Class #3170

Full Studio Back Extensions

60 min - Class
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Focus on back extension in this Mixed Equipment workout with Benjamin Degenhardt. He programs the session to help you work your way toward advanced extension exercises like High Bridge on the Spine Corrector and Walkover on the Ladder Barrel. He encourages you to let the equipment support you when needed so you can focus on moving with integrity. You will feel exhilarated by the end of the class.
What You'll Need: Ladder Barrel, Spine Corrector, Cadillac, Reformer, Mixed Equipment

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Hi everybody I'm Benjamin, I'm here with my good friend Kathleen and we are about to do a full studio session using the Reformer, the Cadillac, the Spine Corrector and the Barrel with a focus on extension. A lot of people always say there's not a ton of extension in Pilates but I hope to be able to show there is a ton of it in the work, including of course some very advanced exercises like the high bridge and breaststroke, but even an exercise where you don't necessarily expect it to be worked towards extension I will hopefully bring the focus to that a little bit in this workout today. So we're gonna start on the Reformer going through a traditional sequence here. You can go ahead and lie down on your back. I'll lift this up for you.

We're on a Gratz Reformer with four springs beginning with the toes on the foot bar, heels touched toes apart. Now there's no extension to the spine in this exercise but I want you to start thinking of this as a way to passively find the muscles that actually get you into extension because the Reformer by design is trying to compress you here so just really think about expansive length as you stand down into out and toes and go ahead and press out. We're gonna do 10 repetitions here. Come all the way back in. Really allow this movement to travel all throughout your body from your toes, through the ankles into the knees and hips, then through the length of your spine really unfolding.

Sometimes that means the springs just make funny noises when you really find extra length there. Let's go a little quicker for the last few here, two, and one, come all the way back home. Change the position to the arches of the feet, and go from here. Good. Do your own set of eight more repetitions here and again think then, the Reformer is trying to make you shorter just by being in between these two end points so your goal is to try and find any movement possible in your spine and rib cage to find length inside of you so that you can breathe freely and really stimulate the nerve endings in your feet.

We'll go into the heels for a final set, pulling the toes back strongly and out and in you go. Another set of 10 repetitions here, focus on keeping even weight on both your heels and let that breath become nice and normal, deep and calm, pressing out, coming back in. So even though we're avoiding arching here the musculature in the back of our body is responsible for helping us not collapse onto ourself as the spring tension runs through us so there's a piece of extension in here. We'll finish with our tendons stretched. Keep the heels together as you lower yourself down and lift back up.

Lower, lower, lower and lift, lift, lift. This exercise is a preparation for a Hundred which is to come, your legs will be in the same position here which is also not an extension exercise per se but an exercise that helps us get the front of our bodies stronger so that our body builds trust into opening up into the direction of extension which we'll explore much later. Let's do one more here, hold that position for a second, find any unused space in your back. Perhaps the springs open just a smidge more. Gorgeous then come all the way back in, lower the foot bar down, I'm done with our warm up here and we'll go right into our Hundred.

Grab the straps, move yourself ever so slightly away from your blocks. Feel tension into your straps as you lift your arms up, pull yourself into position, lengthening your legs out of your body and holding that shape for a second. So your spine is curving up and forward but think also about creating space for the upper back, like you're trying to lift yourself up to create an even bend for your back, stay for one more breath. And then slowly release yourself all the way back down. And then we'll go into it one more time, this time adding the pumps.

Press down, lift yourself up and forward, think of foot-working the legs out of your body, begin to pump your arms up and down breathing in for five, breathing out for five. Our favorite warmup in the world. Breathing in (inhales), breathing out. To make this exercise more relevant towards the extension we're looking for today think about actively pushing yourself away from the straps that you're holding so that you don't just think about pushing them away from you. Breathing in (inhales), breathing out.

Constantly monitor, am I bending my spine evenly from my ears down to my hips, and actively stretching the legs out of the hips? Inhale (inhales) and exhale. After you've completed a hundred pumps, ten breaths, go ahead and release all the way down. Awesome, give yourself a break by sitting up, let's take two springs off and we go into the overheard exercise. I'm gonna lower your headpiece down for you here so that it's flat.

Overhead, the focus will be on the slow descent, on the controlled descent at the end which activates the muscles in the back of our body, it is the direction of extension that we're going into so it helps us find the segmental control that we need later in our back bends. We're gonna press the arms down to activate the center, lift the legs up, roll the hips up and over the head, find space through your back and in the back of your neck. Lift the legs straight up towards the ceiling and then with great control roll yourself back down. Create the illusion that you could sit your hips down on the springs, lower the legs lift the arms, let's do two more. You can even go a little quicker than that.

Arms down, legs up and over, lift through the feet, nice, and slowly roll yourself all the way back down. Sometimes you might be surprised by what you find if you go just a little faster, lift the legs straight up, keep the front of your throat open, so nice, roll yourself all the way down, legs lower arms lift up. I'm gonna keep the head down for coordination today. Bend your elbows, bend your knees. Let's take a moment here to really squat the legs into the body, perhaps to the place where your tail ever so slightly lifts a little bit off the ground.

It's like our stomach massage position, our rolling back position, hug your elbows in and with your head staying down and maybe actively pressed into the head rest today press your arms down, lower the legs, stretch them out, now open the legs wide, pull them back together and now draw your knees back into that deep squat position while pushing into your handles, elbows bent. We'll do that again, pressing down so you activate your back by getting those arms down nice and long and as those knees come in they come in so deep your tail might just lift at the end. Chest stays open throughout, let's do two more of those. Pressing out, open and close, knees go up and into the chest, elbows bend at the end, final one. Stretch, open, close, up and in the knees come, elbows bend and then we're done here.

You can toss the straps away, step off to the side. We'll take our first actual backbend now by going into our swan dive. We'll do it on the long box today. Let's make sure that our springs are set up with two in the middle, so let's change those around to the middle springs because your knees will want to have some space to fall into. I also like to use a pad for this just in case your, the corner of your long box is not upholstered.

Cause otherwise you're not gonna like this exercise. The box's edge is gonna go just a couple of inches below your creases. Find a spot inside your frame set your ten toes up nice and secure, which might be on your jump board attachment if you have one, and then drape your body over your box. Release your head feel all ten toes against the frame, we're gonna begin from here so as I said our first actual back bend, where I want you to place your focus on using your feet before anything else so really stand into all ten toes as you straighten out your legs to activate the back of your body. Then swing the arms forward and find that lift through the chest.

Stay right there for a second. Rather than lifting up super high think more about pressing down super hard through the legs to keep the backs of your legs fired up. We'll see a little shake happen on top, I like it. Come all the way back down, soften your knees, let your whole body kind of soften in. We'll do that again.

Stand into all ten toes, straighten the legs, lift yourself forward and up. What we're trying to do by keeping the legs super active is to incentivize the body to backbend from the middle and upper portion of your back rather than defaulting into the low back. Beautiful adjustment there, nice. Slowly come all the way down. I'm gonna add onto that, once you max that out, once you've really found how much you can lift through your upper middle spine we go a little deeper.

Stretch through the legs, swing the arms down and forward, lift yourself to that highest point you just found. Continue to travel up, soften your knees just enough so that the carriage can support you going even higher. So nice. Then re-straighten your legs, draw the front of your body together, puff out your back and then fully recover. Release your head, wowza.

Let's do that two more times, you can allow yourself to go a little fast now. Press through the feet, stretch it out lift up, soften your knees again to lift yourself higher, you've got it, re-straighten the legs, lift the back of your thighs and recover fully. This will be your last one. Start to finish make sure that your ten toes stay in contact with the frame, your heels touch, your knees are just inside the frame, outside those springs, let's do your last one here. Press it up.

Lifting up, evenly divide the backbend through your spine and keep your feet responsible for holding you in place. Reach forward, lift through the back and come all the way down. Release fully here, you can sort of down dog your way out of this by taking your hands to the top of the box, lifting your hips up, drawing the carriage in. I'll take the pad and you take one spring off. We'll go into our pulling strap, so you can even stand up there.

That's available to you, and then position yourself on the long box for pull straps. Clearly a backbend exercise that takes us even deeper into our thoracic extension by keeping everything else kind of locked into place, right, so for today's session really think about pressing your hip bones down and send your legs back super strongly with your legs pressing into one another. So your legs are a very important part of this exercise. Lengthen the crown of your head forward against that and only then begin to pull your straps down and back perhaps even up. But rather than lifting your chest up think of bursting it forward towards the pulleys, towards the end of the Reformer, and then slowly return all the way with your arms letting your legs stay active all throughout.

We'll do that two more times, that was gorgeous. Nice, pull the arms straight down, straight back. If your hands lift higher than your hips then your shoulders are allowed to come along for the ride but again my idea for you here is to lift your sternum forwards rather than just up. So nice, slowly come all the way back down, allow your body to really soften on top of that box. Last one.

Take it down and back. If you start to feel open enough here see if by pressing your hip bones down your legs perhaps lift a little bit off as well so that your feet might be just on the same height as your hips or higher. Gorgeous, slowly come all the way back and down. So we start to introduce this idea of using the back of the body fully whenever we backbend. We'll need that later.

Take your hands back to the start of the straps, arms come outside, we'll go into our T pull. Same idea, this is not about coming up, as much as it is about finding that even bend between your hips and your ears as you pull yourself forward. Nice, now open the arms wide and away from you, do that twice more. Straight back. So after we've just done our swan dive where we really use the body fully, with feet against the frame, here we isolate movement into the chest and shoulders, really feel how that opens up the ribcage, the chest, the torso.

Open the arms wide and then relax all the way down you're done here, take a moment. You can really release your head, allow your spine to rest, allow your legs to rest. Just a little TLC because why not? And then next up just to counter that a little bit we'll skip through our backstroke swimming today and go right into teaser, or as Joseph Pilates called it the control stretch. So maybe our idea today is not even doing a teaser as much as just seeing how much control you have as you lift yourself against gravity and against that spring, seeing if we can get our arms up by your ear and actually calling on the extension in our back to find a nice little lift on top.

So we're still on one spring here, the legs pressed into one another. We come into this nice inert position with the head back and down, T pull your arms sideways and forward, pick up your spine, pass your hundred position and perhaps come up higher. See how far you can go rather than thinking it has to be a teaser today. Nice, and once you reach your highest point can you call on the muscles that extend your back to lift the arms up even higher, knowing that the worst thing that can happen is that you fall down to a really nicely padded box. Slowly, with control, lower back down, keep reaching your legs towards me.

Let the straps pull back into your shoulders and then release back and down. That was awesome, nice. So just like the Hundred earlier, think about pushing yourself away from the straps so instead of the Reformer fighting you, it supports you, right, it's supposed to help you into that teaser, lifting up. Push yourself away from the handles and then see how high can you lift, we're just testing that today. Nice.

At the highest point, slowly with control lower yourself all the way back down. It's impossible to do that without laughing, right? (laughs) One more time, chin over chest, cause it's so exciting. Lift yourself all the way back up. Monitor if there's even weight on your hips so that your back has a place to lift from right.

Lift the arms up to the highest point possible, maybe next to the ears maybe behind the ears or maybe nowhere near, doesn't matter, what's the highest you can do? That was amazing, release everything back down. Remember this position, we'll flip it around and we'll call it breaststroke, it's our next exercise. You can take the handles with you, step off to the side. Organize the straps in front of your body so you can take them to the front of the box to step over.

Alright, shoulders and knees are off the box for this one, I'm going to assist you after your first repetition. Alright, this is an exercise in synchronicity so I want you to focus on drawing your heels in towards your seat to ready yourself, and then simultaneously extending your arms and your legs so they arrive in a straight position at the same time. Kick your heals to your seat once, twice, stretch arms and legs and arrive with straight legs and arms at the same time. Now let that spring tension help you lift you chest forward and up, your arms T pull back behind you as you swim the arms all the way back and then recover. Set it back up, hips down heels in.

Kicking and then unfolding in synchronicity, pressing out, arms swim out to the side, allow your chest to lift forward and up just like in T pull. I'm going to assist you now in this next one. Do that again, kick kick kick, unfold arms and legs, I'm going to meet your resistance here you still do the lifting, let your chest come forward rather than up, nice, and come all the way back down. So even remind yourself of the work you've done in pull straps, this is your last one promise. Kick kick, good, unfold.

Lift yourself forward and up, open the chest wide, come all the way back down, and then step over your straps to recover, nice. That was our second big backbend here. We're gonna let all of that go and work the spine in a nice long and supported position, we'll set up for long stretch next. So you can grab that pad, put it on your headrest, we'll lift the foot bar up. We're changing now to two springs.

The long stretch series for me, especially for this workout we're doing today, is about finding space between your vertebrae and finding that and supporting that as we keep the spine in one long line, then into a backbend and then into a combination of forward and backward bending. So we're really trying to stretch the spine long just like a spring. Hand foot, hand foot, we'll set ourselves up into a nice plank position here. Finding a good strong grip, and to get the back of your body to fire up, think that you're pulling the bar towards your hips a little bit and your chest forward, nice. Kick your heels back all at the same time, almost like you're pressing your hips down like you're pushing them into the box for pull straps.

Awesome, nice, and we're just gonna stay here for another breath because that's a good exercise in and of itself. Keep the shoulder blades wide and apart and then we'll just take three. Push the carriage out, as you return, start by pulling the chest through your arms. Let that soften the spring underneath you so it pulls you all the way back home with control. Let's do that again, pressing out, heels keep kicking back, pull the chest forward, yes good and come all the way in.

We'll do one more. Make sure you have even weight on your hands there. The heels pressed back behind you in up position, now keep that space in the chest as you lower the knees almost unnoticeably, bring your feet against the shoulder blocks and transition to down stretch like it is the same exercise because in a lot of ways it is. Kick your heels back, hips forward hands down, chest up, and let's just spend a moment here to think about hips and ears and bend evenly through both places. Nice, she's calling on her thoracic extension from the swan dive here, awesome.

Now press the carriage out just like long stretch. Lift the chest through the arms to initiate coming back in, we'll do that three more times. Pressing out. Again just like in pull straps it's not about going up as much about coming forward through the chest and unlocking mobility here, last two. Keep kicking the heels back as you come in.

Let's do one more, pressing out. On this last one pull yourself in so much that almost automatically your hands float up and forward, you can push yourself off the foot bar a little bit to make that happen. Take the arms up by your ears one at a time, you'll have to come back with your hips just a little bit. See if you can keep that feeling of lifting the chest up and forward, all while drawing the ribs in and down, that was an awesome lift there. Stretch the arms past your ears, peek towards them, calm the breath, beautiful and then return the arms up and forward plant your hands onto that bar again.

(exhale) and we'll take a break from that by lifting the hips up and preparing for the up stretch which today has a little bit of a backbend built in as well. It's often called the up down stretch combination. We basically wanna make sure that our arms and our legs fully take the weight of the springs so that we can translate the spinal curve from a forward bend into a backbend here. Go ahead and press your arms and your legs away from each other, lower the hips down, pause. Keep the springs long as you lift you chest forward and up and let that be the reason the carriage comes in every so slightly, then press back out through arms and heels, keep the springs long as you lift your hips, drop the head, curl through your spine and pull yourself all the way back in.

That was amazing, so the arms and legs press away from each other, open the springs that way. Keep the springs long with arms and legs, give your spine space to backbend. Come in just a smidge, press back out, and then both ends of your spine curl in towards one another at the same time so you find full recovery here. That was amazing, let's do one more pressing up. Making it look easy.

Pull the chest, forward rather than up, that concept comes back quite a bit here as well. Push through the heels of the hands and feet and lift yourself all the way back up. Ah and now something familiar, a regular old elephant. Flat feet, back ribs lift to that place that we didn't quite get into in the up stretch in that variation we did today, indulging it here. Really lift yourself up through the back bottom rib, push out to the heels, come back in, and once that starts to feel familiar go a little quicker here, pressing out, coming in, pressing out, coming in.

Allow this to really serve you as a stretch after all that intense work we just did. Let's do a couple more, press out and in final one, and out and in, you can go ahead and step off to the side. (exhale) Let's do a little counter stretch here, hands behind your back, pull your hands to your heels, allow your chest to lift for a second. (exhale) that feels good doesn't it? Now we go into chest expansion next, which is a way to start getting ready for our next deep backbend which is called a backbend.

We're gonna open the chest and the thighs and we're gonna put both things together. Let's lower the foot bar down. I like doing chest expansion on two springs which may mean that you're not gonna go very far but let that not be the point. To make up for that we're gonna hold onto the handles rather than the straps so just go ahead and set yourself up with your feet curled around the front of the carriage, holding on to the handles with your arms by your sides. Right and because good full bodied extension really requires for us to extend our hips as well as the chest, let this be a hip opening as much as a chest opening, so think about your hips pressing forward over your knees as you pull the arms way down and back.

Nice, give me a hint of pull straps where your chest was forward, maybe up, without arching through the lower back, lengthen the tail down, slowly let the springs recover. We're gonna add the neck turn to that. Pull down and back, creating some mobility through the neck as well as opening up some of our thoracic spine here, turn the head right, left, straight ahead and come all the way back in. Awesome, three more times, you can go a little quicker. Pull lean back, turn left, turn right, use your feet against the front of the carriage, last two pull, right, left, straight ahead.

Get taller as you come in, this will be your last one. Pull, left, right, look straight ahead. Think of lifting the ribs off the hips as the arms float forward, walk your knees against the shoulder blocks, I'll add a spring for you here and we'll go into our thigh stretch. So you can walk your hands out on the strap now for this one cause this time we're gonna hang off the strap rather than pull on it. Think about just like in the beginning of chest expansion your hips pushing forward and that extension through the hips is really what initiates this movement here.

Press your shins down, let your heels spiral straight up behind you, take your body back, eyes straight ahead. Pause for a second where you end up, see if you can breathe there and then lift yourself back up. Sometimes that may just make you change your mind about how far you go here, let's do that again. Take your body back. Almost become more aware of how your shins relate to the carriage and then by going really super deep.

Oftentimes this can be a little narky through the knees and a little funky in there, often that has to do with how our heels are pulling in towards one another. See if you are in a good position there, let the heels spiral up as you go back. That was awesome, nice, lift yourself all the way up, spring the carriage back in, I'm gonna add a backbend here. So do half of what you just did. Take your body back.

And then pause right there. Now think of actually doing a pull straps again so you pull your hands forward and down as you lift your chest up and away rather than just releasing your head back. Now to return, bring your chin over your chest, deepen the front of your ribs back, come to what feels like a spine stretch. Amazing, two more times just like that. Take your body back.

So any amount, right, it doesn't have to resolve your head even dropping back, let's see if you can maintain the connection that you set yourself up with so that you have something to return back to. Beautiful, lift yourself back up, the last one is all yours. Press the shins down, take it back and find your range. Nice job lifting through the chest, right, all that comes back, every time you back bend from here on out, amazing. Lose the straps, we're done with those.

We're gonna do one more thing before we go into that deep backbend which is our side stretch or often called mermaid, which I like to do on two springs and with a fairly straight spine so go ahead and yeah, face the side, I'll put you on two springs, place your right hand just out to your side, maybe a slight little bit in front of you. Shins close to both shoulder blocks and your left arm up by your ear. Let's take a moment here to make sure that the hips are almost on top of one another which often means that the hip closer to the shoulder blocks needs to push forward a little bit. If that unsquares your knees I'm totally cool with that for now, yeah, exactly. Let's bring the shoulders side by side as well which often means the hand on the foot bar, that side needs to come forward a little bit, and then lift out of your lower back, gorgeous, nice.

Now this is a right arm side plank exercise, think of it that way. You push the foot bar away from you as you take the sides of the waist parallel to each other into a side stretch. Pause there, un-arch the ribs, gorgeous nice then lift yourself all the way back up letting the carriage slide you back in and just finding the side of your body lift. We'll do that two more times, pressing out, lengthening long. So those of you that are familiar with the star exercise almost look for the same sensation here, it's like a side plank rather than just a side bend especially for today as we're getting ready for some more complexibility so we can extend really, really far.

Life yourself back up, let's counter stretch now. Take your left hand to the front shoulder block, lift your right arm up and then get so tall through the right side of your body that it almost feels like you don't have to bend to the left to get a stretch down the right side. But then you do, get so long the only way to go deeper is sideways, and once you've had the stretch here and you took a breath or two, go ahead and spiral inwards. Perhaps grab the opposite shoulder block, only if you can, and then very gently use your breath to puff up your back against the pull of both your hands, find maybe some space between your shoulder blades. It looks like it feels really yummy, nice.

Then you come back out of it. Then of course we'll have to do the other side. Beautiful, nice, let's turn around. And same thing here, you wanna make sure that the hand is not really behind the shoulder but it can be right out to the side so that we hit that stability right to the side seam of your shirt there. Nice job on squaring the hips and shoulders we can go right into it.

Find a moment here, notice that my ribs arch out and then draw them back in, yeah. And by pushing the foot bar away from me and myself away from it, and lift yourself back up nice and open through the left shoulder. Two more times, pressing out. Small adjustments through the ribs, that's good and lifting yourself back up. If you notice yourself correcting that each time you land in the farthest position can you anticipate some of that?

Now as you go into a final time, beautiful, to find that even reach through both arms, let yourself slide all the way back in, here's the counter stretch. Head to the front shoulder block, other arm lifts up and again first we go up. You may not have to bend sideways, that's how far if you go, and then you do. Over to the right, take a full breath here, really allow your body to fully arrive. Nice, and corkscrew your body on top of that, right, so we're looking for a similar stretch than say the saw on the mat here.

Think left shoulder all the way down to the right hip. You get to stretch your back, breathe into it, don't get stuck here (inhales) and then come all the way out of it. Ahh lovely, nice. Now that we opened the spine in all these different directions we go into probably one of the deepest backbends we have on the Reformer which is coming from the same position we started our thigh stretch in. We're on two springs here.

The knees are against the shoulder blocks and we'll just start with the arms down by your sides. First you can set up that hip extension. Often we tend to sit back into the hips, I want you to draw your hipbones forward in space until you find your seat, ever so slightly engaged just by the act of pushing your hips forward. Then go ahead and lift the arms up, you wanna land on the foot bar in a little bit. Think of the end of down stretch here, lift your chest forward and up, peek towards your hands and go ahead and take your body up and back.

Add a little thigh stretch in here, bend the elbows and look to where your hands are going until you arrive on the foot bar. Amazing, nice, now from here straighten your arms which may mean that the springs start to open a little bit, and then bend your arms back in. So think overhead push up here. Just straighten the arms, you come back in, you do one more like that, straighten the arms now pause. Push your knees down and forward to open the springs more, yes, and then to bring them back in lift your chest up.

Don't let it just be the knees and your lower back bringing the springs back in. Do that twice more, push your arms and knees, come back in. Last one, press out find your breath. Nicely done, and then lift your arms up off the foot bar I got ya, and then sit your hips back towards the heels, let your hands go back behind you as well and land the crown of your head into the headrest, (exhales) and catch your breath. This is a lot of intense work, nice work Kathleen it was awesome, how are you doing down there?

(laughs) doing good alright. Take a full breath into your back, you allow your spine to be in the opposite direction for a second, beautiful, and then roll yourself all the way back up. That is a super, super deep backbend. Just know that you can make that a little bit easier for yourself if you lock the carriage out, but you probably have enough information about your body as to how extension feels in your body whether you wanna include that exercise or not. You probably know at this point, awesome job.

Step off to the side. We're going right into our knee stretches to just close out the Reformer piece of our session today so let's face the foot bar. We'll go into a nice slow paced version of this where we explore how far the knees can push back against the spine continuously puffing out. So I want you to think of this as elephant on your knees, right so strong arms to puff out the back, strong legs, see how far you can go. It might be another few inches back, yes, as long as you can keep that connection, then fold the knees back underneath you.

And again, pressing out, we'll just do five here so four more and three, and in and two, strong arms pushing and one, change the shape of your spine, find a new space here. Here's our backbend again, like pull straps you push your sternum forward, send your sits bones back, beautiful and then come back in. Pressing out and back in, for three. At this point that concept of really finding that under space through your chest and not defaulting to your low back, hopefully has really settled nicely into your body. Let this be your last one and then we'll go into running to finish up.

Now we can really play with our backbends once we leave the Reformer. We'll just add running here just to cool the body down and think about nothing other than shaking out the legs. So enjoy this one, press your legs out straight. Find freedom in the knees and feet and ankles. Lower one heel drop the other knee and switch, and switch and switch and switch.

Check in with your body and how it feels right now. We worked through some pretty intense backbends that may even not have felt that great while you did them but really exhilarating right after. How does that land in your body now? Is there more space in the chest, a little bit more freedom to breathe, right running is always a good way to check in with what just happened to my body. Let this be your last one, come all the way in, close the carriage, and then we're done on the Reformer.

You can step off to the side, next up we'll go to the Cadillac. And the only prop that we will use on the Cadillac is the push through bar with one spring from above but we're actually not using it for the first part. I just want you to lie down on your stomach with your head towards the push through bar so that we're ready for the second exercise. The first one is a little shoulder mobility exercise to go deeper into our thoracic mobility. I want you to make a diamond between your thumb and your index finger, so right above your head, so a little bit farther away from you, exactly, and just allow your head, maybe your forehead, your hairline to touch the mat here.

Let your elbows widen as far as that is available to you and just see where they land on the ground. Your legs can be together or apart here but wherever you are make sure that your hip bones are pressing down so that your full body is active here. There's an exercise that I call the TSA drill, in a different class I show it against the wall and this variation we'll do it lying down flat and trying to keep the body completely engaged with the mat while lifting the elbows and hands up and away from the ground. Hopefully trying to clear the height of the head and the back of the head, taking a moment to really opening through the chest and collar bones and avoiding any extraneous arching in the lower back which is very likely to happen if you lose that connection. Keep the hip bones pressing down to make sure and then slowly lower the hands back down towards the ground elbows unfold, and we'll do that a couple more times.

Lift the elbows way out to the side, lift up. Try to keep your fingers in line with your elbows so that they don't point up in front of you, exactly, and we're trying to get the hands up so high they could clear the back of our head. So many exercises in Pilates are called shave, right, take the hands behind the head. That is the range that we try to clear with no spring tension at all, and while this looks like nothing's happening I'm sure Kathleen would agree there's a lot of stuff going on here. Slowly lower the hands back down, we'll take one more like that before we introduce the push through bar to this.

Elbows lengthen out to the side, keep the rest of the body engaged, mobilize through the shoulder, collar bones and chest. Hold that lift for just a second, make sure that you breathe here, that your head is still released to the ground and try to not have any tension into the back of the neck here. Nice work, lower the hands all the way down, keep your head flat as I bring the push through bar through over your head and then just lift you head up so you see where it is. Hold on to it, it's now yours. Distance yourself an arm length away from your push through bar, which you kind of already are just come back a little bit, right there good.

And then again your hairline attaches to the ground, your legs are active together or apart, depends on your level of comfort here, and which allows you to find the length in your low back the most. Similar to the exercise we just did, I want you to bend your elbows out to the side, keep them lifted as high as possible and just pull the bar behind your head, pause, take a moment there allow your head to be really heavy against the ground, your shoulders be open almost become passive as you breathe here, allowing the spring to act on your shoulder and your arms and then push it all the way back out. Now especially if you're flexible in all the right and all the wrong places through elbows and shoulders make sure that you work with breath and really slowly and constantly feel the resistance that the spring gives you here so you're safe and you don't let the bar take control over you. Take a full breath here, very nice, good. Think of widening the upper back as you return the bar and push it back through, we'll do that one more time.

So this may not look like this on your body, I know it doesn't on mine, but you bring the elbows back as far as they will go which speaks to our thoracic mobility here right. See if maybe you can keep a longer neck, if that returns your elbows a little bit, yeah exactly right there, so it leads to that openness in the back of your body and then push the bar back out. Nice, we're gonna take that to the next level now, into our full swan. The arms go back to that same spot like the shave. The arms begin to lift up towards the ceiling at the same time, think of your pull straps lifting the chest forward and up to follow the bar and once you're at the top, go ahead and push forward into that bar to maybe lift the lowest rib higher off the ground, send your legs back behind you, and then with control come back down.

Always monitor your breathing, the bar comes down behind the head, amazing, and then you push the bar away from you, let's do that two more times. Bend the arms, lift the bar, lifting forward through the chest up and back through the arms and then once you're up, forward through the arms like you're pushing into it to lift your chest up and away, send your legs back behind you and recover. Come all the way back down, pull the bar behind the head and push the bar back through. One more time, that was amazing, bend the arms and lift the bar up. Become aware of how the shoulders lift away from the ground that'll be even at the same time, same through the ribs, even way through the hips and then even push into both sides of that bar.

Take yourself back down, chest continuous come forward to pass by even more space in the front of the shoulder, push the bar all the way through. Get a good grip here, take a breath and I'll give you a little stretch here so make sure that you hold the bar that traction taking back. Very nice work there. So we're looking for that even extension through the back, to further find some more mobility through the thoracic spine we're gonna add a little bit of an added component to this as well as a little rotation. So you can let the bar go, I have it, and sit yourself back over your heels just do a quick little camel stretch.

So the next exercise we'll do it the cat exercise, it's essentially a kneeling version of push throughs if you will. You distance yourself about an arm length away from this bar, standing up on the knees. You can think a little bit about your knee stretches here the rounded arch knee stretches that we've done one the Reformer, feel as though you're pushing the bar away from you to start. Let that space between your shoulder blades widen and then a multitude of things happen at once. I want you to pull the bar down all while bending your spine from both ends, head and tail, all while sending your hips back towards the heels.

So it's like you're lowering yourself into a child's pose that just never happens. Hold right here, feel as if you're still pulling the bar and your hips towards one another to find more space in your back and then lift yourself back up. The bar lifts, the hips come forward, the spine unrolls back to the top, now this is our base movement here. We'll do that one more time. Press down into the bar, puff out your back, sit your hips back towards the heels.

It's a very elastic feeling in the body like you could spring back at any moment, allowing the spring to wind up some traction and then lift yourself all the way back up. I'm gonna add on the next one. Come to the deepest point of that forward bend again, hips go back, and then while you're keeping the hips back start to push the bar farther away from you and start extending your back and your spine lifting your eyes forward and up and keeping your shoulders just above that bar a little bit so we're not hanging to the front of the shoulders and we're keeping the hips back so that we again we're not loading the shoulders too much. Again this really becomes a spinal movement, nice. Bend both ends of your spine to return, chin over chest, backwards lift, pull the bar towards you, your hips towards the bar to lift yourself up, and after you've outlined that your body moves through that well let's go a little faster.

Pressing down, push the hips back and the bar forward and lift through your chest, open through the collar bones, bend both ends of your spine again to lift yourself all the way back up. We'll do one more like that before we add yet one more variation. Chin over chest, ribs puffed back, press the bar away from you, find your length in front of the body, feel like your hips almost lift. This is exactly like your knee stretch position and then curl the tail, release the head, lift yourself all the way back up and we'll do the same thing now with one hand. So the right hand moves to the middle of the bar so you have space there.

The left hand can go to your lower back or behind your head if that is more comfortable to you. I suggest starting with the hand behind the lower back maybe all the way on the back of your sacrum. Think of the same exact thing happens to start. You press the bar down, you sit your hips back, you round your spine evenly, you park your shoulder and then you extend your spine pushing forward through that one arm, opening the chest. You want these first repetitions to work on anti-rotation meaning we're trying not to twist into the bar at all.

Bend your spine back into a forward bend, lift yourself all the way back up, we'll do it once more like that. So the simple act of not falling into the bar means that the muscles that do rotate have to call or rather turn on so that her body stays what appears to be nice and static and well aligned. Beautiful, we're gonna add a twist now, deliberately. Press down one more time. Chin over chest, round both ends of your spine towards one another, hips back, stretch forward.

As you stretch your chest forward think of corkscrewing your head towards the push through bar, opening your chest only as wide as that will go. The hand back there is a really good lie detector in this moment, allow your collar bones to expand. Take one full breath (inhales) and then re-rotate back down and let your spine bend, lift yourself all the way back up and then we'll have the other side to do still. So let's change hands here, left hand on the bar, right hand on the back. Press down, sit your hips back, we'll just do two here.

Stretch forward, find your backbend. Again this side might feel completely different right, so even though we're just repeating the exercise it's a completely different set of muscles that works on the second side. Chin over chest, roll yourself back up. Nice, you can start to feel on that free arm, does that shoulder blade pick up the slack, can you find more space between your shoulder blades especially as you start to go into your cat stretch? Pressing down, lengthen out, beautiful work there nice.

Find that space between your shoulder blades. Even here your backbend, and then recover. Come all the way back up, roll yourself to the top. Nice work, we'll do one more adding the rotation on this last one, chin over chest, rolling down. Finish your backbend first so both hips go back as your left arm pushes forward, and then out of that forward push allow your spine to rotate along its entire length, revolve the right side of the rib cage open and the left side under, open the collar bones, breathe, that's the hardest part, and then slowly come back through center (exhales) all the way back up and just to finish that up and to give you a feeling of being centered take both hands onto the bar and do one more cat stretch here with both hands on.

Chin over chest, hips back, sit hips back towards the heels, find your backbend, open through the chest. Good and recover. Come all the way back up. And that is all we're going to do on the Cadillac to further open up the spine for some deeper back bending which we will now do on the Spine Corrector. So we're visiting the Spine Corrector for two exercises that take us into the high bridge, one of the biggest expressions of a back bend and really calling on strength in our legs to actually hold most of our body weight up.

The shoulder bridge is a really nice way to kind of get to know that mechanic in the body and see how that feels. Now we're nice and warmed up, go ahead and drape ourselves back over the Spine Corrector here so that we can have our feet right in the crease of the step where it meets the round part of the back. We're gonna use the handles on the side of the Spine Corrector to draw our back into the barrel, making sure that the back of the neck is long, the front of the throat is open, chest is nice and wide. To really activate your legs here, pull your heels in towards the round part of the barrel so you feel the backs of your legs a little bit on fire and then from there extend one leg up towards the ceiling. Stretch the leg forward and down, take a moment here to find the openness in that hip that you're lengthening out from.

Make sure that you have even weight on both hips and you're still pulling through your arms. Honor that stretch and use it to wind up and make some explosive kicks up and down five times. As you lift the leg up make sure that your hip is still settled into the barrel and your arms are still pulling so that you maintain that connection into your back. Draw your leg in after you've done five, extend your other leg up towards the ceiling, and let's stop with a stretch here as well. Different sides always feel a little different.

Make sure you have even weight there, the arms are pulling, keeping in mind that we're getting ready to do all of this with the weight in our hands. Kick the leg up for five, and down, four and down, three and down. Start to notice how the barrel supports you, lift your back bottom rib slightly away from it, bring the foot back in and then take a moment here to set up for a high bridge. Now while you're there, hopefully in a restful position so I can talk you through what's going to happen next. Make sure that your chest is completely open and start by bringing your hands next to your ears.

Draw your elbows in towards one another and just see if this is really still a good position for your body to be on the barrel, monitoring that your shoulders are in good alignment, monitoring that you have space between your shoulder blades here and that you could actually take weight into the heels of your hands. Now it looks to me like your elbows are pointing quite far back, if that happens see if you can just bring your hands behind you a little bit father even if that means that you have to flex at your wrist just a little bit more. It might make the initiation a little harder, but once you start taking weight into your hands they will be in a much better position here. How are you feeling right there? Alright good.

So the next step from here is to pull the feet back like we did for that shoulder bridge, begin and lift the hips up and away from the barrel. Now to share some of the load that happens, that redistributes itself through the body we're gonna take some weight into the crown of the head first so allow your head to absorb some of that. Draw your elbows back in towards one another and then from here, standing on four points of contact, feet and hands, press yourself all the way up to straight. Nice, now first things first, are you breathing? Do you have space for your chest, your shoulders?

Could you possibly start to play with the weight just on your feet? Don't do it yet, just take one more breath here, and then bring your chin to your chest, bend the elbows, lay on the back of your head and let down, and then slowly let your hips settle back onto the barrel to start it all again. You might wanna bring your arms down by your sides just for a moment to maybe give your wrists a little roll in either direction just to let them release. Alright, now that we've outlined all of that we can go into it in one fell swoop. Make sure that your feet stand down evenly, heels pull back in, hands pulled back right next to your ears, walk those hands back just a little bit.

Start by lifting your hips up, stand down into your feet, roll onto the crown of the head, gives you a nice moment to renegotiate where your elbows need to go, then press yourself all the way up. Push the ground away. By standing on the step versus being on the floor, we force the body to open up a little bit more through the chest and use all of that open as I recreated in the workout so far. Keep drawing your heels in towards the step and then bring your chin over your chest, land the back of your head down, slowly roll yourself all the way back against the barrel and then go ahead and bring your arms down by your sides, maybe actually go ahead and push yourself away from the front of the barrel. And then let your legs just be long and tall as your hips release.

Ah, take a moment there to rest, that was a lot of hard work. Alright, our next step would be to see can we now place maybe to one foot and extend the leg back up, perhaps add those kicks. This has everything to do with how well you performed these exercises so far and how confident they felt in your body. So Kathleen what do you think, you wanna give it a shot? Yes.

We're on for it, alright. So I have to ask you to step off to the side and to get onto the barrel one more time to reset yourself. It is a nice idea to take a little bit of a break there between those two. Alright, so think of the one handed cat we practiced earlier where that exercise was really a lot about anti-rotation first. The same thing happens here, once you lift one leg up you wanna make sure that that hip doesn't drop and the weight evenly sits in our hands.

Right so that will be our focus here, everything else pretty much the same. Start with our hands folding back, push into your feet and hands, lift your chest, use your head if you need it, or lift yourself up right away and then begin to redistribute your weight between your feet. Maybe your body, once you bring one foot in towards the center or you go right up, float the leg up towards the ceiling, extend it from there, square the hips for a moment and with a straight leg bring it forward and down by pushing hard into both your hands, lift it up one more time, stay. Slowly bring the leg down and really take your time, first finding your standing leg. Again it's okay to move your standing leg closer to the middle first, then bring your knee in towards your chest and with an even push in both your hands lift the other leg up, square the hips, stretch the leg away from you and down.

If that still feels alright, keep the side of the waist on to lift the leg up, amazing. Bend your knee in, find the crease, chin over chest, lay the back of your head down, make sure that you maintain a good amount of space in the front of your throat and then come all the way down. Release your arms, push yourself back into that rest position, legs that are straight over the barrel. Nice, and that is one of the deepest backbends that we can possibly perform within this work. We will now take it to the Ladder Barrel where we starting playing around with that just a little bit more.

Alright for the final portion of this workout we'll spend some time on the Ladder Barrel. We'll go into our backwards stretch, just another opportunity to bend backwards quite deeply see if the front of our shoulders cooperate and can take some of our weight, we can take that into our overhead and we can finish up with a fun little walkover. So for the backward stretch just go ahead and face away from the barrel, lean your sacrum against the forward slope of the barrel here, your knees might be slightly bent here to start so that you feel really secure. Make sure that your barrel doesn't slide over the floor for this one. You can take your hands behind your head, just to support the weight of the head and neck here.

Feel securely footed into the ground and begin to roll yourself back, drive yourself over the barrel so that the highest point of the barrel really elevates your chest and heart. So if your head can release fully and then reach your arms back towards the top rung. Once you start getting a grip on that first rung I really love giving it a little pull to allow the chest to further open. Let's take a moment here, check that you can still breathe fully, and then start to walk your hands down the ladder one rung at a time. Whenever your hands arrive at a new rung give yourself a little pull again.

You might have to take your feet off the ground at some point, we're gonna make our way down to the lowest point possible to at least the third rung here. Actually I think that looks good right there. Give yourself a pull, again allow your chest to open, allow your legs to be heavy on the other side so that the barrel really supports a nice even backbend. Press the legs into one another, we're gonna get ready for a jackknife now, you feel ready? Alright, press the legs together into one another and try and lift them straight up to vertical alignment to then, like an overhead on the Reformer earlier, we take the hips overhead.

You can use the top rung to flex your toes against, to push your heels beyond and to work on that lift of the backs of the thighs so you get that nice even lift through the sides of the waist. Let's come back down from here before we go into the full jackknife so just point your feet away, roll yourself back down and then really use the pull of your arms to counter the drop of the legs with control, so nice. Gonna go a step further now. Bring the legs straight up, curl your tail under to begin lifting the hips up and over. You can take that stretch again because it feels pretty yummy, lifting the backs of the thighs, stretching through the knees, setting the hips up to be already quite high here so that now one leg at a time or both at a time depending on how comfortable you feel, we set up our jackknife.

Lift yourself up, now simultaneously extend through your hips, meaning you push your hips towards the ladder and send your feet straight up towards the ceiling so that you create a plumb line here. Now slowly roll yourself back down, think about now pushing into the rungs of the ladder rather than pulling, until you're upside down then you pull as the legs lower. Amazing, we'll do one more like that, this time we'll try to do both legs at the same time. So think exactly the same sequence as overhead, you go into a rollover, you lift into your jackknife and up, nice work, good. Almost overshooting a little, shift your legs just a smidge, amazing, and then roll yourself slowly down, send your legs away from you, let your legs become passive.

Walk your hands up to the second rung, push yourself away from it, then walk to the top rung, push yourself away from that, see if your feet can find the floor, and then at long last take your hands behind your head, support the weight of your head, it's been passive there for quite a while, roll yourself back up, allow your knees to stay soft and then take yourself all the way over your legs. Stay slow, move with your breath, and with control give yourself a counter stretch here. If that feels available to you you can use the ladder to give yourself a deeper stretch, or rather the barrel portion of the Ladder Barrel. Nice pull against the crossbar, lift the back of your ribs up, slowly roll yourself all the way up and then we'll make our way into our final exercise today. Our final challenge to take our high bridge into a pretty fun gymnastics skill which takes us into our hands and into a millisecond of a handstand.

So if that's something you wanna explore, there's another session that I'm teaching that has more of a focus on handstands. Part of that will be in this exercise here, it's our short box tree exercise. Go ahead and have a seat on top of the barrel facing the ladder, hook your feet underneath. We just want to flex your feet and sit yourself just in front of the apex of the barrel so that you're not right on top, but slightly forward from there. That way your lower back will arrive on the highest part of the barrel.

I think you can come forward even a little bit more there. And then take one leg out of the rung and bend it to your chest, hold on behind it, and just extend the leg out and away from you. Bend it back and we'll do that a few more times. Just know that for our focus today it's not as important that the leg is super high up or that you get super flexible in the back of your leg but more about sending energy out through the feet. Walk your hands to wherever your ankle is right now and then draw yourself up and forward through your spine, bend your elbows out to the side to pull your head towards where your knee is right now.

Straighten your right leg as you take your whole body back, walk your hands down the leg and start going back into a one legged high bridge again and where your hands go to the ground, your wrists flex into the ground. You might have to give yourself more space by pointing the other foot, and just receive the floor and the weight of your body into both your hands evenly. Let's come back up from there first, so take both hands off the ground, flex this foot strongly under the rung so that you can walk yourself all the way back up. Lift yourself to the top, bend that knee in, we'll take it to the other side first before we go into our walkover. Right so the tree is often done on the top to really focus on creating more flexibility in the back of the leg.

For this one, later on when we go into the walkover we need to have energy through that leg so that it can help us lift ourselves back up and it gives us a sense of direction. So think more about that here. Take your body back, straighten out the leg that's on top, walk yourself down the leg, drape yourself over the barrel, find the ground, take weight into both your hands. Again the other foot that's under the rung might have to give you a little bit of extra space, but try to keep it connected cause that'll help you come back up. Take your hands round the right leg, lift yourself all the way back up to the top.

You can bend this knee again to sit yourself up tall and then we'll go back to the first side we're gonna add on. So this is where, once your hands touch the ground we try to take some weight into them, to then flip over into what feels and looks like elephant a little bit. Let's see if we can make it feel like that. Straighten out your top leg, drawing it back, roll yourself down, take your hands to the ground. Before we take it all the way over just release this foot and bring it on top of the rung so that you're really balancing on the backs of your hips.

Take this leg towards you so you have moment of really being supported in this position here. Try and split your legs apart as much as it's available to you as you take this foot down, flexing it so it lands in front of the hand, add the other foot right next to it so that you can roll yourself all the way to standing. And that might be that. We're gonna take it back on top of the barrel and do the other side first before we explore jumping back in because that's a whole other kettle of worms. So jump back on top of the barrel, just sitting up, and we'll start on the other side.

Draw yourself in, straighten out the leg that's under the rung, take yourself back, support yourself into the backbend over the barrel, find your high bridge here. Your hands take the ground, nice and evenly, find a free leg on top of the rung to figure out what does that split feel like on this side. Make sure that your hips are nice and even, beautiful, good, and if the leg that point towards the ground that really wants to take you down, the other leg is the one that actually slows you all the way down so you don't fall into your hands. Roll yourself all the way back up. Now I'm gonna ask you again.

Do you feel ready to try going back in the other way? Sure. Alright, let's give it a shot, so again we're gonna take weight into our hands, there's a little bit of a handstand jump off in here, right there's a whole other session that addresses that in a little bit more detail. You wanna make sure that your hands don't meet the floor too close to the barrel so that you have space to let your hips lean back into it. So take a mini step back from where you are.

Aim your hands just about a couple of inches away. Kick one leg up, know the barrel is there, as you allow your lower back to fall right into it. Nice, so it's that top leg again that wants to split away from the bottom leg to give you a sense of direction so that you're right back in this supported position, there it is. Find the fun, which might be farther away from you than you want to, so you might have to work with your hands a little bit to push yourself back on top of the barrel, yeah exactly. So this foot can actually grab on, you can now lift yourself up, walking your hands up the back of your left leg, amazing.

Lift yourself all the way back up to the top and let's go to the other side, so step away. Obviously once you feel comfortable doing both of these directions you can just go right back in. I'm gonna split them apart here, so now the other leg lifts up, it's the top leg, the first leg you lift that gives you a sense of direction. Make sure that both hips land, nice, keep the other leg lifted nice and high, push through both hands to find the ladder again. You're there, nice, bend this knee a little bit so you can find the rung, excellent.

Pull on the rung to lift yourself back up, walk up the back of your leg. Lift yourself all the way to the top, up you come (exhales) soften the knee back in. And you are all set, that was amazing. A lot of people go into a split at the end of that, which is of course an option, but honestly if you have your high bridge fairly secure in your body, you know how to take some weight into your arms this variation is available to you even if you don't have a split. Ah nice work.

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Comments

1 person likes this.
Applause!
2 people like this.
Benjamin, you are a phenomenal instructor! You voice or instruct the workout very well and I learned a lot from your verbal ques. I can tell you are passionate about Pilates and I hands down give you a ten~
Fantastic! Thoracic extention is my weak spot. I am so inspired to purchase a high barrel for myself after seeing this!! I hope one day I can reach the reformer foot bar from the bending back position. Thank you
Wow ! Maybe someday I will be able to do the advanced backbends. Love your classes
Amazing theme - loved this workout. And always love my pal, Kathleen ❤️❤️
Great class Benjamin. Thank you 👍
very good for the full body workout and the instruction I clear well and the model is a good body.
Loved every bit of this workout. The progressions and instructions were perfect!
You are so amazing!!
Benjamin Degenhardt is my favorite instructor on here! Wish I could take in person classes with him! 
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