Posts Tagged ‘ starting position ’

Olympian Sessions: Just for fun!

August 1, 2012


So, I’m obsessed with the Olympics. It would be a huge challenge and dream come true to train or even work out with athletes of that calibre. Though I’m no sports expert, here’s what I would work on with these inspired athletes to ensure that their training keeps them balanced and functional in life. Click on the links to see videos!


Variations on Swan: Rowing requires a slightly flexed spine and tons of abs, so I would make sure their thoracic spine gets some good extension as well.

Single Thigh Stretch on Reformer and Extensors on the Chair: These athletes train for hours sitting with their legs out in front of them. It’s important for them to stretch the hip flexors and continue to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings.


Standing Cadillac work, Side Splits on Reformer: Being in the water creates a different pull on the body than when moving through real life with gravity. I would focus on functional movements to increase balance.


Back Rowing: I would take advantage of these athletes’ grace and choreographic strengths. This exercise also mobilizes the spine fluidly, hopefully releasing them from the sometimes rigid lines they must maintain when in the air or balancing.

Mermaid/Side Bends: Though I am sure they have strong obliques, I’ve been watching any and all gymnastic events and am surprised by the lack of true lateral flexion in the spine (side bending). These exercises isolate that direction and sculpt the waist.



Pilates Basics, Part 3: Upper Body

April 20, 2012

In observing classes during my training and teaching classes these past few months, I’ve come to realize that a Pilates class can be totally useless if your teacher does not explain basic Pilates terminology. As with any sport, hobby, or skill, there is a universal vocabulary that makes it easier for Pilates instructors and other folk to communicate.

Don’t worry, no need to take notes. A great instructor will be able to guide a beginner with excellent cueing and will continue to refine the advanced student, but I thought I would outline a few of these basics in layman’s terms for those looking to get the most out of class. See Part 1: The Spine and Part 2: The Pelvis.


I want to take a short amount of time to discuss what happens to the head, neck and shoulders in Pilates. We are aiming for efficiency, stability and safety in all Pilates exercises, so the alignment of the upper body is often different than in other practices, such as yoga.

SCAPULA: Also known as the shoulder blades, these are the flat bones that sit like wings on either side of the upper spine.

  • It is important to slide the scapula down the back and keep the shoulders away from the ears during nearly every exercise.
  • When in plank or on all fours, the scapula should lie fairly flat on the back, without “winging” or poking out.

CERVICAL SPINE: This section of the spine (top 7 vertebrae) can be very delicate in certain positions, so it’s important to think of the cervical spine as a continuation of the thoracic (mid-spine) motion. It’s also helpful

  • In neutral, the ears should fall above the shoulders and you should imagine space between each cervical vertebra.
  • In extension, the cervical spine should extend inline with the amount of thoracic extension. Try not to throw your head way back!
  • When flexing the spine, gently nod your chin but do not crunch it to your chest to ensure that no strain is put on the cervical spine.
  • In inversion (roll over, etc) be careful not to put weight on the cervical spine alone; balance your weight between the scapula instead. Be sure to remove any pillows that were under the head to elevate it during other exercises.


These are some VERY basic terms and alignment ideas. Pilates is about detailed, efficient movement and knowing these basics will help you better communicate with your teacher to get the best workout possible. I will try to come “back to the basics” as I find out what my students struggle with most.

The Soles of Your Hands

January 15, 2012

It’s been a few years since I confused the soles of my feet with the palms of my hands. It’s been even longer since I got my right side and my left side confused. But, alas, in the past few months, there have been times I can’t get these simple things straight.

My greatest challenge when practice teaching Pilates is cueing coordination. There are SO many details. “Sit with your knees bent” seems like the simplest instruction, but there are at least five different ways you can do it. And after you figure out the outline of the position, it’s time to focus on the shape of the spine, the pelvis, the neck, the shoulders, the toes and hands.

One time I stuttered to someone to “put the soles of the feet on the mat” when they were on their stomach. Ouch!

My only remedy so far for this issue is a three step process: RECITE, ASSESS, CORRECT/CHALLENGE.

The first thing I had to do when I started teaching was memorize the coordination cues like a script and repeat them over and over. It’s great to think through the exercise and try to casually cue it as it happens in your head, but there’s likely to be a delay, folks. How often do you tell someone a descriptive, complicated story without pausing at some point to process the words you want to use?

So, first I RECITE the (memorized) basics of the exercise.

This gives me time to ASSESS the situation during the first 1-2 reps. Are the shoulders crawling up? Is he/she really rotating the whole upper body, not just the arms? By memorizing the first few lines of each exercise, hopefully you give your brain time to scan the body for any problems.

Lastly, you have (somewhat memorized) CORRECTION and CHALLENGE cues. Once you know how to make the exercise more correct or harder, it’s simple enough to pull from a vast list of imagery or muscular engagement cues. Of course it doesn’t end there. This “step” has to be repeated as the reps add up, hopefully continually changing the way the person does the exercise.

It’s similar to performing. There’s a prepared aspect and an improvised aspect. With 80+ exercises (not including all modifications) that I’ll be tested on for my certification, the preparation is hugely time-consuming, but the improvisation is the most rewarding part. There’s nothing like finding a cue that works well for someone and really making a change in their bodies. That’s why I do what I do!

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning…

November 10, 2011

My expectations for my own practice teaching were marred a bit by the teaching we did in class. Everyone had been discussing, practicing and watching the exercises for several days and knew what they were doing.

When I told my first specimen outside of class to “inhale and take the right leg to table top,” he looked at me like I was crazy.

It’s very humbling to initiate a physical shape in someone else’s body from only words. We go through our lives imitating what we see, rather than listening and creating. This mind-body connection can be both frustrating and enlightening to negotiate.

The biggest thing I’ve learned is to start at the VERY beginning with almost everyone. You can quickly assess someone’s mind-body connection by giving them simple instructions.

Getting your student in a good starting position is not only imperative for the execution of the exercise, but also to WARM UP their listening and critical thinking skills for the session. Only when this has been tapped into can solid progress be made.