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: 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?

Body Shapes in the Pilates System: Basic to Advanced

Body Shapes in the Pilates System: Basic to Advanced

For Nan-Young

Recently on the blog we've examined the value of categorizing the exercises in the Pilates Method.

We took a look at the labels “basic”, “intermediate” and “advanced” and how they apply to the body in front of us.

The Shape of Things

In 2012 I completed The Work, the phenomenal program of study at Vintage Pilates‘ in Los Angeles.

Through my study at Vintage (and beyond!) we learn to look at the Pilates repertoire through the lens of Body Shapes.

In the Pilates method we have 5 archetypal shapes of the body (the back):

I find using the body shapes to be a wonderful teaching tool.

We can convey complex exercises to clients by reminding them of skills they've achieved in simpler exercises that share the same shape.

With this POV and the body in front of us, let's ask ourselves some questions based on the evidence of the exercises.

Here are our “basic” exercises:

Basic Reformer Exercises

  1. Footwork
  2. Hundred
  3. Frog/Leg Circles
  4. Stomach Massage Series
  5. Short Box Series
  6. Elephant
  7. Knee Stretches
  8. Running
  9. Pelvic Lift

Basic Mat Exercises

  1. Hundred
  2. Roll Up
  3. Single Leg Circles
  4. Roll Like a Ball
  5. Single Leg Pull
  6. Double Leg Pull
  7. Spine Stretch

1. What body shapes are most prevalent in the “basic” exercises?

I spy mostly the Round and Tall shapes, with a few moments of the Arched Back in our Stomach Massage Series and Knee Stretch Series.

The Short Box gives us one moment of Side Bend and we have a couple Twists in Stomach Massage Series and the Short Box.

2. Why is this?

Pilates begins in the very center of the body.

We'll concentrate on the scoop only for a while. Only when the center is strong can you build up other solid strong things on top of it.

We'll get to the fingertips but it's gonna take a while.

3. What does this say about the organization of the order of our Pilates method?

The order of the exercises is our teacher – make no mistake.

Moving through our “basic” Reformer exercises, our scoop in the Round and Tall positions will strengthen the center the most.

I think about the Round and Tall shapes as familiar, pedestrian movements. Yes, we must learn to find lift in our center, but these 2 shapes promote a deepening in the center.

We are required to pull in and up, but our body parts are not reaching away from center yet in these 2 basic shapes.

Later we begin to reach away from the center more deliberately with Arched, Side Bend and Twist positions.

Our Tall shape is also the foundation on which we'll build our Side Bend and Twist. If our Tall back is not strong and solid, it's only gonna fall apart when we try to Side Bend or Twist, both of which take us away from center.

The Order of the Universe

Joe Pilates trains our bodies over the full repertoire and also within each of his exercise series in the same manner.

Within each series we also find our theme of Round/Tall positions first – strengthening and solidifying the center – before adding Arched, Side Bend or Twist positions which reach away from the center.

Our series in the basics:

Footwork: only in the last of the 4 Footwork exercises, Tendon Stretch, do we reach away from the center. After we've built in the skill of Footwork over 30 repetitions.

Stomach Massage Series: Within this series we reach a bit more away from center as we move from Round to Hands Back, which takes us more upright in the upper body.

From Hands Back we move to the Reach, a position identical to the Teaser exercise.

Finally we'll move the farthest away from center when we add the Twist.

Short Box Series: The exercises in this series progress us systematically from Round to Tall, and later into Side Bend and Twist.

Eventually our Twist will progress to Around the World, perhaps the ultimate in reaching away from center with the upper body.

The Tree is our first exercise done one side at a time and reaching away from center, and over time it will take the position of our first High Bridge.

Knee Stretch Series: Our Round position must stay intact when we change to the lift of the Arched Back.

In these 2 first exercises our range is modest. Finally the Knees Off takes our solid scoop and reaches long and away from center and back again.

4. Why so much Round?

In our foundational exercises, we are quite scoop-heavy. The body is learning and building strength. Yes, there is a predominance of Round shapes and support from the apparatus in our Tall shape.

Read more info on these Round exercises and discover what they teach us about training the body.

But I want it all!

An example of how internal strength and the eventual reaching away from center work in tandem is found in one of the most iconic exercises in the Pilates method:

Body Shapes in the Pilates System: Basic to Advanced

The Teaser requires a deep scoop in the center making this a Round exercise.

However, as you become more and more proficient your strength of center will support the upright lift of the chest and upper back to challenge the position further.

Body Shapes in the Pilates System: Basic to Advanced

But this lift away from the deep center in the Teaser will not happen on day one.

This is the challenge.

Ideally you want both a lift up in the upper body and a deep scoop of the lower body, but the strength of center must take precedence and be cultivated first.

Out in the Field

See what you think in your next workout.

Notice when you find yourself in a Round position and see where you go from there. You'll begin to notice larger sequences of exercises that start out pretty tame and soon blossom into an extravaganza of Body Shapes.

Here's a sneak peak into one of my favorite sections on the Reformer. It's a long one but such a lovely progression of skills and shapes.

In the middle of the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises we have:

Thanks so much for reading. Have a great workout.

If you'd like to see this final list of exercises in a post of its own or in a video tutorial, leave a comment below and let me know!

The Pilates System: Beyond Basic, Intermediate and Advanced

The Pilates System: Beyond Basic, Intermediate and Advanced

For Nan-Young

At Vintage Pilates in Los Angeles, passionate Pilates students convene from all around the world.

We Pilates teachers seek intimate acquaintance with the source of our beloved Pilates method: Joe.

How did Joe Pilates look at the body in front of him?

One student in particular, Nan-Young, inspired this post. Originally from South Korea, Nan-Young is a delightful fixture at Vintage Pilates. It's a pleasure to witness the amazing work and progress she puts in every day.

Make no mistake, she's a Pilates bad ass.

I hope you find this post to be of help, it was a fun one to create.

Exercises for the Body in Front of You

Jay Grimes tells us “Joe Pilates would take one look at you and know your whole life story.”

Joe Pilates knew what your body needed and would give you a vigorous workout plus some exercises ‘just for you.

In Joe Pilates' studio there were simply “Men's exercises” and “Women's exercises.” Along with Joe's order of exercises on the Reformer and Mat, teachers would consider the body in front of them and select appropriate exercises.

Circa late 80s-early 90s

With the advent of formalized teacher training programs, exercises came to be classified as ‘beginner,' ‘intermediate' and ‘advanced.' The labels were added in an effort to codify the broad range of material and teach it precisely and efficiently.

I have now come to understand these labels as guidelines or as a stepping-off point. As you continually observe your students, keep asking yourself questions about what you see (or don't see) in the body and what exercise you might choose to address this.

Basic Pilates Exercises

The Pilates System: Beyond Basic, Intermediate and Advanced

In Pilates there are no black-and-white hard facts.

We learn rules and guidelines in our training programs, but real-life clients rarely fit into neat and tidy categories like ‘basic,' ‘intermediate' and ‘advanced.'

Everything exists in a gray area. As a new teacher, this can be a scary prospect.

Persevere.

Within the murkiness you'll find liberation. Many options exist and our expertise helps us to choose the most effective exercises for any given individual.

That said, let's first consider the basic exercises done on the Reformer and the Mat.

Basic Reformer Exercises

  1. Footwork
  2. Hundred
  3. Frog/Leg Circles
  4. Stomach Massage Series
  5. Short Box Series
  6. Elephant
  7. Knee Stretches
  8. Running
  9. Pelvic Lift

Basic Mat Exercises

  1. Hundred
  2. Roll Up
  3. Single Leg Circles
  4. Roll Like a Ball
  5. Single Leg Pull
  6. Double Leg Pull
  7. Spine Stretch

What makes an exercise “basic?”

When working with new clients – even those with prior Pilates experience – we often begin at the beginning. Sure they've taken Pilates classes for years somewhere, but in that first lesson we're checking them out to see just what Pilates skills they've got in place.

A basic exercise offers support for the body. Looking at the list above, 5 out of 9 Reformer exercises are done lying down. 5 out of 7 Mat exercises are also lying down. Lying down on either the Reformer or the Mat you are fully supported by the apparatus.

On the Reformer even your head is supported.

How nice.

At the basic level only 1 Reformer exercise has us touching the apparatus with hands and feet only: the Elephant.

Basic Exercises offer straightforward and simple movement patterns. Only 1 of our Reformer Basics works on 1 side at a time: the Tree on the Short Box. There are 2 one-sided Mat Basics: Single Leg Circles and Single Leg Pull, although here you've still got that lying down aspect goin' for ya.

In a basic exercise the body shape is consistent throughout. Nearly every basic exercise on our list keeps the body in the same shape for the entire exercise.

A basic exercise puts the body in pedestrian positions. Lying down, sitting up, standing and kneeling are the only demands of our basic exercises. Most people will be able to do them. We're accustomed to these positions of the body regardless if we've done Pilates or not.

Real-World Basic: Now what?

Armed with your order of exercises and our basic exercises, look at the body in front of you. As the student begins to move through these first Pilates exercises you'll assess the body.

Some questions may arise:

  • Is it appropriate for their head to be up for the whole Hundred?
  • Is the individual in control enough to deal with their feet in unstable straps?
  • Are they stiff?
  • Can they sit up with their feet on the Footbar?
  • Do they feel unsafe sitting on the Short Box?
  • Are the first exercises done on the Short Box already so challenging that you'll leave Side-to-side and Twist out?
  • Should they stand on the Reformer?
  • Can they kneel?

Whew! That's a lot of Pilates problem solving.

Questions like these allow you to determine the appropriateness of even these basic exercises for an individual. Your questioning mind will serve you well as we examine our next tier of exercises: intermediate.

Intermediate Pilates Exercises

The Pilates System: Beyond Basic, Intermediate and Advanced

Many exercises are in the intermediate category. It's huge! I've included the full list with the basics in here too. Intermediate exercises are in orange.

Intermediate Reformer Exercises

  • Footwork
  • Hundred
  • Frog/Leg Circles
  • Coordination
  • Pull Straps and T Straps
  • Backstroke
  • Teaser
  • Long Stretch
  • Down Stretch
  • Up Stretch
  • Elephant
  • Stomach Massage
  • Short Box – Twist/Reach
  • Short Spine Massage
  • SemiCircle
  • Knee Stretches
  • Running
  • Pelvic Lift
  • Side Splits
  • Front Splits

Intermediate Mat Exercises

  • Hundred
  • Roll Up
  • Single Leg Circles
  • Roll Like a Ball
  • Single Leg Pull
  • Double Leg Pull
  • Single Straight Leg Stretch
  • Double Straight Leg Stretch
  • Criss Cross
  • Spine Stretch
  • Open Leg Rocker
  • Corkscrew
  • Saw
  • Swan
  • Single Leg Kicks
  • Double Leg Kicks
  • Thigh Stretch
  • Neck Pull
  • Side Kick Series
  • Teaser
  • Seal

What makes an exercise “intermediate?”

The Intermediate exercises are many and varied. Some are simpler and less complex than others.

An intermediate exercise will incorporate skills you achieve in the basic exercises. The Pilates method has a POV that's unique. With focus, repetition and consistency you'll accumulate skills to serve you as your workout progresses.

Intermediate exercises include potentially unfamiliar body positions. Now our exercises will include twisting and back extension. You must also lie on your side and be upside down. The rolling exercises are more elaborate than our basic rolling exercise, Roll like a Ball.

Intermediate exercises demand considerable coordination and balance. At the intermediate level our balance will be tested in several body positions and orientations to the apparatus. We'll be standing up on the Reformer for two exercises done kneeling and standing on 1 side. 

Real World Intermediate: Now what?

As you work your student through the manicured paths of the basic exercises you'll make some decisions about moving their workout into the prickly landscape of intermediate exercises.

Let's think of this a little differently. Collect all the skills your client possesses and see what you come up with.

  • Can he lift his hips?
  • Does he roll well?
  • Is he stiff or flexible?
  • What skill is missing that you want to see? What are some things you might use to address this?
  • What does your student do exceptionally well?
  • How about the mental component of the student? The more challenging the exercise, the more the willpower of the student must be present.

Now looking at our 2 groups of exercises, the basic and intermediate, you'll notice basic exercises that may serve as prerequisites for the more involved and challenging intermediate exercises.

This is the key to moving beyond the labels of ‘basic,' ‘intermediate' and ‘advanced.' What does the body need? What is the body capable of currently?

The progression of skills may fall along the lines of our basic, intermediate and advanced distinctions, but maybe not depending on the body in front of you. Assessing your student's skills will aid you in adding more complex exercises over time until they may be able to accomplish all of them and beyond.

Again, much of this depends on the student.

For example, if a student struggles with the Roll Up, you may choose to delay adding the Neck Pull until the Roll Up skill is secured. And why can't they Roll Up? Find some exercises for that.

Perhaps your student rolls very well but is stiff. Open Leg Rocker might build on his rolling skill and challenge/address his flexibility.

Keep thinking about the skills we'll build on as we move from basic to intermediate. Now get ready for taking those skills to the next level when things get crazy in the advanced exercises.

Advanced Pilates Exercises

The Pilates System: Beyond Basic, Intermediate and Advanced

Some students may not do every exercise labeled ‘advanced.' Many of the advanced exercises depend on the strength, control and stamina that must be cultivated from the very beginning.

These exercises are not just going to happen. The student must be disciplined and will themselves to rise to the challenge.

It's not unusual to work for many years to accomplish these exercises. It's taken me considerable time to feel proficient at many of the advanced exercises. And by considerable I mean over a decade…

I've included the full list with the basic and intermediate exercises in here too. Advanced exercises are in orange.

Advanced Reformer Exercises

  • Footwork
  • Hundred
  • Overhead
  • Coordination
  • Rowing 1-6
  • Swan
  • Pull Straps and T Straps
  • Backstroke
  • Teaser
  • Breaststroke
  • Horseback
  • Long Stretch
  • Down Stretch
  • Up Stretch
  • Elephant
  • Long Back Stretch
  • Stomach Massage
  • Tendon Stretch
  • Short Box
  • Short Spine Massage
  • SemiCircle
  • Chest Expansion
  • Thigh Stretch
  • Arm Circles
  • Snake/Twist
  • Corkscrew/Tic Toc
  • Balance Control
  • Long Spine Massage
  • Frog/Leg Circles
  • Knee Stretches
  • Running
  • Pelvic Lift
  • Control Push Up Front
  • Control Push Up Back
  • Side Splits
  • Front Splits
  • Russian Splits

Advanced Mat Exercises

  • Hundred
  • Roll Up
  • Roll Over
  • Single Leg Circles
  • Roll Like a Ball
  • Single Leg Pull
  • Double Leg Pull
  • Single Straight Leg Stretch
  • Double Straight Leg Stretch
  • Criss Cross
  • Spine Stretch
  • Open Leg Rocker
  • Corkscrew
  • Saw
  • Swan Dive
  • Single Leg Kicks
  • Double Leg Kicks
  • Thigh Stretch
  • Neck Pull
  • High Scissors
  • High Bicycle
  • Shoulder Bridge
  • Spine Twist
  • Jackknife
  • Side Kick Series
  • Teaser(s)
  • Hip Circles
  • Swimming
  • Leg Pull
  • Leg Pull Front
  • Side Kicks Kneeling
  • Side Bend
  • Boomerang
  • Seal
  • Crab
  • Rocking
  • Control Balance
  • Push Ups

What makes an exercise “advanced?”

Within our beloved Pilates method you'll find exercises that speak to your strengths as well as those which challenge and exploit your shortcomings. Revel in your ability to do the former and doggedly practice the latter for years until you whip your body into compliance.

Adding these exercises into your students' workout is very individual. Some you may add quickly and others they may never see…although I never say never.

An advanced exercise is complex, usually including 2 or 3 body positions in the same exercise. Think of your Snake/Twist which requires the body to be round and then arched and then a combination of round and twist.

In an advanced exercise you will be minimally connected to the apparatus. The number of exercises done with just hands and feet connected to the apparatus increases significantly. The student must have a strong center to survive and support the weight of their body while performing the exercise.

Advanced exercises continually place the body in unfamiliar and challenging positions. You'll be upside down now for many exercises. You'll also be rolling off the Reformer and getting back on again.

In advanced exercises you must lift yourself off the apparatus without the assistance of straps. On the Mat we have the Roll Over and on the Reformer we have the Overhead. These are at the beginning of the workout and will continue throughout.

And perhaps most importantly…

An advanced exercise requires a complete focus on the exercise at hand. These exercises are no joke and if the mind is not focused to control the body they can be dangerous. If your student is mentally out to lunch, these exercises may not be for them.

Real World Advanced: Focus and Control

Just like some of the intermediate exercises, we've got several options around the studio to address the demands of these challenging advanced exercises.

Sure the student needs the skills of, for example, Chest Expansion, but maybe not on the Reformer just yet.

What a brilliant system!

Using all the apparatus to build the student's program will progress their workout slowly and steadily.

For example, the Arm Chair will teach 4 of the Rowing exercises brilliantly. The Cadillac can address Chest Expansion and Thigh Stretch (which they'll also be doing on the Mat).

The Spine Corrector will take care of the High Scissors and High Bicycle as well as train your body to be a mean rolling machine. It's just such a perfect apparatus!

The Breaststroke can be developed on the Cadillac as well and there's nothing Tower and Monkey cannot address. Remember lifting the body off the apparatus? Here's your training ground.

Life Beyond Labels

Keep the qualifications of the exercises foremost in your mind as you move past the “rules” and learn to look at the body deeply and effectively.

Keep the student safe and err on the conservative side.

Work to understand the thought behind the labels of ‘basic,' ‘intermediate' and ‘advanced.' With practice and getting the exercises in your own body, you'll begin to see how the exercises early in the workout progress and transform into exercises of great complexity.

Questions or comments about progressing your students? 

Leave me a question and I promise to answer in a followup post 🙂

Stay tuned!

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box SeriesIt's come to my attention that I have yet to create a brief video tutorial on the Short Box Series on the Reformer.

How can this be?

It's one of my favorite topics – I am obsessed!

There are quite a few posts here on the blog and elsewhere:

From Pilatesology.com

Let's dissect the Short Box Series further, shall we?

The Key Players

The Short Box Series is comprised of at least 5-6 exercises:

  • Round (Hug)
  • The Reach
  • Side-to-Side
  • Twist and Reach
  • The Tree

There are a few other variations you can add in as well, and several iterations of the Tree to explore, but these are the 5 major exercises we'll address in this post.

First: What's really going on here?

The Short Box Series is one of the first times you will be on the Reformer without the assistance of the springs. You are now attached to the Reformer only by the 2 straps on your feet.

This is significant.

Once we're seated, often we just consider our body from the hips up.

Don't forget about the lower body!

We will work diligently to perfect the shapes of the body as we sit atop the box, but let's pay even more attention to what's going on in the lower body.

The strength of the lower body will give us a firm foundation from which to soar even further upward.

At first it may be hard to exert sufficient tension on the straps to keep them tight and quiet.

You will get better with practice.

For now if the straps go slack or you scoot further forward on the box as you work the exercise, just back up and make the straps tight again. Over time you will work the straps more consistently.

For further info about the straps check out a related post on Pilatesstyle.com:

Let us begin at the beginning…

At first you may not even do all of these exercises – maybe for now it's best just to work on the basics:

  • Round
  • The Reach
  • The Tree (the first part of it)

Sometimes it's helpful to shore up the first 2 exercises (Round and Reach) before getting all fancy and bending to the side. Remember the Reach is inherent in all the other exercises especially Side-to-Side and the Twist.

Round

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

Also known as ‘The Hug,' the Round exercise on the Short Box is exactly the same as our old friend the Roll Up on the Mat.

Oh yes, now there's that box underneath your Roll Up

Other exercises in the system that share the round shape can assist you here to perfect this Round exercise. Helpful exercises include Rolling Back on the Cadillac, The Elephant on the Reformer and the Push Down on the Wunda Chair.

The Reach

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

First a word about the name of this exercise…

Lately I have been chewing on the name of the second exercise in our Short Box Series.

The Reach is the name Vintage Pilates and Jay Grimes use for this exercise. I am guessing it comes from Joe Pilates…but that remains uncertain at the time of this writing.

Originally I learned this exercise as “Flat Back.”

What a kettle of fish that word can unleash! I'm quite happy with The Reach.

This name is also helping me teach the exercise better.

The Reach is an exercise that we often teach to brand new students in the very first lesson. Now we have a name that implies action, not an elusive state of being.

They won't know how to be Flat, but they may know how to Reach.

Side-to-Side

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

The Side-to-Side exercise in this series was on the top of my list of most hated exercises for the first 10-or-so years of my Pilates practice.

In the previous exercise you've gotten the Reach in your back. Now you must lift and reach both sides evenly to bend to the side.

Not so easy to do for some folks…most folks…well, me.

I've found it helpful to lose the pole for this one and concentrate more on the center.

For a while.

Pole or No Pole?

Yes, traditionally a pole is used for the Reach, Side-to-Side, Twist and Reach and Around the World.

However, know that using the pole inherently advances the exercise as you will now reach further away from your center.

Losing the pole for a bit can be a great help in perfecting the Side-to-Side exercise.

Figuring out the Twist and Reach

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

Another multi-tasker is the Twist and ultimately the Twist and Reach.

Start with the simple Twist and if necessary you can lose the pole for this one too.

Soon the strength you will gain in your center will allow you to add the pole effortlessly as well as keep the all the work you've done sans-pole.

The Many Iterations of the Tree

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

The Tree is a glorious exercise. Often hated and sometimes loved, the Tree will change as you change providing new challenges as you progress on your Pilates path.

Versions of this exercise include the following:

  • Sitting up for just the seated initial stretch
  • The stretch and tipping back into position 3 times
  • The stretch, tipping back and climbing up and down the leg a little 3x
  • The stretch, climbing up and down the leg until you're nearly parallel to the floor 3x
  • The stretch, climbing up and down 2x as above and then going all the way back on the 3rd
  • The stretch, climbing up and down all the way 3x
  • Same as above now adding a reach back to hold the frame and/or the Leg Circles and a foreshadowing of the High Bridge

Enjoy this 15 minute vlog on the Short Box Series. 

Leave a comment if you've got questions and let's chat!

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