Tag: studio

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Pull the Pedal Up or Elephant on the Wunda Chair

Purpose: To develop abdominal control, scapular stabilization and strengthen shoulder girdle. This exercise is 100% Powerhouse, making it difficult to perform. A trained professional must spot throughout exercise.

Starting Position: Face the pedal & place the palm of your hands on the edge of the chair with fingertips hanging off. Step 1 foot on the pedal to press it down, step the other foot on. Glue your heels together and lift so you are balancing on your tip toes.

  1. Inhale; Keep scapulae stable and round the trunk in a pike position, scooping your abs. Float your head between your shoulders.
  2. Exhale; with Powerhouse strength, lift pelvis up towards ceiling allowing weight to shift into hands. For 3 counts, lift pedal higher to top of its range.
  3. Inhale; lower pedal down with control. Bring pedal just above base (not quite to the floor), maintain the pike position.
  4. Complete 3-5 reps, lower pedal all the way down. Step 1 foot left; then the other, not letting the pedal rebound.

Visualization: Imagine your are floating upward – levitating.

Head to Toe Checklist:

  • Maintain scapular stabilization to avoid sinking through shoulders
  • Keep head aligned with spine, think of dropping top of head toward floor
  • Stabilize around shoulders and through arms to avoid losing control
  • Don’t let your body rock or your hips move from side to side

Modifications: Omit the 3 count pulses.

Guess what? Pilates is hard! But these guys keep coming back for more.

Rick started taking weekly private Pilates sessions because he was concerned about his posture and core strength. He periodically had back problems which he believes are primarily iliopsoas strains and quadratus lumborum tightness. He knows that core strength is critical to preventing such problems. In addition he has a family history of osteoarthritis and he feared that his poor posture and inflexibility set him up for similar problems. He had heard that Pilates was helpful for core strength, improving flexibility and posture and since he had a free hour class from the summer rewards program, he thought he would give it a try.

“I think Pilates has helped a great deal, though obviously it’s still a work in progress. My back problems have melted away, I can reach my toes on most days and I think I’m internalizing Danielle’s voice in my head to, “Scoop and open up your chest,” so that I’m much more mindful of my posture.”

There are a lot of things Rick enjoys about Pilates, including three major points;

  1. He feels like he is making progress
  2. His instructor Danielle is always pushing him further “in a pleasant way”
  3. He has fun! He now has added a mat class to his weekly regime. Rick says, “The Pilates studio seems always to be filled with laughter as we joke and lament our way through class. I look forward to it every week!”

Internal Resistance in Pilates Matwork

There are no towers of weights in the Pilates room. No clanging of metal on metal. So what makes Pilates a comparable workout to lifting heavy weights? How is it even possible to use the same exertion? The key is using internal resistance — leveraging the body’s own muscles in controlled opposition — to build strong, yet pliable muscles.

Joseph Pilates, who was a big, barrel-chested man as an adult, developed this carefully designed group of exercises in the early 1900’s after being plagued as a child with asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. He integrated many influences, including calisthenics, boxing, yoga, and gymnastics into a comprehensive system he called “Contrology.”

Joseph believed that the mind must be as active as the body, attuning itself to physical awareness and the internal, biomechanical components at play. With the mind connected to the body, you can harness internal resistance to control which of your muscles are moving and which are stabilizing. Without concentration the body will recruit the muscles that are strongest to perform the action, and the muscles that are weaker, especially the hard-to-find muscles of the low abdomen, miss their opportunities to be challenged. Being able to control which muscles are moving and which are stabilizing makes your movements more efficient and fluid, helps you stave off fatigue, and keeps you feeling energized throughout your workout.

Joseph Pilates’ concept of control hadn’t been studied or tested in the scientific community very much during his lifetime, but now we can explain the “-ology” aspect through simultaneous use of eccentric and isometric contractions.

Eccentric contraction happens in the muscles that are on the move, i.e. your hip and leg muscles when swinging the leg front and back. All Pilates exercises combine an element of strengthening with lengthening, so that your muscles are active while on the stretch. This is what makes the muscle stronger and more pliable at the same time. The benefits are two-fold—your hips get stronger and more flexible simultaneously. Plus, your muscles will start to look different, too, as they get longer and leaner.

Isometric contraction happens in the muscles that are not moving but stabilizing, i.e. holding your torso still while swinging the leg front and back. The more effective the isometric contraction the less you will become fatigued while active. High intensity movement requires us to be able to hold more muscles still than are actually moving. If there are “too many cooks into the kitchen,” the muscles groups you are trying to target don’t engage fully, and the ancillary muscles work too hard and are soon exhausted!

The combination of eccentric and isometric contraction exists throughout the Pilates work, especially so in the exercises on the mat. (See SAC Pilates Instructor Jocelyn Paoli’s posts on basic mat exercises.) In fact, matwork is considered to be both the base and the crown of the Pilates work. While the Pilates equipment assists in finding correct muscle use, control, and alignment, the tools of matwork are limited to your own internal resistance and gravity. It is with matwork that you are challenged to move and flow with control through whole body exercises with only the aid of muscle groups in opposition. As you master these concepts, the exercises continue to challenge with new variations that keep your mind engaged and your body working towards even more control, range, and pliability.

If you walk into the Mind/Body studio at the club during mat class, you will notice the fluidity and calmness of the movement. You will also notice intense focus, sweat, audible breathing, and yes, a few groans and grunts as the mind and body work together to build a comprehensively stronger, more flexible, more balanced physical self!

Why not give it a try as the new year kicks into high gear? Even if you are very fit, start with a Fundamentals or Basic class, as you will need to further develop or fine-tune your mind-body connection to really get into the meat of this unique workout. Enjoy the results!

Christin Call teaches Fundamentals of Pilates on Wednesdays, 12:00 – 12:45pm
Danielle Zack teaches Basic Pilates Mat on Saturdays, 8:00 – 8:25am
Masha Volotovskaya teaches Fudamentals of Pilates on Sundays, 11:15am – 12:00pm

Read these instructors’ bios and credentials.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Hip Circles

Purpose: Hip Circles focus on the abdominal muscles; stretches the front of the shoulders, across the chest, and down the arms.

Starting Position: Sit in a V position with the arms extended behind the body, hands resting on floor; fingers face away from body. The legs are together, about an 60 degree angle from the floor.

  1. Inhale; move your legs down and around to the right.
  2. Exhale, complete the circle, bringing the legs to the left and back up to the starting V position.
  3. Complete 3-5 sets.

Visualization: Imagine your hands are stuck in cement and you are unable to move your torso except to keep it lifting to the ceiling.

Head to Toe Checklist:

  • Begin small, increasing circles as you gain strength.
  • Circling the legs too low will compromise your abdominals.
  • Don’t let the upper body collapse.
  • Press the shoulders down and away from your ears.

Modifications: Prop yourself up on your elbows if maintaining straight arms is to difficult.

Note: Photo shows an alternative arm position. We like arms behind body or the modification.

Pilates Mat Class Q&A

Have you ever taken a mat class, and wondered why we teach them the way we do? I’ve been teaching mat classes since 1999, and I hear these same questions over and over. Let’s address them!

Why doesn’t the Pilates Instructor workout with us?
— A Pilates Instructor teaches her class based on what she sees, and she responds to your abilities. Observe the mat class closely and you will notice that a good Pilates mat class is interactive. Are you having trouble with an exercise? She may come over to help you. Is the class moving too slowly? She will give you energy with her voice. If she did her whole workout in front of you, why would you come to class? You could just stay at home and pop in a DVD if you would rather just go through the motions and not be pushed. You are not the “audience”; you are the active participants and are helping to design the class!

Why does the instructor walk around? What is she looking at?
–She is looking at you! She is watching your form and judging your abilities so that she can form the exercises around the needs of the class. When I’m teaching, I notice right away as people walk in whether they are dragging their heels with a lack of energy, or come bouncing in with a lot of energy. If they have a lot of energy, I’ll make the 100 more challenging by adding the criss-cross legs. During the roll-up, I notice if the class is generally flexible or stiff. If no one can touch their toes, I’ll spend more time stretching during single-leg circles.

I like having the dim lights. Why are the brighter lights on?
–The instructor needs to see you! Dim lights are great for a meditative, stretching, breathy class. But Pilates is meant to invigorate, not put you to sleep.

Why is there no music?
–Pilates is very rhythmic. Can you picture the instructor counting the 100 right now? What about open leg rocker? Have you ever done the criss-cross quickly, then slowly? Each exercise has its own rhythm that is unique to that particular exercise. We manipulate the rhythm to make the exercise harder or, occasionally, easier for you. Music would interfere with this technique.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Twist

Purpose: This advanced exercise strengthens and stretches the olbique adbominal muscles, stabilizes the shoulder and puts balance and control to the test!

Starting Position: Sit sideways with your weight on one side of the pelvis. Bend the legs and place the top foot over the bottom one. Place your hand, palm down, fingers facing away from you, underneath your shoulder. Your top hand rests on knee.

  1. Inhale; In one movement, lift pelvis away from floor, straightening the legs; raise the upper arm to shoulder height; fingers pointing to ceiling. The body is in a straight diagonal line; arms straight & aligned with each other.
  2. Exhale, lift pelvis high, reach free arm (top arm) down toward mat, rotating trunk, as the arm reaches under the body.
  3. Inhale, return to previous position with the body in a straight diagonal line.
  4. Exhale, now, take our arm and reach it back, allowing upper body to twist toward ceiling, resisting pelvic rotation.
  5. Inhale, return to your long diagonal position of step 3. Exhale lower body to starting position. Complete 3-5 times.

Visualization: Imagine you are suspended by a strong spring attached through your belt loops and up to the ceiling.

Head to Toe Checklist:

  • Keep your hips still as you twist
  • Keep scapula stable
  • Maintain alignment of the head with the spine
  • Don’t lean all your weight into your wrists or knees

Begin going in one direction, then add on.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Shoulder Bridge

Purpose: To work the powerhouse and strengthen the hamstrings.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, hip width apart, both feet firmly planted on the mat; arms by your sides, palms down.
  2. Squeeze your bottom and raise your hips off the mat. The hips, knees and feet are in perfect alignment.
  3. Inhale, pull your navel to spine, and lift one leg out long in front of you. Then, extend it up to the ceiling, pointing toes. Exhale, flex your foot and lower your leg to your knee. (You may lower the leg further as long as the hips stay level and leg does not drop to the mat).
  4. Repeat 3-5 kicks on each side, Inhaling as you lift leg to ceiling and point toe, exhaling as you flex foot and lower leg. To finish, place foot on the mat and repeat kicking sequence with other leg.
  5. When finished slowly roll your back down to the mat.

Visualization: Imagine you are suspended from the ceiling by a sling around your hips, keeping you lifted.

Head to Toe Checklist:

  • Stay lifted in the hips throughout the exercise by pressing into the standing leg to maintain balance and control.
  • Kick swiftly, but not forcefully. The motion should not alter your hip height.
  • Stretch the leg away from the body as it lowers.
  • Navel should be pressed in and buttocks squeezed tight.

Use discretion if you have difficulty bearing weight on your shoulders.


  • Lift and lower only the hips off mat.
  • Lift and lower one leg at a time, as if you were marching in place, hips remain still and lifted throughout.

What is Savate Kickboxing?

Seattle KickboxingPerhaps you have heard in the gym, on T.V, and from friends the art of Kickboxing. There are many different kinds from American freestyle, Chinese San Chou, Thai kickboxing, and French Savate to name a few. They have similar names, but differ tremendously. I am going to share with you the art of French Savate.

Originally created in late 1800s, a hand to hand combat style safe to practice at any age, and after you learn the basics is quite fun. The student will learn to use:

  • Footwork patterns,
  • Boxing
  • Leg kicks
  • Body reaction awareness
  • Flexibility physically & mentally

This art will help you to stay relaxed, fluid; while always thinking of the strategies learned from the combinations that are drilled on a regular basis. Increase your cognitive skills as well as hand-eye coordination as technique is always your foundation for movement. Think of the art of French Savate like chess, when your opponent moves you are ready to do the opposite to use brains before brawn!

The fundamental element of Savate is the conditioning; you learn to master every exercise modality, giving the student every opportunity to be a Martial Art Athlete. As you progress with the combinations and their mastery you get promoted with diplomas and graduate to the next level of information/combinations. Your ultimate goal is a Black belt and then degrees of the black belt after. Fall in love with French Savate for the art and knowledge you will learn about, and your own strengths when put under different environmental stresses. This form of kick boxing is taught at the Seattle Athletic Club Downtown. If you would like come try a class or schedule a private class, contact Jody Garcia for more information.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Side Kick Kneeling

Pilates Exercise of the Month: October 2012Purpose: This advanced exercise concentrates on the waistline and hips. Emphasis is also on balance and coordination.

Begin in a kneeling position. You should be centered on the mat, facing the long edge of mat.

  1. Place one palm down on mat directly under your shoulder and in align with your hips. Fingers pointing away from you.
  2. Place the back of the other hand in front of your forehead with your elbow up to the ceiling.
  3. Straighten your top leg out (parallel to floor) along the mat in line with your body, making sure your center is firm.
  4. Lift your outstretched (top leg) leg up off the mat, hip height & balance.
  5. Inhale; for 2 counts; flex your foot and kick your leg forward reaching leg further on second count. Make sure you are not breaking at the waist. Imagine kicking a ball suspended in front of you.
  6. Exhale; swing your leg behind you stretching as far behind you as you can without rocking back and forth; gently pointing the toe.
  7. Complete 4-6 sets of kicks on one side; repeat the sequence on other side.


  • Imagine you are suspended from the ceiling by a sling around your waist.


  • Remain perfectly still in your upper body as you perform the kicks.
  • Keep your elbow to the ceiling so that shoulder & chest remain open during exercise.
  • Navel is firmly pulled into the spine.
  • Keep head lifted and aligned with your spine.
  • Don’t sink into your neck or shoulders.


  • Start with small kicks front & back. Concentrate on your balance & control before engaging in larger movements. If you have a bad knee, or wrist injury, skip this exercise.

How well do you know your Pilates Instructor?

It’s important to do your research when seeking out a Pilates instructor, but how do you know which Pilates instructor is best for you? Here are 8 simple questions to ask when searching for a Pilates instructor.

  1. Are you a certified instructor?
    Unfortunately for you, the consumer, an instructor can get “certified” by any variety of “Pilates” instruction. Therefore, you need to ask some follow-up questions.
  2. What training program did you complete?
    Your instructor should be certified through one of the Pilates master teachers (a person directly taught by Joseph Pilates). Some names you should listen for are: Romana Kryzanowska, Ron Fletcher, Lolita San Miguel, Mary Bowen, and Kathy Grant.
  3. How many hours did your certification process require?
    Your instructor should have at least 600 hours of apprenticeship, where he/she spent time observing, assisting, teaching student clients under supervision, and then instructing solo. Several written and practical exams are required for the trainees to become certified.
  4. Are you current with your continuing education requirements?
    Make sure he/she is current on their continuing education requirements, usually meeting a required number of hours in a workshop every year.
  5. How many years have you been an instructor?
    Look for an instructor who has at least 2 years of teaching experience.
  6. What is your exercise philosophy or specialty?
    This can vary greatly, so look for an instructor who meets your needs.
  7. What is your experience with injuries?
    A Pilates instructor should know about any condition that you may want to discuss and how to work with it, including musculo-skeletal conditions and auto-immune disorders.
  8. Are you qualified to teach on all pieces of Pilates equipment?
    Some certified Pilates instructors are trained only on certain pieces of equipment. However, an effective Pilates instructor should know how to safely use every piece of equipment so that he/she can assess and deliver the exercise that will benefit you the most.

Fortunately here at the Seattle Athletic Club, all of our Pilates Instructors meet or exceed those standards. However, we all have different styles, so please feel free to engage us in conversation about Pilates. We love to share our passion!