Almost Returned to Life: Control Balance

Control Balance

Today is perhaps my most favorite March MATness day.

Control Balance is the exercise that started it ALL!

Let me explain.

Way back in the aughts I took my first Pilates Mat classes. Thanks, Excel Pilates DC.

My first Mat classes were the perfect introduction to the Pilates Method. I learned so much.

You probably know that one thing I learned was I could not do the Roll Up.

It seemed so simple.

Just. Roll. Up.

Right?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the studio, I saw an instructor doing an amazing somersault on and off the Reformer.

So cool!

It looked way more exciting than my Roll Up.

That day the Pilates Method and I struck a bargain: I agreed to work on my Roll Up and progress my proficiency until I was ready to learn this fantastic new mystery exercise: the Control Balance.

And yes, it took a while.

But I do love that thing.

It's Ripe for a Pilates Project, this one…

Control Balance on the Reformer

Looking at the Control Balance you can already see so many exercises within it.

Here's a small sample:

  • Roll like a Ball
  • Jackknife
  • Tree on the Short Box
  • Tendon Stretch One Leg
  • The Hundred
  • Monkey

You get the idea.

There's a lot of the Pilates method packed into this cumulative exercise.

Then you've got to manage the somersault part with control using your stomach.

Control Balance on the Reformer

(Funny how your stomach likes to leave you the moment you step onto the floor and off the Reformer)

You've got a whole method to help out any weak links in your Control Balance.

This brings me back to Roll Like a Ball

Where is my point of balance and how do I control it?

Roll Like a Ball

Roll Like a Ball is one of the very first exercises you learn.

Think of it as a speedy overhead exercise: here you'll spend a moment in the spot where later, in Control Balance, you'll spend an eternity. And the JackKnife and the Overhead.

What makes the ball roll smoothly?

A loaded question.

One answer is that your oppositional forces are in balance with each other: too much lift and you'll never rollover. Too much lower body going overhead and you'll land on your neck.

No bueno.

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

In the above photo, if I got more lift out the top of my head.

Lift? But I am upside down…

Just like sitting on top of the Short Box: the lift of my entire trunk would lower my point of balance away from my neck and onto the spot in the middle back that doesn't like to bend.

Just like a very sloooooooooow Roll Like a Ball. If I lift too much I'll end up on my back doing the Scissors.

There's another one in there. Scissors. Single Straight Leg Stretch, if you will.

In this way, over time, the control and point of balance can be sorted out.

More Control Balance 

Celebrate today with a smile on your face.

Further reading:

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

On my YouTube channel:

The Struggle is REAL: Control Balance on the Mat

Pilatesology:

5 Exercises for a Better Control Balance

Not on Pilatesology? Use my code Andrea30 and extend your free trial for 30 days. Woo hoo!

What did you learn today this month?

Romana Kryzanowska would tell us:

If you learn one new thing every day

you will be a genius.

March MATness brilliantly encourages you to celebrate your Pilates Mat exercises as a celebration of yourself.

What did you notice as you visited your exercises this month? I'd love to know.

What's one thing you learned from March MATness 2021?

Tell me all about it in a comment below.

Breaking News: Doing your Pilates Mat Workout is Good for You!

Open Leg Rocker on the Mat

How ridiculous, right?

Yet every March since 2011 I've made the same “shocking” discovery.

Hey, these exercises are really good for me…

I've got boundless energy, my body feels great and it took me about 30 minutes to do them. Now I'm off to live my life with zest and pleasure!

When will I learn?

Maybe you've been feeling good about your Pilates Mat exercises too.

Thanks for joining me here on the Pilates Path.

Spine Stretch Forward into Open Leg Rocker

At the time of this writing, it's March 8 – my mother's 94th birthday, International Women's Day and, here in MarchMATness-land, The Spine Stretch Day.

Tomorrow on the 9th you'll hit one of my favorite Pilates Mat exercises – perhaps my VERY favorite. Apologies in advance… but I can't get enough of the Rocker with Open Legs (Open Leg Rocker to her friends).

And since I'm currently immersed in the world of Pilates transitions and why we should care, I'd love to visit these 2 exercises as a team – a dynamic duo on the Mat.

Spine Stretch

The Spine Stretch clearly has two juicy moments.

See if you can spot everyone's favorite…

Spine Stretch on the Mat

Most of you relate to this reachy, feel-good moment and all the time you can take to get out there… but what about the start and the finish?

You know, that easy part where you just sit up tall… LOL

Spine Stretch on the Mat

This tall position is the money note.

Cultivate the lift that keeps right on giving into your next exercise, the Rocker with Open Legs.

You'll try and preserve all the lift of the trunk of your body to then take it airborne!

Play a fun game with yourself and try to arrive in your Rocker with Open Legs with as much lift in your balance position as you had sitting safely on your bottom in the Spine Stretch.

Make these two exercises feel as identical to each other as possible. It's a trip 🙂

For those about to rock…

  • The Power of Incremental Change: Open Leg Rocker Edition – It's hard to feel like you're making progress in challenging exercises. This post takes a look at my journey over 11 years of the Open Leg Rocker. Full disclosure, I've never hated this exercise, but that doesn't mean I did it well. I promise a post on the Side Kicks Kneeling, but you may have to wait 11 more years…

The Benefits of a Daily Pilates Mat Workout

What are the Benefits of a Daily Pilates Mat Workout?

It can be a challenge to commit to a daily Pilates Mat workout. I feel you. Especially as a Pilates teacher, you may think you've done your exercises for the day only to remember that you only made someone else do them.

Yeah, it doesn't work that way…

The most challenging moment is arriving at the Mat to begin.

Once I lie down and begin my exercises I remember: Oh yeah, I love Pilates. Why don't I do this every day?

The Value of the 5 Basic Pilates Exercises

The Value of 5 Basic Pilates Mat Exercises  – Start your daily Mat exercises with just 5 gems. You'll complete them in less than 5 minutes. You'll feel fantastic and virtuous all day long! This post maps out 2 more exercises to increase your workout habit when you're ready.

Thanks for the New Exercises to Love/Hate

Corkscrew on the Mat

In the Pilates System, you'll repeat all of your exercises over and over again. The exercises work together to replace inefficient movements with sustainable new habits. As your body changes it's nice to have old familiar exercises to test your new skills.

It's a magical process where an old favorite becomes a new challenge, and sometimes – sometimes – a horrible exercise transforms into deliciousness.

Don't get too excited.

The Neck Pull still insists on being a hot mess. It refuses to go the way of the Roll Up and Teaser and play nice… It's still the ‘oh shit' exercise. Bunched up and ready to go!

You'll be the first to know when I love this one. #mm2028??

The Side Bend, however… is suddenly (19 years later) really nice. Yup, never thought I'd be this person.

Jay Grimes calls the Side Bend ‘a treat.'

I don't know if I'd go that far, but I'm definitely in the building…

And I almost like the Push Up Series on One Leg as much as I like the Tendon Stretch on the Reformer. Well, it's not that exciting, but I don't fall over anymore.

Enjoy your workout. You know you want to.

Got a favorite exercise in your Mat workout?

I'd love to know. Especially if it's a nasty one 🙂

The Cadillac: Simply the Best

The CadillacOne of my favorite elements of the Pilates System is that nothing is arbitrary.

“There IS a reason,” says Joe Pilates, for all of our protocols and exercises and apparatuses.

Each apparatus in the studio has a special purpose or it wouldn't be there, right?

All the apparatuses exist to assist and support your efforts. And of course, they mingle their help with challenge, like everything else in this brilliant method.

Joe Pilates' First Invention

What niche does the Cadillac fill in the Pilates studio?

Like so many things in the Pilates Method – the Teaser, the Hundred – the Cadillac has a reputation.

She's the favorite “feel-good” and “stretchy” workout your clients demand. Who cares about the oppressive Reformer, that unforgiving Mat or those impossible Chairs?

And it’s always the Cadillac who welcomes you when you “just want to wake the f*** up…”

The Best of its Kind

It's rumored that Joe Pilates called his invention the Cadillac after a mid-20th-century advertisement proclaiming General Motors' Cadillac automobile to be the best of its kind.

A couple of years ago I investigated this story.

And does anyone complain about having to use the Cadillac? I've only heard glowing reviews from clients – the Cadillac is decidedly more popular than the Reformer… or the Mat… or anything else in the studio really…

Cadillac as Laboratory

The repertoire of Cadillac exercises is vast.

And there's something for everyone.

On the Cadillac, you'll find…

  • …an easy place to lie down if you can't get down on the floor.
  • …a mat that offers full-body support and is a template for your tall standing position (lying down).
  • …a place to get assistance to learn how to roll your body up and down on the Mat.
  • …a boatload of exercises which can be straightforward places to learn not-so-straightforward exercises on the Reformer and Mat.
  • …a place to advance your standing exercises with assistance from a spring.
  • …a nice place to hold on while you balance on one leg.
  • …a great place to invert the lower body for beginners.
  • …a fun place to invert the entire body for advanced practitioners.

Oh gosh there's so much to do here! So many possibilities within the canopy of the Cadillac

Pilates Confession Time

I've never liked the Leg Spring Series on the Cadillac.

Nope. Not one bit.

It's not that I don't do them… I've been doing them for years. They're not great, but little by little they get better.

Curiously, I love love LOVE the Frog and Circles on the Reformer.

What makes the same exercises done on different apparatus so…different?

And by ‘different' I mean vexing.

See what you think:

 

The Cadillac version

Frog in Leg Springs on Cadillac

 

The Reformer version

Frog on the Reformer

Looks kinda the same, right?

But looks can be deceiving.

What's the same?

  • The position of most of the body is the same. In both exercises, you have each foot in its own strap.
  • The choreography is the same.
  • The support you receive from the apparatus is similar.

What's different?

  • The Cadillac is not a moving platform.
  • On the Cadillac, each foot is directly attached to the spring. The Reformer connects you to the spring system which resides underneath the carriage. On the Cadillac, this direct attachment to the spring makes control more difficult.
  • The position of the upper body and the arms is different. On the Cadillac, the arm position is advantageous to help lift and engage the entire trunk of the body. It's also the most solid support you get in the exercise here.
  • And look at the position of my ribcage. Never underestimate the power of the headpiece on the Reformer.

Think about the Footwork series we do (everywhere) on the Reformer.

It's very reminiscent of the Frog, yes?

That footbar is so solid and supportive. Yet fleeting.

Joseph Pilates giveth and Joseph Pilates taketh away…

Over time, you'll ween yourself from Footwork done with the stout footbar to the less supportive long black straps for the Frog to the foot-directly-connected-to-spring instability on the Cadillac for the Leg Spring Series.

“These things take time,” Jay Grimes tells me.

Where are we going?

Think of the Cadillac as a stepping stone from the compressive support of the Reformer and Wunda Chair on your way to going it alone on the Mat.

Some support you'll receive from the Cadillac will be considerable: All that stuff with the Push Through Bar. It's probably not an accident the push-thru springs are the heaviest springs in the studio.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Cadillac: the Roll Down Bar…I smell unstable support here!

The Cadillac Project

You know how much I love a good Pilates Project. In September my workshop focused on the Wunda Chair.

Join me in January 2021 for a deep dive into the vast repertoire of the Cadillac. On the Cadillac, there are so many ways to enhance and challenge our Pilates workout all around the studio.

Go full-on remedial to reinforce fundamentals, or channel your inner circus performer with gravity-defying exercises hanging from the canopy.

I love to work the system via the lens of a good ol' Pilates Project.

Currently, I've got 2 projects in the works for my body – I'll bet you can guess LOL

My Cadillac Project #1: Building Symmetry

  • Leg Springs Series
  • Leg Springs Series – One Leg
  • Airplane (with the Airplane board)
  • Roll Back with One Arm
  • Tower
  • Tower – One Leg
  • Monkey
  • Monkey – One Leg
  • Shoulder Roll Down (the Sari)
  • Push Thru
  • Push Thru One Arm
  • Standing Stretches in the fuzzies
  • Standing Boxing
  • Standing Lunges
  • Squats
  • One Leg Squats

Wheee!

This one's a wild ride that takes me from lying down to the one leg squats.

All is possible on the magnificent Cadillac!

My Cadillac Project #2: Creating the Round Back Shape

What makes a round shape? It can be a struggle for me. Notice some exercises even make both of my projects!

  • Leg Springs – One Leg
  • Airplane
  • Roll Back
  • Tower
  • Push Through
  • Reverse Push Through
  • Seated Tower
  • Half Hang

What kind of Pilates Project will you create on the Cadillac?

In a total of 8 workshop hours, you'll explore the fundamental forces of 2-way stretch as you experieince as many of our meat-and-potatoes Cadillac exercises as time will allow.

You'll build a Pilates Project of your own along the way.

The Cadillac Project will meet 4 Thursdays in January: January 7, 14, 21, and 28, 2021.

Class time is 9am – 11am PST

There will be homework!

Maximum 10 participants.

Prerequisites for this workshop include:

  1. A Cadillac or Tower Unit
  2. Pilates experience

Just a few spots remaining.

Use this link to join in the fun:

Yes! I love the Cadillac!

Get a glimpse of The Cadillac Project in this week's video.

Thanks for watching!

The 7th Principle of Pilates: MOVE!

Jumping on the Stomach on the Ladder BarrelThis week's post is an oldie but its topic has even more resonance today than when it appeared on pilatesology.com in 2012. Read Pilatesology's original post even if you're not a member. Wanna join? Use my code Andrea30 and extend their free trial to 30 days.

My Pilates Confession for this week…

Remember your least favorite Pilates exercises we used for our little Repetition test?

Are you bored or are you better?

My few Ladder Barrel exercises have added a 4th friend: The Standing Stretches – also known to Romana's Pilates peeps as the Ballet Stretches.

And I am proud to admit I'm a bit better at them… and what about my 3 other exercises?

I'm sure I am a bit better…but it's too early to tell for sure… more repetition for me!

How did you do?

What are the ‘Principles of Pilates'?

Most all Pilates training programs – mine included – spend the first hour of the first training weekend imparting some basic information about Joe Pilates and his method.

On my first page of notes: Pilates is… (in 3 words) Stretch with Strength and Control.

Okay, cool.

Next my notes tell me what most if not all Pilates instructors also learn very early on:

The 6 Principles of Pilates:

Concentration

Control

Centering

Precision

Flowing movement

Breathing

True, these 6 principles do accurately describe what differentiates Pilates from other forms of exercise.

They do not, however, come from Joe Pilates.

Whaaaaaaaht???

It's true.

Jay weighs in…

Jay Grimes points out that Joe Pilates did not come down from the mountain one day with stone tablets proclaiming the 6 Principles of Pilates.

I always laugh when he says this because I think of Mel Brooks as Moses in History of the World Part 1. Moses comes down from the mountain to announce his 15 Commandments, accidentally drops one stone tablet and quickly changes the number to “…10…! 10 Commandments!”

But Joe Pilates would have had the stone tablets, the tiny white shorts, and a cigar I think, yes?

I know, getting a little off-topic.

So if not from Joe, from whom do we get these 6 lovely principles?

Enter Romana…

The 6 Principles first appeared in The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning by Philip Friedman and Gail Eisen, two students of Romana Kryzanowska.

Originally published in 1980 (more than a decade after Joe Pilates died, yo.).  It “was the first book of its kind – bringing Pilates out of the elite studios and into the lives of millions of Americans.”

The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning

Jogging and running had exploded in the late 1970s. By 1980 a fitness craze was sweeping the country and an obsession with health, beauty, and youthfulness was having profound effects on American culture.

Students Gail and Philip met with Romana seeking specific ways to differentiate the Pilates Method from other forms of exercise.

What made Pilates special?

Certainly, the 6 principles they created are inherent in the Pilates system.

But another more important principle is missing.

Let’s call it the 7th Principle of Pilates: Move!

Who knows, maybe if Joe dropped his stone tablet other precious gems were lost as well:

“Thou Shalt Not Bang the Carriage.”

“Quiet the Clips.”

“What you don’t like, you do twice.”

Try it for yourself.

Let's follow the 7th Principle of Pilates. Move!

All those other 6 principles will happen automatically when you commit to simply move.

Concentration: You'll remember the exercises and focus on what you are doing. As you continue to move you'll have to think faster from one exercise to the next. Moving requires engagement.

Control: You'll move in a safe and effective fashion. The continual movement will challenge your control.

Centering: You’ll be toast without your stomach.

Precision: You'll maintain your form. The continual movement will challenge your precision.

Breathing: You'll most certainly have to breathe… The movement will require you to breathe more deeply and fully. I love it when this happens!

Flowing movement: OMG yes! You are moving!

All this involves TRUST of course.

Trust yourself AND the Work

Trust in Joe's work.

Trust that it is getting the job done without you micromanaging and getting all up in its grill.

Trust to let the body lead you without your mind working overtime, or over-indulging in the breathing.

Perhaps…you know who you are…

Trust.

Let go.

Let go and Let Joe…awww… #pilatespunsarethebest

What's your experience when you commit to move in your workout?

I'd love to know. Share your successes in a comment below.

Revisiting the Basics: Footwork on the Reformer

Revisiting the Basics: Footwork on the Reformer

About last week…

In last week's post, I challenged you to visit a few of your nastiest exercises. Did you get bored with them? Or did you get better at them? How did it go?

I'd love to know.

TBH, I decided on my 3 exercises quickly but only managed to visit them a few times… sign me up for another week.

So far I am neither bored nor better.

My 3 exercises to continue to wrangle:

Ladder Barrel exercisesLadder Barrel exercisesLadder Barrel exercises

Side Sit Ups, Side Stretch, and the Backbend.

Clearly I need to hear Joe Pilates' words again:

“Practice your exercises diligently with the fixed and unalterable determination that you will permit nothing else to sway you in keeping faith with yourself.

So I'll keep the faith at full speed for another week at least. How'd you do with your exercises?

Meanwhile…

Jump into a new series with me this week!

Nearly 2 decades into this amazing method, I'm finally (mostly) ready to tackle the-most-basic of all basics: Footwork on the Reformer.

Let's. Go.

Footwork at a Glance

In the traditional Pilates system 4 exercises begin our Reformer workout:

  1. Toes – the official name, but dare I say, Balls
  2. Arches
  3. Heels
  4. Tendon Stretch

For the record, I've never been a fan.

Kerry DeVivo of Excel Pilates Annapolis, one of my first teachers, used Footwork as her go-to workout on busy days. Not all the exercises on the Reformer, there was no time. 

JUST the Footwork.

She loved it.

Ugh.

Why subject yourself to such torture?

Even my most horrible Mat exercises would be more fun than Footwork on the Reformer all by itself.

#FootworkProbs

At first, I found the Footwork exercises to be frustrating. So much focus on the minutiae of my misbehaving foot, arch and ankle was such a drag. Not to mention I had the quads of 10 men… *sigh*

Can't we just move on to the Hundred and all the fun stuff?

What's really going on here?

I need an attitude adjustment…

Let's Zoom Out

Jay Grimes and Vintage Pilates (and time) have liberated my Footwork series.

I'm more than just a pretty pair of feet…

Joe Pilates was often asked, “What is this exercise for?”

“The BODY.”

Good answer! Thanks, Joe.

Footwork is your first big warmup of the lower body.

Footwork on the Reformer

The Hundred continues this theme of warming up, now for the upper body.

100 on the Reformer

What a pair!

#fullbodyworkout

Mobilizing and lengthening the back is more vital than perfect legs, feet, and ankles – at the moment. 

These things take time.

Most importantly MOVING through this series plucks you out of your busy mind and into laser focus: controlling your body. You may even sort yourself out on your way to the Tendon Stretch.

Joe Pilates has your back on this one.

Literally.

Can you be long, tall and straight like the Reformer behind you? Nope, but it's the trying that counts.

The Footwork series is a great place to take full advantage of your most supportive friend, your partner in crime, the Reformer.

Ready? Set? Footwork!

A whole Pilates studio of apparatus lies in wait to exploit your Footwork skills. Surely all of our 500+ exercises in the Pilates Method will benefit.

Footwork on the Reformer is the very first skill to haunt you (perhaps even taunt you) on every apparatus you visit.

Footwork on the Reformer

It's your very first squat!

Joe Pilates takes it easy on you at first. You are horizontal, fully supported by the apparatus and free from pesky gravity.

Check out these Pilates morsels! See if you can find their inner Footwork

Frog on the Reformer

Frog, in many iterations and on multiple apparatuses, is the ultimate Footwork clone.

Pumping on the High Chair

Pumping on the High Chair puts our Footwork (and our Frog) upright. I find changing the relationship to gravity can be a huge help in honing our Footwork skills.

Centering on the Ped-o-Pull

Focusing on your inner Footwork can make even grueling exercises on the Ped-o-Pul possible. In the photo, I am using a bit of Footwork to help with my Centering exercise.

Wow! The scope of the Footwork exercises makes it a whole lot more fun.

Now for something completely different (NOT)

Our Footwork series also provides a strong foundation in formidable exercises:

Greg Swan on Barrel

Swan done on the Ladder Barrel puts the strength of your Footwork to the test.

Headstand 2 on the Reformer

OMG it's a moment of Tendon Stretch from our Footwork series smack dab in the middle of the Headstand! An old familiar friend despite the challenging position…

Tower on the Cadillac

And you can clearly see some Footwork skills in my personal nemesis, Tower on the Cadillac. Thanks, Joe Pilates, someday I will learn!

Lights! Camera! Footwork?!

Joe Pilates starts you off right away with the fundamental skill of the Footwork series.

Visit your Footwork and all your fundamental Reformer exercises in these videos:

Use the first one for a detailed deliberate pace and the one below for the same group of exercises done at a brisk pace:

Need help finding your bottom and actually using it in your Footwork series?

Check out this video as well:

Have an amazing Pilates week. You got this.

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