Stand in the Straps!
When I tell people I teach Pilates, I often hear the response, “is that like yoga?!” To that I answer, “kind of, but not really”. Yes, Joe studied yoga, and similarly, the way animals move naturally in their environments, but one of the key differentiators, is that in Pilates, many of the exercises require apparatus. The Reformer, for example, was inspired by Joe’s work in a hospital, at a British internment camp, during World War I. Given his reputation as a leader in physical fitness, Joe was assigned the task of rehabilitating bedridden, wounded, soldiers. Ever the efficiency expert, Joe quickly figured out that it was easier on his body to have his patients work against springs, that he attached to hospital beds, for resistance and strength training, rather than his own bodyweight. This is the reason the Reformer, among other apparatus, such as the Cadillac, slightly resembles a hospital bed.
The equipment used in Pilates provides the support needed to achieve one of Joe’s primary goals, which is uniform body development. That said, the equipment offers one’s full body an equal opportunity to work, including the smaller more intrinsic muscles, which the larger major muscles tend to overpower. Tip per Pilates elder Eve Gentry: Don’t load too much spring! Doing so will encourage the major muscles to dominate, and prevent the smaller ones from working, which is exactly what you don’t want. Refer to the video below, for Ms. Gentry's discussion. Uniform body development is the reason why many Pilates practitioners have an aesthetic look, that is often described as a, “1-to-1 ratio”. The 1-to-1 ratio refers to a long, lean, physique, rather than a bulky, and contracted one, where one’s hamstrings, for example, are proportionate in size, to one’s quads. Yes, in my opinion, a 1-to-1 ratio looks better, but more importantly, training your muscles in this way, relieves pain, and is healthier for the overall condition of your body.
As a Pilates instructor, one of the things I notice happening a lot is that even though a client may be using a piece of equipment, they’re often not relying on it in a way that will offer them the support they need to gain the full benefit of an exercise. Let’s examine “Short Spine Stretch,” which is an inversion exercise done on the Reformer. A cue I can’t hear, or use enough is, “stand in the straps!” When you put your feet in the straps, you should actually stand into them, during the entire exercise. This means that the same weight you apply when you move from bent knees to straight legs, and from straight legs to up and over head, from straight legs over head to bent knees into the shoulder pads, and finally during your spinal articulation down onto the carriage, all parts should be done, grounding your weight into your feet, and standing in the straps. When you do this, you’ll notice that your core, hamstrings, gluts, and inner thighs will be active, engaged, and working for you every step of the way.
The springs you'll load for this exercise are the two on the outside, which offer weighted support directly under each of your legs. And keep your HEELS PRESSING TOGETHER, with your toes apart, in a Pilates V, standing at attention, military stance. There's a reason soldiers can stand all day in this position, and Joe took note! You see, there's always a method to his madness, isn't there?! If you don’t engage your feet in this way, for Short Spine Stretch, in particular, not only will you miss out on the opportunity to strengthen the muscles mentioned above, but you can seriously injure your low back during your inversion.
When doing “Short Spine Stretch,” another important point to remember, is that you’re actually lying down on the carriage. Inhale and exhale. Rather than being puffed up like a pigeon, give your back and ribcage an opportunity to relax into the carriage. Also, your arms, you have them, they’re beautiful, and powerful, and helpful, and want to work too. Don’t leave them out! They shouldn’t be floundering around on the carriage like a couple of fish out of water. In terms of your arm position, externally rotate your humerus bones (top part of the arm), and press them down onto the carriage. Next, work to internally rotate your radius and ulna bones (bottom parts of the arm), and press those down onto the carriage. Then, press the anterior (palm side) of your hands down onto the carriage. As a result, feel your arm muscles, core, and back turn on, and relish in the support and stability, you’ve gained from the upper half of your body, as the lower half of your body, goes up and over head. Wheww, good work!
Do 100% of your half of the work, and realize the equipment is doing the other half. The Reformer, for Short Spine Stretch, is your dance partner, if you will. Don't step on it's toes, stand in it's straps! Feel it, sense it, ground into it, and move. Notice, how when you do that, it equally grounds back into you. Rely on the apparatus for support, and trust that it's there to help you, and make your work easier, and more beneficial. I think that goes for all loving, supportive, and reciprocal relationships in life, doesn’t it? If each partner in a relationship is giving 100% of their half, and joining together, in the spirit of reciprocity, both will have enough energy to be grounded and present, to give and receive, love and support. Finally, bask in the comfort of the balance you've established, both with your Pilates apparatus, and your other half, and enjoy the full body benefits ; )
Pilates wishes, Jessica Hansen~*