Side Bend is a a really beautiful exercise. It’s smooth, the body is at its longest and the arm movement even reminds me of a ballet dancer. A really good cue to emphasize the top of this movement is a rainbow – we discussed it here on Cueing Theory back in October. Let’s take that a step further here and focus on the rainbow’s PURPLE arc.
By isolating the purple arc in our clients’ minds, we can help them hone in on what the bottom of the body has to offer to the Side Bend exercise. Lifting from the bottom side of the body in this lateral position cues the client to engage from the back of standing arm all the way down to the tips of the bottom leg’s toes. Think about that. Triceps, deltoid, serrates anterior, exterior oblique, QL, rectus abdominis, glutes, quads, hamstrings and more. All of those working together – now that’s a lot of muscle power!
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Kneeling Sidekick is viewed as a more advanced option to the Side Kick exercise. While they are certainly related, I think that focusing on the similarities actually does the practitioner a disservice. Sure, there is the hip disassociation, the core stability and the length, but what’s different?
Sure, they’ve made the whole exercise harder by increasing instability and balance challenge, adding lateral flexion and increasing the hip abduction required to bring the leg to parallel, but this exercise throws you a bone too!
You’re up on your knee! The POWER of the KNEEL! That bottom leg has so much more leverage to help out now. The kneeling leg’s glute, hamstring and quad muscles are REALLY strong and well positioned here to be REALLY helpful!
Cue clients to look to the kneeling leg as the answer to many of the new challenges the exercise poses. A slight pelvic tuck, engagement through the front and back of the kneeling leg, toes firmly planted on the floor and your client will be off to a much more successful start to this challenging movement!
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To maximize the awesome lateral flexion benefits we talked about in the last post, it is really key to isolate lateral flexion. This means that as we go up and over to create our rainbow or our U-shape, our spines should not make any movement into the sagittal plane. In other words, we need to edit out all of the flexion and extension of our spine in order to create space in our vertebra and give our bodies the greatest possible range in lateral flexion.
To do this, I have forever found this cue to be helpful. It is one of the earliest cues I can remember from my own instructors: window panes. Imagine you are sandwiched between two window panes. One pane lining up with the back of your body and one at the front. You can only move side to side or up and down. Any forward or backward movement will push you into the panes. Imagine squishing your face against the front pane if you move into flexion and smacking your head against the back pane if you create extension through the spine.
This cue can also be helpful for lateral movements without lateral flexion: Star, Sidelift, and keeping the torso still during Sidelying and Sidekick Series.
Lateral flexion is an important movement class that is not heavily addressed in traditional fitness regimes. The term describes the way in which our spine moves along the coronal plane. It engages our Oblique and Lateral Muscular Slings and creates spinal flexibility in a direction that is often overlooked. In more practical terms, movements that utilize lateral flexion improve core control, cinch our waists and create more stability for our bodies during standing, walking and rotational activities. In other words, lateral flexion is really important!
Pilates has a lot to offer in this movement category. In this post we’ll focus on those exercises that put us into deep lateral flexion. These exercises are Sidebend and Kneeling Sidekick (feel free to add some others in the comments!). For many, these exercises are incredibly challenging because lateral flexion is not a usual position for their spines. Familiar images can make the poses more attainable.
For Sidebend, ask your client to imagine the whole length of his/her body is a rainbow (an upside down one at the bottom of the movement!). This will help create a smooth, long shape that can be maintained throughout the exercise.
Kneeling Sidekick is a little different. The lateral flexion occurs in the static part of the exercise. For the setup, have the client imagine the shape of a lower case ‘n.’ This is the shape we are aiming to create underneath our standing arm and knee.
However you decide to plan your class, be sure to include some opportunities for the client to move through lateral flexion and stay tuned for another lateral flexion cue next time!
Mermaid is one of those go-to exercises we tuck into an hour-long class to transition from one section of work to another and to give students a refresh and a reset. And it feels SO good!
But it is so much more than a transitional stretch. Lateral flexion is only addressed in a handful of Pilates exercises, mermaid is one of them. But, it can also be a struggle to get right and to maximize the benefits. Done correctly, Mermaid has few parallels in lateral flexion category.
Maximum lateral flexion is achieved when the client can maintain length and height through the lumbar spine and isolate flexion to the thoracic vertebra. The hard part of that equation is maintaining the height through the lumbar. The easy way to perform Mermaid is to hinge and lean at the waist to achieve that lateral movement. A cue to isolate the movement to the thoracic is essential to maximize the benefits on offer with Mermaid.
Try this: imagine your body is a teapot, chock-full of hot, steeped tea. As you tip to the side, you must imagine the spout of the pot (your grounded hand) must clear the edge of the tea cup in order to pour the tea without spilling.
Creating an image of height that must be achieved (the edge of the cup) as the client moves laterally, sets the client up for success and maximum benefits from Mermaid.