Elephant/One Leg Elephant
  • Long Back Stretch

“One of these things is not like the other, one of these things should does not belong.”

In the Beginning…

Adding the Long Back Stretch to your workout can be a rude awakening. It is perhaps the longest 3-in-each-direction exercise since the Backstroke, right?

As you build your proficiency, move it along or you'll be dead by the end.

This exercise has the same pitfalls as every exercise in the Long Stretch Series:

  • placing all your bodyweight on your poor little arms.
  • The “tricep dip” aspect of the choreography can be misleading, especially if you learned a preparatory exercise focused only on the arm movement. The Long Back Stretch looks like traditional fitness. 

The Long Back Stretch is different.

This is no arm exercise. It's gonna take all you've got.

Maybe more.

TBH, learning to place the weight of your body firmly on the standing position of the feet is the challenge for the entire Long Stretch Series.

Easy to say, but it's bloody hard to do. Even if you've been doing the exercise for years.

Joe Pilates does it again…

Cultivating the standing position in the Long Stretch Series takes diligent practice.

There's a reason the Long Back Stretch is not the first exercise. Joe prepares us well:

  • The Long Stretch is more familiar in its position of a plank/push up.

Sure you're only on the balls of your feet, but that's better than nothing.

  • Joe kind of makes up for the previous exercise in the next, the Down Stretch. You're kneeling and lots more of you gets to touch the carriage.

Kneeling is a common human position, you've done this in life and it's not unfamiliar.

  • The Up Stretch brings us more choreography, you're back to the balls of the feet but you have the support of the heels on the shoulder blocks that gives more support.

Not easy, but still in the realm of standing.

  • Finally, the Elephant plants us fully on our feet, standing, even though the body must spread out across the entire length of the carriage.
  • Even the One Leg Elephant is not totally foreign, standing on one leg at a time.
  • But the moment you turn all the way round for the Long Back Stretch you're confronted simultaneously with 2 unfamiliar things: (1) your arms behind you and (2) your feet standing on a vertical surface, only your heels touching the carriage itself.

That's just weird, people.

And it's this specialized position that can trip you up.

“When do we ever do that?”

My favorite quote from the amazing Karen Frischmann is “When do we ever do that?”

She says this when confronted with an exercise or variation that you may have learned and sure, it looks like Pilates, but how does it fit into the greater Pilates system?

Now, the Long Back Stretch is decidedly a part of the Pilates System but I find it helpful to look for its friends.

Hello Exercise Relationships!

I've missed you so.

When and where is another instance you find yourself in Long Back Stretch-land?

In a recent post I shared a Pilates exercise relationship that I find to be particularly vexing:

  • Reformer: Long Back StretchShort Spine MassageSemi CircleHigh Frog
  • Mat: High Scissors and High Bicycle
  • Cadillac: AirplaneLeg Springs in the Air, TowerShoulder Roll Down (Sari)

All of our Pilates exercises could be on this list, right? Since (say it with me now) we only have one exercise!

You might place other exercises here as well, and I bet pretty soon I will too.

Another one that may prove helpful (and that I even like) just popped into my mind: Tendon Stretch.

Tendon Stretch on the Reformer

The shape of the trunk is different here in the Tendon Stretch, but without the same lift upward from Long Back Stretch you'll have a hard time closing the carriage. All standing and no lift float you out to sea never to return…

Other places to look for help:

Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer

I knew there was a reason no one likes the Stomach Massage Series!

It's a moment of foreshadowing – using your stomach while having your arms behind you. And figuring out how to stand on your feet here while you are still supported (seated) on the Reformer.

More help from way back in your first Pilates lesson on the Reformer (I'll bet): Bottom Lift

Bottom Lift on the Reformer

Lifting and Standing here too with less pesky gravity.

The Complex Reformer Workshop

Control Push Ups on the Reformer

Here we go again in the Control Push-Ups, right?

Hone your skills well in the fundamentals and earn your stripes for all the exercises to come.

My Pilates Problem Du Jour is just one example of the building blocks inherent in the Pilates System.

Join me in just a couple of weeks for The Complex Reformer Project: an in-depth exploration of how we progress our workouts from the basics to the crazies.

In 8 workshop hours, we'll trace some of the most complex exercises on the Reformer back to their humble roots.

Space is limited. Reserve your spot today.

And stay tuned for my March workshop where you'll link it all together with transitions!

Working on a Pilates problem on the Reformer?

What fundamentals have been a help to you? 

Tell me all about it in a comment below…

The Short Box Series: I Stand by my Pre-Judgment.

Side-to-Side on the Short Box

Welcome to a brand. New.Year. And the rest of your life!

A big thank you to everyone who joined my January workshop, The Cadillac Project. We are a full class of 10 and I'm super excited to get to play Pilates with you on Thursday.

So many Cadillac exercises there are. I watched a bunch of Star Wars movies over the holidays.

Yoda talks about control A LOT.

“Control! Control! You must learn control!” and also another goodie “Your path you must decide.”

If you missed out on this month's workshop, check out my February and March workshops (both on your favorite apparatus, the Reformer).

Also, I've got a new offering in the works that I will share with you very soon.

Meanwhile, back to the Reformer…

Today's post has been a long time coming.

If you've been following for a while you know that I continue to be fascinated/frustrated by The Short Box Series on the Reformer. I have spent considerable time building my Short Box proficiency and I've shared my thoughts with you here, here and here.

I talk about The Short Box Series everywhere… here's an old one I wrote for Pilates Style Magazine.

Kiss Today Goodbye…

Twist on the Short Box

I am a big fan of applying my Pilates workout to balance out all the zest and pleasure I pour into my life. And in the midst of the 2 biggest holiday weekends of the year, oh, Reformer exercises, how I love thee!

Let me count the ways!

This Christmas season I didn't travel (shocker) and Joe and I created our own traditional Italian Christmas Eve Feast of the 7 Fishes. As a family of two, we only made it to 5 fishes, and it was delicious.

After a few days of lying around, binging the aforementioned Star Wars saga (well most of them) and finding myself permanently attached to my wine glass, I needed a dose of the truth.

I try not to judge my workout too harshly when I really just need to MOVE. That's the beauty of Pilates. those exercises are working even if you don't think you're particularly good at them. And really, it's the sucky ones that can be magical. Evil magic for a while tho…

Back in the Day

Kinda goes without saying here, but I love the Pilates Method.

I love the exercises, the specified apparatus, the way there is a protocol for getting on and off of the apparatus, the order! I have loved the way the exercises make my body feel literally since my very first Mat class way back in Washington, DC.

A big shout-out to all the amazing peeps at Excel Pilates DC!

I loved my Mat classes and later, when I became apparatus-curious, I enjoyed all the “new” Pilates exercises I got to learn in my small group apparatus class. Hey, I can do that same crazy thing over here on the Reformer?? Sweet!

I loved it all.

EXCEPT for those damn Short Box Exercises.

All the fun of straps and springs were nowhere to be found and I was stranded up there trying to make things happen in my body: Round! Now Tall! Bend to the Side! Twist and REACH!!!!

At least during the Tree I got to be upside down for a little bit… but too little too late. And then when Tree got super interesting along come more fricking leg circles?

WTF, Joe Pilates?!

Although make no mistake, Leg Circles are the gift that keeps on giving…

Aw Crap, Back to 2020…

Round Back on the Short Box

Each time I visit the Short Box exercises in my workout, I try to talk myself down from the ledge.

This stuff is good for me, and you always gotta love the exercises you don't like…

My mantra continues…

And as a Pilates teacher, I understand the value of the exercises on the Short Box. Everyone needs these exercises!

We need to learn how to sit up and lift ourselves and move in all planes of motion, and globally stretch the back of us.

Blah, blah, BLAHHHHH…

But last week, in the midst of a recent romp on the Reformer, I had HAD it.

I didn't know anything about the Pilates System or my body all those years ago. All I knew was that I REALLY didn't like the Short Box Series.

I stand by my pre-judgment!

It's like Joe Pilates created this series just for me. On the Short Box, I'm confronted with the most challenging skill I will encounter in my workout:

There's nothing to stand on. I gotta figure out that part right off the bat.

And with nothing to stand on, there's no supportive carriage, footbar, etc… to lift up and away from. I gotta generate it ALL.

OMG it's like a test! Do you have it? Often I do not.

All the help I expect from the Reformer in lots of the exercises is nowhere to be found.

And sitting on that box? It's a recipe for a grip-fest.

Does this sound familiar? Well, I've got an idea…

It's time for a noble Pilates experiment!

I knew you'd be excited.

Attention all Order Nerds:

Rocking on the Reformer

All of you, dear readers, have enjoyed my most viewed post, On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises.

This post examines the reasoning behind what I'm gonna call ‘the old skool order' of the standard Reformer repertoire from Joe Pilates.

The ‘old skool order' assumes that once you get on the Reformer, you will do it all.

Doing it all includes the Second Long Box.

Fess up now if you never include this series in your Reformer workout.

Guilty.

If the existence of the Second Long Box is truly news to you, welcome to the longest series of 3 exercises since the Teaser (or the Horseback).

And when you include the Second Long Box, the Short Box Series gets “saved” and plops down right afterward.

Therefore you are really warmed up and perhaps a little tired.

In any case, I want to see what happens to my Short Box Series if I place it later in the order – not randomly, but where it goes in the later part of the Reformer exercises.

Will I have more skills in my body by that point in the workout?

Or will I be too pooped to care anymore?

The suspense is killing me.

The Best Laid Plans…

Any deviation from your usual order of exercises shows you that old habits die hard.

A ton of mental activity must run concurrently with your workout to successfully move stuff around and not forget anything.

Like the Second Long Box and the Short Box Series.

Yeah.

So much for my brain getting a workout.

Sometimes you find out that the Reformer is smarter than you are.

Ok so here's how it went down.

The Plan

The Reach on the Short Box

  • My Long Spine Massage is in the shop (Cadillac) at the moment, so I planned to put the Frog and Circles at the end, right before the Mermaid and the Knee Stretch Series.
  • I'm including the Headstands as well.
  • I also wanted to put in the Headstand with the Straps instead of the Backbend after Thigh Stretch for now.

Other than those bits it was all going to be in there: from Footwork to the Russian Splits.

Lately I've been setting a timer for 1 hour and willing myself to finish before the timer squeals at me. As a reformed slowpoke, knowing the clock is ticking helps prevents me from micromanaging certain exercises (I'll bet you can guess).

It was going so well.

When I finished the Russian Splits I looked at the timer:

5:52 minutes remaining!

I tidied my apparatus and contemplated an ending sequence: a few rolling exercises or a couple of Cadillac exercises or…

Wait a minute.

In the tenuous moment of inserting Frog and Circles for Long Spine Massage, all my thoughts of Second-Long-Box-then-Short-Box went out the window.

Blast.

But I've got those extra minutes. Plenty of time.

And technically the Short Box Series was still (very) late in the workout.

Another Pilates problem solved!

So how did it go?

Tree on the Short Box

The premise: Would my Short Box skills be more available to me if I use the “old skool” order of exercises which places the Short Box much later in the workout?

The simple answer is yes. I did feel more prepared for Short Box. The skills I needed from the Reformer were more in my body. I didn't have to desperately search for them quite as much.

Now granted, I essentially ended up doing the Short Box after the workout.

But it's not like I'm never getting on the Reformer again… I'm about to hop on again in an hour to see if my brain will be better this time round…

Here are the extra exercises between where I planned to put the Short Box Series and where I actually did it:

  • Frog and Circles
  • Mermaid
  • Knee Stretch Series
  • Running
  • Bottom Lift
  • Control Push Ups Front and Back
  • Star
  • Side Splits
  • Front Splits
  • Russian Splits

Looking at this list now I feel like Tree is your splits-before-the-splits exercise.

On the Reformer in 2021

Thank you so much for joining me for this noble Pilates order experiment. The Pilates Method gives such riches. You are always rewarded by diligent practice.

The Reformer also has a quiet way of making you check your ego at the door.

Join me in February for more Short Box FUN!

We'll take a hard look at all your fundamental Reformer exercises and determine how they prepare you for the complex exercises “conveniently” placed in the latter part of your workout.

That's right, It's a workout just to get to them LOL

Your fundamentals are the building blocks for all those exercises with a bad rap: Overhead, Snake/Twist, Star and the list goes on.

If all this sounds like your kind of fun as well, reserve your spot today.

And stay tuned for my March workshop where you'll link it all together with transitions!

Got questions about exercises or wondering if these workshops are for you?

Hit me up in the comments and let's chat 🙂

Revisiting the Basics: Side-to-Side on the Short Box

Side-to-Side on the Short Box

Hey there!

This week's post is a request from a subscriber, Joanne.

Thanks, Joanne, it's high time for another post about one of my not-so-favorites, Side-to-Side on the Short Box.

Side bending, in general, has never been a skill of mine. Over the years I have fought the good fight and have emerged (occasionally) victorious.

For further reading, check out my previous posts on this same subject here and here.

The Makings of a Great Side Bend

Side-to-Side on the Short Box is the very first side bend shape you'll learn.

While not as basic as the Footwork or the Roll Up, Side-to-Side on the Short Box is one of the more manageable side-bending exercises in the Pilates System.

And for those of you who desperately need this skill of side bending, it's one hell of an introduction.

Let's Start Tall

Looking at the order of the Reformer exercises, the Short Box Series gives you one of the best prerequisites for Side-to-Side: The Reach – which is your tallest back shape.

Reach on the Short Box

The tall back shape encourages you to lift and continue to lengthen both sides of the trunk in a straightforward movement pattern. It's this lift you will preserve to take into Side-to-Side.

Consider The Reach to be your basic best friend (BBF) for the kinda-not-basic-depending-on-who-you-are Side-to-Side exercise.

With beginning or first-time students you may wish to delay adding Side-to-Side to their program depending on how well they do the Round and Reach exercises.

What's going on back there anyhow?

TBH, it was news to me that anything on the back of me would be useful to do Pilates.

Short Box exercises – decidedly one of the meat-and-potatoes series on the Reformer – can be challenging since you are essentially stranded up there on that box with no feedback and nary a spring in sight.

One of the best places I've found to illuminate the back of me as I side bend is on the Cadillac.

Roll Back One Arm on the Cadillac

The Roll Back done with one arm is a wonderful place to feel your back on the Mat as you make your Side-to-Side shape.

But what exactly am I doing? Where am I going?

If you're like me, maybe Side-to-Side has been mysterious for a while.

I remember so vividly each time I'd visit this exercise in my first year of Pilates group lessons on the Reformer. I'd have a plan in mind, but I soon came to associate this exercise with “Oh this is the one where Lesa comes to fix me.”

Years later I'd finally feel that one side really didn't know how to lift or move at all.

And over the many years that I've been practicing Pilates, I've been taught this exercise MANY different ways.

Ultimately, you're looking to find equal strength, lift and length on both sides of the body without compromising your tall back shape.

I believe the direction to lean forward, or add a twist to the front corner of the box to be just a few ideas to help the truly Side-challenged folk. It can be a good option for a while and with practice, ultimately lead to even better execution of the exercise.

The Pole: Your Apparatus of the Moment

Joe Pilates never leaves us unprepared.

Luckily he suggests using a pole for the Short Box Series.

Look at the pole and see a big truth-teller for Side-to-Side and Twist.

Does one end of the pole point downward when your student bends to the side?

Both sides of the trunk must work to lift up both ends of the pole. Sounds easy I know…

If you bend to the right side, it must continue to hold up the pole as the left side lifts up and over.

Which brings me to my other hot tip for Side-to-Side… Spine Stretch Forward?

Spine Stretch Sideward, Anyone?

Think about the Pilates Mat exercise Spine Stretch Forward.

Spine Stretch Forward on the Mat

This forward-bending exercise requires you to get a big LIFT! of your bottom and back up and over the bony landmark of your ribcage. To get more opening in the middle back just under the ribs, this is the spot you're after as you Spine Stretch.

Meanwhile back in your side-bending exercise, work to lift each side UP and over the rib cage without any shifting or crunching. Give it a try and see what you think.

Side to Side on the Short Box

New this week on my YouTube Channel

Check out today's video for more nerdy discussion on all things Side-to-Side.

Subscribe and never miss my newest videos which publish twice per week on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Enjoy!

Wanna join me in class?

Tuesdays thru Fridays I'm teaching small group open studio classes via Zoom. You'll do your own workout with supervision and “in the company” of others.

Use this link to book into my May class schedule for just $15./class:

Yes I'd love to join your class.

June classes coming soon!

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

Hey there!

Today’s post is on my favorite Pilates exercise animal, the Elephant.

It's everything, this one.

It's useful.

It's challenging.

It's versatile: do it on 1 leg or morph it into an Arabesque, the Elephant‘s got something special for you.

Elephant 101

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

In your very first lesson, the Elephant delivers a valuable skill you’ll need to execute complex Pilates exercises.

Exciting, right?

Think about your Reformer workout: your Tendon Stretch, Snake/Twist, Up Stretch, Headstand 1.

Have you ever struggled to close the carriage in these exercises?

I know I have.

An excellent Elephant will save the day!

The Elephant in the Room

There’re many Elephants out there and sometimes it’s hard to know which one will serve you best.

Did you know that a few tiny (and magical) details can transform your Elephant experience?

In the Elephant you don’t get the best view of the exercise. Really all you can do is stare at the carriage underneath you or your stomach or your thighs… what’s going on up there on your back tho?

Never you mind about that for the moment.

All Roads Lead Back to Romana…

In my recent visit to another helpful basic, the Frog, I shared one of my my favorite quotes from Romana Kryzanowska:

Pilates is INTELLIGENCE guided by the WILL using MEMORY and IMAGINATION assisted by INTUITION.

Pro Tip: Use your Imagination to better your Elephant.

Imagination Tip #1:

Feel your heels press deeply into the carriage in front of the shoulder blocks. What if they could venture below the level of the upholstered bed of the Reformer?

Where do those heels originate in your body?

Imagine the long line of the back of you that starts at the shoulder seams of your shirt.

If you love to use your arms and shoulders once you grab that Footbar it can be liberating to invite those shoulders and your upper back down toward your heels.

It might even open your chest.

In might help your elbow joints relax and unlock.

It might make you use your center a bit more.

Bottoms up!

Imagination Tip #2:

Remember later in your Reformer order you’ll be working on the Short Box.

When you sit on the Short Box with the pole overhead, imagine you could lift everything that's on top of that box: your bottom, your low back, your waistline, your arms.

Imagine you are pushing that pole upward by lifting your bottom. You know, that underneath part you sit on…

I know, crazy, right?

Now turn yourself into an Elephant.

Poof!

What if your bottom pushed that Footbar away? What would that feel like?

Give it a try.

It may make you use your stomach better without even trying.

Show me your hands!

I’m always amazed by minor tweaks you can make to a wrist, a little finger, a big toe, the ball of your foot, that radically change an exercise sending more awareness and engagement to your center.

Tiny tensions that steal your powerhouse include:

A locked elbow.

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

Your apparatus (the Footbar) assists you to connect your hands, arms, and shoulders into the larger muscles of the back. Locking the elbow joint can break this connection to the back muscles and put a strain on the joint(s).

A broken wrist.

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

Similar to a locked elbow, a broken, leaned-upon wrist breaks your connection to the back and literally weighs heavily on the wrist joint.

A lifted pinky who’s off to have tea or a manicure.

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

Without the grip of your fingers, a valuable connection is missed and your poor pinky is unable to lead you into your beautiful back muscles.

#therespowerinthatpinky

“Bulldog” wrists.

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

Similar to your #pinkyprobs above, the inward turning of the hands creates an imbalance front-to-back in the body. The leaning-in thumbs and forefingers allow the shoulders and chest to overwork and compromise the connection of the outer hand (the pinky again!) into the back muscles.

If this is you, see what happens if you try to straighten our your “bulldog” hands to get more work in the grip of the smallest fingers. It might be very exciting. If it is, give it a try when you do the Rowing exercises.

Cool calm, connection…

Grip strength even, and alignment!

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

#alignmenttrumpsall

My footbar is naked which I prefer to allow for better wrist alignment and work in my stomach, which keeps me “light” on my hands. Thick padding on a footbar and small hands can make this connection difficult to achieve. If your hands sweat a thin sticky pad can help you feel secure with just your stomach and your grip strength.

“Stand back,” said the Elephant, “I'm going to sneeze!”

In your training program maybe you learned a bunch of “rules” about how to do the Elephant.

Rules you heard may have included:

  • Stand on your feet.
  • Lift up your toes.
  • Press your feet into the mat.
  • Your shoulders should be over the footbar.
  • Your back is round.
  • Your back is flat.
  • The Elephant is like Downward Dog.
  • This is Pilates, the Elephant is NOT Downward Dog.

The good news is that at some point in your long and celebrated Pilates career they will all be true.

They’ll all speak to someone’s body (maybe to your own) to better their Elephant.

For example, look at the 2 that are the most troubling:

  • Your back is round.
  • Your back is flat.

The Elephant shape must fit into the greater Pilates system: let this be your test.

Now's when to use your ‘we only have one exercise’ mantra.

The Elephant is your Roll Up stood up on its feet.

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant EditionRevisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

It's also your horseback.

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

This is the shape you are after.

Now look at your (imaginary) student:

Are they too flat to be a Roll Up? Then they need to be round(er).

Are they too round somewhere in their back to be a Roll up?
Then they need to flatten somewhere (and probably round somewhere else).

What about your feet – should you lift your toes up off the carriage?

Maybe.

What would happen if you pressed all of your foot into the carriage? What happens in your center then?

Give it a try. These are all noble experiments!

Like this series? Which basic should I revisit next?

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