Setting Up for Supine – Don’t Drop the Box

Setting up properly for many supine exercises (Dead Bug, Femur Arcs, Arm Arcs, Side-to-Side, modifications for Hundreds, Chest Lift, Criss-Cross and others), requires the legs to be in a 90-90, or table-top position.  This is pretty self-explanatory – 90 degrees at the knees and 90 degrees at the hips or, the shins are the table and the thighs are the table legs.  The challenge comes when we call on the client to maintain this position throughout the exercise.

As the client focuses more on the movement and the effort required to perform it, he or she often struggles to maintain positioning.  As the repetitions increase, heels drop towards the floor and knees creep closer to the face, effectively disengaging the lower abdominals and inner thighs.

Sure, all of the exercises can be performed without these engaged, but to get the maximum benefit from each exercise, stability and periphery muscles need to be employed.  So let’s keep that 90-90.

Here’s a cue to help out: have the client imagine a large cardboard box underneath the crook of his or her knee as they are in table top.  Maintaining the perfect 90-90 will keep the box in its place.  Dropping the heels or pulling the knees closer to the face will squash the box.  Raising the toes towards the ceiling will cause the box to fall.  Have the client focus on keeping the box in its place during the entire exercise.

If you have an appropriately sized box in the studio, you could even put it to use to illustrate the correct positioning at the start.


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Common Supine Mistakes: Arching Backs and Flaring Ribs

One of the most common mistakes with beginning Pilates students is flaring or popping the ribcage during supine integration exercises.  Flaring the ribs indicates a loss of control of the core abdominal muscles.  For example, during bridging flaring the ribs can indicate that the student is using the lower back to maintain the bridge instead of the glutes, hamstrings and abdominal muscles.  With an exercise incorporating arm arcs, ribcage flaring often means that the student is not maintaining awareness of the core during the exercise and he or she is not getting the true benefits associated with the cross body and muscular sling engagement that makes these exercises so beneficial.  With a lower extremity, long-lever supine exercise, flared ribs indicate that the client should shorten the lever to regain control and remove undue stress and work from the lower back.

We can use many tactile cues to help clients be more aware of this common mistake, but in a larger class, it’s much harder to reach each student for tactile cueing without sacrificing class flow and momentum.  In that setting, try asking the class to imagine that they have sandbags on their ribcage.  This imagery can help a student to “feel” weight on his or her ribcage to remind them to use the abdominal muscles to keep the ribcage pulled tight and engaged.

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Like Honey

One of my biggest pet peeves is when clients move their extremities through an exercise as if they are floating on a cloud, weightless. When you ask them to beat their arms and they just sort of flap them. Or when you ask them to move their legs up and down, they look around wondering if they’re doing it right because it’s so easy. Well, the truth is, they’re not…doing it right.

In our training, we’re taught to move through an exercise with intention, but what does that really mean? Remember all of that theory about muscles stiffening to prepare for a load? Joseph Pilates’ mantra was “as much as necessary, as little as possible,” but, what if there isn’t any load – like when we’re moving our arms through arm arcs or pointing and flexing our foot as we move our straight leg through space?

Try giving the client an imaginary load to think about. Have the client imagine that he or she is moving those arms and legs through the thickest honey. So sticky and viscous that they really have to work to get the body to move through it. See if that doesn’t fire up some extra effort!

Another thing to note here: this is a great time to throw in some guided resistance tactile cues!


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