For many, the Swan-Dive is the most challenging of the original repertoire. Maybe people tend to be weary of their lower backs, maybe they are envisioning a bloody nose as they rock too far forward and smack their face on the floor (for the record, I have never seen this happen!), or maybe it’s just that this movement is REALLY REALLY difficult. Whatever the reason is, Swan Dive poses a unique challenge.
There is a split second before you release the hands and allow the body to rock forward, when everyone thinks “maybe I”ll just stick with the prep.” But then people just go. If you’ve ever been cliff jumping, the feeling is similar to that moment when your toes hang over the edge of the rock and have a split-second second thought. But then you just jump.
That feeling has a name – Leap of Faith. Next time your client comes to the top of Swan Prep, avoid the rhythm-squashing hesitation by encouraging him to just Leap.
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Rest easy that this one will be worth the read. It comes straight from Dawnna Wayburne, head of Polestar Pilates Asia. If you’ve never met her, she’s brilliant, the quiet brilliant type. Dawnna has the kind of Pilates genius that you just feel when you walk in the room with her and you know you need to scribble down every word she utters. Forgive me, but I was in the middle of my Certification Exam when I met her so I wasn’t able to write down all of her nuggets, but this one has been on my mind ever since.
So here it is. When you have a client that struggles to get thoracic extension, this can be a game changer. Many of us have heard or used the “roll the marble away from you with your nose” cue to initiate movement in prone exercises, but what if that’s just not getting the isolated thoracic extension you or your client need?
Here’s your fix: Have the client come partially into a prone press up position, just to the base of the sternum. Place a ball – lacrosse ball, tennis ball, half-pumped soft Pilates ball, other small-ish mobility ball, ideally 3-5 inches in diameter – so that it is lodged between the sternum and the floor. As the client tractions the palms of the hands on the floor with energy pulling towards the body, ask him/her to attempt to roll or push the ball away. That’s it. Seriously. If you don’t believe me, try it on yourself – with a mirror available for side-on view. The immediate effect is so clear.
The increased and isolated thoracic extension you get when you attempt to roll the ball away with the sternum is nothing short of awesome. Repeat the exercise a few times with the ball and then try to recreate the feeling and posture without the ball. Once this muscle memory is in place, you can call on it during all of your thoracic extension movements and enjoy greater mobility and awareness through the thoracic spine.
This cue can be particularly effective for kyphotic clients who struggle to get any thoracic extension at all, but the gains to be made for any practitioner make this cue great for everyone.
And for a little comic relief: I give you a giant pig giving this cue his all 😉
For some clients, being in the prone position means rest time for the abdominals. This couldn’t be further from the reality. Engaging the core during prone exercises helps keep the spine in optimal neutral alignment and it helps the body more efficiently use the muscles that the exercise is meant to work. Perhaps most importantly, though, it prevents us from “falling” into our lower backs.
Relying on the low back muscles during prone exercises is a common mistake even from really strong clients. It can cause unnecessary tightness, strain and even injury in the low back.
While clients’ natural inclination is to “let it all go” through the tummy during this type of exercise, they are also keenly aware of the difference they feel from an efficiency and a comfort standpoint when they do engage their abdominals. As soon as they tighten across the core and lift the abdominals away from the mat, they can feel a change to their spine position, which in turn changes the entire output of the exercise!
To initiate this engagement and to remind them throughout the repetitions, try having them imagine a blueberry (or other soft, messy item) under their belly button. Challenge them not to squish it!!