Swan Redux: 7 Handy Posts to make it your Secret Weapon

Swan Redux:7 Handy Posts to make it your Secret Weapon1. Alycea Ungaro started us off with a recent post:

Get Pilates Strong: The Swan

“Your move of the month is the Swan.”

Yes, ma'am.

The Pilates exercises are exaggerated versions of our everyday movements. What?

The length and lifted support you'll gain from even the simplest of the Swan exercises will train you to sit up taller during your day.

The Swan can be your secret weapon for life!

Our mothers were right.

It's good to sit up tall.

Swan Redux: 7 Handy Posts to make it your Secret Weapon

2. Strengthen your back with your first Swan.

The Swan: “It's not a pushup!”

The extension of the back you'll perfect with this simple version of the Swan will assure you many more years of lifted upright posture.

3. Alisa Wyatt helps you find the perfect Swan for you and work your way toward the big kahuna: Swan Dive!

Swan Redux: 7 Handy Posts to make it your Secret Weapon

4. Even more ways to challenge yourself on your quest for ultimate control in the Swan Dive

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

Swan Redux: 7 Handy Posts to make it your Secret Weapon

5. Already feeling plenty challenged by this particular back shape? Find some assistance from Pilatesology.

The Shape of All Things Pilates: The Arched Back

Swan Redux: 7 Handy Posts to make it your Secret Weapon

6+7. Yet another way to make the Swan your secret weapon…for crazy Pilates exercises!

Pilates Projects: 5 Exercises for a Better Control Balance Off – video

Pilates Projects: 5 Exercises for a Better Control Balance Off – post

Thank you so much for reading. You are awesome and I appreciate every single Swan-diving one of you!

Now go workout. You know you want to.


This just in!

8. Take your Swan Dive to another level entirely…but you might have to get wet…

(But you're a Swan, so it's probably okay.)


A big thank you to Simon Trangmar of Adelaide Pilates, a fellow Pilates nerd (and tech nerd!) for your beautiful swan contribution.

Anyone else wanna play?

Have a special swan tip to share? Swan success stories?

Honk your horn in a comment below.

(Totally couldn't resist that one.)

Pilates Projects: 3 Unbridled Demands of the Horseback

Pilates Projects: HorsebackWelcome to another installation of Pilates Projects.

In the Pilates method, the mastery of a complex exercise can require strategy.

What luck!

We’ve got a whole system of perfect tools for the job.

In February we began the Chinese New Year. 2014: The Year of the Horse.

Yes, I've got half a year left to wrangle my horse(back). I promise I will lose interest in these puns shortly.


Horseback is quite the doozy for me on any apparatus, despite my previous project on the Snake. Sheesh! What could make you shake in your boots more than that?

Horseback on the Reformer

Pilates Projects: 3 Unbridled Demands of the Horseback

Like the Snake, the Horseback is one of those exercises for me that is quite the work in progress. Not that the other exercises are a walk in the park, but you know me, I like to have a plan.

But let's remember that back in the day Horseback was deemed “men's exercise.”

And for that I must take comfort. For a moment.

3 unbridled demands of the horseback.

I wish to reserve the right to revisit this exercise at an undetermined point in the future. How's that?

I feel I am on the very precipice of learning this one, despite the many years of doing it anyway.

Oh I can get it done, but I enjoy the puzzle of the Pilates exercises, trying to get every part of the body to fit together nicely and do it's share.

And some of you body parts are doing too much work, and that's got to stop. 🙂

So today we begin.

Unbridled Demand #1: The Shape

The first demand of the Horseback is its shape: The Round Back. Of course, we have many wonderful exercises that exemplify this shape. Today I will choose just 2 or 3 of them to put us on the right path:

On the Mat: Spine Stretch and Open Leg Rocker

On the Reformer: The Teaser

By now you have probably noticed that all three of these exercises are the exact same position just slightly adjusted in orientation. My choosing of these 3 exercises in no way minimizes the Horseback done on the Ladder Barrel.

I assume if you are working on the Horseback on the Reformer, you have already been working the Barrel version for some time. Or you can use this post to work on your Horseback on the Barrel as well. Awesome!

Use the Round Back exercises to become an expert of the 2 way stretch. Really find the tug-of-war within yourself and wail on it for a bit.

Pilates Projects: 3 Unbridled Demands of the Horseback

Could you reach your limbs even further in opposition from the center?

Can you scoop into your center and perfect your Round Back even more strongly at the risk of falling over, say if you are in the Rocker or the Teaser exercise?

I am not suggesting you fall off the Ladder Barrel, just so we're clear.

Unbridled Demand #2: The Back Connection

Another hurdle is to get your back working and not reduce Horseback to a crazy arm exercise. Your shoulders will thank you later.

Find your back connection with the any or all of the following:

On the Mat: The Roll Up

Pilates Projects: 3 Unbridled Demands of the HorsebackThis simple useful tool – just the reach of the arms overhead with the pole. Keep your back in contact with the mat and stay within your range of strength. No flinging the arms at the Mat.

On the Cadillac: Arm Springs (Lying Down) Big Circles

Pilates Projects: 3 Unbridled Demands of the Horseback

These are the same circles that we do at the Wall. You've gotten your back connected in the Roll Up, now you can add the circles element. Continue to find the connection to your back at every point around the circle. The Mat behind you will again give you feedback as to whether you are successful or not.

On the Arm Chair: Circles

Pilates Projects: 3 Unbridled Demands of the Horseback

Now in an upright position, the circles on the Arm Chair will further challenge the arm connection into your back and also bring you a bit closer to what's required in our target exercise the Horseback.

Thanks Amy Kellow!

Unbridled Demand #3: The Lower Body

Currently this is the kicker in my Horseback. Making it a full-body exercise is challenging.

It takes a savvy combination of hugging the long box with the inner thighs PLUS getting the reach of the legs outward to connect fully into the center.

Here's how to take the first step:

On the Reformer: Footwork, Stomach Massage Series, The Short Box

Oh no, what a trifecta!

The Footwork and the Stomach Massage Series represent any exercise where your feet are on the footbar.

Pilates Projects: 3 Unbridled Demands of the Horseback

Whenever you have contact with the apparatus, you must seize the day!

Start to notice as you do your Footwork and Stomach Massage Series if you are really reaching into or pushing against the footbar.

As your legs extend out further do you feel a bit detached from the bar?

Can you push on the bar as you return the carriage home as well?

Or just on the way out?

Try using less springs and see how that affects your contact with the bar. Use the help from the apparatus to activate the trunk of the body and the seat to pull the carriage in.

Persevere in your Footwork!

It is the very first series of exercises we learn and what you learn from is valuable for every other exercise where you must connect the lower body into the center.

The Short Box is another great place to find the lower body's connection into the center. You'll get instant feedback from those noisy straps if you slack off.

Pilates Projects: 3 Unbridled Demands of the Horseback

In this series the lower body must work just as hard or harder than the upper body in all its fancy positions. Take a moment the next time you work on the Reformer to focus on the lower body during this series and see how it affects the exercises.

Cultivate these 3 demands of the Horseback as you practice and then see if you can put it all together and move through the exercise. What the mind understands, the body will eventually follow.

Patience, friends…the Pilates Method is a wild ride.

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The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)The Pilates Method is full of surprises. 14 years into the method as a practitioner and teacher, I still love the giddy surprise of a new exercise. One I've never seen before. Even better is a familiar exercise done in a new-to-me-way.

For example, a few years ago I learned that in addition to the Breast Stroke on the Reformer and its reverse, there also exists a combination, a combo, of the two.

My first thought – There's a combo? – was quickly followed by my next – Oh, of course there is…

It's not like we don't do that in other exercises right?

Swan on the Cadillac

Swan with Push Thru Bar on the Cadillac is a challenging exercise.

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

Very. Challenging.

My body left to its own devices just wants to hang out all over the place in an unsupported arch.


The version with the arms straight has been a great help in connecting my arms into my back and (!) using my stomach.

A fine idea, won't you agree?

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

But let me back up.

Private Lives

Watching Jay Grimes teach private lessons at conferences and intensives is always educational. And frequently full of surprises.

Surprise #1: Swan with Push Thru Bar with no spring!

OMG, whaaaaat?

Surprise #2: Swan with Push Thru Bar with no spring with one arm!

Lordy, Lordy.

Well I have to try that…

Later I mentioned to Jay that it was my first time to see the Swan with no spring and/or with one arm. I loved his answer:

“You should try it. It would be good for you.”

Okay, let's get out my loooong list of exercises that are good for me and add it to the list…

But man, that guy is always right.

I don't know what I don't know

I took Jay's advice and began to include Swan with Push Thru Bar, the 2-arm and 1-arm versions after my daily mat workout. This exercise proved to be truly magical. Without that enabling spring, the exercise essentially incapacitated my arms and shoulders.

I had to find the right muscles (the stomach, back and lower body) to even complete the exercise at all. With 2 arms. The one-arm version was even more fantastic and provided so much feedback as to what was (or was not) going on on each side.

Several months pass…

Did I mention that I like a challenge?

What I didn't know as I continued to practice Swan with the Push Thru bar each day was that it was also helping my Swan Dive.

Surprise #3!

Mind you – it's not really a surprise, per se, that the Swan on the Cadillac helped me with my Swan Dive on the Mat.

I hear you. I know the apparatus provides assistance to better your Mat exercises. Yes. It's the whole premise behind the full studio system of the Pilates Method. I completely agree.

But sometimes you don't know it's happening to you until it does.

Way back last year in my post on the Rocking exercise I intimated that the Swan Dive, technically a rocking exercise, deserved its own special post.

Well friends, it's time.

Let's Dive in

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

Swan Dive is the ultimate version of the Swan exercise done on the Mat. Once you understand that the rocking action must be generated from the stomach, it still may take years to create a long line of the body without a break in the middle.

A long line! Yes, our old friend length to the rescue – AGAIN.

And there's no time to micromanage in the Swan Dive, one must simply prepare and go for it…grrr….

Robbed of the ability to examine one can only reflect afterwards. Good news and bad news. Bad news for me, good news for the Pilates Method and moving. Gotta suck it up, I get it.

My standby method to execute the Swan Dive?

Hurl myself at the mat with a will of iron.

A hurl and a fling, actually…in succession. Hurl, fling…hurl, fling…hurl, fling…am I diving yet?

Oh you have to start somewhere.

I can dive with a little help from my friends

I am a visual learner. More often than not I've got an image in my head of what I believe is happening during the exercise.

However, sometimes my mind gets the wrong idea.


Picked up from an old correction that's no longer valid, or even the name of the exercise – Swan Dive – my mind is not quite on the right track. As I worked to refine my signature Swan Hurl, I happened to see my lovely colleague and classmate Samantha have her lesson on the Mat.

Samantha is a different body type than I am – she has more flexibility in places that I have stiffness, so it was wonderful to see what rhythms and shapes are possible during the Swan Dive, that I had not happened upon, shall we say…

My tactic was to hurl and use force to complete the exercise, while Samantha had such a light and delicate approach to the exercise that made it look effortless. And cute. And bouncy. And for God's sake it looks like a rocking exercise.

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

Oh, that's what I'm trying to do…

I should also mention that I'm a really good mimic.

So for a while I just pretended I was Samantha.

No. More. Hurling.

Another way I found to get me out of the hurling habit was to use the Spine Corrector. If you've not tried the Swan Dive perched on the crest of the Spine Corrector, hang on to your powerhouse. Nothing will tell you more quickly if you have control of your own destiny than an impending face-plant on the Mat.

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

As you find the length (where have I heard that before?) atop the Spine Corrector you will rid yourself of any forceful habits. It simply won't work here. The Spine Corrector Swan will give you a more long and reaching rhythm for the exercise that you can then carry to the Mat.

The Shape of All Things Pilates

In a series of posts on Pilatesology I mention that the Barrels can be used to find the shape of the upper back that you'll need for the Swan on the Mat.

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

While this is true, and helpful, I found out exactly how much Swan with Push Thru Bar was providing the same assistance in a different way.

One day it occurred to me mid-Swan on the Mat that I could replicate the shape that the angle of the Push Thru Bar was teaching me. Suddenly it was not as mysterious a position. My body remembered. Surprise!

You gotta love Pilates. So versatile. A place for everything and everything in its place.

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

This is my favorite spectator Swan Dive, Pilates bestie extraordinaire, Amy Kellow.

If you've not been to her Classical Pilates Convention, you don't know what kind of fantastic Pilates geek-fest you are missing. Plus lots of opportunity to perfect your Swan Dive!

Thanks so much Amy, Samantha and of course the cameo appearance of Karen Frischmann for your help with this post (and with my Swan Dive).

Dive in! Share your strategies and successes in a comment below.

Inside the Pilates Studio: Amy Kellow

Inside the Pilates Studio: Amy Kellow

Amy Kellow

There are so many reasons to love Amy, it's hard to know where to begin. I met Amy in October 2011 during my first section of The Work at Vintage Pilates. Many a friendship is forged in the midst of the Mat exercises, especially as you sweat it out mentally and physically in the High Scissors and High Bicycle. There is often much gnashing of teeth while working to perfect just these 2 mat exercises. Then of course you've got all the other exercises… Oh. Shall we soothe ourselves over Shabu Shabu then? Affirmative.

Amy's passion and dedication to her Pilates education is impressive. According to Brendon Burchard, a frequent speaker on motivation, high performance and leadership, “Experts are always students first.” Score 1 for Amy.

Inside the Pilates Studio: Amy Kellow

Classical Pilates Convention UK

I plan to join Amy Kellow along with Vintage Pilates trifecta: Jay Grimes, Karen Frischmann, Sandy Shimoda and Mejo Wiggin at the Classical Pilates Conference on 27-29 September 2013.

Register online.

Stop by and say hello on Facebook.

For more information email Amy.

Conference planning is just one of the skills in Amy's wheelhouse. I don't think she sleeps.

And now I must profess my lifelong love affair with Amy's home: England. Great B. UK's-ville.

Sorry Sweden, but you never forget your first…

“This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England…”

-William Shakespeare's Richard II

I think I'll spare you the geeky Brit stories from my adolescence. Let's just say I had a mean Brummie accent, not to mention at one point I could recite the entire canon of…Monty Python.


1. What is your favorite Pilates exercise and why?

Amy Kellow: This is a really tough question. At the moment I love Pull Ups on the Wunda Chair. I choose to do this at the beginning of my workouts so I can feel the challenge of finding the right connections in the body. I love the 1 legged versions as this really helps me connect to my weaker side so if I am feeling a little off balance I will do this. I can use the exercise to connect to my body, challenge myself to deepen my work and to find my weak spots!

2. What exercise is your least favorite? Pick only one.

AK: I have always found Going Up Side on the Wunda Chair so challenging. I can picture all my teachers nodding in agreement now! I remember thinking in my initial training how impossible the exercise was for me, a few months later I didn't think it so bad. But then every time I think I have the exercise cracked and I feel confident about it it rears up at me and becomes impossible again!

3. What turns you on creatively, mentally or physically about the Pilates method?

AK: I'm a thinker – I always have been. Pilates challenges me to think about the body and whether I have the ability to feel what I see and see what I hear and the strength to express this in my teaching. Pilates has always made sense to me and I hope that I can get others to feel the same.

4.What is your idea of earthly happiness?

AK: Apart from being able to travel the world and hang out with my favorite pilates people!

Earthly happiness is the comfort of home with good friends and loved ones, laughter, hugs and afternoon naps curled up on the sofa and of course a good glass of red wine.

5. What to your mind would be the greatest misfortune?

AK: Not to follow your dreams and aspirations. You only have yourself to account to so take the small steps that you know you can achieve and the rest will fall into place.

6. What is your favorite Pilates word?

AK: Grow – in my knowledge, in my body, in my ability to teach.

7. What is your least favorite Pilates word?

AK: Today it is ‘Imprinting'. I have come across so many teachers that do not understand this concept. I think it is overused but often not understood.

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

AK: I'd like to run a cozy country pub.

9. If Heaven exists, and by some chance when you arrive at the pearly gates Joseph Pilates is also there, what would you like to hear him say to you?

AK: “Good work Amy … now go do your mat!”

10. What did you learn today?

AK: To enjoy the company of the people around me, be proud of their achievements and continue to support them in any way I can.

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