Today we’re channeling the alphabet. Specifically, the letter P.
A lot of Neck Pull can be likened to the Rollup, in fact, you can use the arm positioning of Neck Pull to progress the Rollup for advanced clients (hands cradling the head instead of straight overhead, increases the difficulty significantly). What really differentiates the Neck Pull for me is the goal of incredible spinal flexion at the top of the movement.
The final shape of Neck Pull is something like the letter “P” lying on its side. – head kissing the knees, if possible. This is clearly a stretch (pun intended) for hamstring length, but more importantly, creating a smoothly rounded spine from tail to crown of head is an immense challenge for even the most flexible of spines. Often clients feel that this is a completely unattainable exercise – giving them the visual of what the goal looks like (the letter “P”) helps to ground their efforts in something solid and relatable.
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The Rollup. Classic Pilates, Classicaly Difficult. Most of the time, clients just say, “I can’t do that, there’s no way.” Let’s fix that. Bring the movement down to earth with a natural, organic image. A banana peel. In this image, the mat is the banana fruit, we are the peel. Think about how you peel a banana to minimize those stringy bits from staying on the fruit – slowly and methodically, top to bottom. That’s how we want to “peel” our bodies off the mat – with precision and care.
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Rollup, Rolldown, Rollover. How do we help clients flow these exercises? What will help them see these as smooth, continuous movements? Do you see them this way?
Let’s take a step back. When performing these exercises, we can invoke images of diving up and over a beach ball, pumpkin, Pilates circle, [insert your favorite round object as space-holder here]. These cues get us the proper form on the end of the exercise where our spines are in the most flexion. But, what about the rest of the movement? Should it be staccato and choppy? Does it have a clear starting and end point? Well, maybe, but I’d argue that you can get more out of the exercise by making it a smooth, flowing, continuous movement.
So, how do we create this smooth, continuous flow and help clients see the segmental spine movement in these exercises as fluid? I like the image of a pulley system. The most recognizable example of this is a bike chain. Have the client imagine that his or her entire body is the chain and it is continuously moving around the cogs of the bike (for those into cycling, you will most definitely take offense to me saying cog here – chain ring and cassette are the proper terms). Each of the vertebrae is a link in the chain and the cogs take the place of the beach ball in our earlier discussions, maintaining space in the vertebrae as the client reaches the point of where the spine is in the most flexion, and then moves away as the direction of motion is reversed (backpedaling on the bike, in case anyone needs further imagery). The chain is always in motion, either forwards or back, throughout the entire exercise, bringing rhythm and flow to these full body exercises. You could even try flowing two of these exercises together: Rollover to Rollup and back again.
A seasonal visual today…I’m going to harken back to a previous post and update it for Halloween…because I’m sure your clients are begging for some Pilates images to go with their Pumpkin Spice Lattes.
Remember that beach ball? We were diving up and over it to maintain space in our vertebra as we isolate flexion in the thoracic spine. Embrace the season and imagine instead a big, fat jack-o-lantern. Check back to the beach ball post for all the juicy details, but for quick reference, use this one for Rollup, Standing Rolldown, and Spine Stretch.