Extension and the Pilates Workout: Helping clients get the most out of advanced Pilates exercises

By: Carla Ricalis

As instructors, we want our clients to progress in their Pilates practice but we’re often unsure of how we can introduce advanced exercises safely and smartly.

We tend to look at repetitive movement as a way to access these more advanced moves. For example, if a client is unable to move their spine into full extension, we might add in more extension exercises with varying degrees of motion, in order to mimic the full position. While this can sometimes work, more often than not, it can be limiting.

An Indirect Approach

There’s a lot to be said about indirect programming (read more about that in our February 1 blog post) and it’s something that we use regularly at Studio3.

Probably the greatest benefit from indirect programming, is that it becomes a focused, diverse, and thoughtful workout both for you to teach and for your client to experience.

Working Towards the Swan Dive

In this post, we’ve chosen the Swan Dive on the mat as an example of how to use indirect programming in a workout.

The Swan Dive literally shows up everywhere: mat work, barrels, twice on the Stability Chair and Reformer, and on the Cadillac – we see it a lot. In order to get clients to connect with the range of motion needed, instructors need to know that:

  1. Not everybody will be able to access the full movement
  2. Accessing the full movement should never be the initial goal

Instead, take the time (as with any challenging, full-movement-range exercise) to understand its purpose – ask the question; why are we doing this exercise?

What It’s All About

For this exercise, it’s much more than spinal extension. It’s hip rotation, extension and abduction, shoulder joint extension, shoulder girdle strength and mobility, eccentric support of the abdominal group, and a strong foundation of the breath to keep the spinal sequencing active.

Even if you’re not an instructor and are looking for a way to get into the Swan Dive, take a look at the exercises we’ve included below and see if it helps you access a bit more spinal extension. Let us know how you did!

And don’t forget to do the exercises on both sides!

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