The philosophy of Pilates being used by fitness trainers of professional athletes.

Main article by:  Alex Gheciu “Fit Tips” Chill Magazine, Dec 2012

I picked up the “Chill” magazine this weekend and low and behold the Fit Tips section discusses functional fitness that works on developing movement over strength – something I have been focused on for over a decade.  The emphasis of this type of training works the body from the inside out versus working the exterior muscles with a lot of weight.  Here is a brief synopsis of the article.

A triad a ‘elite’ fitness gurus; Sylvestor Walters of Evolution Extreme Fitness, former Toronto Raptors Doug Christie and Washington State track champ and professional trainer Tim Manson, claim to have developed a movement based training method which has upped the games of top-shelf athletes from the NBA to A-level soccer players.  While many guys are obsessed with pumping iron, looking like Arnold won’t won’t help you with athleticism.

“Bodybuilders are the worst athletes in the world.” says Tim Manson.  They train from the outside out for aesthetics.  You need to train naturally from the inside out and learn how to move.   Movement training made popular by this trio has boosted the the performances of pro athletes by training them to move efficiently while avoiding injury.  Based on the belief that size isn’t strength, the philosophy is a call to drop the weights and use your brain.   Add the weight after you learn to move!

They do not use bench press machines at their facilities, as you need to control your body first – moving in a way that controls the forces your body generates.  This is done by having proper co-ordination between the muscles.  You must find a way to get the most out of every movement without expending too much energy.  Once you do, you’ll have boundless flexibility, mobility and balance, as well as, the ability to leverage your strength during different movement patterns.

“You don’t just jump with your ankles; you jump with your whole body.” Christie explains.  The whole body is trained to take advantage of the greater strength in your quads, calves, hips, lower back and propel yourself with your arms.  Your body doesn’t identify individual muscles but the entire kinetic chain.

This group of fitness trainers believe athletic excellence can be achieved by synchronizing “mind, body and sport.”  They add that many athletes are not harnessing their full potential because they don’t truly understand the fundamentals of movement.  Mastering those fundamentals, according to Walters et al., is a seven- stage journey consisting of stabilization, mobility, strength, power, energy system development, rest restoration and recovery and mental training.

I truly appreciate this trio’s emphasis and the way they are presenting fitness training being more than a bunch of exercises, but a step-by-step process that works on developing the functional fitness of the entire body.  Great work which is ideally what the Pilates method is all about.  I thank you for communicating the message and bringing it to the realm of male professional sport.  I look forward to following your posts.


A tribute to Martha Graham

A spectacular ‘Google doodle’  commemorating Martha Graham’s life contribution to Dance.  “Martha Graham (1894–1991) is known as one of the great creative minds of the 20th Century” – a true movement therapist and flow at it’s finest.  PilateOn!


Click the link below for Google’s first animated doodle May 11 2011:

Hip Flexors vs. Abdominal Muscles

Hip Flexors vs Abdominal Muscles – Are Your Hip Flexors Taking Over Your Ab Exercises?

By Marguerite Ogle, Guide  Updated June 20, 2010 Health’s Disease and Condition content is reviewed by our Medical Review Board

Anterior Hip MusclesAnterior Hip Muscles

If you take Pilates classes you might hear the phrase, stay out of your hip flexors. What does that mean? And can you do it?

First, the hip flexors are a group of muscles that bring the thigh and trunk of the body closer together. You use your hip flexors in many daily activities like walking, stepping up, and bending over. Technically, the hip flexors are the illiacus, psoas major, pectineus, rectus femoris, and sartorius muscles. Obviously, we need our hip flexors. But we usually don’t need them as much as we use them in ab exercises.

     Here is the problem: When we exercise to target the abs, as we do in Pilates, we do exercises that decrease the distance between our thigh and trunk – think situps, roll up, leg lifts. Now the hip flexors are a strong group of muscles, and they try to take over. So we end up working our hip flexors more than our abdominal muscles! This is one of the ways that you can do 500 situps and not have a single one of them truly target your abs.

You know the kind of situps where you put your feet under something that holds them down and do a whole bunch of situps with an almost flat back? Guess what? Mostly hip flexors. Pilates people run the same risk with the many flexion (forward bending) exercises we do.

So how do I get out of my hip flexors?

The answer isn’t simple. A lot of us have to work on the hip flexor habit constantly. For one thing, you can’t really leave the hip flexors entirely out of most ab exercises. They are still an important part of the picture. The idea is to get the abs involved as much as you can and to keep the hip flexors from taking over.

Our first line of defense is always awareness. When you do Pilates or other ab focused work, put your attention on your abdominal muscles. Start to figure out for yourself what feels like abs and what feels like hip flexors. It might help to familiarize yourself with the abdominal muscles and their functions. Work also with being aware of how over tucking the pelvis can bring the hip flexors in to play.

Low back pain and soreness in the groin area may be signs that you are weak in the abs and over-using your hip flexors. Another clue is not being able to keep your feet and legs down when you do a sit up or roll up. Do you see the logic in that one? What’s happening there is that the abs aren’t strong enough to do their up-and-over contraction, but we’ve told the body to get the trunk and thigh closer together, so the hip flexors take over and the feet fly up. (Tight hamstrings play a role too)

To learn Pilates exercises that increase awareness and set the foundation for body mechanics that balance ab and hip flexor attend one of  Samantha Reed’s classes at Temple Fitness clinic in Medicine Hat.  Private training is highly recommended prior to joining classes.  Click on the clinic link above the register for class or private training.  Private training can be booked at Openspace Pilates, Medicine Hat or through Samantha’s web-site: Pilate Body Mechanics.

Finding balance between the upper and lower body.

One of the hardest things to achieve in Pilates and most body work, is balance between the upper and lower body or the torso and the legs. Tight hamstrings and hips can pull the pelvis and spine out of alignment making symptoms worse.  To achieve free movement of the leg while the torso remains in neutral spine, without undue stress and tension try the stretches below, photos courtesy of the Yoga Journal, March 2012.  These stretches can be challenging, thus why working with an instructor is important.  A good instructor can help you re-adjust to maximize results.  Relax and breath your way through these stretches – they will change the relationship you have with your body. 

Hamstring stretch: with a resistance band or yoga strap.  Relax the front of the thigh especially right where the thigh begins at the front of the hip. Exhale press through your foot like it is flat on the ceiling. Inhale bend knee and come out of the stretch slightly, exhale repeat. Keep lengthening sitz bones away from head and maintain neutral lumbar spine. Additions: move straight leg across mid-line of body, move outside mid-line of body staying within a range comfortable for you. Eventually complete straight leg circles, with the assistance of the band then without – keep hips stable!


Deep Rotator Stretch: There are 6 deep hip rotators most of them rotate the leg externally. Place both feet on the wall with legs at 90 degrees, cross right ankle over left. If you are unable to do this without twisting or hiking the hips (ie you cannot keep your hips level) push away from the wall until you can. Exhale push bent knee and lengthen sitz bones away from head, maintain neutral lumbar spine, inhale release stretch, exhale repeat for several breaths. If tight try this for 5-10 minutes on each side.


Hip Flexor Stretch: Freeing up the front of the hip to come.

Pilates Sequencing and objectives

Essential Pilates sequencing includes the following exercises and objectives.


  • identification of neutral position of the lumbar and cervical spine,
  • c/s flexion and rotation, ribcage placement with breath work,
  • abdominal preps or c/s and t/s flexion engaging transverse abdominals, progressing in level of ab recruitment and difficulty to include obliques and rectus abdominus, in that order,
  • shoulder blade isolation and stabilization encouraging protraction and depression, including posterior shoulder circles,
  • bridging done with neutral spine,
  • hamstring stretches done with neutral of the cervical and lumbar spine progressing to sitting upright in neutral spine, legs in front slightly bent or straight and adding trunk forward flexion,
  • abdominal strengthening done with minimal strain on the cervical flexors, avoiding compression of the l /s or done in neutral.
  • Spinal rotation being motivated from the thoracic spine with lengthening of the entire spine is also practiced.


  • Thoracic extension with cervical lengthening, avoiding over extension of the c/s,
  • all prone exercises emphasize scapulae stabilization; usually depression and retraction need to be emphasized,
  • All prone trunk extension exercises are done while holding neutral or navel held upwards, to encourage decompression of the spine, lengthening of the vertebrae and avoiding lumbar over extension,
  • single leg reach, progressing to simple knee flexion exercises, followed by hip flexor stretches, all done with lengthened hamstrings and navel lifted, again to avoid l/s over extension.

Quadruped (or cat):

  • to develop connection of the shoulder girdle with the trunk, ability to weight bear through the knees and hands,
  • to develop muscle activation, strength and stability of the spine, shoulder girdle and hip.

Lateral or side-lying:

  • to activate and lengthen the lateral leg, pelvis and trunk muscles; ITB, QL, deep hip rotators, obliques, serratus, lateral cervical muscles,
  • the mermaid position is introduced to develop lateral hip and trunk range of motion, mainly of thoracic lateral flexion.


  • 5-10 minutes of standing exercises are introduced, maintaining neutral alignment with shoulders over hips, while performing ankle, knee and hip flexion exercises including plias in three positions, stork, eagle, warrior 1, chair and forward bend yoga poses
  • , progressed into walking hands forward into quadruped or plank,
  • Standing in neutral practicing shoulder ROM exercises for scapula placement and stability, gentle opening of the anterior shoulder, and progressing to full shoulder ROM i.e. posterior arm circles with proper rib-cage placement.

Use of small equipment or props:

  • Resistance bands and balls, fitness circle, foam rollers and small stability balls are integrated into the class to add gentle resistance and to challenge core stability.

Essential Pilates is ideal for those clients who:

  • are healthy but require more or a therapeutic form of exercise,
  • have resolved any acute pain symptoms,
  • have chronically overused muscle group(s),
  • have chronic pain which has stabilized and who would benefit from non-weight bearing exercise,
  • are able to perform trunk flexion and extension without exacerbating symptoms (although Pilates flexion and extension exercises done correctly and with proper cuing will relieve nerve impingement),
  • pass a PARQ. If they do not pass a PARQ then they should be cleared by their family physician before participating and kindly complete the Pilates referral form,
  • Anyone with restrictions and limitations or who’s pain is made worse with certain movements should start with Therapeutic Pilates described below.

All exercises are done in a gentle manner and pace, emphasizing proper breathing techniques and alignment of the spine, pelvis and scapulae with each exercise. The five basic principles of Pilates are followed to develop proper Form. Clients are reminded to keep range of motion demands within their tolerance, especially of the shoulder. Clients are encouraged to completely relax between each repetition to better facilitate motor-neural re-patterning or to learn how to completely turn on and turn off the muscles being recruited. Clients experience of feeling of being taller, aligned, relaxed and energized. With repetition of the program; tight and held muscles become released and weakened ones become stronger, for a balancing full body strength and flexibility workout.

A Therapeutic version of the above is suitable for those who have a specific diagnosis with significant movement contraindications. Therapeutic Pilates eliminates any forward flexion and works on establishing neutral posture of the c/s and l/s, core stability and strength, hip flexor and hamstring flexibility, along with micro-movements of the c/s, shoulders, hips and pelvis, to enable the client to ‘come out of ‘ harmful postures or motor-patterns and maintain the neutral curves of the spine.

The program progresses to Function or level 2 then Flow: Once proper form is established, more intermediate and advanced exercise sequences are introduced (roll over, control balance, 100s and ‘V’ sit Preps) to further develop full body strength, flexibility and spinal mobility. Alignment of the limbs and integration of the joints; ankle, knee, hip – wrist, elbow and shoulder are addressed. Stability is challenged; foam roller, stability ball, stability disc, etc. are added to further develop core strength and integration of the joints with the core. Flow or level 3, integrates all of the Pilates exercises moving from one exercise to the other at a faster rate to develop speed and agility. Props are used throughout for added intensity. Exercise selection should be based on the clients sport/work demands or biomechanical needs.