Lengthening Out of the Hip – Creating Length through the Legs

Length through the extremities is a major theme in the Pilates repertoire.  It can be a bit tricky to teach, though.  So many of the exercises that are meant to emphasize this theme are also subject to an intense core challenge or work for the “large muscle groups.” This causes the subtlety of the exercises’ purpose to often get a bit lost.  Leg Pull Front and Single Leg Kick are great examples of exercises that require work elsewhere in our bodies to such a degree that it’s easy to forget that the central theme in these is creating length.

In Leg Pull Front the upper body weight bearing aspect is so much a challenge for many clients that the leg lift is almost an afterthought – a “please don’t let me tip and collapse” type of afterthought.  But really, the emphasis should be on the REACH with the toes – extending the leg out of the hip socket.

Single Leg Kick is similar.  Many focus on the kick as the main part of the exercise, but what about the extend?!  Hovering the leg an inch off the floor while reaching the toes to the wall behind you is the REAL work!

Here’s your cue to help: imagine that you have a string tied to your big toe and each time you reach your leg away and point your toes toward the wall behind you, the string pulls taut and stretches your leg just a bit further out of the hip joint and suspends you in the position just a few seconds more.  Really aim to feel the tug of the imaginary string.  You can even use a tactile cue to simulate this image to really drive the point home.

Click here for a previous cue that also helps create length through the extremities.

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Adding Choreography to Staple Exercises – Let’s Paint this Town Red

One way to make a basic exercise a little more interesting and to give it additional benefits is to add in a little choreography.  One of the most common examples of this is pointing and flexing the foot during exercises where the client is asked to isolate the movement of a straight leg in the hip joint – bridging variations, sidekick series, leg pull and others.

The key with pointing and flexing is timing the choreography to get extra length from the hamstrings and calf muscles.  This means pointing as the leg moves towards the body and flexing as it moves back to its starting position.  With this timing, the client is flexing the ankle when the hamstring is at its longest, most stretched position – creating a little more length and a little more stretch.

A way to give clients a visual cue for this choreography is to imagine the foot is a paintbrush.  As the brush moves up the wall, the bristles of the brush are pointed down.  As the brush moves back down the wall, the bristles are flexed up.

Get extra length out of the hip joint by encouraging clients to reeeach for the wall with their paintbrushes.

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Sit Up Taller – Axial Elongation is Key

Joseph Pilates said, “Good posture can be successfully acquired when the entire mechanism of the body is under perfect control.  Graceful carriage follows as a matter of course.”  In other words, when axial elongation is achieved, the body’s alignment allows for greater freedom and efficiency of movement.  The problem is, how do we get our clients to that point?  How do you explain that perfect posture isn’t just unhunching your shoulders?

Try this: Imagine someone holding a bunch of balloons on a string that is attached to the crown of your head.  Now imagine that the person lets go.  As the balloons float upwards, the string pulls your crown with it and forces you to sit up very straight – inches taller than you were.  You call upon your cervical, trunk and pelvic floor musculature in order to eek a bit more height out of your spine and pelvic skeletal structures.  This lengthening creates more space between your vertebra, also known as axial elongation, allowing for that increased freedom and efficiency of movement, or “graceful carriage.”

This cue can be used to correct positioning during specific exercises (spine twist, mermaid, standing balance, etc.) where the posture is meant to be maintained throughout, or we can use this to properly set up for other exercises that begin in or pass through this position (rollup, standing roll down, spine stretch, saw, and so many more!).

See if this cue doesn’t help your clients feel just a tad bit taller when they leave class!


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Streeeetch! – Creating length through the extremities

As pilates instructors, we talk a lot about lengthening.  And often times a client does leave the class thinking “I do feel taller!” But how can we get our clients to really connect with our cue for lengthening, in the moment?  We say “reeeeeach towards the opposite wall” or “lengthen out of your joints,” but do clients really get it?  I’m not sure.  In fact, I’m not sure I really got it until I was at the physio and he said this to me: “Create the feeling of that first stretch in bed in the morning as you lengthen and stretch each extremity to wake up your body.”

What a simple, relatable cue.  Everyone knows that amazing feeling when you first stretch for the day.  It feels as if your limbs might actually reach so far that they detach themselves.  This is what we want our clients to strive for!  The ultimate reach.  The “morning stretch” even has a scientific name: pandiculation.  Go for it, try it yourself.  See if the association doesn’t just get you to reach a little bit further!

Warning: trying to recreate that morning stretch goodness may induce yawning!


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