Strength, Shift, Support = Success for Advanced Reformer

By: Carla Ricalis

This is our final post for 2021 and we thought we’d finish with one of the more challenging exercises on the Advanced Reformer; The Star. 

It’s a simple movement (abduction and adduction of one arm) but it’s such a hard exercise to do and to do well. Below are 3 ways that we’re working to strengthen the key muscles, shift the focus and support the movement in order to succeed in this classical Pilates exercise:

Strengthen – Mat based shoulder girdle stability

This advanced exercise requires the ability to load the shoulder joint and stabilize it while moving in a plane that isn’t where our body’s strength naturally lies. Working in the coronal plane requires a strong ipsilateral support system (same side) along with the contralateral strength of the core (eg: adductors, obliques, lats). There is A LOT going on stability wise in order for the shoulder joint to abduct and maintain shoulder and scapula congruence. 

This first exercise demonstrates how we can recruit and then build upon strength in the more powerful, familiar sagittal plane and then shift it to the plane The Star works in so that all those stabilizers are targeted. 

Couple of things to remember:

  1. Build Endurance: Don’t rush through these positions. Instead, cue your clients to hold them so that the stamina and muscle strength is built. This exercise can be broken down so that the transition is the last thing that’s added; so if The Star is your goal exercise, then progress the endurance of this one over a few sessions.
  2. Emphasize the Abduction of the Shoulder (not the shift of the hips): When you do add in the transition, make sure the focus is on moving from the shoulder first; cue your client to stabilize the core as they rotate on the fixed humerus and keep the gluts, hamstrings and abductors/adductors of the legs active. 

Shift – Lower the Bar

Once your client is ready to get on the Reformer, a great way to make this exercise more accessible is by lowering the footbar. 

By dropping it to the second bottom rung, you’re shifting the weight distribution off the shoulder joint and allowing the legs to be more actively involved in pushing the carriage out and the core to control it back in. It’s still hard! And core strength, endurance, stamina plus proprioception all need to be in place; but it’s a great way to build into the full exercise. 

Support V2 MAX springs for support in the full exercise

This last modification was inspired by a client who had been doing the lowered footbar variation for a while but couldn’t make the leap to the full exercise with the bar up. 

We took the leg springs with extension straps  and then looped a third extension strap from both to create a harness that slung under his lower pelvis side. 

With this support, he was able to find that initial recruitment in the shoulder joint and girdle without collapsing into the shoulder as he pushed out. On the return of the carriage, the support allowed him to feel the involvement of the lats and obliques (and leg adductors, abductors, extensors!) and just how much they need to be an integral part of such a challenging exercise. 

Few things to remember!

  1. Play with the tension: As always, try these modifications on your own first. Figure out what type of tension makes sense for you and then gauge it for your clients
  2. Move the carriage stopper: If the carriage stopper has been moved out to reduce the shoulder adduction, then use this modification to see if it’s possible to add a bit more range.
  3. Placing the strap: Make sure you’re placing this under the clients pelvis and not on their waist

Have fun building the strength for this exercise into your clients workout – and reach out with any questions! 

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