March MATness 2018 is on and Cueing Theory is up for it! Prepare for a new, short cue every day of March to coincide with the March MATness movement. If you love our in depth discussions of cueing and movement and exercises, fear not, they’ll be back in April.
Day 1 of March MATness is all about the Hundred. Let’s get the month off with a bounce. A trampoline bounce. As the Hundred gets underway, imagine the arms are beating a spring-loaded trampoline. Hit it with enough force to create a bounce back and then control that bounce back with muscle engagement through the backs of the arms and down the ribcage.
Be sure to follow us on Instagram (@worldisyourstudio) to find yours truly taking on the March MATness challenge day by day.
Are your clients plagued by dread when your class sequence gets around to Hundreds? Do look around your studio in the middle of Hundreds to find most of your clients are so focused on not collapsing, that the arm movement is a total after thought? What if we could make the arm pulses more fun, while at the same time causing a distraction from the sheer impossibility of the exercise that clients seem to dwell on for all 100 counts?
Try adding a little rhythm. Set your Hundreds to a super fun song with a strong, rhythmic beat (at the moment I really like Imagine Dragons “Whatever It Takes” starting about 40 seconds in – gives time for setup and prep before the beat gets going). As the Hundred gets underway – breathing is cued, lower backs secure, shoulder blades off the mat, legs given a multitude of variations – add in the beat cue. Ask your clients to listen to the song for a few seconds, then find the beat with their arms. See if they can’t just turn the Hundred into a dance party for 100 beats – who knows, maybe they’ll want to keep going!
Earlier this week, we talked about how Pilates exercises themselves are sometimes the best cues for more difficult or complicated movements in the repertoire. Bridging came to mind first, but there’s another that is imbedded in SO many exercises. The Hundred.
The Hundred teaches us a ton about how to organize our whole bodies, including the breath. Many clients think about this as an intense, nearly impossible ab workout, but what’s really going on is a lot more central to Pilates and the overarching benefits we preach about.
The Hundred is all about organization of the body and recruiting the total body, including the breath to perform an incredibly difficult task. The Hundred cannot be performed without the body engaging toward the midline from the toes all the way to the neck. Try it. Attempt Hundreds without hugging the legs together, without lifting through the pelvic floor and lower abdominals and without using the oblique slings to pull it all together. Now try it without organizing your head neck and shoulders. Now try breathing into your abdomen instead of into the sides of your ribcage. It’s near impossible. Your legs won’t lift, your lower back arches, your head seems to weigh 100 pounds and it all falls apart even further when you try to inhale.
Mastering body organization and breath is imperative for the success of Hundreds, but it is also necessary in order to gain the most from other exercises as well. Referring back to the body organization and muscle recruitment that made clients successful with Hundreds, can help them understand the proper organization and alignment that many other exercises require.
These exercises run the gamut from the obvious – other supine abdominal exercises (Chest Lift, Assisted Roll Up and Roll Up, Single Leg Stretch, Single Straight Leg Stretch, Double Straight Leg Stretch, Criss Cross, Neck Pull) to full body (Teaser and Leg Pull; you can even make an argument for Leg Pull Front, Push Up, Plank) and inversion (Jack Knife, Controlled Balance, etc.) exercises.
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.
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.