X Marks the Spot. And the oblique slings are the treasure. Swimming is such an amazing exercise to hone in on cross-body movement and the oblique slings. To illustrate these benefits to your client and to create awareness of the muscles working together, refer to the letter X.
Imagine an X drawn on the posterior side of the body with each line stretching from the tips of the fingers to the tips of the toes of the opposite foot. As each line takes a turn lifting during the movement, imagine stretching that line to make the biggest X possible. Remind your client that the aim of the exercise is not to shorten the lines while lifting the limbs, but to lengthen them.
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Scissors. Yeah, we’ve all heard “scissor your legs” before; there’s even an exercise in Joe Pilates’ repertoire called “Scissors.” But what I’m going to lay out with this cue is going to take it to the next level.
Typically, when we call on a client to “scissor” their legs, the interpretation is to move straight legs back and forth, crossing in the middle. This isn’t wrong, per se, but it’s not the whole story. Think about your pair of scissors. Yes, you’ve got the long sharp blades, straight as can be, opening and closing, just as you want the legs to do, but what else is happening? Let’s consider a couple of things: where the movement initiates and why it’s so powerful and the friction as the scissors blades come together.
We’ll start with the latter as it’s a quicker conversation. The friction of the blades as they come together is something we want to emulate. We want the leg movement and rod-straight positioning to work for us. If we move the legs with the intention of cutting an imaginary piece of paper, we will pass the legs much closer together. In order to do this with control, we find that we need to recruit the inner thighs and pelvic floor to create stability and precision during this movement. With just this adjustment, we’ve augmented this exercise from pure flexion and extension through the hips to intentionally include the inner thigh and pelvic floor. BONUS.
Alright, on to the bigger revelation. Thinking about your pair of scissors – where does the movement initiate and how does this relate to the blades? Consider a single side of the scissors – the movement initiates with pressure on the opposite, shorter side of the blade intersection. To apply this to our bodies, lay an open pair of scissors on an image of the musculoskeletal system, which system does this mirror? The oblique slings!
What happens to our movement if we focus on initiating the movement at the top of the oblique slings instead of just the legs? It gains in precision and coordination. When the control is initiated from the short side of the lever (the torso being the short side, the leg being the long), the muscles of the slings can work together to create a better quality movement.
Does this mean we are moving through the trunk? NO! Scissors is still a hip disassociation exercise and the actual movement is out of the hip socket and through the leg. BUT the control and movement initiation across the slings is where many of the exercise’s benefits exist. As we are walking, running, and moving through our lives, our legs are doing an awful lot of the overt movement, but it’s the muscular slings working to hold us together and upright and in coordination.
I usually try to invoke images to simplify movements for clients, but in this case, understanding the initiation of the movement by way of the scissors image can give us incredible insight into how doing this exercise properly can bring awareness to how we move through our daily lives.
This cue comes from a great Pilates instructor and friend, Emma Wilson, who always knows how to blend good humor and hard work in her classes. It will be a favorite with your lady clients. Have the client imagine her most sparkly, sleek, slim clutch handbag. Then have her imagine she is holding two glasses of champagne (one for her date of course). Where does she put her clutch? Between her arm and her ribcage and then hold on like hell so it doesn’t drop!
As a cue, this one helps a client to pinpoint some key stability muscles while moving through exercises in which weight bearing through the upper extremities is required. It creates stiffness (readiness, support) through both the anterior and posterior shoulder muscle groups, as well as firing posterior oblique slings (latissimus dorsi, thoracolumbar fascia and even the contralateral gluteus maximus).
From a joint perspective, this cue will create the proper alignment of the shoulder joints, particularly the scapulothoracic joint during upper extremity weight bearing.
As an added bonus, this cue can help the client to work towards the midline, beginning with the extremities.