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.

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Mat Transitions 10

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 10

Welcome to Episode 10 – the final installment – of Transitions on the Mat!

In this episode we'll look at some options for the Push Up series.

Know where you are and know where you're going.

In Pilates, the Push Up series is as much about the getting to the position for Push Ups as it is about the Push Ups themselves. Use your control and walk your hands out to a perfect position in 4 steps only.

Depending on who you are, you can vary the amount and style of Push Ups that you do. If getting into the series is challenging you can focus more on that part and just hold the plank position for imaginary Push Ups (shall we say).

Push Up options you may enjoy:

  • 1 set of 3 Push Ups – and done!
  • 3 sets of Push Ups – 1 Push Up per set.
  • 3 sets of Push Ups – 1, then 2, then 3 Push Ups (adding 1 more each time)
  • 5 sets of Push Ups – 1, then 2, then 3, etc… until in the last set you do 5
  • Clapping Hands Push Ups – 1 each set or if you can do more, by all means…
  • Clapping Feet Push Ups – these are not for the faint of heart…
  • Clapping Hands and Feet Push Ups – for those that have great hops (not me) and get enough air to get it all done.

Enjoy this short vlog!

Late to the party? No prob.

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 9

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 9

Welcome to Episode 9 of Transitions on the Mat!

In this episode we'll pick up with Rocking – the 3rd and final time you'll transition to your stomach in the workout.

Post Rolling Extravaganza and into Rocking

Perfecting the transition to Rocking is another obsession project of mine.

Often we reach for our feet – especially if the Rocking position is a big stretch – by shifting side to side, grabbing one foot and then the other.

It can be a challenge to keep the initial set up as symmetrical as possible.

To that end, I begin on my stomach with my legs long on the mat and my arms long by my side, palms up. Now I can use all the length and reach in my body to my best advantage.

Once I have reached my toes long behind me I will start to bend my legs. Next I'll lift my chest and reach both arms back with the intent of placing both feet into my hands AT THE SAME TIME.

Give it a try.

You'll get some good intel on your body whether you're successful or not. It took me a while to be able to take both feet together. For a while I stayed symmetrical as long as possible and then wiggled a bit to get hold of my feet.

These things take time.

  • Finish your Crab.
  • In one swift maneuver turn onto your stomach, arms and legs long on the mat.
  • Reach and lift into your Rocking position and begin!

Post Rocking and into Control Balance

A word about arriving into position for Control Balance

My preference is to keep the arms down by the sides and lift the lower body overhead as you do in the Jackknife.

Once you are balanced in this position reach your arms out to the sides and then overhead. At the same time you'll bring one leg down to hold your ankle.

Focus on the lifting leg in this exercise. Try not to park your lower foot on the floor.

Balance, yes?

Worst case scenario, you'll roll down onto the mat.

Boy, this exercise really earns its name!

  • Finish your Rocking.
  • Sit back into our beloved counter stretch. Really milk it after this one:)
  • Efficiently turn onto your back for the Control Balance.
  • Lift yourself into the Control Balance and go!
  • Finish and roll down onto the mat and up to a standing position.

Options for Standing Up

I enjoy playing with different options for getting up and down to the mat.

1. Traditionally you'll stand with one foot crossed over the other. You can cross over either way, and of course we like to encourage you to choose whichever is most challenging. Your heels can be lifted which will test your balance further. You can also keep the heels down increasing the lift you'll need in your back to descend to the mat.

2. You can stand with both feet together for a deep aboriginal squat to the mat (my favorite).

3. If you've got a stronger/weaker side and you're up for a challenge you can descend in a 1 leg pistol squat and rise up on your other leg (also my favorite). It becomes a good test of your memory to remember which leg you used way back at the beginning of your workout.

4. Also, if your knees bother you – you may leave it out. It's still a great workout if you begin lying down.

Take care of yourselves. Don't be a hero… 🙂

Enjoy this short vlog!

Missed an episode? No prob.

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 8

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 8

Welcome to Episode 8 of Transitions on the Mat!

In this episode we'll pick up with our 3 rolling exercises: Boomerang, Seal and Crab.

Yay! What fun 🙂

Post Side Bend and into the Boomerang

  • Finish your Side Bend.
  • Bring your feet to the front of the mat and get into position.
  • Use your scoop just like your start of the Open Leg Rocker to begin your Boomerang.

Seal

  • Finish your Boomerang.
  • Assume the position of the Seal and go!

A word about our Seal to Crab transition

The positions of Seal and Crab are relatively similar. You'll simply change the hold on your legs and keep rolling along.

To begin your Crab you have 2 options:

  1. Change while upright (in the front), or
  2. Change to while upside down (in the back)

To change from Seal to Crab in the back, begin an additional Seal. Change when you are upside down. It's my preference to perfect my lift while upside-down and rearrange the leg position to Crab in the air.

It's a challenge to get the Crab action of the leg switch yet still not lose your lift.

You've had time to perfect your lift while upside down in the two preceding exercises. By the time you get to the Crab you'll be a pro.

To change from Seal to Crab in the front, keep your balance post Seal and change your position to the Crab. Begin your Crab by rolling up and forward over your feet first.

Crab

  • Finish your Seal either in the front or in the back.
  • Change your shape to the position for Crab and go!

Part of the beauty and challenge of this rolling series is that our rolling shape continues to get ever smaller.

Pay attention as your shape changes from Boomerang to Seal and finally to Crab. Investigate fully how to make your body roll as smoothly as possible.

Cultivate as much length and opening in the back as you can…

Rocking is coming…

Enjoy this short vlog!

Missed an episode? No prob.

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 7

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 7

Welcome to Episode 7 of Transitions on the Mat!

In this episode we'll pick up with our second flip onto the stomach for Swimming.

Post Hip Circles and into Swimming.

Isn't it grand that we get to bend the other way now?

  • Roll over onto your stomach.
  • Begin your Swimming.

Yay! Another counter stretch moment. Make it glorious!

  • Sit back into your counter stretch position.
  • Bring yourself forward and into position for the Leg Pull.

Leg Pull and Leg Pull Front

Now we've got a series of exercises done on one side and then the other.

From Leg Pull and Leg Pull Front, we're on a one-side-then-the-other-side-journey.

Let's continue alternating sides all the way through to Side Bend.

Bottoms up!

Another of the infamous – and fancy – transitions gets you from Leg Pull (the one facing down like a plank) to the Leg Pull Front (the one facing up).

As you move from one exercise to the next try to be as efficient as possible.

No futzing around…

Please know that there may be a bit of wiggling in even the most proficient of practitioners. We're trying…

But.

(pun intended)

(foreshadowing…)

We do have one golden rule for this transition:

Your bottom must NOT hit the mat.

I repeat:

Wiggle if you must, but keep that butt in the air all the way to Leg Pull Front.

  • Finish your Leg Pull.

I'll use the right side as an example but you can do it with the left side as well.

  • Bring your right hand over to the left.
  • Cross your right foot over your left (if you look at your feet).
  • Lift your left arm up and out and turn your body to face the sky.
  • Keep your bottom in the air as you place your left hand on the mat and situate your feet.
  • Begin your Leg Pull Front.

Side Kicks Kneeling

This transition I happen to enjoy, although it is quite the butt-spazzer…

Know where you'll need to have your knees on the mat for the Side Kicks Kneeling. As you are working this transition try to bring yourself into this position as directly as possible.

Again I'll use the right side as an example but you can do either side.

  • Finish your Leg Pull Front.
  • Bend your right leg and place your knee close to the edge and center of the right side of the mat.
  • Get your right hand into position in line with your knee.
  • Reach your left leg out to the side and into your starting position.
  • Begin your Side Kicks Keeling on the first side.
  • To change to the other side, lift yourself up to kneel on both knees, hands behind the head.
  • Use control and place the left hand on the mat.
  • Reach your right leg out to the right into the starting position.
  • Begin the second side of Side Kicks Kneeling.
  • Bend the right leg and lift yourself back to kneeling on 2 legs, hands behind the head, to finish.

The Side Bend

In our right side example we end up with the right side as our standing leg for the Side Kicks Kneeling.

Keep that going for the Side Bend as well.

  • Finish your Side Kicks Kneeling: return to the kneeling on both knees position.
  • Sit on your right hip and bring yourself into position.
  • Begin your Side Bend on the first side.
  • Stay facing the same direction and swing your legs in front of you.
  • You are now on your left hip.
  • Begin your Side Bend on the second side.

Enjoy this short vlog!

Missed an episode? No prob.

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