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The Book of Reformer:  Chapter 4

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The Book of Reformer: Chapter 4

Westwood Pilates

By Mela Debiase

Up until this point we have had our hands attached to the straps a lot, but now we get to switch things up beginning this chapter with our hands on the footbar.  I love how this chapter flows. It’s not filled with complicated movements of the body, it’s pretty simple in and out of the carriage (by simple I don’t mean easy!) that gets your heart rate up.  I was told that Romana Kryzanowska called this section “The Dance of the Thick Pad”. We move the thickpad from the the headrest, to the carriage, then down to the edge of the carriage as we progress through the exercises.  While the thick pad is merely so you don’t slip on the carriage, it’s hardly the hero of the chapter, the name sure did help me remember what came next while I was trying to learn my order!

I drew inspiration to write The Book of Reformer from a client who said she saw the Reformer workout as chapters of a story. I so loved this idea that I decided to write out how I see the Chapters of the Reformer. I highly recommend you read my previous chapters, beginning with Chapter 1 to get the most out of this blog. I follow the order of the exercises as remembered by Jay Grimes, a 1st generation teacher. The order is Joe’s order, these Chapters are my way of looking at the order and making sense of it. Perhaps if you are struggling to remember your order, seeing the exercises in chapters will help you. Some chapters are obvious as they are named a “series” eg. The Long Box Series (which I personally like to refer to as A Balancing Act!  Please by no means change what you call it….it is the Long Box Series, but feel free to make your own personal story too). Some chapters might be short for you right now, but in time as you add exercises they will become longer and filled with more drama.

Chapter 4: The Dance of the Thickpad

  • Long Stretch Series:

  • Long Stretch

  • Down Stretch

  • Up Stretch

  • Elephant

  • Long Back Stretch

  • Stomach Massage Series:

  • Round back

  • Tall back

  • Reach up

  • Twist

  • Tendon Stretch

When most people learn the LONG stretch, at first it feels like an upper body exercise.  Your hands are attached to the footbar, and sure you have to hold a LONG strong tall back position as you move.  However it’s your legs that are attached to the carriage and pushing and resisting the springs. It’s about your lower body reach into the carriage, not about pushing the carriage back as far you can with your arms.  All of the long stretch series exercises are about the lower body. Once you make this shift in your mind, I am sure the exercises will take on a new life. What if you view your apparatus (the reformer) as your dance partner.  You’re attached to your partner through your arms but your feet are making the moves on the dance floor. Ok that’s pretty cheesy, but it works for me ;) Picture a beautiful waltz, how held their upper bodies remain as the lower half glides across the floor.

As we progress through the exercises in this series your spine shapes change,and therefor challenges you in different ways, but it’s always about your lower body pushing the carriage.  

DOWN stretch - you move DOWN to your knees and create a curved line from the knees to head.  The hardest part for me is keeping the reach back through my heels (connected to the shoulder blocks) as I drag the carriage back (by lifting the abdominals) without turning into a hunchback with my shoulders doing all the work.  When I truly find this connection, between my lower body and abs, the shoulders just slide onto my back with ease - and it feels so good.

UP stretch takes you back UP into a C curve and heels UP the shoulder blocks to begin, and then you move into…..a funny kind of plank shape??  After pushing the carriage back your hips lower down, while the upper spine and head keep the c curve. In Long Stretch you get to feel your 2 way stretch between your heels and top of head to bring the carriage in. In Up Stretch you get to feel the connection between your heels and your ribs/upper abdominals dragging that carriage back…..and yes this really feels like much more of a drag! You finish the exercise by lifting the abdominals back….you guessed it…..UP.

Elephant keeps this c curve and lift in your abdominals but makes you extend your heels all the way down into the carriage, just deepening the requirement to get deep into your center and open your lower back.  Your elephant tail is hanging down the back and your trunk is hanging down the front. Of course then there’s the one leg elephant to check up on your symmetry. If you’ve ever had a teacher ask you to take your opposite hand off the foot bar and reach in opposition from that raised back leg(still hanging your trunk and tail), then you really understand just how much your asymmetry can show up here.

We flip around and face the BACK of the reformer for Long BACK Stretch, but the connection is still hands attached to the foot bar and heels/lower body pushing the carriage. You work that connection between your heels and your abdominals as you push the carriage out and resist it back in (just like your elephant). Easy peasy right?  Yeah….well keeping your shoulders on your back to use your whole long BACK in this exercise is essential.

We then slide the thick pad down to take a seat for the Stomach Massage Series. It feels reminiscent of our footwork, but harder to find that heel reach under the footbar or pulling the carriage all the way back home without sinking in your lower back.  This is a great series to just flow through without stopping the leg movements. See if you can take your spring out between the spine shapes without stopping the movement of the carriage. HINT….reach between your legs, not on the outside! You get a round back, tall back and a twist to challenge your 2 way stretch throughout.

The last slide of the thick pad down to the end of the carriage is for the Tendon Stretch.  So glad I did my Stomach Massage Round back first to warm me up, because this tendon stretch is the same shape just flipped 90 degrees (and well then turned to face the other direction if you want to be technical).  Remember how hard it was in Stomach massage to lower your heels under the footbar without dumping in your lower back? Yeah, you’ve got to do that same thing here…..reach down through the heels (yup that’s the achilles tendon stretch part) but in and up with the abdominals.  Just remember the theme here in The Dance of the Thick pad. Lower Body Reach, Lower Body Reach, Lower Body Reach. Sure there’s the one leg variations here too. Leg to the side, leg to the back and the combos, but first work on getting a good flowing moving connected Tendon Stretch before you take up the challenge of working on one leg.

Here’s an old video of the exercises from this chapter with less reps.  I hope you will play with this chapter and flow! See the similarities, connect to your apparatus and enjoy the dance!


Stay tuned for my next blog on Chapter 5: Seated Shapes…….