After the month-long Pilates-exercise-per-day intensive that was March MATness, we’re going to chill out, hang ten and talk surfing.
I just got back from holiday and while away, I tried surfing for the first time. I was amazedat how much I referenced my Pilates knowledge to help me learn this new skill.
Actually, forget the surfing, let’s talk about the paddling. Oh, the paddling. It turns out you are meant to catch waves rather far away from the shore. This was by far the most unexpectedly difficult part of the whole endeavor for me!
What would have helped? – more prone exercises on the mat and definitely pulling straps on the reformer, among other things. The key was being able to sustain thoracic extension, while paddling with the arms for an extended period of time, without falling into the lower back or cranking the cervical spine out of fatigue. There’s actually a spinal condition specifically related to this called Surfer’s Myelopathy. It might be named for surfers, but it can be caused by any activity where hyperextension in the back is reached (read: Pilates and yoga).
So, what’s my point? Well, there’s the age-old criticism that Pilates has too much flexion, but the extension work has been there all along. Sustainably building stability and strength during thoracic extension has always been a cornerstone of Pilates work. So get your clients to work in extension and help them envision the correct position by cueing them to mimic the Surfer’s Paddle. Maybe you’ll even save someone from developing Surfer’s Myelopathy (not that it’s all that common…).
Remember that cue from earlier this month where the legs were arrows shooting out of bows? Well today, we are the bow. Double Leg Kick is all about maintaining the length of a smooth arc along the anterior and posterior sides of the body the arms act as the bow’s string – pulling the body into a tighter arc.
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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 😉