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

Shoulder Roll Down on the Cadillac

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

OMG Speed Networking??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile back on the Mat…

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

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

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

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

But first a little history…

Back in the Day

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

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

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

Le sigh…

Yes. I would do the Roll Over.

Does that mean I was doing it properly?

No.

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

Fast Forward

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

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

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

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

And I'm on the road to find it.

Getting a Leg Up (literally…)

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

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

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

This was news to me.

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

The Awareness is all…

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

You'll literally bring them to life.

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

You must practice. Over and over. A LOT.

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

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

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

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

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

Exercises you are already doing will also help.

Above all, learn to ROLL correctly.

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

Roll like a ball

Roll Like a Ball

Open Leg Rocker

Open Leg Rocker 2013

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

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

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

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

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

It's the Reformer for the assist!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's one possible scenario:

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

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

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

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

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

Over and over again.

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

Every Day a Little Cadillac

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

Leg Springs

Leg Springs on the Cadillac

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

Woo hoo!

Shoulder Roll Down

The Shoulder Roll Down on the Cadillac

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

Tower

Tower on the Cadillac

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

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

Your ‘this is for you' section.

The Complex Reformer Project

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

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

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

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

Overhead.

Control Balance.

High Frog.

Limited availability. Reserve your spot today.

Pilates Problem Du Jour: Long Back Stretch on the Reformer

Long Back Stretch on the Reformer

Hello there!

Welcome to a brand new week full of Pilates possibilities.

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

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

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

Let's get after it.

The Long Stretch Series

Long Stretch Series on the Reformer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Beginning…

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

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

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

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

The Long Back Stretch is different.

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

Maybe more.

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

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

Joe Pilates does it again…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not easy, but still in the realm of standing.

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

That's just weird, people.

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

“When do we ever do that?”

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

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

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

Hello Exercise Relationships!

I've missed you so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tendon Stretch on the Reformer

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

Other places to look for help:

Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer

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

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

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

Bottom Lift on the Reformer

Lifting and Standing here too with less pesky gravity.

The Complex Reformer Workshop

Control Push Ups on the Reformer

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

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

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

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

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

Space is limited. Reserve your spot today.

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

Working on a Pilates problem on the Reformer?

What fundamentals have been a help to you? 

Tell me all about it in a comment below…

Exercise Relationships to Build Proficiency: Reformer Edition

Control Push Ups on the Reformer

Hey there!

I've been thinking about you. Thanks for sharing your time with me and for becoming a subscriber.

Did you get a chance to read my bonus blog post How to Fall in Love with Exercises you HATE?

I hope so.

Click here to subscribe if you missed out on this little gem…

The more you know…

Tree on the Short Box

Speaking of exercises you hate… it's time for another footnote to last week's post.

Oh the Pilates Method… so many opportunities for learning.

Lost in a sea of traditional order options it's easy to get muddled.

And that's what Pilates friends are for! A big shout out to Samantha Walley of Vital Balance Pilates for remembering all the things from our time with Jay Grimes that I have forgotten.

Last week I considered relocating the Short Box Series to later in the order when adding the 2nd Long Box.

Well that, friends, is one option I learned from Romana.

It is Romana that allowed for just keeping the box with you after the 1st or 2nd Long Box, then turning it to be the Short Box. I make a case for this option in an older post that you've all showered with love: On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises.

Done in this manner you are saved one trip to get the box: You'll go get it for 1st Long Box (1), and get it again for the 2nd Long Box (2), finally keeping it for the subsequent Short Box Series.

Jay Grimes, however, doesn't care how many trips you make to get that box. You'll fetch it thrice (1st Long box, 2nd Long Box, Short Box), enjoying a welcome passeggiata each time you need it.

You've got all these options available to you within the structure of the order of exercises.

There is no wrong, only better and better choices to be made depending on any given scenario. And your Pilates education and experience will help you to choose wisely.

And in any event, there's always another Reformer workout on the horizon for you to begin. Again.

Exercise Relationships

Joe Pilates never leaves us unprepared.

How many times can I tell you why I love the Pilates Method?

Reason #196 is that your path is well-thought-out. Follow the path with “patience and persistence” and you'll always arrive at a complex exercise with confidence.

Joe Pilates is a master of taking a familiar skill and turning it (literally) on its head.

To progress your workout, it's helpful to revisit the basics to see where the seeds of a complex Reformer exercise first begin to germinate.

Oh boy, the plant metaphors… just one peril of being a plant parent!

Headstand 2

Headstands 2 on the Reformer

I've been working on The Headstands on the Reformer for probably decades. They are not great, but you don't get better at exercises by leaving them out. For the past few years, I've been toiling in the fundamentals building my proficiency and whittling away at a bad movement habit.

So now they're back. They're already better than they've ever been.

“When one exercise gets better, they all get better.”

The Pilates fundamentals do their magic. But how do you arrive ready and (sort of) willing to do the Headstand 2?

Ladies and Gentlemen… the Tendon Stretch!

Ever notice we have many exercises all called the Tendon Stretch?

And a bunch more exercises that include an element reminiscent of the Tendon Stretch?

Coincidenza??

Tendon Stretch: Footwork Edition

Tendon Stretch in the Footwork Series

Yes. It all begins with the Footwork. Never thought I would be that person.

The lift you cultivate here, all “comfy” and supported from head to toes will serve you well once you've upended yourself into the Headstand 2.

Stomach Massage Series

Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer

Essentially the sitting-up-now version of Footwork, the Stomach Massage Series sets you well on your way to the Headstand 2. This series, like Footwork, also goes on for a long while, building (beating) the skill into you.

Just sayin'. Again probably not an accident.

Full-On Tendon Stretch

Tendon Stretch on the Reformer

Looks can be deceiving but this iteration of the Tendon Stretch has all the components of its lying down Footwork relative: you must stand on your feet and use your crazy lift to survive the exercise instead of riding the carriage like you're at Disneyland.

SemiCircles

SemiCircles on the Reformer

Finally back in the ballpark of the Headstand 2, the SemiCircles force you to keep your lift or forever be squashed into the gaping maw of the Reformer.

And now upside-down and backward, you arrive at Headstand 2.

Now it's all making sense, right? Your Pilates teacher has been harping at you to lift since the workout began and boy, do you need it now.

Gravity's a bitch. But it's also very communicative.

The Complex Reformer Project

Control Push Ups on the Reformer

Tracing the roots of the Headstand 2 back to nearly the very beginning of your Reformer workout is just one example of Exercise Relationships.

If this sounds like your kind of fun, join me in the month of February for a new online 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 the Headstand 2.

Overhead I hear you cry?

Snake/Twist and High Bridge?

Star even?

Oh yes.

Space is limited. Reserve your spot today.

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

The Pilates System: The Cadillac Environment

Shoulder Roll Down on the Cadillac

Hello all you Pilates cats and kittens!

Welcome to one of my very favorite weeks of the year, that mellow, holiday-between-holidays, last. week. of the year.

2021, I've got my eyes (and hopes) on you.

Post-feasting is when I need my Pilates exercises the most. They are just the best twisty-turny things to work out the gut. Even foods that can mightily tax your digestive system are no match for a Reformer workout.

Meanwhile, Back at the Cadillac…

Continuing from last week's post I've been taking a good hard look at Joe Pilates' Cadillac apparatus.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Joe Pilates giveth and Joe Pilates taketh away.

One Solid Bar vs 2 Wambly Springs

On the Cadillac apparatus, we've got lots of Joe's goodies to work with: there are individual springs, a wooden pole attached with 2 short springs, a solid wooden push-thru bar, the firm surface of the mat, a hanging trapeze with stout springs, 2 fuzzy loops, and the steel poles of the canopy.

Some places to work are very solid and supportive:

  • a solid wooden push-thru bar
  • the firm surface of the mat
  • the steel poles of the canopy

Other places to work may literally leave you hanging in the breeze:

  • individual springs
  • a hanging trapeze with stout springs
  • 2 fuzzy loops

Lots of choices to be made.

Scroll up for another look at the image of the Shoulder Roll Down.

Now take a look at another exercise where you are in the same position in an entirely different scenario:

Leg Springs in the Air on the Cadillac

Here in the Leg Springs in the Air, there's not as much to stand on, right?

You'll find all kinds of Joe Pilates' tricks like this throughout the Cadillac repertoire. Probably not a coincidence…

The Spring Remains the Same…or does it?

The Cadillac apparatus is equipped with 4 different sets of interchangeable springs.

Sure they have specific names: arm springs, leg springs, roll back bar springs and push thru springs.

But depending on who you are, what you are looking for, and your proficiency, you may decide on a specific spring to assist you on your Pilates Path.

For example, on my Gratz Cadillac I find more success using the lighter arm springs for the Leg Spring Series.

Joe's original name for his method was Contrology, or the study of control.

That's really what we're after, right?

Control.

Whichever spring elicits the help you need to be in control is the one you want.

And then there's also the option of no spring at all.

More on that in January…

Only 3 spots remaining in The Cadillac Project.

Got questions? Leave a comment below and I'm happy to help.

Reserve your spot today.

The Cadillac of Apparatus

Swan on the Cadillac

Welcome new subscribers!

Thanks for joining me on the wonderful journey that is the Pilates Method of Exercise.

The reinvigorating of my personal Pilates workout – fewer distractions and more time for daily workouts – has been a true silver lining of this year at home.

And my new plant friends.

The green healing color, as well as learning about their care and feeding, has helped me to stay calm and roll on…while I Roll Up and Roll Over.

Our current stay-at-home orders in California also give me plenty of time to commune with my Cadillac.

And it's just a couple of weeks before the start of my January workshop: The Cadillac Project!!

There are just a couple of spots left (Don't worry you can still snag your spot here).

And if you thought The Wunda Chair Project was fun…

Oh, the places we'll go!

I've been sprucing up my outline and reviewing the myriad of exercises Joe created for one of his most impressive apparatus, the Cadillac.

What a sh** ton of exercises!!

Also lots of moments when I think hmmm… that is interesting. It's made me look at the apparatus itself with new eyes.

Over the next 2-ish weeks I'll be sharing a few tidbits to tide you over until January.

Exercise Relationships

By now you've surely heard someone (or me) say “Pilates is a system” or even “Trust the Work.”

And your quest, should you choose to accept it, is to apply the Pilates System – the body of work that is the Pilates Method – to yourself and/or the body in front of you.

No prob.

It's so easy to say, right?

For this reason, it's helpful to notice and seek out the relationships between exercises.

We've only got one exercise and countless variations. Often you find yourself in a familiar place or position only to “suddenly” discover that you've been here before…

Pilates Confession #296

Shoulder Roll Down on the Cadillac

For the last few years, I've been working diligently to rid myself of a bad movement habit.

My habit really shows up in a particular group of exercises that requires the same skill despite having a different level of support, a different relationship to gravity, and/or a different apparatus.

Here's my exercise relationship du jour:

  • Reformer: Long Back Stretch, Short Spine Massage, Semi Circle, High Frog
  • Mat: High Scissors and High Bicycle
  • Cadillac: Airplane, Leg Springs in the Air, Tower, Shoulder Roll Down (Sari)

And I'll probably find a whole lot more of them.

Lifting up the entire back of the body with integrity is one label we could use for this skill.

I also think sometimes it's hard as humans to imagine that the lower body begins somewhere higher up than our hips and legs…

What other similarities do you see in my list?

Pop a comment down below and add to my list, I'd love to know.

Up on the YouTube!

Thank you so much for your kind words and great feedback on my YouTube channel.

I've just surpassed 6K subscribers and I can't thank you enough for watching!

More videos will be coming your way soon. Please let me know if you've got Pilates topics or Pilates exercise requests. I love them!

Recently, I thank you for bringing to my attention all the mid-roll ads you ran into while trying to work out with my videos. I've since taken care of the problem. You should no longer be pelted with ads in the middle of my videos – you will still see advertisements at the beginning and the end of the videos.

Thanks for your patience – and thanks for subscribing 🙂

Recent videos you may have missed:

  • If you're a twisted sister too, check out my “Scissors workouts” here, and here for a ton of 1-sided fun.
  • And here's a fun Wunda Workout where I try to never get off the Wunda Chair until the end!
  • Also check out this Cadillac workout for a preview of my January Workshop: The Cadillac Project.

Join me in January for The Cadillac Project.

Reserve your spot today.

Happy Holidays!

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