Ground Reaction Force: The source of your power!

Newton's third lawDo you remember learning Newton’s third law in a science or physics class?  Don’t worry, we didn’t think so!  This is the law that states “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Well, in a nutshell, Newton’s third law explains ground reaction force.  When we run, jump, throw something, etc., we push against the ground to get power, and the ground returns the exertion of the force to help us get that power.  If this doesn’t make sense at first, imagine trying to throw a ball while treading water in a deep pool.  Clearly, without a stable surface to push against with the legs, a person in a pool could not propel the ball the distance he could if he were standing on firm ground.  In a pool, the legs and torso can do relatively little to help, so the shoulder, elbow and wrist joint must produce the majority of the force necessary to throw the ball.

If muscles in the hips and legs, particularly the gluteus medius, are weak or injured, then the scenario on land is not much better than that in water!  When we push against the ground and the ground returns the exertion, the joints of our bodies must transmit this force in the best anatomical and most efficient way possible.  In other words, all the muscles of the body must be recruited at the right time to accomplish the task at hand.  Muscles must “fire” sequentially to prepare the body to hit the ball, leap the hurdle or perform the double back flip with a twist.  Thus, if any muscle along the kinetic chain is weak, underused or injured, then the transmission of forces will be inefficient and faulty, and other body parts must take on more work to make up for the “weak link.”

Using the tennis serve as our example (see chart below) 54% of the ball’s speed should come from the trunk and back, hips and legs.  Fifty four percent!  This means that before the shoulder even becomes involved in the serve, the body from the shoulders down generates more than half of the power that gives the ball its speed.  Of course the remaining power comes from the upper body:  the shoulder joint is responsible for 21% of the power, the elbow, 15% and the wrist, 10%.

Ground Reaction Force for Tennis Serve_Pilates

If the gluteus medius is weak, the torso, back, shoulder, elbow and wrist compensate for the lack of power by taking on more of the force.  As discussed in a previous blog, the gluteus medius is a key stabilizer of the hip, especially when the weight is on one leg.  When “winding up” for the serve, the body’s weight is on the same leg as the serving arm.  The muscles are loaded with power and funneled into an explosive serve.  A weak gluteus medius results in decreased power and INCREASED potential for injuries.  In fact, research shows a weak gluteus medius contributes to shoulder and elbow injuries not only in tennis but in baseball, swimming and golf as well.

What can you do?  Well, strengthen your gluteus medius of course!  In our previous blog, we listed all the Pilates exercises that are great for doing just this, “Side Leg Lift Series,” “Side Lying Scissors,” “Side Lying Clam and Book,” etc.  But, unfortunately, if the firing pattern for hip abduction is faulty, the TFL (tensor fasciae latae) fires BEFORE the gluteus medius.  Ideally, the gluteus medius fires before the TFL, but the reverse is true for many people.  No matter how fabulous a Pilates instructor you are, teaching someone NOT to use a muscle is far more challenging then teaching them to use one!

This is where ActivCore is absolutely ideal!  Because the Redcord system allows for the off-weighting of clients, chronic “misfiring” during hip abduction can be remedied without complex imagery, vocabulary or body awareness.  The reduced load enables the client to perform hip abduction with the proper sequencing of muscle firing. Pictures 1 and 2 below shows the regular Side Lying Abduction exercise and pictures 3 and 4  shows the same exercise off-weighted. For more information on ActivCore or the Redcord system, please visit their respective websites at and  If you would like to enroll in the teacher training for ActivCore, please visit our teacher training page for upcoming training dates!

activcore sidelying abduction Picture1activcore sidelying abduction Picture 2

activcore sidelying abduction Picture3activcore sidelying abduction Picture 4

July 16, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . ACTIVCORE®, Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, Postings. Leave a comment.

Simplifying the Saw

saw“The Saw” is one of those Pilates exercises that a lot of people “just don’t get.”  At first glance, it might just look like a hamstring stretch, but it’s actually more complex.  The Saw is a classical Pilates exercise that increases flexibility of the spine and strengthens the core.  The goal of the exercise is to use the abdominal muscles to rotate the spine, then flex the spine over the leg, scooping in the abdominals.  You can also think of it as combining the classical Pilates exercises of Spine Twist and Spine Stretch Forward.  Now, because some flexibility in the hamstrings as well as freedom of movement through the hip flexors is required, you might find it necessary to sit on a small cushion or even in a chair so that it is easier to keep the focus on the spine and the core.  It’s very important to start the exercise with your pelvis in neutral (think vertical) alignment.  First, rotate your ribcage to one direction, feeling like you are growing taller as you rotate.  Then, imagine that you’re trying to round your spine over a beach ball….  You have to lengthen first, then round to try to go over the ball.  The opposite hand reaches to the outside of your foot, as if you were planning to saw off your baby toe.  The other arm naturally rotates so that the thumb faces the floor…. It’s simply more comfortable!!  For a detailed video of how to get the most out of the Saw, visit our Pilates on Fifth podcast at  We also feature the Saw in many of our Mat Pilates Workouts at

April 10, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, Postings. Leave a comment.

Pilates and breathing, part 1

diaphragm-upwIn Pilates, breath is integrated into the movement to bring the mind into focus, aid in relaxation, facilitate proper execution of the exercise and of course, oxygenate the body.  Before we delve into the role of the breath in Pilates, we will discuss the muscles involved in respiration.

The chief muscle of respiration is the diaphragm.  The diaphragm looks like a giant shiitake mushroom and originates on the xiphoid process and the inner surface of the lower six ribs, and its central tendon and smaller tendons (known as “crura”) attach to the vertebral column at the lumbar spine.  On an inhale, the diaphragm contracts and moves down, acting as a suction to pull air into the lungs.  On the exhale, the diaphragm moves up to expel the air.

Between the ribs lie the intercostal muscles, comprised of internal intercostal muscles and external intercostal muscles.  The external intercostals assist the inhale, and the internal intercostal muscles assist the exhale.



The intercostals:  for picture credit, click here.

At the end of a forced exhale, the abdominal muscles engage to help expire all the air — just think of blowing out many candles on a birthday cake.  On the other hand, at the end range of a forced inhale, the scalenes — muscles that originate on both sides of the vertebrae of the neck and insert on the first two ribs on each side — help “pick up” the ribs to allow greater capacity for air.

Check back for more articles this week on the role of the breath in Pilates!  In the meantime, please enjoy our podcasts and lots of great FREE workouts on!

March 31, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings. Leave a comment.

“Dance as though no one is watching you”…. but do Pilates like everyone is!!

single-leg-stretchYes, we know that Souza did not end his famous poem as such, but if we’ve learned one thing from the filming of our Pilates workouts, it’s how to increase the intensity of your . If you don’t think Pilates is hard enough, then imagine that you are doing Pilates in an Olympic arena, equipped with a full panel of judges who score you based on proper execution…. WOW!! Take it from us, it’s grueling. You can take a “beginner’s” workout and turn it into one of the best workout sessions just by focusing on all the little details and fine tuning. We like to think of it this way: as long as you’re investing the time to work out, then why not get the most that you can out of your session? Here are some few helpful hints based on what we’ve gleaned from filming our Pilates videos for the site:

1) Pull your abs in!! …And when you think they’re in, pull in a little more! Then, with every new exercises and every other repetition, repeat!

2) Straighten your knees fully! We know that we’ve written about the knees before, but it really is a way to kick up the intensity and get the whole body involved.

3) Open the shoulders! Involve the muscles of the upper backto keep the shoulders from rounding forward and create that beautiful, trademark Pilates posture.

4) Don’t forget your glutes! When doing side lying or prone exercises, your glutes (the muscles in your buttocks) are key to stabilizing your torso and upholding Pilates as a total body workout.

So there you have it! Just a few simple tips to help you get the most out of your Pilates workouts. Also, in addition to the four points above, proper form and technique will make the Pilates exercises even more effective. If you need help with an exercise or just want to know if you’re doing a Pilates exercise correctly, simply check out any of our podcasts. (link to podcasts)

March 26, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings. Leave a comment.

Helpful Hints for the Half Swan

instructors-167This gem of a Pilates exercise never quite gets the props we think it deserves, and yet no Pilates mat class is complete without it.  Sometimes called the Breast Stroke Prep (Stott Pilates(r)), or Cobra (yoga), or Sphinx (GYROTONIC(r)), the Half Swan targets the muscles of the upper back to create better posture and create a counterbalance to the usually over-dominant muscles of the front of the body, namely the pectoralis major and anterior deltoids.

When performing the Half Swan, try not to rely too much on your arms — make it about your back!  A good way to test this is to lift your hands off the mat slightly once you’ve reached your maximum thoracic extension.  Notice we said YOUR maximum…. this is certainly no exercise to try to compare yourself to the person next to you, or on your Pilates video!  ….And this includes the two of us!  We naturally have a good range of extension available to us.  Those of you who’ve been following our podcasts and free online Pilates videos for a while know that the flipside of our wide range of extension is our very limited range of flexion.  Don’t compare!

Also, be careful of your neck!  It is VERY tempting to lift your chin up and/or lift your eyes to the ceiling…DON’T!  This will put alot of strain on your neck.  If you’re unsure if your neck is in the right place, please view our free online Pilates technique video.


Finally, Half Swan is an EXCELLENT exercise for those suffering from osteoporosis or poor posture in general.  If you fall in this category, doing Half Swan as shown in the podcast or picture may be challenging.  A rule of instructors-169thumb for all Pilates exercises:  if you can’t get into the start position comfortably, then don’t do it!  Instead, lie on your bed (firmer mattress preferred), or something at least 1-2 feet off the ground, with your ribcage at the edge, allowing our head and shoulders to fall toward the floor.  (as pictured)  This will be your start position.  Inhale to prepare, then, exhale to lift… even if you only lift a little bit, you are still working the right muscles.  The goal would be to get your full torso parallel to the floor.  Be patient with yourself, as this may take some time!  If you feel any strain or discomfort in your lower back, reduce the range of motion or hang less of your body off the bed or bench.  The muscles of the upper back, not the lower back, are the ones we want to target.

Do the Half Swan (or Breast Stroke prep, or Cobra, or Sphinx) consistently, and the muscles of your upper back will strengthen and your posture will improve!

January 19, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, Postings. Leave a comment.

Free Pilates Workouts Online

Free workouts online have become incredibly popular in the last few years, but it’s surprising to realize that free pilates workouts online really haven’t existed until recently.  Of course you can find 10 minutes of a Pilates mat routine on youtube, but if you want to do a full length Pilates workout online, you’re hard pressed to find it.  The longest online free Pilates workout we were able to find was 22 minutes!!

We’ve owned and operated our New York Pilates Studio, Pilates on Fifth, for almost 9 years now, and trained hundreds of students through our Pilates certification program, The Pilates Academy International, and yet we still wanted a way to reach the masses…. The millions of Pilates practitioners across the US who love to do Pilates at home or do Pilates DVDs.

Then, we started our Pilates podcasts.  While these were still not free workouts online, they did (and still do) offer clear, concise Pilates instruction for each and every Pilates mat exercise.  To our delight, the response from the Pilates community was so favorable that we knew we had to find a way to create a website to offer free Pilates workouts online, and thus launched in October 2008.

Now, Pilates mat classes in NYC can be enjoyed by everyone with a computer with our free online Pilates workouts.  Whether you’re a professional to dancers to a senior citizen, the benefits of Pilates mat classes are remarkable. Because Pilates works on the “powerhouse”–the core muscles of the abdomen, buttocks, and lower back–it dramatically affects the posture. Clients who regularly take Pilates privates and mat classes at Pilates on Fifth often notice that they look taller and feel much more comfortable in their own skin.  …And now we bring our New York Pilates studio straight to your living room!

Pilates also improves spinal health. It strengthens the muscles which surround the spine in a way that is completely safe. Pilates mat classes help prevent injuries while creating muscle tone and flexibility. The fluid motions and breath work which are part of Pilates are great for relieving tension, too. Clients who regularly take Pilates have longer, stronger muscles, better posture, reduced tension, and an overall sense of vitality and relief from pain.

So, visit and pick the subscription package that’s right for you!  And remember, Basic membership is really free!!  Really!

January 10, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . 1. Leave a comment.