Class #2726

Benjamin's Personal Practice

30 min - Class


See what Benjamin Degenhardt does on the Reformer when he has a short break between clients. He shares his own practice which includes sequences that take him through a variety of movement challenges. He includes basic variations as well as more difficult exercises, and he explains his focus during each movement.
What You'll Need: Reformer w/Box

About This Video

Sep 18, 2016
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Hi, everybody. My name is Benjamin Degenhardt. I will share my own Reformer practice with you today. We're looking for a very short workout here because that's often what I get to do when I wait for clients or when I have a little gap in my schedule. I throw myself on the Reformer and try to have a little sequence that takes me through a variety of movement challenges, including some more basic variations as well as some of the more challenging ones.

I try to get it all in in under half an hour. So, a little tired today physically, which often is a very good thing for my practice. My body immediately seeks for efficiency. So let's see how it goes. I'm gonna grab some Reformer here.

I have it currently set up on three springs. And I begin with footwork. I lie down on my back. Footwork to me really is a way to enter the practice and to let my intellect take a break and my mind look for a different connection to my body where I don't have to think about everything all that much, where my brain connects to my muscles and my body enters the practice. Pressing out and in.

I try to explore the movement range on both ends here, so I press the spring out as far as possible then I also pull it in as far as the carriage allows me, always coming to a place where the spring no longer pulls me in. So I have to use my own strength at the end. Not gonna go through a full set of 10 on each one here to save time. Often when I practice myself, I try to look for the sensation that I think the exercise is about. And after I feel like I got it, then I add another two repetitions and then move on.

Final set is the heel, stimulating the nerve endings that live in the heel of the foot, connecting to the back of my leg. On this one, I always look for even weight on both my feet so I'm not pushing predominantly on one side. In the meantime, my spine gets a nice, passive extension, here right from the base, through the crown of my head. And now I finish that with a tendon stretch. Heels together, toes apart.

I'm trying to keep the length between my heels and my head the same if anything extending in, and I move through this rather slowly just to feel the tendons in my leg. Starting to stretch the Achilles tendon, the calves, and articulating through my feet. This is also a good way for me to start to teach my body how to lead or lift the legs up into what's next, which is the hundred exercise. One of my legs on that same exact position out of my hips. So I press out one more time, try to sort of take a snapshot of the sensation that I have in my hips right now because the legs will be in this position the second exactly without the foot bar holding me.

And then bend the knees, foot bar comes down, and then here we go. I pull myself into the position first, just really looking for the position that I wanna work from and see how that feels in my body, pressing the legs together, reaching the arms and legs forward. And I always take a moment to reorganize my head and my spine here, almost thinking of pushing myself away from the handles. And then we go into the full movement. One of the biggest challenges here I think is to pump the arms really fast but keep a slow contained breath against that, breathing in, breathing out.

I think of each inhale lifting me up a little bit higher, each exhale pulling the carriage back just a little bit farther. I'll take one more here, breathing in, and releasing down. I'm gonna change my springs. Just down to two, but one more exercise here on my back really helps me warm myself up. I bring my headpiece down as well for coordination.

I prefer to do this exercise with the head down for myself just because I often find a strain in my neck when I lift my head and it controls it up too much. This is actually a traditional variation of the exercise. I begin with my knees and elbows bent, and from here, we revisit the same shape we were just in in the hundred pressing out. I think of standing in the air as I hold my breath, opening, closing the legs. Exhale drawing the knees in.

Emptying the lungs, elbows bended. I'll take two more here. Alright. And oftentimes, that is enough to get me warm. I'm gonna drop down to one spring.

One more thing that I wanna add into my warm up before we get the box on top of the Reformer. It's a little bit of shoulder mobilization. We'll do some rolling, just a part of the rolling sequence facing the foot bar. I organize my straps so that they pass underneath my forms here. I seat myself against the shoulder blocks but also try to lift myself up and forward slightly away from them with the elbows pulling back.

Chest lifted, the arms stretched out, I take a moment here to lean my body into the spring tension getting a little taller and lowering, lifting the arms, and really opening my shoulders here. I check in on the first one. I take it fairly slow to see how open I can make my chest, and I go a little quicker without thinking about it too much Up, arms come around, one more. Flexing the feet. I really think of the back of my body lengthening, rounding myself down, pressing out.

We go from the hips, lifting all the way up. I try to keep the carriage in place, again, opening the chest at the top, rolling down to a little quicker. Lifting up, opening the arms because this is what's gonna happen next in my swan dive. So I try to mobilize my shoulders as much as I possibly can right here. Lifting up, arms come around and add one more thing.

It's what Joe called lifting our chins. The grip of my hands in the handles, bring my elbows out to the side, try to organize my rib cage right on top. Lift out of my waist, and I go straight up. This is done on one spring. If you look closely, you can see my legs shaking, my whole body shaking in fact.

It's a seemingly simple movement. It's really about the organization of your torso, and being able to move that one spring from my back rather than my arms. I'll take one more here and finish it with a big circle. Arms out to the side and down. And I'm ready for my swan dive.

Gonna use the long box for this one. I'm on two springs here. I'll use the springs in the center of the carriage so that my knees have space to go out to the sides. So for swan dive, I'll also place a pad around the front edge of the carriage for, there's some upholstery that comes around the box, but I for one don't wanna slide and be, a little extra padding sometimes makes the exercise a little bit more comfortable. I place my toes inside the frame of the carriage here.

Similar to my first footwork position, heels are together, toes apart. I place the box's edge just a couple of inches below my hip creases, and I drape my torso over the box here. And then I explore my extension. I think footwork on my stomach. I push down through my toes.

I let that movement travel through my body into my arms, into a little bit of a lift. I usually start here and see how that feels in my back. If I can reach my fingers just a little farther away from my toes to then recover. I took them all the way in. I do it a couple more times like that.

I'm not quite sure how my backend feels just yet. Give myself some more time and coming down. I try to avoid defaulting into my lower back and really get more range of motion out of my upper torso. And now that that feels quite alright, I'm gonna add on just a little bit. I open my elbows out to the side I return, I'm coming down.

I'll take two more. One of those exercises will always think it's not gonna feel great when I go in, and then it does. I change on to one spring for pulling straps. I think of swan dive really as a warm up for what's about to come. Now I'm going to focus the effort a little bit more into the upper back.

I'll take three repetitions of each. Take my hands next to my hips then I begin my lift. After this, stretching my legs back as if I'm still inside the frame with my toes and returning. Getting ready for everybody's favorite, the T version of this. Slide my hands to the start of the leather.

Arms outside. I really try to organize my chest into a mini backbend already from the start. And then I'll go and see how far I can take this. My right arm behaves very different from my left here, so I try to not overwhelm myself with range of motion. Just really feel my shoulders be pulled into the right place Adding a little lift.

Ooh, one more. I give myself a moment of relaxing here. Stepping off to the side. We'll do a version of teaser here. It's a nice counter stretch to what just happened.

I was actually quite fascinated when I saw that Joe Pilates call this control stretch for the longest time in his documentation. So obviously a teaser shape, but I started to think about this exercise a little bit different with that name in mind. It's really about stretching the limbs out of my body, very similar to what we do in the hundred, and then trying to control that of course. Just finding my balance here. And then instead of making the decision to come down, I sort of wait for the straps to pull me just out of my control so that then I can decelerate and come down with control.

I just practice that two more times here, picking myself up, organizing my spine, finding the highest lift, and then slowly coming all the way back down. Never fails to put a smile on my face too because it's quite fun and exciting. Lifting up, lifting out of my back, always making sure my breath is still there. And then coming all the way down. To transition to the breast stroke from here.

It will probably not be a super high breast stroke here because I don't have an assist or a spot. I still think it's an important skill to practice regularly, to push something over your head from the string of my back. And I've been working towards it all along so I might as well do it. I put myself on top here. The box is right in between my shoulders and my knees.

Hands under my shoulders. I think of my double kick on the mat here, pressing the hips down, to kick twice, stretch the arms and legs away and stay flat here, opening the arms through T. The spring tension subsides. I add a little bit of a lift at the end to come back in. I'll do two more.

And then stepping off is always the tricky moment, taking a nice lunge step here so that the spring doesn't pull me off my stance. And then we're gonna get rid of the box for a second. I'm gonna set up for the long stretch series, where my body for the first time is unsupported. I'm not on my back, I'm not on my stomach. So I have to organize myself freer in space.

Long stretch, down stretch. I'll do a combination of the up and down stretch after that to go right into elephant. I look at them as really one exercise. I attach another spring, set myself up. Take a moment here to check in with my wrist.

Gonna make myself as long as possible as well as I can self-correct that from here. And then I'll take about three repetitions. I could probably push out farther than this but not without losing the stability of my center, and that's what's really more important, especially for what's to come. Take one more. I think of continuing the exercise on the knees, so I make the transition fairly quick.

Clearly there's a backbend in here which prepares me for the next exercise. I try to initiate the return by pulling my chest through my arms, pressing down into my hands. All things that will serve me here in my combo, I press out. I try to keep the carriage unchanged so that it translates my spine into a backbend coming in. Same on the way out.

I push carriage space. I give myself space to change the spine then I come in. Two more times. And then on this last return, I try to keep the back bottom rib the highest point on my body so I can translate my feet down to flat really digging my heels down to lift my back up and then coming out and then always remind myself of the teaser shape here and think of this being the same exact movement upside down. Perhaps a little bit more control on the way in cause you're digging hard.

And last one pressing out, coming in keeping it very real today. And then I step off to the side, and that's the long stretch series. Next I'll go into the stomach massage series. I think of this really as a good way to stretch my back out a little bit. Sometimes, I think of this as a moving child's pose because my back is kind of in the same position.

I do it on two springs. My trade-off for that is to sit down as far forward on the carriage as I possibly can cause there's not as much compression coming from the springs. And the spring tension that does come in, I'll use that against my arms pulling to really traction my lower back into stretching to the part that actually feels a little bit tight. So I'm using my arms and my legs actively. I pretend to pull the carriage up with the arms.

And the springs are already somewhere that opens up with each repetition I see to bring it in a little farther. Stretching, lowering, lifting the heels as my tendons stretch, and I try to come in even just a tiny little bit more than where I started. And the springs feel very supportive here. It doesn't feel like I'm fighting them at all. But they're definitely there.

They're definitely there every step of the way. I'll take one more here. And then I'll take that into a one-legged variation. I take one leg underneath the foot bar, making sure that my hands pull me onto even weight on both my hips from the same movement here. I typically stay turned out.

You could play around with taking the leg a little bit more parallel. This is where it feels best on my body. I have to feel a change. And I kind of subconsciously, I chose the center springs on the Reformer. Just also a really nice way to see if my heel is tracking right in the middle of the Reformer.

And I stay in the rounded variations and lift my arms forward and up. I stretch my legs to lift myself up. Try to keep the lift bend my knees off my knees really to come pressing out, to lift, and then coming back in. Just a few more here. Again, the carriage pulling in underneath me, it's what's tractioning my back.

It feels really lovely and on the way in, I feel that stimulation of the abdominal container as I essentially squat myself back in. Finish that up with a little monkey stretch here. It's like dessert. And that, that last movement actually fits nicely into short spine massage, which is my next movement here. Short spine really, I think talks about the short muscles of the back, versus the long muscles of the back.

That's a distinction that your Pilates often made with the naming of its exercises. So we're looking for the muscles in the back that really span only one or two joints in our vertebrae, in our spine, for which only quite a deep folding at the hip, which is what I just prepared for with my stomach massage. Shorten my straps. Try to keep the carriage in place as I set my feet up. Sliding my feet into the straps and I begin from here.

I really like the version where the soles the feet are together. Very similar to the seal shape that we take on the mat. My knees pull in towards my shoulders. I just feel an opening in the backs of my hips that I quite appreciate in the exercise. And I think that helps me get a little bit deeper into the stretch we're looking for here.

The legs extend up. The spring tension's already there. It helps me into my up and over lift, which really comes from my hips curling up and over. Very little movement on the carriage here. I bend my knees back in.

I try to maintain the shape, pull my hips to my seat and really work my spine down trying to stretch my hips towards the springs. Quite lovely and go back up from there, stretching, lifting. I get the stretch on the outer ankles here as well. I refold my feet in towards that prayer shape and roll myself down. I'll just take two more little quick up.

One more time. On this next one, I'm just going to toss the straps overhead to transition into what's next. And rock side to side. Next up is our head stands for which I will change the Reformer around a little bit. So for the head stands, I will just do the front version.

The foot bar is lifted up. I will have to create some extra padding for my head. And I will say right away, this is nice about actually standing on my head and it is about tractioning my neck and my upper back. I don't wanna slide so I'm using a little sticky mat here. And I, you can use a pillow, if you have that, as an accessory.

I often just use my towel here, just to make sure I have some extra padding. I don't have rubber on my head for obvious reasons. Set up, I try to keep as much weight on my arms as possible so that again, there's no weight in the head. Wanna make sure the back of the neck is wrinkle free. Take my eyes to where my feet are gonna go.

Set the crown of my head into the cradle. Feet go up, heels together, toes apart. And there I am. You see my voice didn't change all that much. I'm trying not to dump any weight into my head.

I'll play around with my arm position. I think I'm gonna choose this one here where my elbows can press down. I'll begin with a little point and flex with my feet. Looking for a lift through my spine, a lift through my sitz bones, away from the shoulders. And then I essentially add an up stretch-like motion to that.

Pushing through my toes, curling my spine, but again, not compressing my back at any point, lifting back up and wait the springs to come back in. I repeat that just a couple more times. If you turn this movement around, it would look very much like the neck pull. I'll do one more, it feels good. And then if you wanna play around a little bit with balance and make this a little bit more like a head stand, again still using your hand significantly against the ground I build a 90-degree angle here.

I keep my eyes on whichever foot stays on the foot bar. And I lift one leg at a time up. I don't have a full head stand in me, today and mostly. So I'm just gonna work one leg at a time here just to play with balance a little bit, play with my arm's strength, play with trust. And then roll myself out of that.

It feels really nice on the neck, if you're keeping the weight out of your head. Next up, we'll go into chest expansion, an exercise that's really about creating more real estate for your breath. One of my favorite movements. I think it actually is in almost every exercise we do in here. I do it on two springs.

So I'll stay with the spring setting that I have. Take my straps here. Of course making sure they're long and not kinked. I hook my feet around the edge of the carriage here so I'm not against the shoulder blocks at all. And just something I also take from the original documentation of the exercise, you actually hold on to the handle, right?

So that you have a really good chance of actually getting your arms behind you, which is what we're looking for in the exercise. I always wanna make sure that's not just an arm pull but that my hips are already engaged. I press them forward, I lift my chest up. And before I even pull, I open my chest so much so that the pull actually is the result of that opening. Stay with that for a second, see how that feels today.

And then come back in. It often triggers a little bit of response in my head coming forward here. So I'm trying to be super mindful of that, before I even turn the head side to side, which is part of the exercise. Take an inhale to pull and an exhale to release. Add the head turn now.

And that head turn is really about showcasing how much you pull. It might change as you turn your head one side to the other. Just very informative, and it also gives you an awesome stretch of your neck, which kind of continues what we just started with our head stands. And then we go into a thigh switch from here. Now I do move my knees against the blocks.

I add a spring, all out of juice. Coming onto here so that I can actually hang off the straps as opposed to pulling on them this time. I try to avoid back bending in this exercise to really make it about the front of my thigh stretching. That's what it's called after all. And link from my tailbone down and let my eyes be straight in front of me as I take my body back.

I always catch my breath here and see how my body feels. I wanna be able to stay for at least a full breath in and a full breath out. And if that went well, then I go a little farther the next time. Take a breath in, press the shoelace part of my feet down into the mat, and lift myself back up. I'll do one more.

Taking the body back and lift myself back up. Then we go into some unilateral work which there's not a lot of on the Reformer because I think the Reformer really excels as a tool that fosters symmetry in the body. So there's not a lot of one-sided work we do. The next couple of exercises but will be one-sided. This is a sideward work.

I set my feet up so that my toes can be on the carriage. My knees are apart for a wide base of support. I use my hand against the hip to square myself off. And then pull my right arm out in the diagonal. On one spring by the way.

And we pull back in. That's probably about all that one arm could pull in this exercise. I try to keep my weight even between my both knees. And I try to make it as little about my arm as possible. And rather push my hips forward, lift my chest, lift my arm and do the rest from there.

And then I change the idea by taking the other hand and going straight up and down. And again, this is more about verticality of my spine than it is about getting my arm over my head. You'll see on the other side, it's gonna look very different And we take the profile exercise. I change my hands again. I move my knee away from the blocks, now I'm parallel here.

Wanna make sure that my hips are not sitting back because then I've nothing to pull from. This one is really challenging for me on this side especially. I push down into my left hand, I draw out on a high diagonal I lift the elbow up to come all the way back, ooh, in. And one more here, pressing out. Back in, I'll add one circle each way.

Stretching out on a diagonal, I push the handle away from me almost trying to pull the carriage further out to circle all the way around, I'll reverse. Lift the elbow up over my head, I come all the way back in. And this is the exercise I dread the most. People call it the lotus, I have no idea. It doesn't look pretty, at least when I do it.

It doesn't remind me of a lotus at all, but it's called that. I try to lift both my arms up as if I have two handles in my hands here. I'll just do two more. Again, the verticality of the body is more interesting to me than how far my arms go up. This is it for me.

Good to know, now I know. I'm not gonna lift heavy stuff over my head today. I'm gonna turn my back on you, apologies, to do the other side. Just about three repetitions here, again, I know what I'm looking for in the exercise, and once I feel that that is accomplished, I move on. Even weight on the knees, verticality through the spine and rechecking in with how well my body lifts that arm over my head.

I distance myself from the blocks. Again, I push my hips forward. I have a little side pain in my body here. My hips work, my bottom arm works, I pull out on the diagonal, I lift the elbow up, I come back in. So I'm not drawing the shoulder down my back as much as just keeping as much space in my neck as possible throughout.

But that dynamically changes every millimeter that I move. And coming in and here's that one. Let's see how it goes on this side. Alright, that is over. Now the best news about doing that exercise is your arm circles will feel super easy after that.

Next and last on the sequence here, I'm back on my knees. I press my heels back against the blocks. Again, my hips are part of this, my chest is open. I take three big circles each way. Sometimes, speed is your best friend with this one.

Of course still focusing on maintaining space in your spine. Alright, shoulders warm. I just taught myself how to load them up a little bit. So next up, we'll do our snake and twist. Alright, next up snake and twist.

I'm going to change the springs to two springs here. I want a lot of support for this exercise because I'm loading my arms, my upper body, as well as my legs here, and I'm trying to move my spine from a deep fold forward into an extension and I add a twist on top, which might be a reason for you to not use too many springs but I actually think that if you load your arms and your legs up properly, that's the way you create space for your spine to move safely. Very similar to the up stretch where there's a portion where the spring stays open and you give your body space to move. Let's see how that goes. Take my right foot to the horizontal part of the foot bar.

Left hand on the far shoulder block. I personally prefer to take the hand underneath my shoulder. There's different variations. You'll see them in many of my classes as well. I take the left foot in front.

I try to spiral my left hip up and drive both of my hands down. I'm in this deep forward fold, left hip crease lifted. I press myself out, I'll just do the snake maneuver first pressing myself out long, lifting through the chest. I try to keep the carriage out as I reverse that. Lifting the left hip crease back up.

And then I add the twist, I press off. I exhale, twist over my right shoulder. Still both arms, I'm pushing the carriage out so that I can un-swivel and bring the left hip up. Two more. This is where the carriage stays still, hopefully.

And I try to keep the carriage in place as I step off. Also not so easy, then we'll take the other side. Again, turning my back on you guys. One snake, two twists. Exhale on the twist.

Alright, really deep sensation, my lungs as I squeeze the air out of my lungs just by way of moving my body, not so much focusing on the exhale. Just really squeezing it out. Knee stretches next, and almost last. Thank heavens. Feet go back against the blocks, I sit my hips back towards the heels.

I often start by really actively pushing my arms into the foot bar, not moving the springs at all, but finding that full body tension that I'm looking for in the exercise. And then moving from there. So my arms stay engaged the same way the entire exercise through even as I change the curve of my spine into an arch. The distance between my sitz bones and my chest should be the same start to finish. And then we take the knees off.

If you're not sweating by now, you must be doing something wrong. We're gonna add two more springs. This will be my last exercise in this little warm up. Warm up, I'm definitely warm. It's so cold out really.

We're turning into running here, my feet are hip distance apart in parallel, stretching out and go for it See I told you in the beginning that when I go get on the Reformer, I think of my intellect going on autopilot for a second, which is where that whole sentence just came from. But I feel that my mind is really connected to my body right now. I feel definitely very juiced up. It's not a fully comprehensive workout as much as just hitting all the light switches in the body and getting myself connected. I am definitely warm, I hope you get warm from that too.

Thank you, guys, for watching.

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3 people like this.
WOW, it's like wake up need to exercise but still sleep. This will wake all of your body up in a little bit of time. Hit it and quit it. Thanks, great quick workout by just for his short break. Great way to make a break for myself in-between instead of sitting all day.
2 people like this.
Thanks, loved this work out!
1 person likes this.
Seriously !!!
This is positively dangerous !
2 people like this.
Inspiring! I like specifically how one exercise prepares for the next.
2 people like this.
Excellent and creative cueing.
1 person likes this.
Love this workout! Also, enjoyed your connections to all the exercises.
1 person likes this.
Wonderful. Thank you Benjamin for sharing and explaining what you look for and why/when you move on from an exercise. Beautiful lesson!!
Julie, Your statement is only accurate if you aren't prepared for this level of Joseph Pilates teachings. Benjamin is sharing his workout, at his level, and completely based on the traditional teaching of Joseph Pilates. We do our best at PA to describe and mark each class so our members know what to expect and what is appropriate for them before pressing play. I'm sorry if you thought this class would suit you and were surprised.The fact is, many of our members practice at this level so we wanted to offer them some of Benjamin's cues and skill for added inspiration.
So great to workout with you, Benjamin, and a pleasure to meet you last week! Perfect timing because it was a great review of the many ideas you presented then. Now I can really FEEL the connections in my body! I'm leaving work now stretched, warm, and energized. Very creative cueing and insight into Joe's traditional work. THANK YOU. You keep it real.
Becky C
3 people like this.
Amazing! I remember the day on the start of my Pilates journey when I thought so many of these exercises would be unattainable for me. Now; many thanks to you; they bring me zest and pleasure!
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