Surf’s Up – Focusing on Thoracic Extension

After the month-long Pilates-exercise-per-day intensive that was March MATness, we’re going to chill out, hang ten and talk surfing.

I just got back from holiday and while away, I tried surfing for the first time.  I was amazedat how much I referenced my Pilates knowledge to help me learn this new skill.

Photo by AquaChara on Unsplash

Actually, forget the surfing, let’s talk about the paddling.  Oh, the paddling.  It turns out you are meant to catch waves rather far away from the shore.  This was by far the most unexpectedly difficult part of the whole endeavor for me!

What would have helped? – more prone exercises on the mat and definitely pulling straps on the reformer, among other things.  The key was being able to sustain thoracic extension, while paddling with the arms for an extended period of time, without falling into the lower back or cranking the cervical spine out of fatigue. There’s actually a spinal condition specifically related to this called Surfer’s Myelopathy.  It might be named for surfers, but it can be caused by any activity where hyperextension in the back is reached (read: Pilates and yoga).

So, what’s my point? Well, there’s the age-old criticism that Pilates has too much flexion, but the extension work has been there all along.  Sustainably building stability and strength during thoracic extension has always been a cornerstone of Pilates work.  So get your clients to work in extension and help them envision the correct position by cueing them to mimic the Surfer’s Paddle.  Maybe you’ll even save someone from developing Surfer’s Myelopathy (not that it’s all that common…).


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