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.

Pilates Projects: 10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake

Welcome to the first post of my new blog series: Pilates Projects.

In the Pilates method, the mastery of a complex exercise can require strategy. What luck!

We've got a whole system of perfect tools for the job.

February 10, 2013 began the Chinese New Year. The Year of the Snake. Yes, I am late, but I've still got half of 2013 left to strengthen my Snake. I had best get busy.

Holy frijoles if we ever have a Year of the Twist. Yeesh.

Build your Snake well and the fireworks will come.

The Snake (also referred to as Snake/Twist to include the next exercise in the series) is a complex exercise originally done on the Reformer. It requires skill, great control and coordination of the body and mind. And by mind I mean the desire and will to do this exercise. One must want to do the Snake, it's not really gonna show up on its own…

10 exercises + 5 apparatus = 1 Awesome Snake on Reformer.

Often one or more components of an intricate exercise may create a roadblock to the exercise. For this reason I have chosen 10 exercises with which to closely examine, refine and breakdown this exercise into more manageable parts. The better you become at these 10 exercises the better and stronger your Snake will be. When one exercise gets better, everything gets better.

The Warmup

I suggest doing at least a 30 minute warm up if you plan to work just these exercises before applying them to the Snake. Another plan would be to complete a Reformer workout of a similar duration which may or may not include the Snake, then work the 10 exercises, perhaps comparing your first Snake to the one afterward. See how you do.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer1. Reformer: Up Stretch

Up Stretch is an exercise you most likely have been working for some time. It is straightforward in its symmetry and provides the same lower body action as the Snake. The stomach must reach all the way to the feet on the initiation of the Up Stretch and the lift at the end is exactly what you need to bring the in the carriage at the end of the Snake. The legs are on the moving part of the apparatus which feels more helpful to push into than the position of the feet on the stationary footbar in the Snake. This is a lower body exercise – and it can help you to find the lower body initiation in the Snake as well.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer2. Reformer: Up Stretch Combo

This challenging variation is exactly what you will be doing in your Snake with the exception of the one-sided-ness. You are getting the lift of the Arched Back shape in this combo and the scoop of the return. You also get some “help” here as you push into the moving part of the carriage to train the lower body for the Snake. In the Snake you must push into the stationary footbar and not be seduced into using your arms to push out the carriage. Best to work this one well first before even attempting the Snake.


10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer3. Reformer: Elephant

Oh Elephant, is there anything you can’t do? One of the first Reformer exercises you learn, the Elephant never ceases to be at once helpful and challenging. The Round shape of the Elephant is essential to perfect your control and return the carriage all the way home in the Snake.


10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer4. Cadillac: Arm Springs

The Snake requires back strength to control the upper body on a moving carriage. The shoulders can otherwise be in a precarious position as the body opens up in space above the carriage. Both Arm Springs (lying down on the Cadillac) and the next exercise can help to connect the arms and shoulders into the back.


10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer5. Cadillac: Back Connection with the Roll Back Bar

This exercise is essentially the first part of the Chest Expansion exercise. The roll back bar is attached to the standing arm spring hooks at the end of the Cadillac. With straight arms press the bar down and toward you. HOLD. Using just this first maneuver you have a terrific vantage point of the fingers, hands, wrists and elbows as you work the bar to connect the arms into the back. Place your hands just as you would place them on the footbar on the reformer: long wrists, all the fingers squeezing the bar evenly and thumbs on the same side as the fingers. Make sure the heels of the hands have contact with the bar. Let the squeezing of the fingers help you anchor your shoulders into the sides of your back. Reach the bar down toward the floor as much as you can – and remember it’s not how far you stand away from the bar that matters. Stand as close as you need to get the connection. As you push down on the bar use the feeling of the extended spring and your force pushing down to lift your stomach in and up in opposition. Take that help from the spring while you can get it.

Now for the part that’s like the Snake: as you return the bar stay connected to your back – the arms reach out to return the bar just as they reach when you start to move the carriage in the Snake. Here you can practice keeping the shoulders less active and get the reach and lift from your back. True this is not in extension like the snake, but well, enjoy it while you can.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer6. Spine Corrector: Swimming

Now you’re going to take the connection you found in the previous exercise and add the element of back extension. Use your oppositional reach of arm and leg to create a strong diagonal of strength through the front of the body. Reach your right arm away from your reaching left leg and vice versa. Lengthen your whole body along the back and stomach.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer7. Wunda Chair: Pull Up

Similar to the Elephant on the Reformer, the Pull Up will give you the necessary lift to return the carriage when performing the Snake. You can even use your bottom to push into the pedal as it comes up. In fact I highly recommend it.



10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer8. Wunda Chair: Pull Up with 1 Leg

Here you can make your Pull Up skills more closely resemble those you’ll need for the one-sided Snake. Even with one foot hugging close behind the other one and off the pedal, squeeze the legs together and again find the bottom.


 10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer9. Wunda Chair: Side Pull Up

Building on the previous 2 Pull Up exercises you can now get more of the feeling of the Snake with your whole foot (Yay, the heel!) now able to push into the pedal. Try not to let the pedal push you up, control the pedal by pushing into it with the stomach, the bottom, the heel. Keep the free leg in the crossed-in-front-of-the-ankle position, again to approximate the position of the legs in the Snake. Each of these 3 Pull Up exercises illuminates the Snake in a slightly different way, so I like to use them all.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer10. Mat: Double Leg Pull

What more can I say? We only have one exercise. Can’t be Snake-worthy without a strong center, the two-way stretch out of it and the breath. Arm yourself with the Double Leg Pull as your mantra and move, move, move!

And now…To the Snake I Say!


Now you have practiced your scales and you are prepared and nimble for the Beethoven Sonata that is the Snake on the Reformer. The skills have been built into your body to be at the ready for this tricky maneuver. Now I have to quote Jay Grimes: “Take your time. Enjoy it up there!”

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer

Stay tuned!

Upcoming Pilates Projects include: Control Push Up Reverse, the Star and the Elephant. Plus accompanying videos via Pilatesology.

Leave a comment below to suggest your favorite fancy exercise to be featured in this series. 

Isn't every day a Pilates day?

Subscribe to receive a Special Bonus Blogpost
How to Fall in Love with the Exercises you Hate
We respect your privacy and never share your information.