Pilates Anatomy

Chapter 6

Fine Articulation for a Flexible Spine

Movement of the spine is a complex process. As previously described in chapter 2, the spine is made up of 24 movable vertebrae in the neck (cervical), upper back (thoracic), and lower back (lumbar) that are joined by cartilage discs at their bodies and small gliding joints in their arches. Numerous ligaments and muscles connect the vertebrae. The five fused vertebrae of the sacrum move as a unit relative to the lowest lumbar vertebra.

A goal of Pilates is to achieve precise, sequential movement of each vertebra relative to the next vertebra. The desired precise movement is called spinal articulation. In anatomy, articulation simply refers to a joint, but other usages, such as “to utter distinctly each note in a musical phrase” or “the action or manner of jointing or interrelating,” are more akin to its use in Pilates. The term fine articulationclarifies that one aim of the exercises in this chapter is to promote finely coordinated spinal movements.

The spine moves in many directions, and the goal of Pilates is to achieve finely coordinated movements in all directions. Of particular importance is spinal flexion, this chapter’s focus. Many people lack flexibility in their lower backs and have difficulty achieving normal motion. Because the lower back naturally arches backward (concave to the back), spinal flexion tends to open this curve and can help restore healthy flexibility. Other people may have adequate flexibility but lack fine control.

Since the abdominal muscles are spinal flexors, the exercises in chapter 5 and this chapter share many similarities and benefits. While the exercises in chapter 5 focused more on muscular strength and endurance, the exercises in this chapter emphasize spinal mobility and articulation. Spine Stretch (page 98) uses precise spinal flexion from a sitting position. The next four exercises require you to maintain a finely articulated spine in a fixed flexed position while rolling. Rolling Back (page 100) develops the basic skills, while Seal (page 102) increases the difficulty by adding quick leg movements. Crab (page 104) advances to include greater movement forward, up, and over the knees. Rocker With Open Legs (page 108) requires you to hold both legs in a V position while rolling. The next four exercises provide a strong hamstring and lower back stretch. Rollover With Legs Spread (page 112) introduces basic skills before Control Balance (page 120) adds lifting one leg and Jackknife (page 123) both legs from a flexed spine position. Boomerang (page 116) combines the skills of Rollover With Legs Spread with the balance challenges of Teaser (page 92).

This chapter contains some of the most controversial Pilates exercises, including some involving extreme spinal flexion in which the body weight is borne by the shoulders and neck. Although many practitioners proclaim the benefits of these exercises, many medical specialists warn of their risks. Take extra caution with these exercises. Seek medical counsel to see if these exercises or their modifications are appropriate for you. Adequately warm up before exercising, and do not progress to more advanced exercises until you have mastered the basic versions. Medical practitioners generally recommend that exercises that require bearing weight on the neck be avoided by pregnant women, peri- and postmenopausal women, and people with osteoporosis or neck problems. Some types of lower back problems can be aggravated by flexion, although others may be aided.

Spine Stretch (Spine Stretch Forward)

Execution

1. Start position. Sit with the trunk upright. Knees are straight, legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and feet flexed (ankle–foot dorsiflexion). Hold the arms straight by your sides with your palms on the mat.

2. Exhale. Draw the abdominal wall in as your head and upper spine roll down and your arms reach forward. See the main muscle illustration. Glide your hands across the mat on the insides of your legs as shown.

3. Inhale. Roll the spine back up, returning to the start position. Repeat the sequence five times.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal extensors: erector spinae (spinalis, longissimus, iliocostalis), semispinalis, deep posterior spinal group

Spinal flexors: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Ankle–foot dorsiflexors: tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus

Shoulder flexors: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major (clavicular)

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Technique Cues

• At the beginning of step 2, keep your head close to your trunk as you roll down. Use the abdominals both to pull the abdominal wall inward and to bring the front of the rib cage down and back to maximize spinal flexion in the sitting position. As the abdominals create this desired scooped shape of the lower trunk, use the spinal extensors to smoothly control the lowering of the upper trunk caused by gravity. Sequentially move down the spine one vertebra at a time.

• Initially focus on keeping the pelvis vertical, using an isometric contraction of the hip extensors to prevent the top of the pelvis from moving forward relative to the thighs (i.e., preventing hip flexion) as you begin to reach forward.

• At the end of step 2, tilt the top of the pelvis forward slightly, and reach the arms farther forward to maximize the hamstring stretch.

• Emphasize the reach of the legs by using the ankle–foot dorsiflexors to flex the feet. Focus on reaching the heels forward while keeping them in contact with the mat.

• To achieve the desired reach of the arms, keep the scapulae down in a neutral position while the shoulder flexors help slide the arms forward and the elbow extensors keep the elbows straight to create a sense of length.

• During the roll-up in step 3, use the abdominals to pull the abdominal wall in. Simultaneously think of stacking one vertebra at a time on the sacrum, this time from the lumbar spine up, as the spinal extensors bring the spine back to vertical.

• Imagine. During the roll-down and roll-up, imagine a strap around your waist being pulled from behind, deepening your scooped center, as your arms and legs reach forward.

Exercise Notes

Spine Stretch provides a perfect opportunity to practice detailed articulation of the spine from a stable sitting position using two key spinal positions, straight and rounded. A common goal in Pilates when flexing the spine is to emphasize rounding the lower back, not just the upper back. Because the upper back (thoracic spine) naturally is concave to the front, it is very easy to overexaggerate rounding forward in this portion of the spine. This exercise allows you to focus on achieving adequate rounding in the lower back and provides a dynamic stretch for the hamstrings and lower spinal extensors.

Rolling Back (Rolling Like a Ball)

Execution

1. Start position. Sit with your knees drawn close to your chest, legs together so your body is in a tight ball with your feet resting on the mat. Place your head as close to your knees as your flexibility allows. Firmly grasp your lower legs. Rock back on your sit bones so that you are balanced with your feet suspended slightly above the mat.

2. Inhale. Roll back onto your upper back as shown.

3. Exhale. Roll forward (as shown in the main muscle illustration) to return to the start position. Repeat the sequence 10 times.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors and anterior stabilizers: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, transversus abdominis

Accompanying Muscles

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Hip adductors: adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, gracilis

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Shoulder extensors: latissimus dorsi, teres major, pectoralis major (sternal)

Elbow flexors: biceps brachii, brachialis

Technique Cues

• In step 1, scoop the abdominal wall in to create a deep C curve from the head to the coccyx. The hip flexors help hold the legs off the mat.

• At the beginning of step 2, pull in the lower abdominal wall even farther so that the ASIS and trunk roll back. Use just enough momentum to smoothly roll onto your upper back.

• To help reverse the direction of motion in step 3, think of using your hip extensors to bring your thighs away from your chest. (The arms will stop actual change in hip joint angle.) Use your shoulder extensors to pull your feet down. At the same time, use the abdominals to deepen lumbar flexion and raise the upper trunk to achieve the desired forward roll.

• Throughout the exercise, focus on minimizing the changes in the angles at the hips, knees, and elbows. Think of the body rolling as a whole. To help achieve this constant shape, balance isometric contractions of the arms and legs to maintain tension but no visible movement. Think of using the hip extensors to bring your knees slightly away from your body and the knee extensors to slightly extend the knees as your elbow flexors counter these potential motions by pulling the lower legs toward the buttocks.

• Use the hip adductors to keep the legs together as the body rolls.

• Imagine. Imagine you are on the inside of an exercise ball, maintaining a consistent curve of your spine against the arc of the ball as the ball rolls smoothly back and forth.

Exercise Notes

Rolling Back applies articulation of the spine in a different way. Here the goal is to maintain a constant flexed shape of the spine and contact each vertebra sequentially as the body rolls back and then forward in space. This requires shifting strategies for muscle activation and balance. This challenging skill will be used in many other exercises in this and later chapters.

Modification

If you are tight in the lower back or hips, have difficulty returning to the start position, or use too much movement of the lower legs, start with one hand on the back of each thigh just below the knee.

Variation

Place one hand just above each ankle, elbows pointing out, with the spine in a more gradual C curve, while emphasizing greater flexion in the lumbar region and less flexion in the upper back.

Seal (Seal Puppy)

Execution

1. Start position. Sit with the knees bent toward the chest and open slightly beyond shoulder width, heels together, with the spine in a C curve. Bring the arms between the thighs and then under the lower legs so that each hand grasps the outside of the respective foot. Lift the feet off the mat, raising the knees to outside the shoulders. Rock back on the sit bones to balance.

2. Inhale. Roll back onto your upper back as shown.

3. Exhale. Roll forward to return to the start position as shown in the main muscle illustration. Clap the feet together twice. Repeat the sequence 10 times.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors and anterior stabilizers: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, transversus abdominis

Accompanying Muscles

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Hip abductors: gluteus medius, gluteus minimus

Hip adductors: adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, gracilis

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Shoulder flexors: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major (clavicular)

Elbow flexors: biceps brachii, brachialis

Technique Cues

• In step 1, use the abdominal muscles to create a posterior pelvic tilt and C curve from the head to the coccyx. At the same time, pull in the abdominal wall so the front side of the trunk is scooped inward toward the spine. Use the hip flexors to hold the legs off the mat and keep the thighs close to the chest. The shoulder flexors and elbow flexors also help the arms hold the legs close to the shoulders with the hips in an externally rotated position.

• At the beginning of step 2, pull in the lower abdominal wall even farther so the ASIS rotate backward and the body rolls back smoothly onto the upper back.

• To help reverse the direction of motion in step 3, use the hip extensors to bring your thighs away from your chest and your hands to pull your legs down. (The arms will stop actual change in hip joint angle.) At the same time, use the abdominals to deepen lumbar flexion and raise the upper trunk to achieve the desired forward roll of the body as a whole.

• As the body rolls, attempt to maintain a constant shape of the body, applying the concepts described here and in Rolling Back (page 100).

• Once you reach the balance start position, gently clap the feet together twice, using the hip abductors to open the legs and the hip adductors to close the legs. The emphasis is on the closing of the legs with a quick and sharp dynamic.

• Imagine. To achieve the desired smooth rolling of the body, imagine that your spine is the arc of a ball, wheel, or hoop that retains its curve as the object rolls.

Exercise Notes

Seal gets its name from the claps of the feet, likened to a seal clapping its flippers. Seal shares many of the benefits and challenges of Rolling Back (page 100), such as a dynamic stretch for the spinal extensors, coordinated use of the abdominals to maintain a C curve of the spine while rolling, skilled use of momentum, and the rock back on the sit bones to balance. In the top position, Seal adds the challenge of feet claps, which can easily disrupt momentum, balance, or maintenance of the C curve.

Modification

If lack of balance or flexibility limits your ability to perform Seal, begin with your knees farther from your shoulders, arms outside the upper thighs, and hands grasping the backs of the thighs just above the knees.

Variation

For an additional challenge, clap the feet three times at both the bottom and the top positions of the movement, pausing before rolling.

Crab

Execution

1. Start position. Sit with your knees bent and one ankle crossed in front of the other. The spine is in a C curve. Bringing your arms around your thighs, grasp each foot with the opposite hand (left foot with right hand and right foot with left hand), elbows pointing out and slightly bent. Place the thumbs on the insides of the feet, fingers wrapping under the arches. Lift the feet off the mat, raising the knees inside the shoulders. Rock back on the sit bones to balance.

2. Inhale. Roll back onto your upper back as shown.

3. Exhale. Roll forward through the start position (see the main muscle illustration) to place the head on the mat as shown. Rolling back to the start position again, repeat the entire sequence six times. After the final repetition, return to the balance start position.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors and anterior stabilizers: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, transversus abdominis

Accompanying Muscles

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Hip external rotators: gluteus maximus, deep outward rotators

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Shoulder extensors: latissimus dorsi, teres major, pectoralis major (sternal)

Elbow flexors: biceps brachii, brachialis

Technique Cues

• In step 1, use the abdominal muscles to create a posterior pelvic tilt and C curve from the head to the coccyx. At the same time, pull in the abdominal wall so the front side of the trunk is scooped inward toward the spine. Use the hip flexors to hold the legs off the mat and keep the thighs close to the chest. The hips are externally rotated slightly so the knees go toward the insides of the shoulders.

• At the beginning of step 2, pull in the lower abdominal wall even farther so the ASIS rotate posteriorly and the body rolls smoothly onto the upper back. Try to minimize changes in the C curve of the spine and angles of flexion at the hips and knees.

• To help reverse the direction of motion at the beginning of step 3, think of using the hip extensors to bring your thighs away from your chest and your shoulder extensors to pull the feet toward your buttocks. As described in Rolling Back (page 100), coordinated simultaneous contraction of the knee extensors and elbow flexors minimizes undesired changes in joint angles and facilitates the forward rolling of the body as a whole. Use the abdominals to deepen lumbar flexion as you begin the roll and then to bring the upper trunk up later in the rolling motion (mid step 3).

• As the body weight shifts over the knees in late step 3, think of lifting the pelvis up and over the knees through a combined contraction of the hip extensors, knee extensors, and abdominals. Here the angle of knee flexion decreases to allow the trunk to come forward so the head can touch the mat, while the hip external rotators act to maintain the same outward facing of the knees.

• In step 3 when the head is on the mat, carefully control the force and speed of the forward movement so that the forces applied to the small vertebrae of the neck remain very low.

• During the return to the start position, fine eccentric use of the knee extensors and hip extensors is important for controlling the lowering of the pelvis and protecting the knees.

• Imagine. During the challenging phase of rolling over the knees and placing the head on the mat, imagine a partner pulling up and forward on the belt loops of your jeans to lift your pelvis. Use this same image as you roll back. This may help you achieve the desired smooth, light, and lifted feel of the movement.

Exercise Notes

Crab may get its name from the similarity between the shape of the legs—knees to the sides and feet coming toward the center—used in this exercise and the shape of the front clawed appendages of a crab. Crab is an advanced exercise that should be attempted only by very skilled students of Pilates and only after Rolling Back (page 100) and Seal (page 102) can be performed with excellent form. It shares many of the benefits of these two exercises, including a dynamic stretch for the spinal extensors, coordinated use of the abdominals and other muscles to maintain the body in a ball shape as it rolls, skilled use of momentum, and sophisticated balance on a small base of support.

However, Crab adds a new challenge—forward movement of the body with the knees in a vulnerable position, deep knee flexion that is weight bearing. In addition, the knees point somewhat to the sides rather than straight ahead, making twisting of the knees a potential problem if good form is not applied. Furthermore, the end position stretches the neck in a way that could be dangerous if good control is not maintained. Therefore, it is wise that this exercise not be performed by people with knee problems, neck problems, or other conditions that could increase the potential risk of injury associated with it.

Variation

While performing Crab, uncross and recross the legs in the rolled-back position. The knees may either remain bent or straighten as shown and then bend again. This variation adds a fun challenge to Crab. The quick movements of the legs and arms require coordinated use of the many associated muscles to avoid disrupting core stability or the flow of the movement. This variation also uses a slightly different position of the hands that some people may find helps them keep a more neutral position of the feet. To allow time for careful inclusion of the new elements while keeping the exhale on the most difficult up phase of the movement, adjust the breath pattern. Exhale on the roll-back, inhale as the legs change, exhale on the roll-up, and inhale for the gentle neck stretch.

Rocker With Open Legs (Open-Leg Rocker)

Execution

1. Start position. Rock back on the sit bones to balance, with the knees close to the chest and open about shoulder-width apart while the lower back is in a C curve. The hands grasp the legs just above the ankles. Straighten both knees to form a V position with the body.

2. Inhale. Roll back onto your upper back as shown.

3. Exhale. Roll forward to return to the V position. See the main muscle illustration. Repeat the sequence five times.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors and anterior stabilizers: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, transversus abdominis

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae, pectineus

Accompanying Muscles

Spinal extensors: erector spinae

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Hip abductors: gluteus medius, gluteus minimus

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Shoulder flexors: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major (clavicular)

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Technique Cues

• In step 1, contract the abdominals to create a slight posterior pelvic tilt and prevent the lower back from arching as the hip flexors contract to help support the legs, especially as the knee extensors straighten the legs. The hip abductors hold the legs apart in the V position while the arms prevent the legs from opening too wide and the shoulder flexors aid the hip flexors in holding the legs off the mat.

• At the beginning of step 2, pull in the lower abdominal wall even farther so that the ASIS rotate posteriorly and the body rolls smoothly onto the upper back.

• As the body rolls back, keep the elbows extended, and use the hip extensors to keep the legs from dropping toward your chest.

• At the beginning of step 3, think of using the hip extensors to move your legs away from your chest to help the body roll in the desired direction, although the arms will stop actual change in hip joint angle. As the body rolls forward later in step 3, think of deepening the C curve to assist with rolling as you use the abdominals to pull the front of the rib cage down to help the upper trunk curl up to the balanced V position.

• Throughout the exercise, maintain a long leg line by using the knee extensors to keep the knees straight and the ankle–foot plantar flexors to gently point the feet. Think of reaching your legs out in space.

• Focus on keeping the scapulae in their neutral position. Avoid letting the shoulders rise toward the ears, particularly when in the V position.

• Imagine. As suggested by the name of this exercise, imagine the spine is smoothly rocking backward and forward like a rocking chair.

Exercise Notes

Rocker With Open Legs is another signature Pilates exercise, often seen in photos because of its pleasing aesthetics and difficulty. Rocker With Open Legs uses many of the skills practiced in Rolling Back (page 100), but the straight-leg position adds substantial difficulty. This straight-leg position provides a beneficial hamstring stretch for many people and markedly increases the balance challenge. The V position used in this exercise is also an essential element of Teaser (page 92).

Modifications

If your hamstrings are tight, try holding onto the calves rather than the ankles. If this is not enough of an adjustment, allow the knees to bend slightly and hold the backs of the thighs.

Variation

This exercise can also be performed with a flat back as shown. In this variation, pay close attention to extending the spine toward the ceiling on a diagonal while using the abdominals to maintain a neutral pelvic position at the end of the roll-up in step 3. This helps develop the valuable skill of using the spinal extensors to straighten the back without letting the pelvis anteriorly tilt in this demanding position in terms of both balance and leg support.

Rollover With Legs Spread (Rollover)

Execution

1. Start position. Lie supine with the arms by the sides and the palms facing down. Hold the legs straight out at an angle of about 60 degrees to the mat or higher if pelvic stability cannot be maintained at 60 degrees.

2. Inhale. Raise the legs to a vertical position (90-degree hip flexion).

3. Exhale. Round the spine, bringing the pelvis off the mat and toward the shoulders as the legs move over the head as shown in the main muscle illustration.

4. Inhale. Lower the feet toward the mat as shown, touching the mat if flexibility allows, and then separate the legs to shoulder-width apart.

5. Exhale. Slowly roll the spine back down to the mat. When the pelvis reaches full contact with the mat, lower the legs farther down and bring them back together to return to the start position.

6. Repeat this same sequence, starting with the legs apart in step 1, and then bring them together when overhead in step 4. Roll down with the legs together, and separate them in step 5 as you prepare to repeat the exercise.

7. Repeat the sequence three times starting with the legs together in step 1 and then three times starting with the legs apart.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae, pectineus

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Hip abductors: gluteus medius, gluteus minimus

Hip adductors: adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, gracilis

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Shoulder extensors: latissimus dorsi, teres major, posterior deltoid

Technique Cues

• Draw in the abdominal wall toward your spine to help keep the pelvis stable and prevent arching the lower back as the hip flexors hold the legs out and then raise the legs to vertical in steps 1 and 2.

• Use the abdominals to posteriorly tilt the pelvis and round the spine sequentially in early step 3. Start from the bottom of the spine, and maximize lumbar flexion in the rollover phase. People with very flexible spines may need to simultaneously use a subtle contraction of the spinal extensors to achieve the desired C position without the middle and upper back collapsing into too much flexion.

• Use the hip extensors to keep the legs off the mat in step 3 and then to control the legs as they lower to touch the mat in step 4. Use the hip abductors to slightly separate the legs.

• Keep the legs close to the chest, and focus on keeping the lower trunk curled as long as possible as the abdominals control the sequential lowering of the spine to the mat in step 5. After the trunk is fully lowered, focus on using the abdominals to keep the pelvis and lower back stable as the hip flexors control the lowering of the legs and the hip adductors bring the legs back together.

• Throughout the exercise, maintain a long leg line by using the knee extensors to keep the knees straight and using the ankle–foot plantar flexors to gently point the feet. Think of reaching the legs out in space in whichever direction the legs are traveling.

• As you raise the pelvis off the mat in step 3, press the arms into the mat to use the shoulder extensors to help bring the upper trunk forward. Pressing the arms into the mat as the trunk lowers to the mat in step 5 will allow the shoulder extensors, working eccentrically, to aid in this challenging phase of the movement.

• Imagine. Imagine curling the pelvis around a ball in the up phase of the movement and then scooping the ball toward the feet as the pelvis begins to lower.

Exercise Notes

Think of Rollover With Legs Spread as a reverse movement of Roll-Up (page 73), in which the emphasis is on bringing the pelvis toward the rib cage rather than the rib cage toward the pelvis. Focusing on starting the movement with the pelvis is valuable for developing the skill of spinal articulation in the lower back, with each lumbar vertebra moving sequentially into flexion. It is also useful for developing the skill of using the abdominals to posteriorly tilt the pelvis. This latter skill is essential to counter the tendency of anteriorly tilting the pelvis, a common postural problem that often accompanies movements in which the legs move away from the center, such as in Hundred (page 78) and Teaser (page 92). Posteriorly tilting the pelvis has also been shown to activate more muscle fibers in the lower abdominal area, making such exercises key for developing core stability. Finally, this exercise offers a rigorous dynamic stretch of the hamstrings and spinal extensors for many people.

While Rollover With Legs Spread offers many potential benefits, the motion of bringing the legs over the head can produce weighted flexion of the upper back and neck, which is not appropriate for many people. Be sure to work in a range in which you experience no neck or back discomfort. Consult your physician, and if indicated, delete or modify this exercise as needed.

Modifications

Roll back and lower your legs in steps 3 and 4 only to the point at which you feel the weight of your body primarily supported by the shoulders and upper back, not your neck. This can reduce stress on the neck. If the hamstrings are tight, first work to achieve a position in which your legs are parallel to the mat instead of touching the mat. If hamstring inflexibility prevents this, allow the knees to bend slightly as the legs go overhead. If tightness in the spine or shoulders prevents you from bringing the pelvis above the shoulders in the rollover phase, bend your elbows and use your hands to support your pelvis as the legs reach overhead.

Variation

This exercise can also be performed with the feet flexed (ankle–foot dorsiflexion) in the overhead position to emphasize the dynamic hamstring stretch and the feet pointing as they return to the start position.

Boomerang

Execution

1. Start position. Sit upright with the legs straight to the front, one ankle crossed over the other and the feet pointed. Arms are close to the sides, with palms on the mat.

2. Exhale. Roll the torso back onto the mat as shown, legs reaching overhead. See Rollover With Legs Spread (page 112) for key muscles active in the rollover phase. Switch the legs so the opposite ankle is crossed in front.

3. Inhale. Roll forward and up into the V position as the arms swing back with the palms facing up. See the main muscle illustration.

4. Exhale. Lower the legs to the mat, and bring the head to the knees or as far as flexibility allows as the arms continue to reach back and up as shown.

5. Inhale. Maintain this position of the torso as the arms circle around to the front.

6. Exhale. Roll back as in step 2. Repeat the sequence six times, alternating the top ankle. After the final repetition, return to start position.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae, pectineus

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Spinal extensors: erector spinae

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Hip abductors: gluteus medius, gluteus minimus

Hip adductors: adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, gracilis

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Shoulder flexors: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major (clavicular)

Shoulder extensors: latissimus dorsi, teres major, posterior deltoid

Shoulder abductors: middle deltoid, supraspinatus

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Technique Cues

• Draw the abdominals in and up to prevent arching the lower back as the hip flexors lift the legs off the mat and then to create a posterior pelvic tilt as you roll back in step 2. Think of moving the legs and pelvis together at the beginning of the roll-back. Attempt to keep the angle of hip flexion constant.

• At the end of step 2, use the hip extensors to keep the legs lifted off the mat, and keep the height consistent as they switch. Use the hip abductors to separate the legs slightly and the hip adductors to close them with the new leg in front.

• In step 3, use the abdominals to control the sequential lowering of the pelvis and spine in the first phase and then to help lift the upper trunk into the V position in the later phase. Initially the hip extensors help to bring the legs in the opposite direction, away from the head, before the hip flexors activate to hold the legs off the mat and help raise the trunk into the V position.

• In step 4, use the hip flexors eccentrically to smoothly lower the legs as the abdominals prevent an anterior pelvic tilt. The spinal extensors work eccentrically to control the forward motion (flexion) of the spine.

• Throughout the exercise, maintain a long leg line by using the hip adductors to keep the legs crossed, the knee extensors to keep the knees straight, and the ankle–foot plantar flexors to gently point the feet.

• Press the arms into the mat to encourage use of the shoulder extensors to help raise the upper trunk in step 2 and control its lowering in step 3. In steps 3 and 4, use the shoulder extensors to raise the arms to the back once the arms are no longer in contact with the mat. In these latter steps, think of reaching the arms back and up as they rotate internally to encourage use of the latissimus dorsi while the elbow extensors keep the elbows straight.

• When circling the arms from the back to the front in step 5, the shoulder abductors help the hands clear the mat. Maintain the reach of the arms as they arrive at the front position, using the shoulder flexors eccentrically to lower the arms to the start position.

• Imagine. The name of this exercise, Boomerang, provides a useful image for the rhythmic alternating and arc-shaped quality of this movement. After a boomerang flies in an arc in one direction, it reverses direction to arc back to its start point.

Exercise Notes

Boomerang is a complex exercise that dynamically challenges core stability and balance as the whole body moves through space. It involves a large array of muscles but in a manner that promotes whole-body coordination and core control rather than builds strength. It also provides a dynamic stretch for the hamstrings, spinal extensors, and shoulder flexors. Boomerang incorporates the challenges of Rollover With Legs Spread (page 112) and Teaser (page 92) with other elements. Do not attempt this exercise until you achieve proficiency with Rollover With Legs Spread and Teaser. Even then, this is a very advanced exercise and should be performed only if it is appropriate for you.

Modification

If hamstring flexibility is inadequate, slightly bend the knees to relieve the stretch as you roll up to the V position and stretch forward (steps 3 and 4).

Variation

Rather than maintaining a flexed spine, perform this exercise using upper back extension in the V position. Bring the arms forward to an overhead position in step 3, and then circle them to the sides and back. Interlace the hands as shown, and emphasize pulling the shoulder blades slightly down and together as the upper back lifts toward the ceiling. Having the shoulders back instead of rounded forward while reaching the arms back provides a profound stretch for the shoulder flexors. Circle the arms to the sides and forward toward the feet after lowering the legs in step 4.

Boomerang variation.

Boomerang variation.

Control Balance

Execution

1. Start position. Perform Rollover With Legs Spread (page 112), and remain with the legs overhead and the feet gently pointed on the mat or as close to the mat as they can reach. Circle the arms around and overhead to grasp the sides of the feet.

2. Exhale. Move the hands so one hand holds the outside ankle of the bottom leg and the other holds the calf. Raise the top leg toward the ceiling, ideally to a vertical position as shown.

3. Inhale. Let go of the bottom leg, and switch legs so that the opposite leg reaches toward the ceiling and the hands grasp the outside ankle and calf of the other leg. Repeat the sequence three times on each side, six times in total. After the last repetition, bring both feet to the mat, and roll the spine back down to the mat.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique

Spinal extensors: erector spinae (spinalis, longissimus, iliocostalis), semispinalis, deep posterior spinal group

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, biceps femoris)

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Shoulder flexors: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major (clavicular)

Technique Cues

• When the legs are overhead in step 1, focus on using the abdominals to maintain a C curve of the spine and keep the pelvis over the shoulders. Simultaneously, use a small contraction of the very low spinal extensors to decrease the posterior tilt of the pelvis, and think of reaching the coccyx toward the ceiling. Try to keep this core positioning stable as the legs alternately lift and lower.

• As one leg reaches toward the ceiling in step 2, focus on using the hip extensors to raise the back of the thigh to be in line with the pelvis. As the legs switch in step 3, smoothly control the lowering of the top leg with an eccentric contraction of the hip extensors, while the same muscle group in the other leg is used concentrically to raise the leg.

• To aid with stability, use the shoulder flexors to pull down on the ankle of the lower leg. By keeping the lower leg stable, the hip flexors also can be used to prevent the trunk from falling back down toward the mat.

• Throughout the exercise, maintain a long leg line by using the knee extensors to keep the knees straight and the ankle–foot plantar flexors to gently point the feet.

• Imagine. Imagine the legs are like a protractor. The lower leg is the arm of the protractor that remains stationary. The upper leg is the arm of the protractor that moves to a vertical position.

Exercise Notes

Control Balance is a very challenging exercise that develops control of the core to maintain balance, even though reaching one leg to the ceiling will tend to make the trunk want to fall back toward the mat. An intricate activation of the abdominals, spinal extensors, hip extensors, and hip flexors is required to execute this exercise without losing balance. In addition, the leg movement offers potential benefits in terms of dynamic flexibility for the often tight hamstrings and hip flexors.

While offering strong potential benefits, this exercise intensifies the risks of imposing weighted flexion on the upper back and neck mentioned in Rollover With Legs Spread (page 112) and is better avoided until you receive medical clearance that it is appropriate for you.

Modification

If flexibility in the hamstrings is slightly insufficient to achieve step 2, hold the lower leg stationary with the foot above, not touching, the mat. If hamstring and lower back tightness is extreme, first develop adequate flexibility with other Pilates exercises such as Rollover With Legs Spread (page 112).

Variation

Perform the exercise with the foot on the mat flexed (ankle–foot dorsiflexion) and a gentle double pulse and associated two percussive exhales (as used with Single Straight-Leg Stretch, page 84) when the top leg is at its peak height, while using the inhale for the leg switch.

Jackknife

Execution

1. Start position. Lie supine with the arms by the sides and the palms facing down. Hold the legs straight out at an angle of about 60 degrees relative to the mat or higher if pelvic stability cannot be maintained at 60 degrees. Gently point the feet. From this position, raise the legs to vertical (90-degree hip flexion).

2. Inhale. Round the spine and bring the pelvis and lower back off the mat, with the legs on a diagonal line opposite your face as shown in the first muscle illustration. Lift the legs and pelvis toward the ceiling as shown in the second muscle illustration.

3. Exhale. Slowly roll the trunk down to the mat. When the pelvis comes in full contact with the mat, bring the legs back to the vertical start position. Repeat the sequence five times.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique

Spinal extensors: erector spinae (spinalis, longissimus, iliocostalis), semispinalis, deep posterior spinal group

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae, pectineus

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, biceps femoris)

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Hip adductors: adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, gracilis

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Shoulder extensors: latissimus dorsi, teres major, posterior deltoid

Technique Cues

• Draw the abdominal wall in toward your spine to help keep the pelvis stable and prevent undesired arching of the lower back as the hip flexors hold the legs out and then raise the legs to vertical in step 1.

• Early in step 2, use the abdominals to posteriorly tilt the pelvis and curl the spine sequentially off the mat, starting from the bottom. Also use the hip extensors to keep the legs on a diagonal instead of allowing them to drop to the mat and then to raise the legs toward the ceiling late in step 2.

• As the legs rise, simultaneously press the arms into the mat to use the shoulder extensors to bring the upper trunk forward while the spinal extensors help lengthen the back toward the ceiling so the feet are over the face but most of the body weight is supported by the shoulders.

• Control the body as it lowers back to the start position in step 3. Focus on using the abdominals to control the release of the posterior tilt to a neutral position toward the end of the movement.

• Throughout the movement, think of gently pulling the inner thighs together to activate the hip adductors, as the knee extensors keep the knees straight and the ankle–foot plantar flexors point the feet to achieve a long, arrowlike leg line.

• Imagine. As the name implies, the image of opening and closing a jackknife can be helpful in achieving the desired precise opening (extension) and closing (flexion) at the hip joint.

Exercise Notes

Jackknife shares many of the benefits of Rollover With Legs Spread (page 112), such as a dynamic stretch for the hamstrings and lower spinal extensors. But it offers a greater spinal articulation challenge by incorporating extension of the spine between phases of flexion and greater balance skill when both legs are lifted to the ceiling. This use of spinal extension is helpful for spinal muscle balance and is a valuable respite for the many other Pilates exercises that focus on spinal flexion alone.

Modification

Use the arms to support the pelvis as shown, and bring the feet overhead only as far as lower back and hamstring flexibility allow. This modification reduces the weight borne by the neck. However, check with your doctor to see if this exercise or its modification is appropriate for you.

Variation

After you develop proficiency, and only if it is appropriate for your body, try lowering the feet to touch the mat in step 2 and raising the trunk to a more vertical position as you lift the legs toward the ceiling.