Video Blog: The Swan – it’s not a pushup!

Video Blog: The Swan - it's not a pushup!This week's video blog will focus on the very first Swan you'll do on the Mat.

No fancy diving for now.

Today we will look for the connection reaching from the sides of the low back all the way to where you'll place your hands. We will focus on strengthening the back and resist (!) the urge to push up with the arms. The Swan is not a pushup.

Oh yes, and length!


(Lest we forget dear our old friend…)

Thank you to the lovely JoJo, my partner in crime, who is steadily becoming a Pilates Nerd. Yay!

Please note, Joe has been working on the Swan exercise for some time. As you will see in the video, he can now lift all the way up until his arms are fully extended.

If you are just beginning to work on this exercise, or it presents particular challenge to your body, you might only lengthen and lift up partway.

Perfectly. Okay.

You'll keep the connection to the back, you'll avoid pushing with the arms and shoulders and you'll continue to build lift and strength in your back. Over time you'll be able to lift all the way up just like JoJo 🙂

I appreciate all of you. You are awesome!

Thanks for watching.

 Related posts:

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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Build a Better Backbend with the Spine Corrector

Build a Better Backbend with the Spine Corrector

Why Spine Corrector?

If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.

Joe Pilates, Return to Life

In keeping with Joe’s philosophy it makes sense that he would invent an apparatus capable of correcting and encouraging the spine to become more flexible. Jay Grimes often speaks of Pilates as being ‘all about opening' and the Spine Corrector (and Small Barrel) is a perfect example. We can open the entire front of the body including the chest, shoulders, hips and thighs while strengthening the back and the bottom.

Joe has given us the magnificent Spine Corrector. I know many exercises have been taught here: the Mat exercises, the Rowing Series and the Short Box.

But it is called Spine Corrector.

I believe this name defines its raison d’être. So let’s put it to good use.

Here you'll plant the first seeds of back bending which will one day grow into the apple tree of the High Bridge.


The no-pillow zone

99.99% of the time gravity is not our friend.

Constant and diligent work is necessary to keep our bodies lifted, upright and vibrant.

What luck! Pilates injects moments of inversion into our workout to help us out.

Lengthening the back over the hump of the Spine Corrector for the Arm Circles can allow the neck and upper back to hang upside down for a brief respite before returning to our upright and often hunched-over lifestyle.

This position may not be the epitome of comfort at first, but

  1. this is your workout
  2. you’re not going to be be there forever
  3. you are not propped up to watch television.

So lose those pillows!

They do not allow the ‘corrector' to work it's magic on your upper back and only support the tension that you are working to fix in the first place.

Build a Better Backbend with the Spine Corrector

Look! Here's the top half of your backbend! You are long, supported and building strength for the backbends on all the other apparatus where it may not feel quite so luxurious.

Here you can see a connection to other back strengthening exercises as well, for example Rowing #3 and #4. Now you are further challenging yourself in this extended position, with the upper body just as connected into all of the back. So work your Rowing well. All roads lead to the High Bridge.

Mat + Spine Corrector = A Match Made on 8th Avenue

Often underused today, the Spine Corrector was the Mat's best friend in Joe’s studio. After a full Mat workout or even just a portion of one the Spine Corrector was often a natural progression to continue your workout. Two great tastes that taste great together!

It also happens to be a great place to introduce the Scissors, Bicycle and Shoulder Bridge exercises before you must face the harsh reality of doing them on the Mat sans Corrector.

It’s a great place to work on so many things, really. “Don’t worry, we fix.”

Build a Better Backbend with the Spine Corrector

Now to work on the lower body part of the backbend with the Scissors, Bicycle, Shoulder Bridge, etc… to open the hips and thighs.

This is the long reach of the lower body connecting it into the back, stomach and bottom.

Keep yourself rooted into the Spine Corrector underneath you and create length and strength in the low back for a safe and strong backbend. You can find this same lower body reach in the Leg Springs with the back long and supported by the Cadillac. As you reach into your straps for the Short Box on the Reformer, you will again get this preparatory work toward the High Bridge.

Build a Better Backbend with the Spine Corrector

And then of course you can get busy with your love/hate of all things one-sided all over again. Reach little left leg, Reach! You can do it! 3 cheers for our voluptuous round friend Spiney C!

Related Posts: One Sure-Fire Way to Backbend in Pilates

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