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.

Learning from Exercises you HATE: Humble Pie Edition

Side Sit Up on the Ladder Barrel

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…

Walking the Walk

I've always had trouble working on exercises I don't like. It's true. Sure I visit them during my Reformer and Mat workouts. Joe Pilates knew exactly what he was doing when he prescribed his order of exercises.

How did he know I couldn't be trusted to “keep faith with myself?”

Go ahead: take a long, hard look at your own workout.

What exercises instill the most fear, eye-rolling and elevated heart rate in you?

Maybe it's upside-down exercises, or – aaarrgh – rolling exercises…

Or maybe you're a crooked sister (brother) of mine and can't stand the sight of one-sided exercises?

Those are truly my NON-jam.

What's the fancy technical word for it? Oh yeah…

Unilateral.

See?

I can't even remember what to call them!

I've known the word bilateral forever. From science, right?

Yet I hear the word ‘unilateral' and each time I think – What? What's that??

It's like I can't hear it. It doesn't compute.

Finally, I've looked it up:

 

u-ni-lat-er-al

Having, or relating to, one side.

 

You've probably known this word for a while. I'll bet you even use it in conversation.

The Pilates Method includes specific exercises that address the body unilaterally.

Yeah whatever…

Two Exercises in One!

The Pilates workout definitely gives you your money's worth.

Sure there're lots of reasons to strengthen and stretch the body one side at a time, but for full-on asymmetrical folk it's like getting 2 difficult and very different exercises when you really only bargained for one. If you even want to do it in the first place.

So what's changed?

I'm here to help you learn from my Pilates mistakes. It's taken me nearly 20 years of Pilates to come around to these terrible UNILATERAL exercises and actually do them.

What a concept!

And by ‘do them' I mean to do them more than once in a while.

On my own.

Without someone making me.

Oh boy (rolls eyes).

The Unilateral Suspects

A little while back I told you right here on the blog that I would be doing 3 exercises on the Ladder Barrel every day.

I challenged you to do the same and to report back whether you got bored or better at them.

*Crickets*

Not just from you.

TBH I did do them. A little. If I had time. When I was feeling sub-par or super stiff. Like they're some magic pill or something.

I didn't do them consistently, every day.

But then something happened.

I learned something.

The Ladder Barrel: It's where the Magic Happens

Romana Kryzanowska would tell us:

If you learn one new thing every day you will be a genius.

It's also empowering and can open your mind to new possibilities.

New ways of thinking.

One moment on the Ladder Barrel opened up a whole new world of unilateral exercises.

Only this time the landscape looked exciting.

Full of possibility.

Maybe even a little bit FUN.

The Ladder Barrel Three

Side Sit Ups

Side Sit Up on the Ladder Barrel

The Side Sit Ups has never been a favorite.

Here I work on standing evenly on both of my feet. It's so difficult to stand on my left leg I even took the other one away for a bit to see what would happen.

Side Sit Up One Leg on the Ladder Barrel

The rungs of the Ladder Barrel are rigid and supportive which is a blessing!

I'm shocked to say it was even a little bit fun. Fun slash fraught with the peril of falling onto the floor in a heap may be more accurate tho…

Side Stretch

Side Stretch on the Ladder Barrel

Side Stretch has the added benefit of feeling amazing – after you finish. During the exercise, it's hard as balls and my legs feel like they weigh 500 pounds.

My lower body was the anchor in the Side Sit Ups which prepares it nicely for the active reaching it must do now. I also work to lift my bottom and back up to help push into the rungs of the ladder.

The side-lying position of the body will want to wiggle around so do your best the channel your Side Kick Series position to keep yourself on the front edge of your side.

More on that whole Side Kick Series thing in a bit…

Backbend

Backbend on the Ladder Barrel

The Backbend on the Ladder Barrel used to be a favorite of mine.

Now I know too much and it's very hard to do properly and not just throw my legs around.

Gosh I love to do that.

Here's where your Roll Up skills get put to the test. And your Leg Circles – what do you know? Also not a favorite…

Just push into the rungs of the Ladder Barrel and pull in your stomach.

Prayers help too.

Who doesn't love an Extra Special Guest Star?

I've just started watching Season 3 of The Crown. I'm a huge Olivia Colman fan and I've been an anglophile since…I can't even remember when. The Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981?

Perhaps.

Back in Season 2, there's an episode in which JFK and Mrs. Kennedy visit The Queen at Buckingham Palace. The reveal of JFK was beautifully crafted and it literally made me gasp.

Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under, Dexter), a favorite of mine, was a deft bit of casting as President Kennedy.

His presence made the episode all the more magical.

Enter The Ballet Standing Stretches

Standing Stretches on the Ladder Barrel

The Standing Stretches on the Ladder Barrel is an excellent addition to an already stellar lineup.

You'd think with all of my “We Only Have One Exercise” shenanigans I'd be able to spot a helper exercise when I see one, but I assure you it was WELL disguised.

Working the impossible lift of your leg to the Front and Side isn't just torture, it's actually good for you!

And good for your Side Kick Series.

Side Kick Series Front Back

Do you wish you could stand on one leg while the other lifts?

Well, wishing doesn't make it so.

May all your Pilates dreams come true on the Ladder Barrel.

Thanks, Joe Pilates. What a great Christmas present!

Side Kick Series: Not a Walk in the Park – or is it??

Even more important than your Side Kick Series, there's another dynamic balancing skill you must cultivate in our Pilates workout.

Can you guess?

Walking is a vital functional movement that declines as you age.

Use your Side Kick Series and Ladder Barrel exercises well to live (and walk!) vibrantly this holiday season.

Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Do you know I have a YouTube channel?

Check out this 20-minute Ladder Barrel workout I did a while back. If only I'd known what I was missing…

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Thanks for joining me in the 4th and potentially last installment of this series exploring components and strategies for finding length in the low back.

Welcome new subscribers!

It’s lovely to have you.

In the first installment of this series we looked at 2 major skills which create a long, open and strong low back: the engagement of the ribs (a gateway to the opening of the middle back) and the crucial use of the seat.

The second post in this series examined the first of the oppositional forces: the skill of finding the ribs/upper stomach.

In the third post I answer a subscriber question about finding length in the low back in one of our most infamous Pilates exercises, the Teaser! Check it out.

This week we’ll look at the 2nd oppositional force – often an elusive one to find  – and discuss strategies for finding and engaging…

the bottom.

Our seat.

Popo (Romana's word).

Butt (Jay's word).

Derriere. Buttocks.

And away we go!

Full Disclosure

For me, the seat struggle is real.

I am happy to share with you some of the exercises and strategies that have helped me wrangle my popo in my Pilates workout.

It's just so easy to randomly squeeze the bottom, but remember we're after an oppositional force here…so the name of the game is a familiar one:

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

That being said, it's really just the lowest, underneath part of the bottom we're after.

It's my hope that you'll find each of the following exercises as helpful as I have found them.

Here's to a high bottom and a supple low back 🙂

Footwork/Pumping on the Chairs

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of ItStrategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Let's begin at the beginning.

Lying onto the Reformer to begin the Footwork we will warm up the lower body. But how to use the center far more than the legs can be challenging.

On the Gratz Reformer you can use 2 springs only – or even drop down to just 1 spring – and find more of your stomach and seat without the legs leaping at the chance to fight some springs.

This is one option and a great place to start.

However, we need several strategies here to outsmart our bum.

Taking the Footwork vertical on the Chairs is an advantageous shake-up for the body. Control the pedal up with your seat and stomach and your bottom will soon be on fire!

Standing Pumping!

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of ItStrategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Another of my favorite vertical options for finding the seat, the Standing Pumping gives you 2 more places to find the seat exercise that's perfect for you.

And some exercises may speak to you (and your seat…) more than others…

On the Wunda Chair you can start with a lighter spring – the same strategy we employed for our Footwork on the Reformer. I like to use 2 springs on the bottom, and then as you get stronger and find the seat more efficiently you can change to the heavier spring setting of 1 top + 1 bottom.

On the Wunda Chair you must balance on your own.

On the High Chair the spring is considerable, but you do have a nice place to hold onto and gather yourself (and your butt).

Try this exercise on both of these apparatuses and see what will work best for you.

When pressing the pedal down, hold it down for a moment and distribute your weight evenly on both legs. This will help you find the seat on both sides, the working leg and the standing leg.

We need a better distinction than ‘working leg' I think…I mean, what's not working?

#fullbodyworkout

Single Leg Spring on the Cadillac

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of itStrategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of it

Leg Springs on the Cadillac have been one of my most hated exercises. I know I have professed to love them now, but it has taken me nearly 16 years to feel like I do them even reasonably well.

It has been a combination of the Single Leg Springs on the Cadillac and the Spine Corrector that has made all the difference for me.

The Single Leg Springs are a great way to whittle away at overworking legs and hips in the Leg Spring Series. These are simple exercises that pack a big wallup connection-wise.

I like the spring coming from the opposite side, but you can use the spring on the same side too.

I also enjoy using the lighter arm springs for a while because I know my strong leg muscles will want to fight the heavier spring.

Using the lighter springs will allow my legs to chill out and pretend we are on the Spine Corrector!

There are 4 parts that I find to be effective:

  • Frog-ish – the leg goes out and in – a la Frog – but the orientation of the leg is parallel, therefore Frog-ish
  • Straight Leg Lower Lift – the Walking and the Scissors build on this one
  • Bicycle – this one builds on the skills of the previous 2.
  • Single Leg Circle – yup. Just like on the mat. Great for peeps that don't use their stomach when they do it on the mat…

Thigh Stretch

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Think of this one less like an exercise and more like a way of life.

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

The Thigh Stretch is a recipe for finding length in the front AND the back.

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

And we find this exercise ALL OVER THE STUDIO.

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

There's an appropriate Thigh Stretch for everyone.

Wow. Something for everyone?

What a system!

We also find ourselves in the position of Thigh Stretch in countless other exercises: Chest Expansion, Semi Circle, anything done kneeling really, anything on the stomach…you see where this is going…

The Thigh Stretch is a lesson in how to negotiate this body position.

It's the verticality of the Thigh Stretch that helps me to find length.

L-E-N-G-T-H!

It's truly a combination of my 2 favorite Pilates words: Lift and Length.

So for your next Thigh Stretch play with both of these: lift up in the waist and lengthen the tailbone down toward the apparatus.

The verticality + up in front + down in back = some sign of life from your bottom.

Seize the day!

Wait for it… the awareness will build over time and you will become master of your own popo.

And wouldn't you know I can't say enough about the Thigh Stretch?

The Spine Corrector

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of it

Thank you so SO much Joseph Pilates for your brilliant invention the Spine Corrector.

The Spine Corrector is one-stop-shopping for your body.

It also covers everything mentioned in this post!

Need a thigh stretch? We've got it here.

Trouble finding your bottom? Welcome…

Need to open up the low back?

Yup. This is the place.

Every time I use my Spine Corrector I think “My God, why do I not do this every day??”

Oh yeah, it's that good.

Always remember the purpose of the Spine Corrector apparatus.

It's nice to play on and do lots of things…but it's genius at what it does best: opening up the back (correcting the spine). Opening opening opening…the front and the back.

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of it

Big kisses to you JP.

Have some tips to share to get your butt in gear?

Leave me a comment and let's have a chat!

The Pilates System: Strategies for a Tight Low Back Part 3

The Pilates System: Strategies for a Tight Low Back Part 3

For Suzy

Check out these Teasers from back in the day at Jacob's Pillow under the watchful eye of contrologist extraordinaire, JP.

I clearly remember looking at this photo years ago and wondering why everyone is rolled so far back toward the mat…

I can lift up and sit up really high in this exercise.

And it's not really that hard to do.

Hmmm…

The Tremor of Truth

Recently I received a question from a subscriber:

It's really difficult for me to do the Teaser on the mat. I pop onto my sitz bones, I can do the teaser on the Cadillac and the Reformer, but I really struggle on the mat! I find it incredibly hard to get the sufficient lumbar flexion needed! Any tips?

This is a great question.

I agree, to find length in the low back in the Teaser on the Mat can be a challenge.

Truly the epitome of the 2-way stretch, the Teaser has finally coerced me to find more length in my low back.

And ultimately this length will give the Teaser its shape: the Teaser is a round exercise.

Just say NO to balancing on your butt

When I moved to California early in my Pilates career, I was repeatedly praised for how high I could sit up in the Teaser. So I kept right on doing it.

For years…

Now I like to call this too-high-up position ‘balancing on your butt.'

And I could stay up there for days.

My stomach is doing nothing.

One day just a few years ago Jay Grimes helped me find out what all the fuss is about.

“You're coming up too high, roll back down a bit”

What??

Dutifully I rolled back a little bit toward the mat.

Shake-ety, shake-ety, shake… oh yes, I see.

Well now that's a lot of work.

Who knew?

I love it when that happens. You can tell immediately, it just feels like the truth.

Or as Romana Kryzanowska would say “Now something is happening!”

Enjoy this short video tutorial on how to find length in the low back in our most favorite exercise, the Teaser.

If you've got questions, leave me a comment.

I love to chat about our beloved Pilates Method 🙂

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

In my weekly lessons (mostly on the Reformer because I am obsessed), Karen Frischmann has been encouraging me to reach my legs/thighs long and away from my center.

At first I admit I had no idea what she was talking about.

It was not until months later in the midst of the Overhead on the Reformer that I understood.

I am my own Spine Corrector.

Over time, using the entire Pilates system, the gifts we receive from each of the various apparatus get built right into our bodies.

How nice.

It's no secret that the firm support of all the apparatus act as a template for the shape of our backs: lying down on the Mat, Cadillac and Reformer; upright and tall along the Electric Chair and Arm Chair.

But what about the round apparatus? Surely they are our teachers too.

31 Days of the Hundred

March MATness 2016 coaxed me to get up close and personal with my Pilates Mat exercises.

In the Hundred, figuring out how to maintain the length and strength of my back despite my legs reaching lower became one of my pet projects for March (and beyond, evidently).

A noble pursuit.

I begin my Hundred lying down and lift everything into position.

Wherever I park my legs I can get the job done, but are they really connected to my center?

Perhaps not.

Enter the Spine Corrector.

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

The Spine Corrector is an amazing apparatus that truly lives up to its name. With the opening and ‘correcting' of the spine, this apparatus also promotes an opening of the hips, thighs and shoulders.

Over time, the muscular action we cultivate in the Spine Corrector exercises will infiltrate the body.

And elsewhere in the system we've got numerous occasions to be our own Spine Corrector:

  • High Scissors and High Bicycle on the Mat
  • Other inverted exercises: The Overhead, Corkscrew, Control Balance
  • The Hundred and the Ab 5 on the Mat: Yes you are working your stomach, but there's a lot of hip opening and seat action to complement your abs of steel.

One clear example is the High Scissors and High Bicycle on the Mat.

We do the identical exercises on the Spine Corrector.

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the HundredI am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

Now you see the Spine Corrector…and now you don't!

Or do you?

Now let's take that same idea and apply it to another inverted exercise, the Overhead:

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

S-t-r-e-t-c-h those legs up and over the imaginary Spine Corrector behind you.

Now to the Hundred to look for length in the back by being our own Spine Corrector.

Perhaps the hardest of all…

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

I can use the same feeling in each of these examples: the same scoop of my stomach and I can imagine reaching my thighs and legs over the apparatus which is now imaginary.

An integral facet of our minds, imagination is a fantastic tool to control our muscles.

Romana Kryzanowska spoke about the 5 parts of the mind inherent in our Pilates workout:

Pilates is “Intelligence guided by the will using memory and imagination assisted by intuition.

You know how I feel about control.

The mind in charge of the body.

My favorite.

It is called ‘Spine Corrector

Remember the Spine Corrector is best at doing just what its name suggests. As it lengthens and balances our various curvatures, our lower body learns a new way of moving along the Spine Corrector.

And over time…you are your own Spine Corrector!

Give these tips a try in your next workout.

Questions? Leave me a comment and let's have a chat.

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.