Zellig Building

Online Pilates Foundations Course: Day 6 of 10

Online Pilates Course: on the Mat day 6

 … Getting ready for Flow, Roll Ups & Roll Over …


Pilates in Flow

One of the most important aspects of Pilates is flow.  Attending a Master Class with Julie Driver and Lesly Logan, I once asked how many exercises there were in the Footwork on the Reformer… are all the different variations different exercises, or, is the collection of Footwork variations just one exercise?  This was my answer:

“… think of the Matwork… how many exercises are there?  One or thirty four?

So, it is possible to conceive The Matwork as just one very long (thirty minutes long) exercise with a complex choreography.  That answered my question and gave me lots of food for thought.  And from that realisation comes the idea of flow.  Each exercise should flow from one to another in a seamless whole.  They aren’t discrete exercises, but are conceived to be done in a certain order and in a seamless flow of movement.


So, this is where we start to put everything that we have learned together whilst adding in more Pilates exercises including:

This is a “playlist” of the exercises arranged in a logical order for you to print off and practice as a work out.

The exercise sheet click here (PDF) includes all the exercises already studied and those featured in this week’s lesson.



Exercise of the week


Snake and Twist on the Reformer

This is actually two exercises usually performer together: The Snake and The Twist.

For more information on this challenging exercise: click here



Previous Lessons:

If you’ve missed previous lessons,  or just want to check back for reference, here are handy links:

Day 1: Foundations – “Breathing, Deep Core Activation and Abdominal Strengthening” click here

Day 2: Foundations – “The Spine & Pelvis: position & control” click here

Day 3: Foundations – “Spinal Mobility & Strengthening” click here

Day 4: Foundations – “Shoulder Mobility and Stabilisation” click here

Day 5: Foundations – “Alignment & Standing” click here


Roll Up & Roll Over Preparation


Transition: From Standing to Supine

Have you heard of the Sit Rise Test?  It is a study conducted in the 1990s that was designed to predict mortality in middle aged and older people.  The test was created by a team led by Claudio Gil Araújo.  It correlates (correlation is not causation) mortality with the ability to get up from the floor and down to the floor without touching the floor with hand, knee, side of the leg or any other part of the body.  I think that it is a thing that can make us think if nothing else!



Roll Ups and Roll Downs: Progressions

This series really teaches us how abdominal activation assists spinal articulation.  As you do these exercises you’ll perhaps notice that at one point you’ll lose control and you’ll have a tendency to fall down onto the mat.  This is a point where the spine is straighter than at other points but strengthening the abdominals can help the spine bend more.  For an exercise that focuses on this point specifically, see the “Elbow Slips” below.



Elbow Slip: Revisited

We’ve already looked at this exercise in Part 4 of our online Pilates & Pre-Pilates course.  But it really focuses on that difficult spot in the Roll Ups and the Roll Downs that stops us getting past that “stuck” point!  Repeat it often!




Roll Ups and Roll Downs: “Oblique Variation”

Rotation is all but forgotten in many fitness programmes.  But any activity aimed at abdominal strengthening that omits rotation omits strengthening important abdominal muscles: the internal and external obliques.  Not only that but as one side contracts towards the rotation, the other side stretches out the fascia and other connective tissue…

Think about it like this.  How many times have you heard something like: “I was just reaching behind (rotation) me when my back went!”  – I have the opinion that most spinal injuries occur in rotation!

Never deny your body an opportunity to rotate!



Roll Ups and Roll Downs: “Reach”

This is an typically elegant Pre-Pilates exercise!  The Roll Down strengthens the abdominal muscles and the deep abdominal activation creates the spinal articulation into flexion.  But now, in this exercise, as we Roll Back up into sitting we raise our arms to lengthen and flatten our back out and engage our shoulders to lower the shoulder blades down.  This is an action similar to a variation of Stomach Massage on the reformer: “Reach”.



Kathy’s Accordion

Notice how the ribcage and abdomen work together in this percussive breathing exercise.



Adductor Stretch

I find that this is a great help, if you have tight hips, to help find the sit bones in sitting with legs outstretched.  Sitting with legs outstretched is a prerequisite for many Mat exercises: Roll Up, Spine stretch Forwards, The Saw, Neck Pull.  There are many other exercises that require legs to be outstretched against a pelvis that’s at 90 degrees to the them:  Rollover, Single Leg Circles, Open Leg Rocker, Corkscrew, High Scissors and Bicycle, Shoulder Bridge, Jackknife, Side Kick, Teaser, Hip Circles, Leg Pull, Kneeling Side Kick, Boomerang and Control Balance…  So this opening out of the hips is fundamental to your Pilates practice.



Spine Stretch Forward

Hints and tips:

  • Don’t spread your legs too far wide.
  • It’s not necessary to get your legs straight at first, or even to stretch far forward.  Every body and everybody is different.  Stop is you feel discomfort.
  • Concentrate on curling your head towards your navel and keeping your navel pulled in towards you spine.
  • It’s the breathing and coordination that’s important: breathe IN when returning to position and OUT on the way down, concentrating on forcing the air our of your lungs at the furthest reach.

Things to check:

  • Keep your shoulders away from your ears as you reach forward.
  • Navel to spine.
  • Force all the air out of your lungs one, two, three while stretching forwards.



Spine Twist Supine

This exercise is invaluable  for learning to rotate the pelvis and lower back while maintaining the desired alignment of the core.  When rotating the most common error is to passively allow the lower back to arch so that the spinal extensors not the abdominals power the movement.  Learning to use the transversus abdominis and internal and external obliques in can protect thespinefromijury when in rotation.


Bringing our legs into Tabletop Position is a fundamental supine position that is used in Pilates.  There is a great deal going on here:

  • the calves point the feet and stretch the fascia and muscles along the shins;
  • the knee flexors hold the knees at ninety degrees;
  • the hip flexors hold the legs at ninety degrees to the pelvis while the
  • abdominals and spinals work together to stabilise the pelvis against the weight of the legs.  remember the Toe Taps and Marching from day #2? click here




Q.  Can I get the benefits of Pilates without going to a studio?

Of course you can.  I started my Pilates career with a friend who knew a little Pilates.  She had taken only a few lessons but she had learned enough to get me hooked!  This is the whole rationale for the Online Pilates Lessons here that takes you from zero to the complete traditional matwork series.  The key word here is consistency.  Whether you come to the studio or whether you practice at home you need to do your Pilates practice 4-5 days a week.  I tell people to start off every day for just ten minutes because at the start creating the discipline and habit is more important than the actual activity.  But that ten minutes has to be regular and consistent to create that habit, otherwise, you just won’t get started.

Q.  When will I see the benefits of Pilates practice?

There’s a famous Joseph Pilates quote:

“In 10 sessions you’ll feel different, 20 sessions you’ll look different and 30 sessions you’ll have a whole new body.”

But that factored in Joseph Pilates himself actually teaching you (not all Pilates teachers are created equal) and that he would have been telling you that you will need to do your practice 4-5 times a week.  If you did that and got no results, Joe would give you your money back.  So, to get the best value for money, make sure that you are doing your home practice as well as attending your lessons.  The teacher will instantly know if you’ve been practicing properly or not – Pilates practice means progress!  And that’s why we call it our “Pilates Journey”.

Q  When I try the transition from Standing to the Mat, I fall sown with a “thud” on my ass…

Keep practising!  It’s not only leg strength (though that is major part of it) that allows us to perform this transition, but balance, spinal flexion and control.  Keep practising and don’t give up – it will come eventually!

Q.  I fall down when I do the Roll Downs.  What should I do?

Again… keep practising, don’t give up!  These Roll Downs are ideal for preparing us for Roll Up in the traditional repertoire.  This is a challenging exercise not only because of the abdominal strength required, but also the spinal articulation needed – especially in the lower spine.  Also, remember that the start and ending of these Roll Downs require that we do our best to find our sti bones.  If you have difficulty with this, try some Adductor Stretches first.

Q.  You say in the video to sit tall when you finish the Roll Down and sit back up again.  How important is that?

Sometimes, depending on your body, the starting and ending position of an exercise can seem more difficult that the actual exercise.  It is important as it gives us valuable feedback and awareness our body.  try the adductor stretches, hamstring stretches and all of the shoulder work to pull the shoulder blades away from your ears when trying to sit up!

Q.  Is it necessary to make noises when doing Ron’s Clock  and Cathy;s Accordion?

Perhaps the best way to answer your question is by trying an experiment.  Try the exercise once blowing through pursed lips and once through open lips making no sound.  Do you notice a difference?  Creating the sound through pursed lips helps us to create a back pressure which helps to engage the deep abdominals to better effect.  But the important thing is to continue practising, so if you do feel uncomfortable and self-conscious (many do) then try without,but don’t lose sight pf the fact that you will lose that deep abdominal activation needed for proper percussive breathing.

Q.  I keep twisting when I do the Elbow Slips.  What should I do?

Move your elbows slightly further forwards.  This will help decrease the on-off nature of the exercise.  You’ll need deep abdominal activation for a longer period of time to support yourself, but many people find this easier.  In addition, remember that this is a glute exercise.  Activate the glutes before moving your arms and focus on which side you lose the connection.  Then, as you lift up that arm, really try to maintain the connection with that side (it should be the opposite side to the lifting arm) of the glues.


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