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 2

rolling_like_a_ball_small1Yesterday we looked at the muscles responsible for breathing.  Today we will discuss how the Pilates technique encourages one to breathe.

We learned that the diaphragm moves up and down — down for the inhale to suction the air into the lungs and up for the exhale to expel the air from the lungs.  Since air goes into the lungs, the only part of the body that needs to expand on the inhalation is the lungs.

Thus, the Pilates technique encourages keeping the abdominal muscles contracted throughout the exercises for both inhales and exhales.  Instead of allowing the abdominal cavity to expand — as you might in “belly breathing” as often encouraged in yoga — imagine the air filling the lower lobes of the lungs.  Breathing in this way expands the side and back of the ribs.

To help understand this, place your hands on the sides of your ribs with the fingers wrapped toward the back, thumbs down.  Now inhale and feel your ribs expand sideways, without letting your ribs pop out to the front or your abdominals inflate with air.  Also, don’t let your shoulders rise!  If this does not come naturally at first (as it did not with me at all) don’t despair.  With practice, this becomes easier and more natural.  Then exhale, and feel your ribs close again, like an accordian being compressed from each side to push the music (air).

As you work on breathing, please remember first and foremost that oxygen is necessary for exercise!  If you find the breathing confusing and find it creating stress and tension, then breathe comfortably.  Give yourself time to implement this breathing style naturally so that you continue to enjoy your Pilates workouts.

Our Ultimate Pilates Workouts site has a free technique video just on breathing, so if you would like more information, we suggest you watch this video!  Also, start with simple Pilates exercises such as the Half Curl and the Half Swan to perfect your breathing technique before moving on to more challenging exercises.  Rolling Like a Ball is another great exercise for practicing “side and back of the rib” breathing as the shape of the body makes it easier to visualize.

April 1, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, 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.

Why pelvic placement is important in Pilates

pelvic-motion-lateral-viewWhen we worked in Japan, we would never have guessed that we’d be writing an article about the pelvis! Despite our dance training since age 3, we had never stopped to learn or even think about the role the pelvis plays in the body.

While climbing the corporate ladder, we were no longer dancing, but we were running 7 miles in the morning, barely stretching and then sitting all day long — usually 10 hours at least — to make sure our Japanese colleagues knew we were serious hard-workers. In retrospect, knowing more about the pelvis and its surrounding the muscles would have saved our poor wittle backs (and probably increased our productivity too!)

Even if you’ve only taken one Pilates class in your life, your teacher most likely mentioned your pelvis more times than you could count! So why is the pelvis so important? In layman’s terms, it connects the upper and lover halves of the body. Tightness in the muscles that connect to the pelvis (which includes the abdominal muscles, hip flexors and hamstrings among others) cause problems in both the upper AND lower extremities. So YES — it’s pretty important!

So now for “Pelvis 101”: the word “pelvis” means “basin” in Latin. This is useful for visualizing how your pelvis should be positioned in relation to your spine and your femur (your thigh bone). If your pelvis were actually a basin full of water, you would want to walk, stand and sit keeping that basin completely level horizontally, so that the water wouldn’t spill out the front or the back. This is your “neutral” pelvis when upright and is depicted above by the picture in the middle. The term “ASIS” refers to your hip bones and the term “PSIS” is most easily described as those dimples you may see on the small of your back (though not completely accurate). You can see that the “basin” in the middle would not spill water down the front or back of your legs!

Likewise, an “anterior tilt” pictured on the left and a “posterior tilt” depicted on the right show common misalignments in the body. Think of it this way: in an “anterior tilt”, the hip bones move forward (anteriorly) relative to the pubic bone (the basin tips forward) and in a “posterior tilt”, the hip bones move back (posteriorly) relative to the pubic bone (the basin tips backwards). For those readers who care about the detailed anatomical definitions of all this, click here!

Since Pilates mainly occurs lying down, think that you rotate the above picture clockwise 90 degrees to put all the images on their backs! When lying down, a neutral pelvis is defined by the hip bones and the pubic bone in the same horizontal plane. An anterior tilt is seen by the lower back arching and the pubic bone dropping towards the floor and the hip bones rising, and a posterior tilt is seen by the lower back curling towards the mat with the pubic bone rising and the hip bones dropping.

In Pilates, all three positions are used, so you must listen to your instructor and know where your pelvis is at all times! Here are three exercises that require the three different positions: Swan Dive (pelvis moves from neutral to an anterior tilt); One Leg Circle (pelvis stays neutral throughout); and Rolling Like a Ball (pelvis stays posteriorly tilted throughout.) Want more? Our website offers a full technique video on the training page just on the pelvis so log on and watch it!

March 5, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, Postings. Leave a comment.

Tips for newcomers (and not so much newcomers) to Pilates

Our one tip for beginners is start at the beginning! We have so many clients come into our Manhattan Pilates studio, Pilates on Fifth and say “I’m advanced.” We say, “great! How long have you been doing Pilates?” The client usually responds, “well, I’ve never done Pilates before, but I’m really strong and I find the beginner classes too easy.” We find that you have to think about Pilates this way: if you decide to start Karate, Tae Kwon Do or any of the martial arts, do you think the master would allow you to progress to a green or blue belt just because you tell him you’re strong? Of course not! Everyone starts as a white belt. From there, some people progress through the ranks faster than others because they ARE strong, but everyone starts at the beginning, because learning the proper technique is important. Pilates is the same in this sense.

You almost have to approach learning Pilates as you would approach learning a new language. If you speak English and you’re in Japan, your current language isn’t “wrong”, it just doesn’t work in the country you’re in. The same goes with Pilates!! Pilates has a special technique of its own. You may feel like you’re doing Pilates “wrong” (please not the quotes), when in fact your body just needs to get accustomed to the technique. If you’re moving and breathing, you’re off to a great start!!! Everything else will fall in line. In the beginning, even the intention of doing the Pilates exercises with proper Pilates technique will get all your muscles working as they should be for Pilates, bringing you one lesson closer to flat abs and long, lean, sculpted muscles.

As any Pilates fan or advanced Pilates practicioner will tell you, if you start at the beginning, learn the technique and learn to do it right from the start, you can actually get a GREAT workout from a beginning class. We recall our days on tour, only being able to take whatever ballet class was available and sometimes having to settle for a beginning class. But you know what? The beginning classes are a great opportunity to focus on working deeply and GREAT technique. It is the thought and intention you put into every move that makes Pilates a great workout! Proper Pilates technique is undoubtedly the secret to the amazing results it yields!

December 5, 2008. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, Postings. Leave a comment.