Why can’t I do overhead exercises? How can I work on this?

Shoulder Roll Down on the Cadillac

Hello there and welcome. And thank you for taking the time to read my blogpost.

OMG Speed Networking??

Last Friday I participated in a Speed Networking event hosted by Core Connections with Martin. Check out his IG @personalvictory. He's conducted inspiring interviews with many of my wonderful colleagues.

Full Disclosure: I'll chat with Martin on IG LIVE on February 2 at 7am PST. 

I stepped out of my comfort zone and signed up for the event. And I had a blast!

It was fun and I got to chat with colleagues who were new to me, some familiar faces I'd not actually met “in person” and also some dear, dear friends.

Thank you so much to everyone I got to hang out with for 5 or so minutes! I truly did not anticipate the kind words for my blogposts and YouTube videos. Sometimes I think I am typing to no one, and I just want to say if you have found value, information, or inspiration from my Pilates ranting, I thank you, thank you with all of my heart.

There is nothing I love more than a new way into greater connection or proficiency.

It can be so exciting! If you've enjoyed the workouts on my YT channel or you got a skip in your step after a sweaty Reformer workout with me – during this last year especially – I am beyond thrilled.

Pilates moves me, and please know that you've moved me as well.

Meanwhile back on the Mat…

Today I'd like to explore a question I received from an IG follower in Brazil. I love having Brazilians in my life!

The question is such a good one and it scares me a bit.

That's usually how I know it's time to get writing.

It's also a process I am currently in the midst of sorting out in my own workout.

But first a little history…

Back in the Day

Full disclosure, I've always been able to do the Pilates exercises in this “overhead” category: lifting the body upside-down. In my childhood and younger life, I had dance classes and I loved gymnastics. All the Pilates exercises where you get to be upside down were and continue to be my favorites.

I couldn't do the Roll Up or the Neck Pull at all, but the Overhead, Control Balance, and anything hanging from fuzzy straps on the Cadillac were in my wheelhouse and super fun.

I think one reason I stuck it out in my first Pilates Mat classes – while continually stuck trying to roll up and down on the Mat – was that I could see the teachers working on the Reformer across the room and doing Control Balance. Wow! When do I get to roll off the Reformer and roll back on again? Better keep working on my Roll Up.

Le sigh…

Yes. I would do the Roll Over.

Does that mean I was doing it properly?

No.

I was doing it because I could. It was familiar to me. It wasn't dangerous and it was only gonna get better.

Fast Forward

Many years later I realize the many compensations in my body – from sports, gymnastics, old surgeries, life, etc… – were enabling me to do these overhead exercises. Today I have considerable Pilates tools in my body and I'm beginning to find the integration necessary to lift my body overhead properly.

I'm refining and finding balance in my musculature to create a full-body experience. Less heave-ho, shall we say.

Oh, I was good at the heave-ho, so perhaps it looked like skill for a while.

But out there on the Pilates horizon, there is still ‘better.'

And I'm on the road to find it.

Getting a Leg Up (literally…)

As a human who looks down at the front of my body, it's hard to remember that the legs don't begin at the hips.

Only the ‘heave-ho' version of going upside down begins at the hips and legs.

You're going to need all of your back to lift it up and over.

This was news to me.

Joe Pilates starts us off with our back fully supported by the Mat and apparatus. The fundamental exercises are meant to give you an experience of what's going on back there. But depending on who you are, it may still continue to be a bit of a mystery (raises hand).

The Awareness is all…

You are now toiling in all your fundamental exercises on all the apparatus: Reformer, Mat, Cadillac, High Chair, Arm Chair, Wall. All these places where you can develop an ever-growing awareness of the muscles on the back of you.

You'll literally bring them to life.

Depending on who you are this may take months or years. And you've got to really want it. You've gotta put in boatloads of repetition, which will also be your teacher.

You must practice. Over and over. A LOT.

Your fundamentals will get better and provide you (over time) with new skills.

Progressing your workout beyond the fundamental exercises is the definition of preparation meets opportunity.

It puts the ‘method' in ‘Pilates Method.'

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in't”

As you begin to add more complex exercises – including our overhead friends – you'll always get a few of them which provide assistance. At first…

Exercises you are already doing will also help.

Above all, learn to ROLL correctly.

Consider the exercises on the Mat where you are taken upside-down for just a moment:

Roll like a ball

Roll Like a Ball

Open Leg Rocker

Open Leg Rocker 2013

Are these exercises already challenging? Do you roll more like a brick than a ball?

If you are stiff in your back (like me) you can benefit from a small cushion or towel on your mat. This tiny “spine corrector” will get you in touch with the part of your back that may have a hard time not only finding contact with the mat but also being on your radar in the first place.

You can see how to do this in my recent YouTube video. In this particular video, I use it to help the Teaser. In the very same manner, you can add the small cushion to inform the Roll Up and the rolling exercises. Once you feel what it can do for you, you'll be able to determine other places you might like its help as well.

Make Roll Like a Ball and Open Leg Rocker (over time) the best they can be. They will reward you tenfold and give you a glimpse of what it will be like to roll upside down with more strength + stretch = control.

Find more help to get the ball rolling in this post of many posts 🙂

It's the Reformer for the assist!

On the Reformer, you've got another great exercise to build on the fundamental rolling exercises from the Mat.

A big moment on the reformer is your lift off the carriage in the Short Spine Massage.

Depending on who you are/your particular Pilates training, you may have learned to do Short Spine Massage right after the Hundred: Footwork, Hundred, Short Spine Massage.

But it might feel kinda early in your workout for a full-on massage. And you'll be taken right up there by the straps whether you're ready or not. Which may be perfectly fine.

But if the Short Spine Massage is already a super challenging exercise to do – and taking you into that uncharted upside-down territory – that potential massage will be at best wasted.

What would happen if while you diligently work on your fundamental rolling exercises, you considered placing the Short Spine Massage later in your order of Reformer exercises?

Here's one possible scenario:

  • Footwork
  • Hundred
  • Frog/Circles – yes, remember them? they're not just for beginners…
  • Coordination
  • Long Box – Pull Strap/T-Strap
  • Long Stretch
  • Elephant
  • Stomach Massage Series
  • Short Box
  • Short Spine Massage
  • Kneeling Knee Stretch Series
  • Running
  • Bottom Lift

In this order example, I've kept all the fundamentals and added a few extras on your way to complex exercises like the Short Spine Massage.

Now with SSM placed later in the workout, you're warmed up, and you've got a chance to let your rolling practice from the Mat (now with assistance from the straps) inform your Short Spine Massage.

So every time you workout on the Reformer, you'll repeat and reinforce and practice your upside-down skills.

Every time you train on the Mat you'll use your little helper prop until the memory of that prop is emblazoned on your mind and infiltrated into your body.

Over and over again.

You'll know when you don't need to use it anymore. Your body will also let you know if you still need it and you try to get rid of it. Just sayin'.

Every Day a Little Cadillac

You've now got your diligent practice going within your Mat and Reformer repertoire. Now you'll add some Cadillac exercises to assist with your goal of going upside-down.

Leg Springs

Leg Springs on the Cadillac

The Leg Spring Series is your Cadillac fundamental friend to bring awareness to all of the back of you. These you have probably been doing for a long time. If you have also added the Airplane with the Board for assistance, that's even better.

Woo hoo!

Shoulder Roll Down

The Shoulder Roll Down on the Cadillac

The Shoulder Roll Down will be a manageable start to going upside down. You'll learn to support the entire back of the body in the air, with the assistance of that stout wooden Push Thru Bar.

Tower

Tower on the Cadillac

In the Tower, you'll apply the same skills from your Leg Springs and the Shoulder Roll Down, now in a shape more reminiscent of the target exercises: Corkscrew, Jackknife, Overhead, Control Balance.

Use these helper exercises every time you workout. Your own personal Pilates Project.

Your ‘this is for you' section.

The Complex Reformer Project

Today's post is just one example of what I like to call a PIlates problem. It's one that you often refine in your own workout and one that you encounter with each and every client as you work to apply the Pilates system.

How can you use the Pilates System to learn new skills?

It's just two weeks until my February workshop, The Complex Reformer Project.

In a total of 8 workshop hours, you'll tweak the Pilates Project POV to look for skill sets in the fundamentals for all those fancy exercises just like our upside-down friends.

Overhead.

Control Balance.

High Frog.

Limited availability. Reserve your spot today.

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Comments

  1. Wondering how often everyone practices? – You, too please Andrea!

    • Hi Linda,

      This is such a good question – and one I struggled with for a bit. Now I do a full workout – about an hour of something – every other day. I do little bits in the in-between days, but I need that rest day in between – seems to help my body and my attitude for the bigger workout days. And yes – every time I workout I learn something exciting 🙂
      How is it for you? And anyone else reading here, how often do you do your Pilates workout?

      • Janet E Nielsen says

        Hi there — I do my full workout 6 days/week. I’ve got it down to 25 min so it’s not a big deal. I do it right after my walk in the morning and I’m finished with my entire workout by 7:30am. Andrea tells me the consistency has helped me tremendously! Helps that I absolutely LOVE my pilates!

        • Janet!
          Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your secrets to success here with us. Janet you have shown me what is possible with consistent diligent – and daily – practice. And you really had the true test due to the virus and being at home with only your mat online. I am so super proud of all the skills you’ve built into your body and I can’t believe we have only been together 2 years? I feel your dedication to your own practice has contributed greatly to your understanding of your body, and how the exercises work as a system. Keep trusting your Pilates instincts 🙂 It’s gonna be so awesome when we can be in the studio together again to work on all the apparatus – that will be fun! Ok enough gushing for now, gotta save some for your lesson LOL xox

  2. NERD question…. Bottom lift vs Pelvic lift (post Running)…do tell!

    Great reminders of how to get better (& correct) lift (and how much I try to avoid them ;)! I’m so glad the blog is back! xo

    • Hi there –

      I am so glad you asked. You know, different training programs sometimes have different names for the exercises, even if they are just slightly different. I always learned the exercise as ‘pelvic lift’ although even historically I just don’t like saying the word ‘pelvic.’ LOL I know this sounds strange…

      I am currently teaching a teacher-in-training with a different training program than I experienced first hand and her training calls it ‘bottom lift.’ which I rather like, so I am trying it on to see how it feels.
      Because it also supports everything I say about the lift coming from the bottom of the trunk… so I think it more in keeping with all the other shit I say about stuff ha ha ha.
      Good eye! And thank you for asking for clarification.
      And yes, the blog is fully back – yay – so if you have any pressing Pilates issues you want to see in a post, please let me know 🙂
      And keep up the great work Corrie (fist bump)!
      xox

  3. I struggle with this too and am so interested in others’ approaches. Like Andrea, I do my full program every other day, takes about an hour. On the other days, I do a shorter program, about 20 mins of fundamentals, and run for 30 to 40 mins. I was doing the 20 mins post run, just because I wanted to make sure to get the running in, but I felt like I was holding back on my run to “save up” for pliates, so I’ve started doing the pilates first and then run. So far I really like the change: I am warmed up and feel really connected during my run, and I can give it my all because the pilates is done. I’m not a teacher or anything – just a student! Would love to hear what others do, too!

    • Hi Theresa,

      Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your experience and practice habits with us. I think you had a great experiment with deciding to do your Pilates workout after or before your running. Sounds like doing Pilates before your run is working for you and energizing you to really enjoy it feeling in tip-top shape for it. I love that. Pilates can be so rewarding as it makes all the other stuff we do better and more fun – I also find when there’s a group of exercises we struggle with – as I discuss in the post – pretty soon it turns into the same problem in all the different exercises, apparatus, etc… I find we do everything like we do everything, right? Keep up the good work! xo

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