Thursday, November 25, 2010

Preparing for Advanced Pilates Exercises

When planning to teach an advanced lesson to my Pilates clients, I incorporate applicable preparatory exercises into the session. My lesson plan begins something like this: Today I want to teach Breaststroke, Teaser, and Horseback on the Universal Reformer. So, how do I safely and effectively prepare the clients body for these exercises? I begin by looking at the end product and working backward to the fundamentals. I assess whether the client has the strength and flexibility to achieve success with the exercises. I review spotting and safety for the client. I make sure I am able to execute the exercises to provide a visual demonstration of the exercises.

I know the client must warm up the back extensors, the arms and shoulders, and the hamstrings for Breaststroke. The abdominals and hip flexors must be ready for the Teaser. The inner thighs, core, and shoulders must be active for Horseback. Breaststroke includes the element of coordination. Teaser includes the element of control. Horseback includes the element of balance. So, I must make sure all of these components are included in my warm-up.

I choose preparatory exercises that will meet my goals and develop my lesson plan from this perspective.

A lesson plan for the above class might look as follows:


1. Coccyx Curl

2. Head Roll Up

3. Puppet Arms

4. Elbow Circles

5. Big X Lifts

6. Feel Good Arm Circles

7. Alternating Side Bends

Mat Exercises

1. Hundred

2. Roll Up

3. Single Leg Circles

4. Rolling

5. Single Leg Stretch

6. Double Leg Stretch

7. Swan

8. Single Leg Kick

9. Double Leg Kick

10. Teaser

11. Side Kick

12. Battement (Leg Pull Down)

13. Banana

14. Push Up

Reformer Exercises

1. Footwork

2. Coordination

3. Serve the Brownies

4. Rowing 1

5. Rowing 4

6. Swan Facing Front

7. Serape

8. Backstroke

Now, I am ready to teach the advanced exercises in this session. The body and mind have been warmed up and established for success. Underlying principles, intention, and form have been introduced. All that is left is time for fun mastering these 3 exercises.

The teacher demonstrates the chosen exercises giving a complete description of the movement and the desired goals. All three exercises should be spotted to provide client safety and peace of mind. Allow the client to see the exercise first, perform the exercise with a spot, and finally do the exercise without spotting (if comfortable).

At the end of the class I include a cool down period that will allow for rest and relaxation of the body mind. Stretching exercises, relaxing over a small ball, and breathing round out this class for a perfect work-out.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Understanding basic anatomy and physiology are
essential to teaching Pilates properly. Two of my favorite
books for learning anatomy are written by Blandine
Calais-Germaine. Anatomy of Movement, and
Anatomy of Movement Exercises are the two sources
directly quoted in this tutorial. Full credit is given to the
author for her exceptional work. This tutorial is strictly
for educational purposes and I would like to thank the
author for her incredible insights, clarity of presentation,
and beautiful drawings. I strongly recommend everyone
purchase her books.


Virginia Nicholas, M.A., R.N.
Moving Breath Pilates
Pilates Core Integration
Planes of Movement
Movement in the sagittal plane are called flexion and extension. Examples of this are the Roll Up and the Swan.

Movements in the frontal plane (coronal) are called lateral flexion or side bending. Examples of this are Mermaid, Seated Side Stretch, and Side Lift.

Movements in the transverse plane are called rotation.
Examples of this include Spine Twist, Saw, and Short
Box Series Twist and Tilt (obliques).

Source: Planes of movement information: Anatomy
of Movement, and Anatomy of Movement Exercises
by Blandine Calais-Germaine.
Mobility of the Spine
During stretching exercises, the most mobile regions may be overly solicited. Areas of hypermobility are found in hinge-like transitional situations where we pass from one type vertebrae to another.

C1-occiput (skull-atlas) hypermobile in flexion and extension. An example of this is the Hundred.

C1-C2 (atlas-axis) hypermobile in rotation. An example
of this would be Feel Good Arm Circles.

C7-T1 hypermobile in flexion. This is a transition from a
region of limited flexion (thoracic spine) to a region of
great flexion (cervical spine). An example of this would
be Roll Over.

T12-L1 hypermobile in flexion, lateral flexion, and
rotation. Movements involving force or rapid rotation
pose a risk of injuring the T11-T12 disc. Examples
of this include Jackknife, Side Lift, and Eve's Twist.

L5-S1 hypermobile in extension. This is a joint subject to
strain when arching the back. An example of this is

The thoracic spine has a posterior convexity (kyphosis)
and flexion of the upper thoracic spine is limited by
the ribs and sternum. An example of this is Push-Up
flexing the trunk while reaching the hands to the floor.

The lumbar region has a tendency toward extension.
An example of this would be Swan, Swan Dive, Double
Leg Kick.

Movements that occur in areas of extreme mobility
should be performed with deliberately limited range of
movement: for example, with an exercise that rotates the
spine, limit rotation slightly in the lower thoracic region
by contracting the opposite rotator muscles. Examples of
this include Spine Twist, Saw, and Short Box Series
Twist and Tilt (obliques).

With exercises that greatly flex the neck on the trunk
C7-T1 will be stressed. Use localized contraction of the
extensor to limit flexion at this hinge, and distribute it
more evenly on other levels. Examples of this include
the Roll Over, Jackknife, and Control Balance.

Source: All anatomy information in this section is from
Anatomy of Movement and Anatomy of Movement Exercises
by Blandine Calais-German.
Ballet Stretches

Learning anatomy in small bits can be helpful in gaining a
better understanding of how the body functions and moves.
I hope this tutorial has assisted you in your journey.

Virginia Nicholas, M.A., R.N.
Moving Breath Pilates
Pilates Core Integration

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cheating Movement

Let me count the ways clients can “cheat” during exercises and I’ll never get any sleep. The ways are endless, with more advanced or organized students cheating in more subtle ways.

Observation, a keen eye, and knowledge of proper biomechanics and muscle actions serve the skilled Pilates teacher in assessment and evaluation of inappropriate exercise execution (cheating).

90% of the Pilates teachers job is observation. Without observing the client on a daily basis, unhealthy movement patterns can be missed. With constant observation and critique, the client can correct over-use, under-use, or inappropriate use of the musculoskeletal system during exercise. This takes perseverance on the part of the teacher and student as lasting change does not occur overnight. Postural imbalances and patterns develop over a period of time, and it is unrealistic to believe they will change without diligence and practice

Developing an “eye” for proper and improper movement takes years of observation. One learns how to identify perfect form by 1. Observing professional athletes, dancers, and gymnasts, 2. Studying human form via paintings, sculpture, and drawing, 3. Working with teachers and advanced students who have a command of the Pilates repertoire, 4. Working the new and beginning students to observe the difference between experts and novices recognizing perfect and imperfect form.

First, the teacher must know the proper biomechanics and muscle actions in her own body before she can identify cheating in another body. The teacher must master (as much as possible) perfect form of the Pilates repertoire to sense when movement feels “right” and “easy”. When movement feels “right” and “easy” it usually is.

An understanding of proper biomechanics influences how a client approaches movement. If the teacher understands how the shoulder or hip functions within the joint, they can convey how movement must occur. Knowing that the arms must be 30 degrees in front of the joint to maintain shoulder integrity when lifted out to the side helps the teacher to convey this information to the client. Knowing that popping or clicking in the hip joint may convey weakness or imbalance in the spine, pelvis or abdominal muscles allows the teacher to suggest solutions such as decreased range of motion, or the need for more abdominal stabilization.

Assessment and evaluation of postural tendencies also plays a role in effective teaching. Teachers should study basic postural imbalances to understand the implications of hyper lordosis and hyper kyphosis. These tendencies influence muscle balance, functional fitness, and movement skills resulting in proper or improper movement skills. A hyper lordotic client needs to engage and strengthen the lower abdominals, gluteals, and hamstrings to correct this postural defect. Ask the client to engage these muscle groups slightly before beginning any flexion exercise. A hyper kyphotic client needs to stretch and open the muscles of the anterior chest wall while strengthening the upper back muscles. Ask these clients to pull the anterior chest wall open and the shoulders back and down before beginning any extension exercise.

Clients who overuse the quadriceps muscles benefit when learning balance between the quads, inner and outer thigh, and hamstrings. Placing a ball between the legs, or a magic circle or band on out the outer legs draws awareness to the need for balance. Including exercises such as coccyx curl, pelvic press, single leg kick, double leg kick, swimming, breaststroke, and other hamstring strengthening exercises improves function and balance.

Knowing the intention of the exercise, proper biomechanics, and the basics of good posture will more readily assist the Pilates teacher in identifying and correcting issues of Cheating Movement. Continuing to develop a keen movement eye and observation skills assist the Pilates teacher in enhancing and improving movement outcomes for the student and satisfaction for the teacher.

Congratulations to the Pilates Core Teacher Trainees in Saskatoon, Canada for successfully passing the halfway mark in the Comprehensive Teacher Training. The new studio is beautiful.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Congratulations to Sara Bartlett for passing her Pilates Core Integration Comprehensive Teacher Training test-out. Way to go Sara! We're so excited to have you as part of our team.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Lead Pilates, Saskatoon, Canada opens their doors with the newest, best Pilates Studio in Saskatchewan. As a Pilates Core Integration Teacher Training Affiliate, we send our best wishes for your continued success. Way to go!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Planes of Movement

Understanding basic anatomy and physiology are essential to teaching Pilates properly. Pilates is a movement system based on utilizing the joints in all planes of movement. When we move the joints in all planes of movement, the body feels refreshed, alive, and ready for the activities necessary for a happy life.

Movement in the sagittal plane are called flexion and extension. Examples of this are the Roll Up and the Swan.

Movements in the frontal plane (coronal) are called lateral flexion or side bending. Examples of this are Mermaid, Seated Side Stretch, and Side Lift.

Movements in the transverse plane are called rotation. Examples of this include Spine Twist, Saw, and Short Box Series Twist and Tilt (obliques).

Think about working in all planes of movement when designing a class. Pilates is a form of exercise that stresses joint release, and freedom of movement in the joints without stressing the joints.

Focus on moving the joints in all their planes of motion. This includes
flexion, extension, rotation, lateral flexion, and rolling.

Joint stabilization as well as joint mobilization are an important part of every Pilates work-out. In Pilates we focus on multiple joint movements with every exercise.

As clients progress, the advanced exercises include more multi-planar and multi-joint movements as well as increased difficulty and need for stability.

Utilizing the Reformer, Wunda Chair, Spine Corrector, Trapeze Table, and Magic Circle help provide improved functional fitness in new and varied planes of movement.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Congratulations to Erin Johnson and Ranelle Berens for successfully passing the Reformer performance for Pilates Core Integration. Way to go girls!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Ankle

The ankle is the bridge between the foot and lower leg. The surface below the foot is constantly changing, and the feet need to adapt immediately on contact to any surface, be it the foot bar of the Reformer, the pedal of the Wunda Chair, or the floor. Normal activity of the ankle includes flexion and extension, with other movements happening in the joints of the feet. The action of the feet directly affect the ankle and lower leg.

The ankle is composed of the distal tibia, distal fibula and the top of the talus. Inversion and eversion (winging in and out) of the foot influence the ankle and lower leg, with the muscles of the lower leg affecting the foot and ankle.

Pronation and suppination (rolling in and out) occur in the subtalar joint, not in the foot. However, many of the movements of the foot and ankle happen in conjunction with one another.

As we age, the ankle joint looses flexibility and strength. It is our job to improve mobility, while increasing strength to promote proprioception, balance, and better gait patterns.

Try these exercises to strengthen and improve flexibility in your feet and ankles:

Standing Exercises

Releve Heel Lowers (rising up to the toes, and lowering the heels) with Straight Legs.* This exercise strengthens the gastrocnemius (plantar flexor).
Releve Heel Lowers with Bent Legs.*
Releve Heel Lowers on One Leg.*
* Plantar Flexion and Extension.
Toe Raises: Dorsi Flexion with digital flexion.

Wunda Chair

Sitting on the Wunda Chair with feet on the pedal. Execute the footwork on the heels, arches, toes, wide on the heels, and finally with flexion and extension of the ankle while the legs are held still at 90 degrees of flexion at the hip and knee.
Footwork: Plantar and Dorsi Flexion.
Ankle Flexion and Extension Footwork: this exercises strengthens the soleus muscle (plantar flexor). The gastrocnemius is loose at the knee during this exercise and is unable to assist.

Magic Circle

Sit on a chair or stool with knees bent, feet on floor. Place the magic circle in three positions in between the legs.
Legs (above knee, below knee, above ankles): This assists with inversion and eversion.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Congratulations to Canadians!

8 Pilates Core Integration Mat Certification students successfully passed their Mat Certification this last week. Congratulations to all!

Five of those students have moved on to take the Level I teacher training. You are all awesome. Nice work this last weekend.

See you in October. Thanks to Jana Danielson and Lead Pilates.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Anatomy in Clay Workshop

Moving Breath Pilates and Pilates Core Integration is offering a two day Anatomy in Clay course. Learn to build the major muscles of the body and how they apply to movement. August 25, 26, 2010. An exciting experience.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Moving Breath Pilates and Pilates Core Integration

Join us for our upcoming Pilates Mat Certification. Classes, work-outs,
and practice begin now with certification weekends in October.

For more information click here.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Pilates Core Integration Open House

You are invited to a Pilates Core Integration Open House for individuals interested in teacher training. During this Open House we will discuss Pilates certification on the Mat and Equipment, provide general information, and answer any questions you have regarding the Pilates certification programs.

When: Friday, September 17, 2010
Time: 5 P.M. - 7 P.M.
Location: Moving Breath Pilates Studio

Click here for more information.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Conference Call

Don't forget to sign up for this Sunday evening's conference call, "From the Ground Up". It's all about feet and how they affect our posture, gait, efficiency, and overall sense of well being. Log onto Click on classes. Click on register here. This re-directs you to our MindBodyOnline scheduling site. Register under teacher training. Yikes, that's a lot of instructions. You can make it easier by just calling the studio at 480-731-3101. Thanks!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Once again...

This Week at Moving Breath Pilates

Virginia was contacted by the folks at YouTube to become a YouTube partner. Her Intermediate Chair II video has close to 11,000 hits on the site. Awesome!
To view the video click here. We love YouTube.
We are listed as pilates2358 on YouTube.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pilates Principles

Welcome to an excerpt from the PCI Newsletter on the Pilates Principles.
In this issue we feature teacher trainee Karen Lutzer from PCI Affiliate Studio,
Lead Pilates in Saskatoon, Canada, owned by Jana Danielson.

Quality versus Quantity

Quality by definition is the "standard of how good something is as measured
against other similar things" and "general excellence". In contrast, quantity
is defined as "a certain amount or number".

Contrology, now known as Pilates, is about the quality of performing an
exercise to a standard developed by Joseph Pilates and not the quantity
or number of exercises a person can complete. The functional objective
of the Pilates series of standardized exercises is to improve a person's
quality of life "the benefits of Contrology depend solely upon your
performing the exercises exactly to instructions", pg 201

The number of repetitions of each Pilates exercise is kept low, with
the exception of exercises with beats. Joseph stated that you should
" never to repeat the selected exercise(s) more than the prescribed
number of times since more harm will result than good.. Because this
infraction creates muscular fatique-poison There is really
no need for tired muscles.",pg 311.

Quality through striving to achieve excellence in how a Pilates practitioner
should live their life is also found in Joseph Pilates belief of whole body
commitment. In Return to Life, he outlines a standard of how a person
should live including details on proper posture, sleeping quarters and
eating habits to achieve an improved quality of life.

Performing the Pilates repertoire to the standard of excellence developed
by Joseph Pilates and striving to live your life through a whole body
commitment by achieving a standard of excellence will increase your
quality of life, allowing you to "achieve happiness, for is not real happiness
truly born of the realization of worthwhile work well done" pp341.

1. Pilates, J. Return to Life. 3 Miami: Pilates Method Alliance Inc., 2005.
2. Soans, C. Oxford Dictionary of Current English. 3. New York. Oxford University Press. 1993.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

MP4 on iamplify!

We're so excited! We've entered the 21st century by putting an MP4 of Introduction to PIlates on: (page 5). Check out a sample on YouTube (movingbreathpilates) and pass it on to any friends or family you think might be interested. Thanks.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pilates Halfway House Work-out

Yesterday I gave a reformer class I called The Halfway House Work-out. The premise of the class was to take each exercise through its full range of motion, then explore the most distal then proximal parts of each exercise. This provided a challenge to my intermediate/advanced students allowing them to explore the opposite ends of each exercise and how they influence posture, strength, and mobility. Gotta love the possibilities of Pilates.

tags: pilates, reformer, exercise, posture

Monday, June 28, 2010

Scottsdale Community College

This is the last week of classes for the Summer Dance Conservatory at SCC. The students are doing very well learning the PCI Mat repertoire. My hope is that they will go onto becoming Pilates teachers to support their careers and lives.

tags: Scottsdale Community College, pilates

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pilates Inspired by Real Life

Let's build a better body together. The big day has arrived. Have you been thinking it's about time to start an exercise program? The transformation can be amazing. Real life, real people, and real situations inspired Joseph Pilates to develop his exercise program originally called Contrology. Pilates (as it's known now) is an excellent format for improving strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and centering. The technique is friendly for all, from the weekend warrior to the soon not-to-be couch potato. What are you waiting for? Find a Pilates studio near you and get going.

tags: pilates, exercise, contrology, movingbreath, strong tower pilates, reddance pilates, pilatesnorthaz, leadmc, equilibrium pilates, pacific pilates

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Devorah Kastner and Radomir Pashev took first place at the Colorado Star Ball this past weekend. Participants from 22 states attended the event, with 10 professional couples competing for the title. Of course the Pilates and Gyrotonic has put them a cut above the rest!

tags: Devorah Kastner, Radomir Pashev, ballroom dance, pilates, gyrotonic

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Myofascial Release, Pilates, and Gyrotonic

For the last two days I attended a Healing Seminar in Sedona, Arizona with John Barnes, founder of Myofascial Release Technique. MFR (Myofascial Release), Pilates, and Gyrotonic blend well together. All three techniques unwind the body in ways that allow for energy flow to and through the body.

tags: Myofascial Release, Pilates, Gyrotonic, unwinding, health, movement, exercise, movement therapy

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pilates Conference Calls
Today's topic: Forward Rounded Shoulders

The shoulder is the most complex and unstable joint in the body. Upper Cross Syndrome (forward rounded shoulders) is a postural dysfunction that results in shortening of the front body muscles and lengthening of the back body muscles.

Muscles in the shortened and tight position include the pectoralis major and minor, levator scapulae, teres major, upper trapezius, latissimus dorsi, sternocleidomastoid, and scalenes.

Muscles in the lengthened and weak position include the rhomboids, lower trapezius, serratus anterior, posterior deltoids, teres minor, and infraspinatus.

This imbalance is caused by poor posture, poor sitting and standing ergonomics, slumping, forward head positioning, and rounding of the upper thoracic spine.

This posture manifests in hunching of the thoracic spine, internal rotation of the shoulder, and anterior (forward) placed head. It can result in headache, thoracic outlet syndrome, upper thoracic pain, muscular imbalance, shoulder pain, improper biomechanics, and improper respiration.

In this conference call we will discuss forward rounded shoulders as it relates to pre-Pilates and Pilates exercises to assist in improving this condition.

Moving Breath Pilates and Pilates Core Integration hosts monthly conference calls on various topics related to Pilates, health, fitness, nutrition, and exercise. For more information visit and look under the teacher training tab. Click here to go to our website.

tags: Pilates, health, fitness, nutrition, exercise, posture, biomechanics

Monday, June 14, 2010

This Week at Moving Breath Pilates

Virginia was recently contacted by the folks at YouTube to become a YouTube partner. Her Beginner/Intermediate Chair video has over 13,000 hits on the site. This is quite an honor.
To view the video click here. We love YouTube.

Virginia Nicholas, M.A., R.N.

Pilates Core Integration/Moving Breath Pilates

1801 S. Jen Tilly Lane, Suite C-20

Tempe, Arizona 85281


Bringing the Carriage Home, by Virginia Nicholas, M.A., R.N.

When the Universal Reformer carriage is closest to the foot bar it is called being “home”. The “home” position allows for a complete range of motion of the muscles, bones, and joints when executing the Pilates exercises. When doing exercises such as footwork, it is important to press the carriage away from the foot bar until the client’s legs are fully lengthened, and to bring the carriage completely “home” on the bending of the legs. This allows for a full range of motion of the hips, legs, knees, ankles, and feet when completing the exercise.

Frequently clients attempt to work an exercise without returning the carriage to the “home” position. Kneeling Chest Expansion is an example of this problem. In order to feel as though they are “working hard” clients hold the ropes or leather straps higher than is appropriate. This tends to move the carriage away from the foot bar, out of the “home” position. In order to fulfill the complete range of motion of the shoulder joint, the carriage must begin and return home after each repetition of the exercise. If clients feel as though they are not working hard enough when the carriage returns “home”, add resistance for the exercise. This will maintain the integrity of the exercise, move the joints through their full range of motion, and produce more organized movement patterns.

Exercises such as Long Spine require use of strap extenders and ensuring the carriage is “home” before beginning the exercise. In order to find the Jackknife position required by the exercise, the carriage must begin “home” for the client to successfully find the Jackknife position.

The Pilates equipment functions as an extension of the body, and must be viewed as a partner in each exercise. Movements on the Universal Reformer must demonstrate fluidity, control of the carriage, equal rhythm and appropriate tempo of springs and straps without jerking, pulling, and uneven use of the carriage and straps. Imagine the machines as dance partners. Any overuse or underuse of the connection between the client and the machine are akin to unnecessary, disorganized pulling and pushing on the dance partner.

Remember to bring the carriage “home” between each repetition of exercises to fully complete and properly execute the Pilates exercises.