The Rolldown is a part of nearly every Pilates class I’ve ever taken or given, sometimes twice in one class. This latest cue is one I’ve used a lot lately as I’ve tried to really emphasize to clients the space we want to create between our vertebra as we perform a roll down and the smooth, even curve we are going for over the length of the entire spine.
Bending over is such a standard movement – and one that people do every day. It’s so common, in fact, that I find clients struggle to grasp the ‘why’ of this exercise in the Pilates repertoire. It’s so natural to throw your hips back and reach down towards the floor – it’s a habit that needs to be broken, like biting your nails.
I’ve used the more common “dive up and over a beach ball” cue for ages without making much progress with regard to the hips specifically. Without a wall (or me) behind them as a tactile reference, clients tend to just resort to the known movement pattern of sending the hips back. Clients hear the “dive up and over” cue and are able to envision the roundness in the back and thus create some space between the thoracic vertebra, but what about the lumbar spine? Hinging at the hips to bend eliminates the ability to maximize lumber spine curvature. So let’s edit out that urge to hinge.
Try this cue: Have your clients walk up to an imaginary fence that reaches just a smidge over waist-height. Then imagine it’s wrapped in barbed wire (for added motivation). Now ask your client to reach over and pick up an imaginary ball (or flower or candy bar) on the other side of the fence, without touching the fence rail. Now, the key to this cue is the height of the fence…if it is at waist height or below, you can just hinge at the waist and reach over. The little bit of extra height is what requires the body to go UP and then over the railing, engaging strongly through the low abdominals and creating space and curve along the whole spine. The barbed wire…that’s just sadistic 😉
Every client loves the starting point for Roll Up – lying on the mat, heavy neutral spine. Clients know that the rolling up part is a challenge, but are in such a hurry to get back down to that lovely inhale at the bottom, that they forget that some of the best benefits of this exercise come from the eccentric use of the muscles during the descent. Maintaining the c-curve of the spine while slowly articulating each vertebrae individually into its place on the mat until, finally, the full length of the body is on the mat creates an incredibly challenging eccentric muscle contraction. Not only are you asking the muscles to contract while in an elongated state, but you are also fighting the force of gravity.
For some clients, focusing on slowing down the descent is so challenging that the c-curve is lost or the segmental spinal movement becomes a bit muddled and rushed. Try giving the clear, familiar image of slowly unrolling a long VIP red carpet (or yoga mat or other rolled up thing that comes to mind) to clients and see if the visualization of their spine as the unrolling carpet gives them a bit of perspective, helps maintain the c-curve and slows down the “rolling out” of the spine.
This cue can be useful anytime you have a client rolling down from a seated position and want them to both maintain a c-curve of the spine, and slow down the descent in order to achieve more length and control through the spine.
When it comes to Pilates and results, momentum is not usually our friend. Momentum allows us to more easily complete some movements without having to utilize our bodies in the proper way – in other words, to cheat. With momentum, we can fight against gravity with more than just our muscular recruitment and skeletal positioning.
But cueing to discourage using momentum is difficult and can sometimes be disheartening to a client who feels that it’s the only way they can accomplish the movement. So, use this cue with a grain of salt. If your client is ready to execute more challenging, gravity defying supine exercises, specifically, Roll Up, Neck Pull, and Teaser, then go ahead and challenge them with this cue. If your client is just starting to get to these exercises without modification, try adding this cue to applicable modifications or regressions (Assisted Rollup, Teaser with bent knees, etc) prior to asking them to do the full exercises in slow motion.
The cue is simple: sticky tape. Imagine that your spine is lying on a track of very sticky tape on the floor. You must peel your spine off the sticky tape, vertebrae by vertebrae. Imagine struggling against the sticky tape to free each knob of the spine. This cue works a little bit like my previous post about moving through honey: it creates an imaginary hindrance to the client’s movement.
See if that cue doesn’t cut out momentum, slow things down, enhance segmental spine movement – all the while creating a crazy burn in the process!
Do some of your beginner students have trouble moving smoothly and segmentally up and down through the Pilates Bridge? I find that many clients want to lift their whole torso into the bridge and then put it back down in one swift, flat movement. By doing so, they lose all the spinal mobility benefits that can be gained from this staple exercise. Here’s an imagery cue that can help them understand both what you want from them, as well as how the spine is constructed. Knowledge is awareness is key!!
Picture an escalator. It moves smoothly, step by step; each piece fits into the one that precedes it and if one stops, the entire unit stops. Now imagine the boney segments of your spine as you move up and down through your Pilates Bridge. Each vertebrae must follow the one before it. From the top of your bridge, as you lay the thoracic vertebra back on the mat, beginning with T6 or T7 (usually the last one lifted off when at the top of the bridge) the next one follows in its path and lines up to be the next one to impress into the mat…all the way through the spine until your tailbone releases onto the mat. In the reverse, as the tailbone lifts to begin the movement, each lumbar vertebrae must follow in order before the thoracic vertebra have their turn.
Try the escalator cue next time you’re going through the bridging sequence with your client. See if you don’t get smoother, more segmental movement!