3 Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

3 Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.This one is for Sarah.

I found rocking on the front of the body to be a shocking development in my first Pilates classes.

We had already been rolling on our backs since day 1, so of course why not rock on our fronts? This realization did not make the rocking exercises easier to do…

But I get it. 

That Joe Pilates, he thought of everything.

Part 1: Let's Rock!

The Rock(ing): a challenging exercise done primarily on the Mat.

And yes, technically the Swan Dive is also a rocking exercise, but what say we give that one an entire post of its own? (Oh boy, already excited about the photos for that post…can you feel my joy?)

Quick & Dirty Trick #1: WWJPD?

Do a little homework. Consult Joe Pilates' manifesto Return to Life Through Contrology.

Take a look at the 4 figures of Joe Rocking and let's consider his directives:

3 Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

Fig. 1:

  • (a) Take position illustrated
  • (b) Rest body (face downward) on mat or floor
  • (c) Press arms to sides with palms upward
  • (d) Stretch legs (close together) backward
  • (e)Keep toes (pointed) forward and downward

I have emboldened the directions that were news to me. I found these to be particularly insightful.

When I begin in this position as Joe suggests, I lengthen my body on the stomach just as I would do on my back preparing for the Hundred or the Teaser. Cool. No big deal…I'm just on my stomach…

As I “stretch legs (close together) backward” I feel my seat engage. Brilliant. Guess what it's gonna have to do by the time we get to Figure 4.


  • (a) Bend legs forward toward head
  • (b) Grasp feet

Ok, pretty per usual. But “feet”, mind you, he does not say ankles. Duly. Noted. Let's press on.

Fig. 3:

  • (b) Thrust chest out with head thrown back as far as possible
  • (c) Stretch legs (close together) toward mat or floor

Thrust chest out with head thrown back as far as possible?!!

How many of us would never want to use these words to teach our clients? Sounds scary, I know.

So I tried it.

With the first action of thrusting the chest out, trying to throw my head backward only resulted in more lift of my whole shape similar to the Down Stretch on the Reformer. More on this later, as it was one of my favorite parts. It did not result in a crank of the neck, as I had anticipated. Interesting…

…and I am a bit of a neck-cranker.

I like direction (c) he uses here as well. “Stretch legs (close together) toward mat or floor” is very clear and effective. Thanks Joe!

Fig. 4:

  • (a) Rock forward until chin touches mat or floor
  • (b) Rock backward as far as possible
  • (c) INHALE SLOWLY as you
  • (d) Rock forward and
  • (e) EXHALE SLOWLY as you
  • (f) Rock backward

Okay, let's talk about all this stuff. At the risk of getting über-precious about the breathing (Resist!) the rocking exercises on the stomach (as well as all the rolling exercises) have their roots in Joe's philosophy of correct breathing:

3 Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

Honestly, who can think about breathing while doing this exercise? I only hope to survive and make it to the Control Balance. One thing I can actually count on is that I will keep breathing. All the other stuff, ehhh, not so much…

Must… Move… Vigorously! Lift up, everybody – Up!

However, following Joe's directives made the exercise feel good:

INHALE slowly as you Rock forward

EXHALE slowly as you Rock backward

I am sure I have been exhaling my face into the mat for years. This change of where the exhalation comes made a big difference in the exercise for me. It gave me more lift and ease in the exercise and a big, full, toxin-clearing exhalation like the Down Stretch on the Reformer as I said earlier. Which brings me to…

We only have one exercise

You saw that one comin', huh?

Quick & Dirty Trick #2: Lengthen and calm yourself.

You've done the research. You've made it this far in the mat. Just 3 more exercises and you are golden…don't freak out. It's only the Rocking. All the exercises you have already done have led you to this moment. You are ready. Lie on your stomach and stretch yourself long.

Quick & Dirty Trick #3: A backbend is not a free-for-all.

Don't lose your sh**, K? Work fiercely to engage all that which wants to pooch out onto the mat. Try to forget the exercise is a backbend when you are in the starting position (Fig. 1). Find straight first, when bending the knees for the initial stretch – ribs in, stomach in, seat tight – find the stretch in the thighs and hips if it is not already palpable, or ridiculous. That backbend will find you soon enough…

Who's in charge here?

The Pilates exercises that Rock and Roll are stunning examples of ultimate control. Both ends of the body must work constantly in opposition to move us about. Find the 2-way stretch here just as you would in any other less-fancy exercise: lift the back and then reach the toes to the sky.

In the Rocking it is the reach of the big toes that will help you find your seat and the work of the lower body while you Down Stretch your way to success with the lift of the upper body and chest a là Swan.

Ready for Part 2?

Click here for my exploration of the Pilates rolling exercises and why they are so freakishly good for us. They make a good pair, the rocking and the rolling. They work together to encourage the strength and flexibility of the entire back.

Mmm…a massage for back and front and the toxic air goes bye-bye!

3 Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

3 Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

Got some Quick & Dirty Tricks of your own? Share them in a comment below.

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