The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)The Pilates Method is full of surprises. 14 years into the method as a practitioner and teacher, I still love the giddy surprise of a new exercise. One I've never seen before. Even better is a familiar exercise done in a new-to-me-way.

For example, a few years ago I learned that in addition to the Breast Stroke on the Reformer and its reverse, there also exists a combination, a combo, of the two.

My first thought – There's a combo? – was quickly followed by my next – Oh, of course there is…

It's not like we don't do that in other exercises right?

Swan on the Cadillac

Swan with Push Thru Bar on the Cadillac is a challenging exercise.

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

Very. Challenging.

My body left to its own devices just wants to hang out all over the place in an unsupported arch.

*sigh*

The version with the arms straight has been a great help in connecting my arms into my back and (!) using my stomach.

A fine idea, won't you agree?

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

But let me back up.

Private Lives

Watching Jay Grimes teach private lessons at conferences and intensives is always educational. And frequently full of surprises.

Surprise #1: Swan with Push Thru Bar with no spring!

OMG, whaaaaat?

Surprise #2: Swan with Push Thru Bar with no spring with one arm!

Lordy, Lordy.

Well I have to try that…

Later I mentioned to Jay that it was my first time to see the Swan with no spring and/or with one arm. I loved his answer:

“You should try it. It would be good for you.”

Okay, let's get out my loooong list of exercises that are good for me and add it to the list…

But man, that guy is always right.

I don't know what I don't know

I took Jay's advice and began to include Swan with Push Thru Bar, the 2-arm and 1-arm versions after my daily mat workout. This exercise proved to be truly magical. Without that enabling spring, the exercise essentially incapacitated my arms and shoulders.

I had to find the right muscles (the stomach, back and lower body) to even complete the exercise at all. With 2 arms. The one-arm version was even more fantastic and provided so much feedback as to what was (or was not) going on on each side.

Several months pass…

Did I mention that I like a challenge?

What I didn't know as I continued to practice Swan with the Push Thru bar each day was that it was also helping my Swan Dive.

Surprise #3!

Mind you – it's not really a surprise, per se, that the Swan on the Cadillac helped me with my Swan Dive on the Mat.

I hear you. I know the apparatus provides assistance to better your Mat exercises. Yes. It's the whole premise behind the full studio system of the Pilates Method. I completely agree.

But sometimes you don't know it's happening to you until it does.

Way back last year in my post on the Rocking exercise I intimated that the Swan Dive, technically a rocking exercise, deserved its own special post.

Well friends, it's time.

Let's Dive in

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

Swan Dive is the ultimate version of the Swan exercise done on the Mat. Once you understand that the rocking action must be generated from the stomach, it still may take years to create a long line of the body without a break in the middle.

A long line! Yes, our old friend length to the rescue – AGAIN.

And there's no time to micromanage in the Swan Dive, one must simply prepare and go for it…grrr….

Robbed of the ability to examine one can only reflect afterwards. Good news and bad news. Bad news for me, good news for the Pilates Method and moving. Gotta suck it up, I get it.

My standby method to execute the Swan Dive?

Hurl myself at the mat with a will of iron.

A hurl and a fling, actually…in succession. Hurl, fling…hurl, fling…hurl, fling…am I diving yet?

Oh you have to start somewhere.

I can dive with a little help from my friends

I am a visual learner. More often than not I've got an image in my head of what I believe is happening during the exercise.

However, sometimes my mind gets the wrong idea.

Uh-oh.

Picked up from an old correction that's no longer valid, or even the name of the exercise – Swan Dive – my mind is not quite on the right track. As I worked to refine my signature Swan Hurl, I happened to see my lovely colleague and classmate Samantha have her lesson on the Mat.

Samantha is a different body type than I am – she has more flexibility in places that I have stiffness, so it was wonderful to see what rhythms and shapes are possible during the Swan Dive, that I had not happened upon, shall we say…

My tactic was to hurl and use force to complete the exercise, while Samantha had such a light and delicate approach to the exercise that made it look effortless. And cute. And bouncy. And for God's sake it looks like a rocking exercise.

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

Oh, that's what I'm trying to do…

I should also mention that I'm a really good mimic.

So for a while I just pretended I was Samantha.

No. More. Hurling.

Another way I found to get me out of the hurling habit was to use the Spine Corrector. If you've not tried the Swan Dive perched on the crest of the Spine Corrector, hang on to your powerhouse. Nothing will tell you more quickly if you have control of your own destiny than an impending face-plant on the Mat.

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

As you find the length (where have I heard that before?) atop the Spine Corrector you will rid yourself of any forceful habits. It simply won't work here. The Spine Corrector Swan will give you a more long and reaching rhythm for the exercise that you can then carry to the Mat.

The Shape of All Things Pilates

In a series of posts on Pilatesology I mention that the Barrels can be used to find the shape of the upper back that you'll need for the Swan on the Mat.

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

While this is true, and helpful, I found out exactly how much Swan with Push Thru Bar was providing the same assistance in a different way.

One day it occurred to me mid-Swan on the Mat that I could replicate the shape that the angle of the Push Thru Bar was teaching me. Suddenly it was not as mysterious a position. My body remembered. Surprise!

You gotta love Pilates. So versatile. A place for everything and everything in its place.

The Swan Dive and a Few Surprises (#3 is my favorite)

This is my favorite spectator Swan Dive, Pilates bestie extraordinaire, Amy Kellow.

If you've not been to her Classical Pilates Convention, you don't know what kind of fantastic Pilates geek-fest you are missing. Plus lots of opportunity to perfect your Swan Dive!

Thanks so much Amy, Samantha and of course the cameo appearance of Karen Frischmann for your help with this post (and with my Swan Dive).

Dive in! Share your strategies and successes in a comment below.

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Comments

  1. Hi Andrea! After reading all about Swan, I ran right to my caddy to try the Swan on the push-thru bar with 0 springs and then with 0 springs and one arm! But I am wondering where does the other arm go that is not holding the bar? It seems too easy to keep that other arm straight out in front on the mat, so I have a feeling behind me somewhere is going to be your answer! Thank you for all the great photos in this blog!
    xo Lauren

    • Lauren,

      Yes, I am afraid your suspicion is correct! The other arm is behind your back, but I find it to be helpful there because you can feel if your stomach wants to hang out all over the place. You can scoop and pull up into that hand on your back to keep it up…

      But yes, behind the back…although I don’t know that this is a hard and fast rule, per se. Behind the back works well for me, as I don’t think I could stop my other arm from helping me if it was on the mat in front of me… See what you think 🙂

      And thank you for your kind words about the photos – I write these things and then realize with horror that I must take photos of what are crazy hard exercises for me – but you learn a lot by seeing yourself do the exercise…what is my foot doing back there??

      Oh, just helping…

      • That is exactly it – when I tried it with my arm outstretched on the mat- of course it helped! It has to be “put away” for me not to let it help.

        Photos are certainly better than mirrors because you can look at a photo and see everything that is going on from head to toe. Then try to fix it the next time. When I try to look in the mirror it takes away from the exercise because I am turning my head to see what I should be feeling!

  2. I’m afraid that I do not possess much wisdom on the topic other that to echo the notion that getting moving is the essential point of departure. Lately I’ve been giving that simple truth a good deal of thought. I think that it bears repeating since many other courses of study do not begin in a physical way and I do believe that collectively speaking, we are just getting our feet wet when it comes to optimizing our physical training. I’m pretty darn excited about this spring free swan, because my arms and shoulders have always been a bit too eager. Thanks for the inspiring tip Andrea!

  3. Yes, I received very much information from the spring-free swan – I do like this name for it too 🙂 You are right that we must first and foremost begin in a physical way – Move! The most important. I wish you well in your endeavors with the spring-free swan!

  4. ROBERTA CALDART says

    Grazie Andrea,
    always very helpful and with that great sense of humor!!
    it’s nice to learn like that!
    keep posting please as I long for new hints
    Roberta

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