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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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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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!
Copyright ©2017 Cueing Theory, All rights reserved.