Tutorial #3209

Swan on the Ladder Barrel

15 min - Tutorial


Play around with the Swan on the Ladder Barrel with this tutorial by Blossom Leilani Crawford. She uses four different bodies to show Kathy Grant's swan which changed how she viewed back extension. These concepts will help you find more support and better range for this movement.
What You'll Need: Ladder Barrel, Knee Pad, Hand Weights

About This Video

(Level N/A)
(Pace N/A)
Oct 27, 2017
(Log In to track)


Read Full Transcript

Hello. Welcome to Pilates Anytime and my ladder barrel swan tutorial. So I really want to talk about this today because I feel like it's been a bit of a journey for me and I just want to sort of share it with you. And I think there's a few things that I like to play around with that I think are somewhat revolutionary when it comes to the swan. I feel like swans are scary.

Extension is scary. I like to sort of joke that I grew up in the 90s in Pilates where sort of extension was scary and Pilates was known for being bad for your back. And I actually was a back person and so I feel like I learned about my back the most doing swan with Cathy Grant. So I want to just share some things with you. So the first thing is, I think when I first became a Pilates teacher, I actually avoided doing swan for a long time.

I was afraid of it and then I saw an old videotape of Cathy teaching this woman, and I like to joke that the woman was as round as this barrel. And she was older and I was like, "Well, if Cathy's doing swan on the barrel with her, "I can do it with my young folk. "I can do this." So let me share that swan with you. Please don't call it old lady swan. Just call it, I don't know what, but call it Cathy Grant's swan.

Okay, so when you're ready, you're gonna have a lie on here. So hopefully you know your lengthwise and you're gonna walk your feet to the bottom rung. That's where I like to go. Mmm-hmm, yes. And so let's just play around.

So I have a couple of these hand weights behind me. I actually just need one for this right now. And so you're gonna hold onto the weight behind you. Cathy had these handle bars. You don't even need a weight.

You could just get a towel, especially if your shoulders are tight. You could get a towel and hold on farther apart so that your hands don't have to be so close. But this is sort of nice and if you bring your hands way up, you get actually a really great stretch here on the shoulders. So staying here. In the position, you're going to be in a little bit of a V of the feet.

Hopefully the heels don't touch the top rung. Hopefully you can see that. And you're gonna just do a little lift of the heels. Nothing else moves, nothing else moves. Lift the heels more and lower the heels.

So this is a test to make sure your heels can move up and down, right? And I like to just sort of see, Julie's got a lot of lower, the lifting's a little harder for her. That's it, right? So I'm gonna mess around with my friend Julie. She's gonna end with her heels slightly lifted 'cause that's her harder spot and she's gonna stay right here.

Now the first thing I notice is her back, right? I'd love to see a little more curl. So, Julie, keep your heels liftedish. Correct, and give me a sort of press of the heels together and a lift and you're gonna curl your pubic bone in toward the barrel. Just stay here, breath, that's it.

So hopefully you see a lengthening happening in her low back. All right, so this is her starting and ending position. She's gonna slide her hands down her back toward me. Good, and she's gonna just lift this up off her back and hold, beautiful. She's not hyperextending in the elbows.

The next thing she's gonna do, the arms are leading but the head will follow. So the arms sort of lift but now the head lifts up. The knees stay bent, that's it. And then she's gonna extend through this part of her spine. And then the next part of her spine, good.

And then the next, this, that's right. That's why arms are the leader but head follows. Keep going, keep lifting those heels up. You wanna lower but, and you're gonna stop right here. This is what I loved about the swan that I saw on that videotape with Cathy is that you ended right here in spine alignment.

Now, if your client is feeling up to it and crazy, not crazy, but if you're feeling up to it, you could go for a little bit of a back bend. So, Julie, right now, inhale. Think of taking that pubic bone with you, with you, that's it. And when you are at the end of that, then lower the heels. Yes, keep taking that pubic bone back with you, back, keep going, stretch the jaw muscles.

Chin lifts up, beautiful. From there, you're going to straighten the legs, push out, look down at the floor. Lift those heels up and stay there. Cathy would say, "Find spine alignment." Now this is a hard one. You might need a little spotting but you want that head higher than the rib cage.

So that's it, maybe lift the top of the head up even more. Holding right here, breathe. Bend the elbows, bend the knees, hands go way, way, way up the back. And you relax back over. Rrr, she's gonna tuck and curl.

Now, Julie, lift the heels and find that tuck. Just one more time now, a little faster. Hands slide down. Mmm-mmm, it's hard. Slide the hands down, lift the hands up.

Start to lift the head, arms are the leader but the head is following. That's it, more head, Julie, yeah. That's right, we want extension in that thoracic spine, beautiful. You're gonna come up to spine alignment. Now I'm gonna let her figure out where that is.

Beautiful, just stay here and breath. Beautiful, her heels are lifted this time. On the next exhale, she's gonna go into her backbend. When she can't go back any farther, she'll lower the heels. Yes, that's right, take this pubic bone up with you.

That's her beautiful swan, can you see that? Straighten your legs, push out and hold it there. That's it. Bend the knees, hands go way up the back, way up the back, way up the back. And release the elbows.

I'm giving her a little bit of a push. All right, so that's the swan on Julie's body. And I sort of call that, in my mind I call it the older person swan. Swans for active aging. No, but, you know, but you go back only to where you can and you decide how back you wanna go.

You know, that's up to you. But now let's see the swan on other bodies 'cause it's totally different on another kind of body. So let's take a peak. So now, let's go for doing the swan with a man, which I think is always interesting and we need to sort of talk about this. So I like to jokingly call this man padding.

John doesn't seem to need this, which good for him, but other men do. So what I refer, man padding is you make a little platform. By the way, I did not come up with this, a man did, 'cause I don't have those parts. And he was like, "I do this," and I was like, "Hey, that's great." And my friend, who sort of made this up, he was like, "Yeah." He likes to joke with how many pads he likes to use. But that's my own personal joke so you know you can pad up the thighs to take pressure off the bits.

But John doesn't need it so we're gonna take that away, but man padding, a great little Pilates hack, whatever. So when you're ready, John's gonna lie over the barrel and he's gonna do sort of that same swan Julie just did. The swan for active aging. Right, and we're gonna add a little wrinkle in there too. So John has some tight shoulder issue going on so we're gonna have him do this one.

'Cause it's really great for people who have a hard time reaching forward into their shoulder. So he's gonna hold onto two weights in his hands. And it's a little tricky 'cause you're gonna try to hold onto two weights at the same time, right, that's exactly it. But you get space between the hands. And he's gonna bend his hands as high up the back as he can.

Release the elbows. Yeah, and that's a stretch. You feel, are you okay? Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Honestly, that's an exercise right there. It would be to just inhale, so easy does it, yeah, you're gonna just inhale, lift the elbows. That's it, that's it, and as you exhale, release it down. Yeah, so this is not where Cathy Grant would say this but Cathy had a shoulder exercise that she would do and she would say, "Pretend that someone comes along "and gently caresses the shoulders up off the ground." That's it, beautiful, little bit more, that's it. And as you exhale, I would just sort of think of disintegrating into, yeah.

You could use a little bit of that 'cause sometimes when we are working our arms, especially when we're in pain, we're sort of like, ahh, let's push it and see where it goes. But you know, a little lovin' for the shoulders is good. Again, inhale. Someone comes along, and yeah, I like to think of it as the least amount of energy that I need to lift and then just let it go, yeah. That's an exercise for some people.

That could be enough. But we're gonna move on 'cause we're doing a tutorial, dammit. Slide your hands down your back. Yes, start to lift the hands up-ish. By the way, he's holding onto two pound weights.

You could do one pounders. Start to lift the head up but the arms are still leading the charge. Yeah, head, head, head. So hold on, this is not your head. Yes, and then the next part.

Keep lifting up. And so right about here, he is using his legs, tucking his pubic bone forwardish, yes, as he goes for the next part, beautiful. Look at that gorgeous thoracic extension. Keep going, keep going, and you're gonna come up to your spine alignment. Yeah, hard to know where that is, isn't it?

Staying right here, inhale, and as you exhale, go into extension. Go as back, as far back, as you want to. Yes, take this with you. Take it up with you, beautiful, yes, yes. So not the neck, go up.

Don't go back, go up, go up, yeah. Now stay here, lower those heels against that ladder. Yes, stay here, straighten the legs, push out. Find your spine alignment again. So you're gonna push out against the ladder, find your spine alignment and hopefully slide on your shirt or pants.

Yes and you're gonna find spine alignment. Stay right there, breathe. Where is that exactly? Now just stay here, no, that's it. Now stay here.

You could give me a little more rib cage, it's French. Not really, yes, yes, that's it. No, no, not your shoulders, my friend. Right, triceps yes. From here can you separate the hands holding onto one weight with each hand and come out into a T?

This is a hard transition, yes. Yes, yes, yes, stay long. Maybe even if I want to challenge his hamstrings I could have him lift his heels up. And if his shoulders were feeling awesome he would reach his arms forward, but I'll take forwardish. They don't have to be by your ears.

Do what you can, you gotta follow your body. That's exactly, go lower with the hands but keep the spine up. Reach them forward 'cause that's what your body can do today. Stay right here, breathe and rest. Bend the knees, curl over the barrel.

Yeah, so for out of that sort of active aging swan, you go into extension, you find your spine alignment. And you can open your arms out into the T. Thank you very much. Great, one more swan por favor. Swan number three on the ladder barrel.

So now let's take a look at Gia and I'm picking Gia on purpose because she has a very flexible back. And so there's some different things with her back. So let's have a lie. And so every, once a friend of mine took a workshop from someone who taught Cathy Grant stuff and he was like, "Well, you know Blossom, "she does the swan in a different way." And I had this moment where I was like, "Well, she does it wrong." And I realized that no, she does the swan the way she did it with Cathy. I do the swan the way I did it with Cathy.

And as I've talked to other people who worked with Cathy Grant, we all did the swan differently because we're all different. Light bulb moment. All right, so here we go. So let's just watch Gia do a swan. So she's gonna inhale, keep the knees bent as she comes up.

She's gonna exhale as she goes forward. Look at that gorgeous extension. Straighten the legs, push out, go to straight legs and hold, that's her spine alignment. Keep the legs straight as you start to come up. When you can't come up anymore, you're gonna bend the knees.

Oh my God, it's so beautiful. Oh my God and hold there again, yes. And curve over the barrel. In my mind that's how I swan too. Well, I hate to sort of mess with her because that was really purty.

So I'm sorry, let me go back. Gia had her feet in this lovely position. This is actually how I do the swan because I don't have much mobility here. I want to sort of pull Gia in a little bit and make her not go to her happy flexible place and maybe have her work her muscles a little bit more to support that flexibility of her spine. So I'm gonna have her walk her heels up to this V so her heels actually have to press up against here.

And I'm even make her start lower, yes. And now we're getting to this 'cause this is where I want her to open for a moment. All right, so we're gonna go to that sort of same cue that I did with John, I hope, actually and Julie as well. So when you go into the swan, it took me years to understand this from Cathy. Cathy would say, "Reach your arms to your ears." Yes, and really reach active arms, yes.

And so from here, Cathy would say, "The head will follow but the arms are the leader." Yes, ma'am, and then you see this beautiful, keep going, thoracic extension in the spine, gorgeous. Keep going, yep, yep, keep going. I want you to stop right at this spot. From here, inhale. Keep those heels back there.

Go into extension-a, that's it. But take this with you, take it with you, that's it. Don't go back anymore, go up. Oh, isn't that pretty? That's it, up, take this up with, yeah, heels, don't be pressing those heels.

Yeah, keeping the heels pressing back makes her work. Straighten the legs, push out, find Superwoman position. Hold there, mmm, yeah, a little more belly in. From here keep those legs straight. Keep those heels, yeah, when you can't come up anymore, she's gonna bend her knees.

Now don't think back, think up. Yes, yeah, heels press back, good. And then you can go into cervical extension. That's it but take this up with you. Don't you dump in that back.

Yeah, heels, heels and lift up right here, right here. Yes, straighten the legs, push out, find Superwoman position. Hold heels, the heels to the top of the head. That's beautiful. Rest, curl over the barrel, yeah! One more swan, let's take a look at one more swan so that you can see what I have to do when I swan, rest.

So let's watch Cynthia swan. So she's gonna nuzzle in. So let's just watch. It's really nice to sort of let people swan. And I sort of see what they like to do.

I also see what choreography they like to do, which is fine. I have zero judgments. I just like to, that's it, mmm-hmm. And again adding on, yes. Rest, so yeah, that's not quite what my back looks like but that's okay.

Tuck your booty under. Now let's play around. Let's pretend she's me. You're gonna lift and lower the heels a few times. Yes, and what I'm testing is that her hips don't move, right?

And now take your time. This, inhale to lift the heels. Exhale, lower the heels but tuck the pubic bone. Yeah, now let me see the lower again, lower, lower, lower, lower. We really don't like, there, do you feel that?

Again, lift the heels up. She said yes, by the way, 'cause she's not miked, I am. Heels back, yeah. Now she's gonna find a little bit of a lift of her heels. Yeah, here we go.

So when she's ready she's gonna start to reach her arms to her ears. No, try that again. That's right, head follows, arms lead the charge. Yes, there's my extension. Beautiful, arms lead the charge, Cynthia.

Yes, arms lead the charge, good, good. Keep these heels lifted, find your center and just stay here and breathe. Beautiful, inhale. As you exhale, start to go backwards and when you need more extension, you're gonna lower those heels. Yeah, exactly, yes, beautiful.

Lower those heels more, I think you got more there. But take this up with you. There it is. Straighten your legs, push out, find your Superwoman position. I'm gonna mess with her, stay right there.

So hopefully she's in spine alignment. She's gonna lift her heels up. Whoo-hoo! Little fire right here, get up higher in that torso. Higher in that torso, yes. Hold it right there.

From there keep those legs straight as you start to come up. Keep those legs straight as you come up. Yes, yes, and when you can't come up anymore, bend the knees, yes, good, good. And when you need more extension you're gonna talk to those heels and take the heels back. But pubic bone comes up, beautiful.

You can go back, arms lead the charge, beautiful. 'Kay, more heels back, more heels back. Take that pubic bone up with you, beautiful. Straighten the legs, push out, strong spine alignment. Let me see that, yeah, now stay here.

See how she likes to rest her heels there. She's like, "No, I don't!" Lift the heels up, and then she feels this and we see it too, and rest. And that, my friends, is my swan tutorial on the ladder barrel. Hopefully you saw a couple of things in there on different bodies especially. And you can just find a couple of new things that might help you swan.

Related Content


Thank you, my dancer compadre!
I always feel happy when I watch you teach.
Thank you for your graciousness in sharing your Kathy Grant experiences, and...you also stand in your own talent and intuitiveness. Thank you for sharing YOU.
Love the heel cues. šŸ˜Š
(Oh, and thank you, too, for using several different people to demonstrate specificity for the person in front of you.)
Thank you once again Blossom. Love all the detail. So very helpful.
Blossom, thank you for the active aging versions! now I can start there and work towards the full version for exams lol. Starting pilates at 52 was difficult but I had to do it due to injuries. Desiring to become an instructor means I have to work 3 times as hard as my young supple peers :)
Thanks for demoing all the variations. Great Job! Barrellriffic!
Much needed tutorial! Great job Blossom
Fantastic and love the cueing and what to LOOK for!
Wow! What a joy to watch! Thank you Blossom. Iā€™ll admit some of your comments had me laughing! Fantastic tips and cues for us teachers xx
This is awesome thank you, so many helpful tips!
Awesome tutorial, Blossom!
Excellent! I love the way you teach
1-10 of 19

You need to be a subscriber to post a comment.

Please Log In or Create an Account to start your free trial.