The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

For Tessa

Thanks so much to everyone who attended my Cadillac workshop this past weekend at LauraBPilates studio in Raleigh, NC.

It was a pleasure to meet and work with so many awesome readers. You guys rocked it on the Cadillac and the Standing Arm Springs!

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

Gifts from Joe Pilates

Joe Pilates has bestowed numerous gifts upon us. My favorite one is of course the gift of repetition. Do your exercises frequently and your body will reap the benefits. Even if you don't think you're particularly good at your exercises, it's the doing it anyway that counts.

And you're probably better than you think…

Lately I've come to feel a kind of Pilates déjà vu in my workout.

Hmmm… I've been here before…

The Tree is chock full of moments just like this.

See if you can find the moments of Spine Stretch, Open Leg Rocker, the Roll Up, Single Leg Circles, Double Leg Pull and High Bridge all jam-packed into one workhorse of an exercise.

Thank God for the Tree

Early on in my Pilates journey I was decidedly NOT a fan of the Short Box Series.

The Tree was the exception.

A fundamental exercise in our order of the Reformer exercises, the Tree, succeeded in making the entire Short Box Series just that much more bearable fun. 

The Tree is a versatile exercise that continues to grow and blossom along with our Pilates practice.

Even the basic version is not easy.

Later on you can turn on the jazz with your first taste of High Bridge.

Tree Time

If we distill the Tree down to its very essence it could look like this:

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

Sit up as tall as you can and reach your leg as much as possible without sinking in the back.

Your lift inward and upward must increase as your leg reaches further away from center.

Further progressions could include just setting up your Tree position:

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the TreeThe Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

Maybe you control yourself into this position and then return upright 3 times.

Later you'll learn to lower your upper body away from the center – just a little bit at a time. Remember to only roll backward as much as you can successfully return.

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

Over time you'll work your way all the way back and into the well if you are able.

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

And once you're completely comfortable upside down you've got some fun options:

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

Reach for the frame and pull everything in toward your center.

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

Ultimately you can add an empowering precursor to the High Bridge with lovely support from our friend the Short Box.

Here you may add the Single Leg Circles from Pilates Mat fame.

Holy stomach exercise, Batman!

And it's all leading up to where we began very simply: a global stretch of the back of the body in our final moment of Tree:

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

What's going on here anyhow?

Take another look at our final moment of the Tree. Every exercise in the Short Box Series is leading to this point: a global stretch of the back of the body.

That final moment of the Tree is the money note, the big kahuna, your raison d'être…

Often in this exercise we become preoccupied with stretching the back of the leg. We all feel so incredibly inflexible in this exercise, even the most loosey-goosey among us.

The back must take precedence over the leg. And the more lift you find in your back – ooooh that tight leg will get a fantastic stretch! See what you think.

Further Reading

Want even more info on the Tree and the Short Box Series?

Check out these related posts – you know I'm completely obsessed with all things Short Box…let's see if you are too!

Enjoy this short video tutorial.

Thanks for watching!

UPDATE Pilates Home Practice Project: Fran, 60

UPDATE Pilates Home Practice Project: Fran, 60

When I started my blog a few years ago I dreamed of a world in which all of my loved ones came to cherish our beloved Pilates Method.

I even wrote a post about my dream.

Now nearly 4 years later you've read about my father-in-law, Bill and his commitment to his Pilates Mat exercises.

I further documented his progress in a follow-up post .

In North Carolina with the Fam

I regularly travel to Raleigh to visit my family.

Last November I was thrilled to present my workshop On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises in Raleigh, NC at Laura Browning Grant's beautiful home studio.

My sister, Fran and her best friend Sandy each took a private lesson with me while I was in town.

How lovely.

Fran, Fran, Fo-fan, Banana-fana fo-fan, Fee-fy-mo-man, Fran!

My sister turned 60 last year.

Without a regular exercise routine, she wanted an enjoyable workout which would serve her well going forward.

Fran has a stressful full-time job, she checks in frequently on our aging parents and she's got 3 young grand-daughters that keep her on her toes.

And like me, it's hard for her to sit still.

We share a love for organization, direction, order, precision and excellence. Naturally, I thought she would really take to Pilates.

And it turns out she did. She's been having private lessons twice a week with Laura since December last year.

And I'm super proud.

Unlike Bill who prefers to workout by himself at home, Fran needs the structure of the private lesson in the studio. I keep pushing my YouTube channel at her, but she assures me that working out at home on her own is not gonna happen.

“I like the Hundred!”

Now after 6 months of Pilates Fran is feeling the love – and the results! – from our beloved Pilates Method. 

She has more energy, she sleeps better at night and our mom has noticed a huge change in my sister's posture. We've got a bit of the “slumpy gene.” 

And yes, Fran really likes the Hundred. And all the “ab stuff.”

I should also note that this is the very first time Fran has been able to commit to doing something for herself.

It feels good for her to carve out time for herself in the midst of her demanding job and essentially caring for everybody else.

While catching up via Skype Fran couldn't resist showing me her new muscles: “the guns” and her back muscles.

Woo Hoo!

Now that Pilates has given her shapely arms it is surely time to administer the Kool-aid…

3 critical skills for the 75+crowd

Fran is hardly in this age-group, but these concepts and exercises will serve every one of us well in our journey on the Pilates path.

An esteemed colleague of mine, Nicole Marcione, (who holds a BS and MS in Gerontology and is currently in the midst of her PhD in Biokinesiology at USC) enabled me to share her expertise on the older adult population.

With older adults, I constantly address 3 skills: Sit-to-Stand, Functional Reach and Balance (especially while maneuvering through their surrounding environment). 

Read about Sit-to-Stand in the 2nd installment of this series,

In today’s post we’ll cover Functional Reach. Stay tuned for more of Nicole’s tips in part 3, Balance in the near future.

Functional Reach

The term ‘functional reach' refers to reaching your arms overhead. Nicole explains that this skill is not even on our radar as younger people.

You probably don't even think twice about putting a dish in the cupboard or storing a box on the top shelf of a closet, but we can lose this skill as we age.

We must help our clients keep their shoulder joint mobile, stable and strongly supported by all the surrounding muscles.

In Pilates we are working on this skill in every exercise.

We all know that our arms start from our backs so we will want to focus on the back-arm connection throughout the entire session.

No prob.

Use the following exercises (as well as countless others) in our beloved Pilates Method to perfect your functional reach.

Arm Springs Lying Down on the Cadillac

UPDATE Pilates Home Practice Project: Fran, 60

The Arm Springs exercises done lying down are nearly at Scrubbing Bubbles status.

Exercises here include Straight Down, Circles, Triceps and Side Arm.

With the mat behind you for feedback you can feel what's going on in your back muscles.

The support of the Cadillac also encourages clients to use their entire body to execute these “arm” exercises.

Full. Body. Workout.

Arm Series on the Spine Corrector (or Small Barrel)

UPDATE Pilates Home Practice Project: Fran, 60

The Arm Springs lying down help us locate our back muscles.

Now the Spine Corrector and Small Barrel will enable us to lift our back and reach it up and over the Barrel.

It's true that for delicate clients the Barrels may present an extreme challenge or even be inappropriate.

Know that you can do the same exercises lying down on the Mat without a Barrel. It's a nice maneuver for myself as well.

Can you also see the very beginning and finishing moments of the Roll Up here?

UPDATE Pilates Home Practice Project, Fran 60UPDATE Pilates Home Practice Project, Fran 60


UPDATE Pilates Home Practice Project, Fran 60

Slowly I am understanding that the Pedipole is no joke.

It's the Arm Springs lying down, but SO MUCH more demanding.

It's the Wall on steroids.

Probably not for most of the 80+ crowd, the Pedipole is only for those that can keep their balance.

Another great place to work on the back-arm connection is of course the Arm Chair!

Sitting Side Bend with the Magic Circle

UPDATE Pilates Home Practice Project: Fran, 60

Throughout my Pilates career I have underestimated the power of side-bending exercises.

We're all tight in our sides and waist, especially if you are 75+.

Side bending is also a delicious way to stretch up and out of the hips.

The seated pre-cursor to the Side Bend with Magic Circle (in the photo above) is a lovely safe place for your older client.

I love this exercise myself for addressing imbalances.

Use the Magic Circles to find the back muscles and then proceed to the Side Bend.

UPDATE Pilates Home Practice Project, Fran 60

There are great side-bending exercises done kneeling with the Push-thru bar and on the Wunda Chair as well, but keep in mind that not every older adult can kneel.

Thanks for sharing your expertise, Nicole!

Nicole Marcione is a classical Pilates teacher who has trained extensively with Jay Grimes. She is a Gerontologist and is currently getting her PhD at the University of Southern California’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy. She works in the Musculoskeletal Biomechanics Research Lab and teaches Musculoskeletal and Analytical Anatomy to PT students at USC. Although Nicole is busy with school, she still teaches and is available for private lessons, Skype lessons, workshops, and consultations on optimal aging. 

How do you best serve your older clientele? Have questions?  

Share your thoughts in a comment below.

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