Let's Get Vertical

March 2012 / Pilates Style

With the help of the seemingly simple yet underused Ped-i-pul, Kyria Sabin, Fletcher Pilates Program Director, brings her mentor’s repertoire to light, demystifying the art of precise spinal placement, awareness and balanced articulation required for an effective Pilates practice.

by Kyria Sabin • exercises modeled by Fletcher Pilates- Qualified Teacher David McMahan

“The art of Contrology proves that the only real guide to your true age lies not in years or how you think you feel…but by the degree of natural and normal flexibility enjoyed by your spine throughout life.”

Joseph H. Pilates in his book, Return to Life

Joseph Pilates described the optimal spine as “strong, flexible and articulate” with spring-like balanced flexion and extension at each segment. With this fundamental philosophy in mind, my mentor, Ron Fletcher, decided to further develop the Ped-i-pul repertoire to focus more specifically on spinal articulation and active elongation.

When approached with this attention, the Ped-i-pul becomes the ultimate standing postural and assessment tool for any Pilates studio or practice. In his book, Every Body is Beautiful (Lippincott, 1978), Ron describes optimal spinal posture and active elongation.

“The sculpture of the spinal column is indeed a work of art and engineering—the elongated, gradual curves giving beautiful form and at the same time about fifteen times more strength than if the spine were absolutely straight,” he writes. “The trick is to hold that gently curving design, not allowing it to compress through the accentuation of any of these curves.”

I can vividly remember Ron’s care and attention when teaching spinal placement and articulation on the Ped-i-pul, and I can still feel his precise touch, cuing me one bone at a time, to elongate my spine more than I thought possible.

Even in a large workshop, he would patiently guide each participant on the Ped-i-pul Roll-Down, making certain that we could all feel our spines and experience our individual vertebrae as we reached our full movement potential. To witness the transformative power of Ron’s careful teaching on the Ped-i-pul was to know the magic of someone rising to claim their full vertical potential.

The following series of basic Ped-i-pul exercises facilitate optimal spinal and cervical alignment as well as shoulder girdle and pelvic stabilization. This program, which should be performed up to three times per week, was developed for a wall-mounted Ped-i-pul. 

 

Standing Alignment

PURPOSE: establishes pelvic placement with active spinal elongation

SETUP: Stand tall with your back against the pole. Your feet are in a Pilates V, heels together, 4-6 inches away from base of pole, and toes apart, arms by your sides.

1. Actively engage and lengthen your core, without tucking your pelvis. Note where your spine is touching and where it is pulling away from the pole. Note which of your muscles feel tight and weak.

TIPS : Focus on length and avoid forcefully pressing your spine against the pole.

 

Front Arm Press

PURPOSE: stabilizes the spine while moving the arms from the back

SETUP: Maintain your Standing Alignment position, but place your hands in the straps, arms extended in front of your body at shoulder height, shoulder-width apart, palms facing down.

1. Inhale as you press your arms down by your sides, focusing on engaging your back muscles evenly (from right to left) as you press into the straps.

2. Exhale as you return to the starting position. Do 8–10 repetitions.

TIP: Imagine lengthening your spine up against the pole as you press your arms down.

MODIFICATION: Practice the movement without springs.

ADVANCED: Alternate pressing down one arm at a time, keeping your spine centered on the pole.

 

Tricep Press

PURPOSE: stabilizes the spine and shoulder girdle while working the triceps

SETUP: Maintain your Front Arm Press position, and bend your elbows, keeping your arms close to the sides of your body and maintaining tension on the springs. Press your forearms down, lengthening out of your elbows and wrists.

1. Inhale as you extend your elbows, pressing your arms down by your sides, activating your triceps.

2. Exhale to return to the starting position. Do 8–10 repetitions.

TIP: Feel the connection of your triceps into your back.

MODIFICATION: Practice the movement without springs.

ADVANCED: Alternate pressing one arm at a time, keeping your shoulders down and spine centered.

 

Roll-Downs

PURPOSE: enhances spinal articulation

SETUP: Maintain your Standing Alignment position. Place your hands in the straps, arms reaching forward at shoulder height, shoulder-width apart, palms facing down. Keep your shoulders pressed down.

1. Inhale and exhale four times as you slowly roll your body down. Scoop out your abdominals as you flex your spine forward one bone at a time in an even C shaped curve.

2. Inhale and exhale four times as you roll your body back up along the pole. Do 4 repetitions.

TIPS: As you roll down, imagine that you are hollowing your body up and over a ball. As you roll up, imagine breathing into the space between each vertebra to actively lengthen your spine.

ADVANCED: Inhale and exhale to fold at your hips, so that your spine is stable and parallel to the floor. Make sure to keep your tailbone against the pole. Inhale and exhale four times as you roll your body back up along the pole.

 

Side Arm Press

PURPOSE: stabilizes the spine while expanding the chest and working the arms laterally

SETUP: Maintain your Standing Alignment position, and place your hands in the straps, palms facing down. Reach your arms out to your sides to a T position at shoulder height. Expand your chest, maintaining your spinal placement.

1. Exhale as you press your arms evenly down by your sides, palms facing inward, keeping your chest open and your shoulders down.

2. Inhale and return your arms to the T position, lifting your arms while keeping your shoulders back and down. Do 8–10 repetitions.

TIPS: Reach long to your sides through your fingertips to stretch your chest open. Create an even line across your collarbones.

MODIFICATION: Practice the movement without springs.

ADVANCED: Alternate pressing one arm at a time, keeping your shoulders down and spine centered.

 

Pliés

PURPOSE: stabilizes the spine and hips while flexing the hips, knees and ankles

SETUP: Maintain your Standing Alignment position. Place your hands in the straps, palms facing down, and reach your arms out your sides at shoulder height into a T position. Keep your spine actively lengthened up along the pole.

1. Inhale, then exhale as you bend your hips, knees and ankles into a Demi Plié, without lifting your heels.

2. Inhale, then exhale as you draw your legs up and together to lengthen back to your starting position.

3. Inhale, then exhale, returning to the Demi Plié position, then inhale and exhale to release your heels, carefully lowering your body into a Grande Plié. Lower with control, maintaining a sense of lift throughout your body.

4. Inhale, then exhale, returning to the Demi Plié position.

5. Inhale, then exhale, returning to the starting position. Do 4 repetitions of each Plié.

TIPS: Maintain the same T position of the arms throughout the entire exercise. Think of lifting up as you lower and of pressing down to lift up.

MODIFICATION: If you have any knee issues, avoid the Grande Plié position.

 

Seated Arm Work

PURPOSE: lengthens the spine while engaging the shoulder girdle

SETUP: Sit on the base of the Ped-i-pul with your hips placed against the base of the pole and your spine actively elongated against it. Hold onto the straps with your arms in a “goal post” position, creating a straight line from elbow to elbow, palms facing forward.

1. Inhale, then exhale as you pull your elbows down by your sides.

2. Inhale, then exhale, returning to the starting position. Do 8–10 repetitions.

TIPS: Lengthen your spine up against the pole as you pull your elbows down. Imagine rooting your sitz bones and elongating the sides of your body.

MODIFICATION: Practice the movement without springs.

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