Home Office Set Up: How You Can Help Your Clients


You’ve seen this one before! (My apologies that I do not know who to attribute this great artwork to. If you do know, please inform me.)

Do you want to help your Pilates or exercise clients out by setting up a home office or their regular office or other workstation so that they are out of pain? Then this is the article for you! I’m glad you’re here!

I am writing this during the Covid-19 pandemic, but this will apply for after the pandemic, too. This is nearly 6 months into the pandemic’s alteration of life here in New York. While some people have returned back to work, many have not. Same thing around the world. That means a lot of home offices. Makeshift at first, these are at the dining room table or on the couch with the coffee table. Maybe there was already a home office, but it was for extra work not for today’s need: 8+ hours a day of real work. That was for a month, a few…but now people need longer-term solutions.

Any worker, one who spends the day at a desk on a computer or who kneels down bending over welding materials deserves to be physically supported by his or her environment: the tools, work schedule, protective equipment, even the emotional environment. However, generally productivity is favored over physical and emotional comfort; income over expenses. So, poor practices come into play as well as longer than desired hours. Physical and emotional pain are ignored or considered acceptable as “part of the job.” It turns out that a physically and emotionally healthy workplace actually increases efficiency, productivity and income and reduces time off, medical bills and worker’s compensation claims. So…feeling good wins!

What do our clients need to feel good at their work stations?
Do they need to be strong?
Do they need to be in perfect posture?
Do they need Pilates? HIIT? Yoga?
Do they need to sit upright on their sit bones?
Roll their shoulders back?
Hug the midline?

In fact, they don’t need anyfitness movement modality that you are trained in.
They need an Ergonomist.
An Occupational Ergonomist.
An Industrial Ergonomist.
They don’t need a fitness person.

Yes, of course, fitness is necessary for absolutely everyone and makes every aspect of life better. But…that’s not what your clients need to have a good work situation.

I know it sounds CRAZY! It did to me, too. Until…until I studied and became an Ergonomist. I have a Master’s of Science in both Ergonomics and Biomechanics. I am a Pilates Teacher of Teachers. Believe you me: I thought Pilates could do it all! Until I got educated!
Ergonomics is the study of human efficiency in the workplace.
While Pilates and other fitness modalities might have a lot to do with movement efficiency…it has nothing to do with human efficiency in the workplace. Not-A-Thing. Ergonomics is a genuine science with a lot of research to back up its claims. And like anything that is a genuine science…you can’t just learn about it from reading a few things  online or watching a few videos. Not even 20 videos. Nope. Not even the best videos. No.

Could or should a person teach Pilates after having been a Pilates client or having watching a bunch of videos? What about be personal trainer? Physical therapist? How about a dentist? surgeon? lawyer? You get where I’m going with this:
Send your clients to an Ergonomist.
Do not try to set up your clients’ workstations unless…unless you happen to be an Ergonomist. Do not advise on what postures or movements they should or should not do at work. Do not try to apply Pilates posture to work posture. It is actually not related.

Would it be better if all of my ergonomics clients pulled their lower abdominals in, “lifted” their lower backs and rolled their shoulders lightly up and back? Sure! Sure! However, it won’t keep them out of pain at work. Truth is: If they don’t do any of those marvelous internal actions, they should still stay out of pain at work…because an Ergonomist has set up their work situation properly.


What we do in Ergonomics has little to do with internal body mechanics and everything to do with external tools that support the movements and experience at the workstation…set up better mechanics and save physical energy from the outside. Indeed, if the inside and outside are both working together, then all the better. But…not everyone is actually going to “do the work” on the inside. That’s simply human nature. A lot of your clients don’t actually apply what you teach them to their work lives. They don’t do their exercises at home. They come, get a work out and then go back to doing as they did. And that is 100% fine because: Human. That’s what humans do. And even if they did the great internal actions…8 hours a day is unsustainable with just that.

And that is why there are Ergonomists.
Even the most fit person needs and ergonomically appropriate work station and work environment. That includes you.

So, why not study the charts online and just follow them for your clients? Because that’s not good enough. Do you really know what they mean? Do you know that most of what you see on those simple charts are not actually what a properly educated Ergonomist would do? Like a doctor or any scientist, an Ergonomist works with information that can’t be found in a simple online search. Do you know how to pick the right keyboard for a client? What about monitor? Chair?
Everyone thinks they know how to pick a chair.
You do not know how to pick a chair.
An Ergonomist does.

OK…have I made myself clear?
Stop trying to advise on something that you are not educated in. This goes for nutrition, supplementation, injury healing, etc…unless you’re actually trained in those areas. Be OK with advising only on subjects in which you are genuinely trained. I wrote this piece in 2016 that you might also find interesting (or redundant after reading this): Is There A Doctor In The House? Who you are and what you have to share is enough. Send your clients to other experts for other topics. I promise you, while I am educated in many things, there are many things you do not want me to do…like hip replacement surgery for one. I’ve watched hip replacement surgeries. Sure. Many of them. I totally get how it works. I have read articles, research studies and am a frickin’ biomechanist specializing in musculoskeletal disorders…like those that require hip replacements. Do you want me to do your hip replacement? No.
I feel very proud of what I can do…and am thrilled to send people to experts on everything else.

You do not know ergonomics.
You do not know how to set up a workstation.
Send your clients to an Ergonomist.

Yes…I’m available. I’ll do video ergonomic evaluations with your clients all over the world. I will do in person ones for those I can travel to. Occupational and Industrial. Home Office or Industrial Facilities. I will not take them on as Pilates or other fitness clients. They are your clients in that realm. Let me help with the Ergonomics.
Here is where you and they can get information: theverticalworkshop.com/ergonomics



August 30, 2020 at 5:01 pm Leave a comment

The One Thing You’re Missing in Your Socially Distant and Disinfected Studio


Photo thanks to The Washington Post

Are you starting to reopen your studio? Even just for privates? Are you missing one thing? Maybe. (Hint…it’s your canvas straps…)

I know you’re planning for the following:

Social Distancing
Privates Only

No semi-privates or group classes in person without clients and teachers being separated by 6 feet (1.83 meters)
Yes…teachers, too. I have seen photos of reconfigurations of studios where the clients will surely be separated, but teachers will not necessarily be separated. Teachers need to not cross over with each other. That means you must talk with each other and make sure you do not pass by each other within 6 feet (1.83 meters). Pilates teachers are not immune just because we are like superheroes! (and we are!)
[In fact, we don’t even know if superheroes are immune. The sample size is just too small. (There’s a little humor for you!)]

This also means: No hands-on cueing. None. Social distancing…

Wear Face Masks

Both clients and teachers!

But clients will be uncomfortable. 

Again, I say: Yup.

You might have to cue breath a bit more and slow the workout down if you are used to teach with vigor because the masks create resistance to breath and that makes breath more challenging in a slightly inappropriate manner.
The face masks will also keep the water droplets from breath close to the face and so, more facial sweating. Keep your studio cool or even cold to help your clients out. 

Yes, that will mean you will be very cold. And so I suggest: layers! 

(It always makes me giggle when teachers think it’s too cold in a studio. Put on some layers and you’ll be fine.)

Clean the apparatus A LOT
Every aspect of the apparatus must be cleaned. A LOT. And who cleans it? The client. Absolutely not the teacher. This is how I suggest cleaning when in normal times, but especially now: clients clean the apparatus. You are not being paid to clean. You are being paid to be the expert on teaching Pilates. Right? Right!

And when it comes to each client’s germs: they can wipe down. Everything.
Foot bars, mats, vertical poles, handles, balls, elastic bands…you name it.
What do you clean it with that won’t ruin your upholstery? Clorox Wipes, Lysol wipes/spray, etc., heavy duty spray that has been proven to kill this virus.
Will they ruin your upholstery? No.
Your upholstery is vinyl. Plastic. It’s not leather. Vinyl is remarkably non-porous and can handle these cleaners.
Then why have you heard that it will ruin it? Because people are silly and don’t examine what they are talking about. The vinyl that you have on your apparatus is the same that is used in hospitals. It’s non-porous and really durable. If it deteriorates from a heavy cleaner, it would be hardly noticeable shorter time than from using natural cleaners. Truly.

The greater issue is that people’s skin might be sensitive to it. But you know what? They can wear shirts or bring a towel to lie upon.
Clean with heavy duty cleaner!

Here is a good piece from Health Line: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/what-cleaning-products-work-to-kill-covid-19#Where-you-need-to-clean-in-the-home

And one from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cleaning-disinfection.html

If something cannot be wiped down and completely sanitized in the session, do not use it in the session.
And that brings me to the thing you didn’t do yet…

Canvas Straps
Canvas straps are just about the least sanitary thing in a Pilates studio. They are gross. My preference would be that each person has his or her own straps that she brings to each session or leaves in a cloth bag with her name on it hung on a peg on the wall. (Yes, I grew up at Drago’s where there were cloth bags with clients’ workout clothing in them. They left it there at the studio and it was laundered for them.) Since that’s not going to happen, we need an alternative:

Cover your canvas straps in vinyl. Make a vinyl sleeve. 
And make two sleeves to go on your leather 
straps or ropes/cords for Pull Straps, etc.

Which ones should you cover? Every single one you use:

Strap at the far end

Foot straps
Hand straps
Short box straps
Leather loops for Short Spine
Leather Straps for Pull Straps (just enough for a hand-hold)
Ropes/Cords (just enough for a hand-hold)

Full wrap the table strap (if you use it. I would recommend removing it.)
Foot straps on leg springs
Hand straps on arm springs
End strap
Trapeze strap
Fuzzies? I highly recommend skipping using these. Yes, feet can carry germs that include Covid-19 if a person steps in some aerosols that have the germs in it. Touch his mouth or nose and then feet. It happens more often than you’d think. 

(Am I over-reacting? Nope.)

Anything else that you have that is canvas.

It’s actually quite easy to do:

You’ll need:

  • Ruler or tape measure
  • Scissors
  • Vinyl (Naugahyde or Marine Vinyl in your favorite color or any vinyl you can get your hands on. Order from Naugahyde or Jo-Ann Fabrics or Amazon or anywhere else…)


Here are some links for Vinyl (they are USA links. Search “Vinyl by the yard” or “Vinyl by the meter”):






Velcro tape with adhesive backing “VELCRO Brand Sticky Back”

1 – Remove your straps on everything.

2 – Measure the length and width of each strap. Notate them on a piece of paper.

3 – Measure on a piece of vinyl the length of each strap and then double + 0.75”(or more) the width. (We want double the width since we’re going to wrap your strap with a sleeve of vinyl and that extra 0.75” so you can have good overlap with the velcro. I wrote 0.75”, but it’s really the width of your velcro strip. They are most often 0.75” wide.)

4 – Cut your vinyl

5 – Measure a length of Velcro to the length of the vinyl strip. Then cut it.

6 – Pull off the strip that covers one side of the velcro. Keep the Velcro sides attached to teach other. Do not pull them apart yet. Adhere it to the outside (vinyl part) of only one part of of the vinyl. Wrap your strap with the vinyl. Once wrapped, you can take the other part of the Velcro adhesive covering off and place your inside part of the vinyl on that and adhere it. Then it should cover perfectly.

Now, these can be wiped down, taken off, put back on if needed.

Do let the adhesive stay put for 24 hours before trying to open the velcro. In fact, you likely won’t need to open it up. You just clean clean clean that vinyl. You won’t need to uncover the canvas straps…for some time!

Here are some pictures from Kim Bergonzi’s work on this at Studio Lotus Forsyth outside of Atlanta, Georgia (USA) in the town of Cumming.

Reformer Foot StrapTower Foot StrapTower HandleIMG_0868

Stay safe and healthy!
This is a tricky time. Let’s keep supporting each other and our communities! Take good care of yourself in all ways.

Reach out to me with any questions about this or anything biomechanics, fitness or Pilates.

***Go to theverticalworkshop.com for loads of workouts, continuing education and teacher training!

May 8, 2020 at 11:44 am 12 comments

Getting Trendy with your Foot Bar?

Screen Shot 2019-12-20 at 6.06.39 PM

Are you following the trend these days in reformer foot bar style? Taking off your foot bar cover and padding? New trends are fun, right? All the cool kids are removing the foot bar covers. So you should, too, right?

But…it doesn’t really feel good does it?

It hurts.

But maybe it just hurts you because you’re not as strong as those other people.
Like when that instructor told you that you’ve gotta toughen up and that’s why it hurts.


Or maybe it hurts because it should hurt because you’re hurting yourself.
That foot bar should be padded.

Ohhhhh, here comes Shari…

Put that foot bar cover, with its padding, back on.

Here’s why…

You wouldn’t put your weight of your body down on a sharp piece of metal would you? Of course not. That would hurt! So, why would you put your hands or feet on a that bare foot bar? It’s a curved piece of metal. Not sharp? Well…each moment along that curve is actually a straight line. Sharp as a knife. When you put your weight on that metal bar, the bar does not adjust to the pressure. It stays stiff and actually quite sharp right into your hands and feet. The weight/force is not distributed to a broad surface area. It is a very direct line of metal into you.

No big deal?
Big deal…

It’s a big deal because that sharp edge of the foot bar is pressing into some important parts of your body: the fatty pads of your hands and feet. Those pads are essential for protecting even more important parts of your body: the nerves and blood vessels of your hands and feet. When pressed upon, the fatty pads find their way into the crevices between the little bones of your hands and feet and help your nerves and blood vessels from getting improperly compressed during this pressure. The fat literally moves like packing peanuts into the crevices. This is awesome protection! And the pads distribute the force/pressure of anything that you’re holding onto or standing upon to a wider surface area. Force distribution. This force distribution is great so you don’t have direct pressure that can cause damage. There’s not a lot of meat on the bone in your hands and feet; not a lot of muscle. The major muscles of your hands and feet are in your forearm and lower leg, respectively. Muscles are great for moving bones/joints, but also for distributing forces and pressure which protect bones and other structures. In areas that there is not a lot of muscle we are exposed to painful blows like our knee caps and elbows. Our feet bear a lot of pressure and force with each step we take. Our fat pads really save the day! However, our hands are not meant to bear full body weight or even the type of pressure we put on them in Pilates on the foot bars. Our fat pads are even quite minimal in the hands. We’re not expected to face full body pressure on them.

How does this relate to that foot bar? Well, uncovered you are now pressing into that narrowest line of metal and that is pressing directly into the fat pads that are desperately trying to protect your blood vessels and nerves. Why would we challenge the fatty pads, blood vessels and nerves like that? It’s rather unreasonable to put you body weight and extra pressure/force (like when you press into the foot bar against springs…as in every exercise)… It’s rather unreasonable to ask this of your fatty pads. To expect that they can healthily sustain that force/pressure is preposterous.

And, goodness! Those fatty pads in our hands and feet thin out a lot as we age. And aren’t the majority of your clients aging? Well…all of them are, of course. But aren’t most of your clients who can afford privates and semi-privates of a “certain age” and they are experiencing decreased fatty pads? So, you’re putting them at increased risk for impingement of blood vessels and nerves. Oh…and that client might be you! (You are your favorite client, I should hope.)

What should you do? You want to protect your fatty pads, blood vessels and nerves! You want to protect your clients!

You put that darned padded foot bar cover back on.
Get it out of the closet and put that thing back on!
When you have that cover on with some padding under it, it takes the surface you’re pressing on from being a thin line of metal into a much broader surface! That foam padding distributes the forces to a broader surface area. Yes, yes! You want this! Your hands and feet will thank you!

Now, some foot bar padding is outrageously soft. It’s true. That can cause issues, too, because it’s too cushy a surface does not provide enough stability and feedback. We tend to hyper-extend in our wrists and more. But our major manufacturers have done well to provide appropriate foam under that foot bar cover. If you is too cushy…go get a piece of thinner padding from your local fabric store. Cut it up, stick it on and lay that foot bar cover over it. Done!

Ooh! And speaking of foot bar covers…you want that, too! You do! That cover generally has a bit of texture to it. That increases the coefficient of friction…meaning that it makes it less slippery! So you stay on and don’t have to expend improper energy trying to hold onto the bar! (Remember, if you’re wearing socks, they need to be sticky socks or put a thin sticky pad under your feet. Best if you don’t wear socks. Your feet have their own texture that helps keep you from sliding. Just clean all surfaces feet were on. Of course.)

Just a reminder, alongside being a Pilates Teacher of Teachers, I’m a biomechanist and ergonomist. So, what I share is not about preference. It’s about evidence. In ergonomics, we design and choose hand tools, shoes and flooring that are cushioned or lightly padded and made of compressible materials to manage this exact issue. As an ergonomist, if I came into a Pilates studio and looked at our tools, our apparatus, I would make several alterations, indeed. Indeed. But one I would keep would be that covered, padded foot bar.


Clavert P, Dosch J-C, Wolfram-Gabel  R, Kahn J-L. New findings on intermetacarpal fat pads: anatomy and imaging. Surg Radiol Anat (2006) 28: 351–354

Ramadan SU, Tunçbilek I, Özeri Z, Kaçar M, Gökharman D, Koşar P, Koşar U.Is There A Correlation Between the Grip Strength and the Interosseous Muscles/Intermetacarpal Fat Pads of the Hand?: An Ultrasonographic Study. Balkan Med J 2011; 28: 125-128

***Thank you for taking the time to read this! Please add any questions, comments or concerns into the comment section.
Reach out for workouts, continuing education and teacher training.
All information is at TheVerticalWorkshop.com
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December 20, 2019 at 6:10 pm 2 comments

Hip Flexor Pain: Where Do You Stand?

Standing into the wind modified photo

Where do you stand?

Do you have pain when you pull your leg or legs deeply into your chest? A little hip flexor tendinitis? It seems that a lot of Pilates teachers do. I first realized this many years ago when nearly every teacher told me she was experiencing the same thing I was…and that her colleagues were also expressing the same issue. Well, surprise of all surprises, back then I did a little digging and found out what it is and how to get rid of it…and I hope I can help you, too.

When I was struggling with this, I went to a new-for-me chiropractor who does soft-tissue manipulations. The first thing she asked me to do was stand up so she could see my posture and she said: Why do you lean forward so much at your ankles?


There it is!

That’s all it took.

And so I went researching to understand where we are supposed to stand; and if it is where we are taught in Pilates.

Of course, I’m writing this because the answer is: it’s different from what we learn and teach in Pilates.

The Difference

OK, clearly, I was “leaning into the wind” like a good Pilates teacher. My weight forward so that I can lift my heels up. Listing forward like a bird about to take flight… Like the dancer that I am about to leap across the stage…


Except I am not a bird about to take flight.

And I am standing still, not about to leap across the stage.


When standing still, we’re meant to stand with most of our weight over our ankles/ball-of-heels. We’re not meant to be listing forward. Not at all. That’s when we are about to move. Not when we are stable.

How much are we meant to be back over our ankles and ball-of-heel?
Approximately 60% of our weight should be back over our ankles/ball-of-heel.
A distribution akin to this:
60% – Heel (ball of heel/ankle)
8% – Mid-foot
28% – Forefoot (ball of foot)
4% – Toes

Yes…only 4% Toes and only 28% on the ball of our feet.
60% over your heel/ball of heel

Says who? Says the biomechanist. Nordin and Frankel wrote the great book: Basic Biomechanics of the Musculoskeletal System and Cavanaugh and Rodgers wrote the kickin’ paper (I’m nothing if not a good geeky researcher. I’m a blast at parties…) The Arch Index: A Useful Measure From Footprints. (J Biomech. 1987). Not to mention the many other research papers on the subject. Check out this graphic. See the load distribution? (The toes are at the bottom/front of the illustration and the heel is at the top/back)

Screen Shot 2019-08-03 at 11.58.30 AM

Standing load distribution on the foot. Copied from Nordin and Frankel’s Basic Biomechanics of the Musculoskeletal System.

And see this one which is about peak pressure at the forefoot (measured in KPa –  KiloPascals)

Screen Shot 2019-08-03 at 12.03.44 PM

Standing peak pressure on the foot. Copied from Nordin and Frankel’s Basic Biomechanics of the Musculoskeletal System.

I know…I know…it feels really groovy to lean forward into the wind. You feel your abdominals more! I know! But…you are stressing your calves (gastrocnemius and soleus) as they are desperately trying to pull you back upright over your ankles/ball-of-heel and your quadriceps that are desperately trying to make you not crumble to the floor.

Also…you’re not really getting the appropriate activation of your hamstrings, gluteals and spinal extensors. These are essential to be working to keep you upright. You don’t have to squeeze them…they should just work for you because you’ve created an environment in which they engage on their own.

What’s it look like?



Sacrilegious? Not at all.

Also…I know that it feels sacrilegious to do something that your favorite teacher or teacher trainer told you is correct. I know. However, it’s OK to realize that they are very well-meaning just not educated in this realm. Most amazing Pilates instructors and teachers are educated on the human body by other Pilates people or dancers. If those people are not truly educated in biomechanics, then we often learn improper biomechanic actions. So…when we learn more, then we must adjust. No shame. Adapt and adjust and study more. And: references and credentials matter.

And who’s this lady to say so? I’m a biomechanist and ergonomist as well as a Pilates Teacher of Teachers. I became a research scientist because I wasn’t getting answers in the Pilates world. As I was getting education, it conflicted with what I was learning in Pilates. Our exercises are often super…but what we do inside and around them are often an issue.

What now?

With that, what do you do now that you’re used to leaning forward? How do you correct this?

1 –  Just rock back a bit in standing exercises. 

Put your weight more over the entire ball of your heel.

You should feel that there no way that you can lift your heels. And…there is no way you could lift both balls of your feet at the same time. Sure, you could lift your toes on both feet. You’ll also find that you could lift the ball of one foot, but not both at the same time.

Which exercises:

Standing Magic Circle/Power Ring – legs and arms

Arm Weight Series
Standing Breathing
Standing Chest Expansion
Standing Arm Circles at the end of so many exercises
Any standing exercise.
Well….not Standing Arm Springs. In Standing Arm Springs, we lean forward to play with our balance and to get more tension on the springs.
2 –  Stand over your ankles/ball-of-heel whenever you are standing still.

Are you listing forward when you teach? When you brush your teeth?
get back over your ankles/ball-of-heel just like I’m advising above.

3 – Self-Myofascial Release

Until your sore tendons normalize, one to two times a day on a 6 inch (15.25 cm) diameter foam roller massage/“roll out” your quadriceps with special focus on your rectus femoris (both knee and hip extensor). It’s that guy that is likely inflamed. That’s who/what you’re feeling when you pull your leg into your chest and it hurts. So, get all the way up into the crease of your hip. Keep moving focusing on the stroke upward from just above your knee (do not roll over your knee cap) up to the crease of your hip. Remember that your quadriceps are four (4) muscles. So you have to roll the inner/medial pat of the front of your leg, the center and the side/lateral front of your leg.
Take only 30-60 seconds each leg. Don’t try to destroy your muscles. Just imagine that your soft tissue is what it is: fluid filled. Each cell and each tubule of fascia is full of fluid. So…we need to help move the fluid through congested areas of adhesions.

That’s it.
That’s it?

Sometimes feeling better is as simple as that.

We’re not changing your exercises. We’re just working appropriate biomechanics.

Drop me a comment and I will answer you!
Something personal?
Email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

Cavanaugh PR, Rodgers MM, Iiboshi A. Pressure distribution under symptom-free feet during barefoot standing. Foot Ankle. 1987 Apr;7(5):262-76.

Nordin M, Frankel VH. Basic Biomechanics of the Musculoskeletal System. 4e. Wolters Kluwer / Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Baltimore and Philadelphia. 2012.

Ribeiro AP, Sacco ICN, Dinato RC, João SMA. Relationships between static foot alignment and dynamic plantar loads in runners with acute and chronic stages of plantar fasciitis: a cross-sectional study. Braz J Phys Ther. 2016 Jan-Feb; 20(1):87-95 

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August 5, 2019 at 4:57 pm 12 comments

The Difficult Client…

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Who is your least favorite client?
That difficult client.
Take a moment…think…

Oh, what? You don’t need a moment? He or she just pops up immediately with no delay?
Right! I know!!!! Our least favorite clients are such a bummer and they don’t even leave our minds! What is wrong with them? They are so difficult!

He is so bossy!
She doesn’t even listen to me!
I have to repeat the same thing over and over again and he still doesn’t do it right!
She complains all of the time…why does she even come?
I hate working with him!
I hate working with her!
Can I fire him?
Can I get rid of her?

Am I right…or am I right?

Well, here it comes…

If you’ve read my articles or worked with me, you pretty much know what I’m about to say, but it’s time to listen up more than before: not every client is going to be your favorite. (Remember the piece: Your Favorite Client ?) You’re very fortunate that you adore most of your clients and they adore you. But that one or some who trouble you..who you dread each session…let’s take a look at what’s really happening here. 

First, I hear you! I do.
I really hear you!
I have had clients who the mere thought of ruined my day.
But I learned that I had to “get over” that because running a business means that sometimes you’re not going to like everyone you work with.

I had to really look into myself to see why I was disliking this person so much. Or why this person had such power over me. Why I gave myself over to this disdain and why I even cared.

There are many reasons why we get caught up in the grief of the difficult client. Often, it’s our expectations and our ability or lack to command our sessions/classes.

What are your expectations for your clients? For your sessions? Let’s be reasonable.  Are they such that a client who rushes exercises is so troubling? Or a client who can’t make the connections you wish her to make really makes you so frustrated? That bossy client that ruins your day… Why does this person have so much control over you? Why have you given your control to her?

This is what we have to discover.

It does come down to expectations.

What are you expecting from a session? From your client? I believe our goals for our clients is helping them to achieve their own reasonable physical goals and our goals for them. Our goals for them usually revolve around helping them “balance their bodies.” That’s it.

You simply cannot do the work for them. They have to be self-motivated. So, when you are suffering over their inability to make connections or be as coordinated as you’d like…it’s time to release that. You do your best to give good verbal and hands-on cues without actually moving your client in the exercise like a doll. You do your best to give images. And then your client does his or her best. That’s all. And while your clients’ best is not necessarily your desire…not meeting your expectations…it’s your expectations that must change.

That’s key: your expectations must change. Strive for the most, of course, the most that is available for this client on this day in this situation. When you find yourself frustrated, you are likely frustrated because of your inappropriate expectations for your client.

Yes, it’s true. It’s annoying, I know…and true.

Check your expectations that you have for your clients. 

Check your expectations of yourself in a session…on what you are really able to achieve.
It’s OK for your client to do less than you want, but as much as she can with her drive. Not your drive. Her drive.

It’s OK for your client to take years to make a connection that you wish that he would make in a few weeks. It’s OK. It’s his abilities. Not yours. His.

Again, you work hard. You strive for your clients, but you’ve got to check on your expectations and consider if they are reasonable for that client what is in front of you showing who he or she is relative to this material.


Command With Kindness
Now, also consider that your bossy, pushy, client who drives you nuts… Why is he or she able to run the show? Have you genuinely sought to “command the session with kindness?” Have you let her take over the session? Have you given him the position of control?

It’s your responsibility to command a session with kindness. What I mean by that is that you’ve got to be the one in charge of the session. Not with an iron fist (usually the sign of insecurity and immaturity), but with kindness. Strength with understanding and the knowledge to back up what you’re doing and why.
And maturity.
Being able to have a straightforward and mature conversation with a client is important: Mike, you are a very hard worker and have great potential to achieve your goals, but when you tell me what to do in the session, you diminish your opportunities. I understand that you are usually in charge of everything, your business, your family, but here, in the studio, during our sessions, I am in charge of making sure you get what you need relative to Pilates.

And then…you go into the next exercise…
The Short Box! (Or whatever it is!)

Maybe your client is rushing you and the session goes at your client’s rushed pace rather than the one you intended. Or your client does everything slow and you want it to be faster. Or your client doesn’t even seem to listen to you. Again, a mature conversation where you command with kindness: Melinda, all people have their natural tempos/speeds of movement, but in Pilates we have well-defined rhythms and tempos of each exercise. Listen carefully to my voice and follow it so that you really can achieve your physical goals.

And then…then you’d better be real clear about your rhythm and tempos
(Need a great assist here? Check out my The Music of Pilates…it’s the rhythms and tempos of Joseph PIlates exercises and why each is as they are in ways you can learn and practice and get PMA CECs! Click here: The Music of Pilates
Read this piece: The Best Pilates Teaching Tool)

It’s tempting to stay away from straightforward conversations that would really just make life easier. You think you’re being kind by tip-toeing around. But instead you’re truly the one causing the issue because you’re not having the necessary conversation. Command with kindness.

Oh, I know! I know…it’s tricky! 

And it’s not.

Once you get used to commanding your sessions with kindness, then it’s easy! You’ll feel great and so will your client!


Check on your expectations.
Check on your ability to be in charge of the session; command with kindness.

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 12.40.37 pm

The Abusive Client
When you do these things, then nearly no one is your least favorite client. I say nearly no one, because sometimes we actually have abusive clients. For them, again, we need to have a mature conversation. If the result is a good one with positive change, then continue on. If the result is that nothing changes and your client remains abusive, then you talk with the manager or owner of the studio and discuss how to get that person off of your schedule. Mature conversations.  At my own studio, I had a client who would curse at me. I stopped the session and said “it is not appropriate to curse at me because you are frustrated with yourself. Either you stop this and assign your frustration to the right person or we are done here.”
She apologized and remained my 3 time a week, loyal, loving client thereafter!

Have I had times when it hasn’t gone so well? Sure.

I had a client who was always creepy. He checked me and my other studio teachers out in just the wrong way. Still, he was a friend of a great client, so I thought all was well. Just before I got the strength to have the mature conversation (I wasn’t good at those at that time), unprovoked, he grabbed me during a session and tried to kiss me. Well…that ended with him being kicked out and warned never to return.
A case of commanding with kindness to myself and super save-myself-protection!
He was my least favorite client and I got rid of him.


You Deserve To Feel Good
All in all, take a look at the situation. See what part in it you play. Consider your role in this. I know that, for myself, I want each hour that I teach to be a great hour for me, not just a great hour for my client. And our clients feel how we feel about them. You’re not able to hide it so well! We are sentient beings! So, take the time to come to terms with why you dislike this client so much. You deserve it!

Do you want to talk out a challenging situation? Give me a holler! I am always available for a consultation! Just email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com and we can set up a consultation session!

****Please reach out with questions, comments, concerns! The comment section is perfect for that, but if you have something more personal to discuss, always just email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

****Let’s work together!
Bridge into Classical Pilates with The Vertical Workshop! Bridge Participation!
Train to be a Pilates teacher with The Vertical Workshop! Teacher Training – Apprentice!
Weekly live-stream and recorded web classes! Classes
Recorded webinars! Webinars
Workshops in person! Workshops!
In-person or Skype sessions! Sessions!


January 26, 2019 at 12:51 pm 11 comments

Where do I put my head?!



Joseph Pilates bobblehead created by Balanced Body, Inc.


How often do you find that your clients’ heads are not in the expected alignment? And for yourself (remember, your “favorite client” is yourself: Your Favorite Client)? Where should you put your head? How do you develop awareness of where your head ought to be in space?

In this piece, we’ll start to discover it. Let’s go step by step in several articles. I don’t want to overwhelm you. Just one aspect at a time.


Where is the first place that you can really discover where your head is in space and how?

Lying down, supine on the mat or even better yet, on the reformer…with your head on the head piece. Feeling any part of your body on the mat of any apparatus gives you biofeedback. And if we teach consciously, rather than instruct passively, we teach our clients to be aware of that feeling and develop a deeper biofeedback…neuromuscular connections develop…proprioception develops. The brilliance of starting workouts lying supine on a mat/reformer/Cadillac, etc., is not only because of the gravitational pull/balance/support, but because of the feedback from the mat. We start to develop a sense of the parts of our bodies that we don’t see. And what we don’t see, we often don’t “connect to,” consciously become aware of or develop good proprioception of that area.

When we lie upon the reformer for the first exercises in Pilates, I do strongly suggest that it’s a footwork series or footwork exercise. Not just because I’m a classical teacher and that’s what Mr. Pilates did…but because I’m a biomechanist and that is a wise place for a full body warm up. (Things have to make sense and even be backed up by evidence. Please do not follow anyone or anything blindly!) The Footwork exercises give an opportunity to have gravity supporting the body against the mat/carriage while we get good feedback from that mat/carriage. The legs are supported by the foot bar so you don’t have to hold them up against gravity. You work your legs vigorously (appropriately for the client in front of you. Vigorous to an athlete is different from vigorous for a client with heart disease and emphysema. Right? Right.) The vigorous use of the legs takes a lot of energy. There are large muscles in the legs and they require a lot of oxygen to work so well…that means your heart and lungs have to work hard to provide continuous supply of blood flow…and this is why it is a great warm up. Same thing could be said for The Hundred…except the muscles of the arms are smaller than those of the legs, which is why it is not as great a warm up as The Footwork.

OK…so we’re agreed…The Footwork is a great warm up.

Now, your head is on the headpiece in The Footwork. That means you have a little mat behind you for biofeedback! Great! Then we’d better make sure your head is in the best position possible for you to get the right neurological information…

If we recall that the concept of the The Footwork is that we’re jumping or doing many squats, but reducing the acceleration of gravity/the pull of gravity…
Footwork is like a jump or squats?
Yes, either as a new concept for you or a refresher:
Imagine that the reformer was not lying down and horizontal, but was upright and vertical.
Then The Footwork would be like a series of jumps where your feet do not leave the ground…or squats, then.
When you jump or even do your squats, there is a lot of force upon you. You are accelerating towards earth at the rate of  gravity: 9.8 m/s2
That is your mass x gravity = your weight = the force you upon the floor and the force upon you!
That’s pretty hard on your joints as you wish to regulate tempo/speed and make all sorts of glorious Pilates adjustments.
And that is why we are horizontal with springs. The springs act like reduced gravity. They provide an acceleration that becomes part of the force that you work against to push the carriage out and that you must resist as they bring you back in toward the foot bar.


What does this have to do with head placement?

Well, if we are supposedly jumping or squatting when we do The Footwork…where would your head be while you jump or squat?
Right. You’d be looking straight ahead.

Then why when you do The Footwork are you always looking forward and not straight ahead which is directly up to the ceiling?
Yes…you ought to be looking straight up to the ceiling when you do The Footwork.
Every variation. Straight up to the ceiling.
Your practice of looking forward to your teacher or the memory of your teacher is making your tip your head down at quite an angle. And passively. If you did this during a squat or jump, your head would be bobbling around. That would be silly wouldn’t it.
So why are you doing this in The Footwork? Your being stabilized by the headpiece…but what are you doing to stabilize? Where? How? Right now…you’re not doing anything. But after you read this…you will be doing a lot!



The Footwork: Set appropriate height headpiece and look straight up.


First, you must set the headpiece to the appropriate position for your client (including yourself).
Your headpiece is to support your head and your current cervical/neck curve:
Headpiece Down: If you have no forward head posture.
Headpiece on Low Setting: If you have some forward head posture (most people)
Headpiece on High Setting: If you have a lot of forward head posture
Headpiece Down with Pillow: If none of the settings seems appropriate

Now that your headpiece is in the correct position…it’s time to just look straight up to the ceiling.
With both your eyes and your entire face. Just like you do when you are standing.

And at first you say “But this feels awkward.”
Yes…when you are used to something else, anything new feels awkward.
What you are feeling is that you must use your neck and upper back muscles. These muscles are sorely underused is modern human life (in industrialized countries) and often underutilized in Pilates (stop putting your chin to your chest or looking into your abdominals, powerhouse, etc. Instead, when you flex your neck, make it light flexion that is in line with your thoracic spine. Keep your back/neck muscles working efficiently. We can discuss later. and see Fear Not the Forward Flexion of the Spine…Just Seek to Understand…) It’s time to get and keep these muscles strong. What do you think is holding your head up? Forward head posture is no joke. For every inch your head is forward, it’s another 10 lbs of load on each spinal disc in an alignment they were not designed to habitually support. This is poor biomechanics and leads to lousy things i.e. disc protrusions, arthritis, stenosis.
It begins in The Footwork.

As you look directly up to the ceiling with your eyes and your face (just like you do when you’re standing, walking or jumping) you’ll feel that it is the center-back of your head that is  weighted against the head piece. You can feel that light activation of your neck muscles which starts to tell your brain and all neurons involved in your proprioception/where you are in space literally…where you are in space. Where your head is in space relative to the rest of your body. It takes muscular feed back to make it all happen.

Let’s start to train ourselves doing “Correct Actions Correctly” right there in The Footwork.

More to come, but this is a great place to start!
Practice your Footwork in this manner.

****Please reach out with questions, comments, concerns! The comment section is perfect for that, but if you have something more personal to discuss, always just email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

****Let’s work together!
Bridge into Classical Pilates with The Vertical Workshop! Bridge Participation!
Train to be a Pilates teacher with The Vertical Workshop! Teacher Training – Apprentice!
Weekly live-stream and recorded web classes! Classes
Recorded webinars! Webinars
Workshops in person! Workshops!
In-person or Skype sessions! Sessions!


November 14, 2018 at 1:19 pm 5 comments

Hand Grasp and Wrist Positions: Which Do I Do and When?


Do you wonder how to manage the choice of hand grasp and position of wrists in Pilates exercises? What is the best for safety and strength? The choice of hand grasp and the position/angle of your wrist make a difference for safety as well as arm and shoulder strength. Choosing the correct one for each exercise does not need to be a mystery…
And, as always with my work, some of what we were taught by our favorite people is not always effective…or could be more effective. I apologize in advance…as always!

Where do we even begin?

Well, let’s start with a little bit of information on hand grip and what that is all about. First and foremost…we have hands to hold onto things. We hold with different types of grips/grasps. And we only have arms so that we can move our hands to go and grip/grasp/hold something!

Well, let’s start with a little bit of information on hand grip and what that is all about.  We as humans have opposable thumbs. That means our thumbs flex into our other fingers for a grasp. Those other fingers are strongest in flexion; bending in for grasping. Yes. Humans are the great graspers! The grippers! We hold onto things! It is part of the development of humans as the hunters of the Earth. Humans started throwing rocks, using clubs and then javelins with such skill that we could hunt our prey without getting killed ourselves! That comes from…you guessed it: Grasping! Gripping!
OK, OK…more than just grasping and gripping! It took being able to be upright, developing patience waiting for and tracking prey, great force from legs and back…then being able to have such an incredibly big range of motion of our shoulder joints so that we could actually throw the way that we do. Oh…and amazing eye-hand coordination!
Additionally, the ability to club and throw…helped in fights between fellow humans! Yes! Men with better gripping abilities won the fights…and then actually procreated more! There are theories that our hands developed with amazing thumbs, smaller and straighter fingers than others because of this mastery of clubbing and throwing that led to procreation of better clubbers and throwers!
Women with better gripping abilities were able to protect their children and get into food storages better.
All in all…progress was being made with the grasp!

There are two primary grasps that got us to where we are: the precision grip and the power grip! Ohhhh they are so good!
The precision grip throws a javelin. The power grip pounds the club.
In our world now:
The precision grip holds your pen, your mascara wand, your knife when you cut your food like a lady or gentleman.
The power grip holds your baggage, a hammer, your water bottle.

Now, that we’ve gotten that out of the way…

How does this apply to Pilates?

What are our reasons for gripping and which types of grips are we looking to use in Pilates. Which ones will help us achieve our objectives.

When we consider what we do with our hands in Pilates, we are generally grasping a bar/handle/strap, a leg. We press down and pull against bars and pedals. Sometimes we are also attempting to make sure we do not pull a bar. No matter which, we are generally concerned with our ability to maintain that hand position and usage. We are concerned with alignment for wrist and shoulder health…and development of strength. How we work our hands and wrists will help us achieve our goals.

Handles: Power Grip
Let’s begin with handles. Handles on the reformer and Cadillac Arm Springs. These are bars. They are designed for the power grip. Now, some people have straps. I recommend bars. Even the cushy padded ones. This way one can achieve a healthy and powerful power grip.

Oh, I know! I know! I was taught to keep long fingers. You were, too. But except for the karate chop or if you have a hand injury, there is no reason to use long fingers. Why were we all taught this? The human hand is made to grasp. It doesn’t make sense to keep long fingers.

Part of strengthening the entire arm is…yes…you guessed it: Hand Grasp/Grip!
Hand strength actually comes from the forearm. Developing your forearms is essential to developing healthy arms and shoulder girdle.

Here…in this photo (below) you can see how the muscles of the fingers and entire hand originate in the forearm. Their tendons pass over the wrist and into the hand. Do you see that. There’s no room in the hand for powerful muscles. Oh, sure, there are little ones that are vital to precision. But our power of our hands comes from our forearms.

It’s amazing, really!

One of the actions that gets lost as we age is the grasp. The grip. In fact, it is the earliest loss of action as it is an early loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) and a predictor of aging and increased disabilities. (Oh, my!) I strongly suggest we work our hand grip over our lives to be able to carry things and keep our strength!

That means during The Hundred, Coordination, The Rowing, Seated Twist, Pull Straps, Backstroke, Teaser, Breaststroke, Horseback, Reverse Horseback,  etc. etc… Full power grip! Be strong!

When we grasp a handle, keeping a strong fist and a neutral alignment of the wrist is essential. Put your thumbs around the bar and use your opposable thumbs. Grasp the bar with a power grip. Keep the middle of your hand in line with the middle of your wrist. This will give you the greatest strength while conserving energy and developing your muscularity well.

Do you see in this well-aligned photo (below) that my hand-wrist-forearm alignment is strong and forward while the handle itself is on an angle. That’s how it goes! That angle is something we will wish for in longer bars and will have to alter our grasp for in other actions (read on…)









And then you can see that in profile (below), the hand is neutral to the forearm. There is no extension or flexion at the wrist.


What do we need to watch out for? Wrist deviations in any plane:
















And not just with the handles, but with all hand placement. We’re seeking neutral wrists in all three planes: coronal/frontal, sagittal and transverse. Unless, of course, it’s a safety issue we must manage.

Foot Bar
So…that means, on the foot bar of the reformer we seek a neutral wrist. Take Long Stretch Series, for instance. Work to keep your wrists straight in all three planes. Well…that’s rather tricky when your weight is on the foot bar. You’ll be able to align the middle of your hand with the middle of your forearm easily if you release your Power Grip and bring your thumbs over to the side of your fingers.
You can see in the photo below that the power grip really deviates the wrist:

And…release your grasp completely because grasping always comes with the intention of pulling and grabbing. However…you do not want to pull or grab the foot bar. Nope. You want to press against and down up it while hugging it with both hands, but not pull on it. Because what brings the carriage in? (Think about it… Think… No…not your abdominals. Not your power house. Nope. Think… Right! THE SPRINGS! And what do you do with springs? RESIST them! So…you wouldn’t ever grab and pull on the foot bar because then you are pulling the carriage in. But that is the job of the springs. You must push springs out (the easy part) and then resist their pull in (the hard part). So…we skip the power grip and go to thumbs with fingers with as much neutral alignment as possible.

Also, on a classical reformer, the foot bar does not lock. So it is most important that you only push a foot bar and never pull on one because the foot bar will fall down…and so will you!

Check out these photos of good foot bar alignment for hands in Long Stretch Series or Knee Stretches or any exercise that requires hands on the foot bar:




So we’re looking for:
As close to neutral wrists in all 3-plans as possible
Grasp handles
Push but do not grasp or pull foot bars

Leather Straps and/or Ropes
When doing Pull Straps or any other exercise that requires you to hold onto the leather straps or ropes, also make a full power grip with neutral wrists in all three planes. I know many of us were taught that it’s more advanced to do Pull Straps holding onto the strap with the thumb and first finger…but that’s really weak. The exercises are about arm, shoulder girdle to torso integration and strength. That requires a grasp all the way to your smallest (pinky) finger! If you wanted to be fancy…you hold on with your two smallest (pinky and ring) fingers while still doing the rest of your arm and shoulder girdle stunningly. Let’s not worry about being fancy. Let’s worry about getting the job done well and effectively! Make a full fist and pull!

But ropes are difficult in this manner. So what I do is fold the straps up so that I have something to really grasp onto!

Push Through Bar
Now, what about the Push Through Bar?
In exercises like Teaser Push Through, The Push Through, The Reverse Push Through and the Kneeling Flexion and Extension exercise (some call it Cat/Cow). We find ourselves with a safety issue where neutral wrists are not nearly as important as the safety of the power grip. In these exercises, please, oh, please use a full power grip. Use your opposable thumbs! In The Teaser Push through, for both safety and appropriately efficient manipulation of the bar, make full fists around the bar. Let the bar roll in your hand. I know of a teacher in Los Angeles that while teaching Teaser Push Through and leaning over her client to give hands-on cues, as we do, her client lost hold of the bar, it smashed into her jaw and broke it. She got a broken jaw because her client didn’t have the appropriate grip and she as a teacher didn’t have her hand on the center of the bar to watch out for that! And…I know of a Pilates Elder who seemed rather proud of herself sharing the story (at a workshop of mine) of how this happened to her 3 times…and she didn’t get hurt. (Personally, I find that a proper abomination.)

These photo (below) is how we grasp the Push Through Bar for those exercises (pardon the weird shot of me!):

Now, what about Mermaid with the Push Through Bar? It’s very much like using a foot bar. There is no safety issue with needing the power grip and we can prioritize neutral wrists once again. Do like we do on the foot bar: thumbs with fingers, long fingers so you don’t consider pulling on the bar. You push it with your body weight and you resist on the way up. See this photo (below)

Roll Back Bar
With the roll back bar we have similar situations to the Push Through Bar. Often we have to choose between power grip for safety (which will cause radial wrist deviation) and releasing the grip in one manner or another to retrieve the neutral position for better strengthening. I suggest that Beginners or anyone with a perception or neurological disorder use the power grip…those opposable thumbs and really wrap around the bar. It’s safe, though there is clear radial wrist deviation.
HOWEVER…you can modify that power grip and direct the pressure toward the small finger side of the hand releasing a bit of the thumb grip. (See photo below)



Or place the thumb beside the fingers while maintaining a neutral wrists. Or, of course, the full alteration with thumbs with fingers and long fingers. I was always taught that this is the ideal way of working with the bar…but I don’t agree any longer. With the knowledge of how important the grasp of the hand is to the development of the hand, arm and shoulder girdle…I resist this position. (See photo below)
What about during pull ups? This would be a good time for the modified power grip: thumbs with fingers while making your full grasp. (See photo below) You can get a solid grip while keeping relatively neutral so that you can get the full strength of the upper limb.

Vertical Poles
Leg Springs is likely the only other set of exercises (next to Long Stretch Series and Advanced Tendon Stretch) that I actually encourage the hands have thumbs with fingers and you press on the heel of your hand. Why? Because you want to push those vertical poles rather than pull on them. If your leg springs are appropriately strong, you need to press against the poles so that you don’t slide back toward the back edge of the Cadillac/Tower tower…or slide off all together. You push on those vertical poles with your hands to “brace” yourself…just like your shoulders end up pressing into the shoulder blocks of the reformer during leg springs. Those shoulder blocks are there so that you don’t slide off the back edge of the carriage! (The original apparatus that the design of the  reformer was taken from had no shoulder blocks.)

The Challenge of Change
I understand it’s difficult to change habits. Especially when someone important told us to do it a certain way. But I’ve got to say…why do you think you would ever want to work with those long fingers all of the time? What’s the purpose? I used to do it and think it was fun…until I learned about how you strengthen an arm and shoulder and body in general. Why, oh, why would we ever neglect the hand? The entire purpose of having an arm is to move your hand where you want it to go…to grasp something! So…let’s get grasping!

I call the long fingers: wearing your Pilates mittens. It’s time we take our mittens off…unless we really need them (on the foot bar or the vertical poles for leg springs).

Enjoy your power grip!

****Please reach out with questions, comments, concerns! The comment section is perfect for that, but if you have something more personal to discuss, always just email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

****Let’s work together!
Weekly live-stream and recorded web classes! www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com/classes
Recorded webinars! www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com/recordedwebinars
Workshops in person! www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com/workshops
In-person or Skype sessions! www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com/sessions













Young RW. Evolution of the human hand: The role of throwing and clubbing.
J. Anat (2003) 202, pp165–174

Lewis WG, Narayan CV. Design and sizing of ergonomic handles for hand tools. Applied Ergonomics 1993, 24 (5), 351-356

Abe T, Thiebaud RS, Loenneke JP, Ogawa M, Mitsukawa N. Association between forearm muscle thickness and age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass, handgrip and knee extension strength and walking performance in old men and women: a pilot study. Ultrasound in medicine & biology. 2014;40(9):2069-2075.

June 25, 2018 at 6:25 pm 6 comments

The Elephant


Thank you, Elephants for Africa for this photo. I did not receive permission for the use of it and do not have a photo credit. It’s a beautiful photo and I hope they don’t mind my using it here. http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/

I used to wonder what The Elephant on the reformer was all about. Did you? Do you still? I couldn’t understand how I could excel in so many exercises but still be plagued with The Elephant. From my early on and all through my apprenticeship it felt like my teacher’s greatest dilemma: how will we get Shari to do the Elephant. She just has it all wrong.

Totally defeated, I would teach The Elephant to my clients…and just find it utterly mysterious. WHAT IS THIS EXERCISE ABOUT?! Why can I do super advanced work and not “get” The Elephant and super beginner exercise.

Well, now, I am very happy to announce that I can tell you why: because apparently my teachers didn’t know what it was all about either.

So…what is The Elephant about?
Sure it’s to strengthen your abdominals…everything in Pilates is.
Or if you want to call it your “powerhouse,” it strengthens that, too.
I remember being told it stretches your back body and strengthens your front body.
Well…sort of, but not really.
I mean…it encourages an elasticity in your back body…and…also strengthens it.
Oh, was told that it’s about opening your lower back, I was told.
Nope. It’s so not.

I was encouraged to make a shape that looked like an elephant’s back.
Some sort of relationship to why we call this “The Elephant.”

I was told the story that Joseph Pilates created this exercise for women who had “elephant” skin at their outer thighs.
So, maybe this was about working the thighs?
Something resonates here…

What is it really?
A hip joint mobility exercise and a shoulder joint stability exercise.
That’s it, folks.

Is it a torso strengthener, too? Of course. It’s a “full-body exercise.” (a phrase that makes me laugh because every exercise is a “full-body exercise.” Some have more benefit for the entire body than others and some trainers/teachers cue in ways that are more beneficial than others, but even a leg press at the gym is a full body exercise. Every muscle in your body works all of the time and every muscle makes whatever you’re doing happen.) But the primary focus is hip joint mobility and shoulder joint stability which creates all sorts of full-body strength.

Now…the hip joint mobility portion is the most interesting and this is where we get into all sorts of differences in how to do this exercise: body weight forward over the spring bar or body weight back. Spine rounded, natural curves, etc.

If this is about hip joint mobility then it would be wise to seek a position where the person will have the greatest range of hip joint motion available. And that is with the torso rocked back toward the heels. Unless a person is really “connected” and flexible, that also means that the pelvis will be just barely in front of the ankle joint (so as not to allow the mobility and not get stuck in the weight of the pelvis over the legs over the ankle and foot not allowing the carriage to move. Again…more advanced and flexible people can do it with pelvis directly over the ankle. However…let’s stay away from pelvis behind ankles.)

When I say “mobility” that requires strength. That does not mean stretch or floppiness. The more range of  motion of the femur in the acetabulum, the greater strength we can develop. Greater strength leads to greater mobility. Yes…that’s an interesting concept and one I will discuss further in a future post. Stiffness requires strength for elasticity.

And what about the shape of the spine? I strongly suggest learning this with a flexed spine (with a posterior tilt of the pelvis relative to the lumbar spine) so that the lower abdominal and gluteus maximus connections are easiest to develop, as they are in flexion. Then over time when your client is able to stabilize the shape of spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle (relative to the slight movement that must happen as the legs press out and then back in) your client can advance to natural curves of the spine. It is a greater challenge to make a lower abdominal connection in natural curves than in flexion with posterior tilt…so this is an understandable progression.

Now…what about curve of the spine in flexion? We’re looking for light flexion. That means long, supported, strongly muscular lifted flexion. “Lift tall” or “lifted” in my world and The Vertical Workshop world is always more space between each of your backbones no matter what shape you call your spine into. Remember that’s really your disc space…so…all around your vertebral bodies and in between: front, back, sides, etc. They are little discs (See an earlier piece: Abdominals. Spine…) that you want to develop the proper tension of soft tissue (tensegrity) to keep them apart…always…as a priority! (Again…see Abdominals. Spine…)


Now…was I taught like this? Absolutely not! Heck no way!
I was taught like many of you were taught: my body weight forward, a really rounded spine (which is a force of the thoracic spine and hinging at C7-T1) and shoulders slid off the back to have “shoulder blades flat on the back.”

When the body is so far forward, hip joint action is minimal. It’s not possible to get the most out of the hip join flexion and extension because you’re already set up in a sort midway or more through your range of motion. That’s a problem.

When the spine is so rounded at the thoracic spine and collapsed at C7-T1, there is no use of the spinal extensors balancing the pull of abdominals and gravity…and that causes passive stretching of soft tissues, most likely the ligaments. That’s a problem.

When shoulder blades are slid off of the back to be flat on the back, the upper back muscles are weakened and shoulder girdle muscles are at a disadvantage as the primary shoulder joint muscles originate on the scapulae and require the scapulae to be on your back (See a really, really old post that I’d like to update, but that’s how I feel about all of my posts: Shoulder Girdle: A Delicate Balance) When your arms are up between your eyes and ears, you’re at near, but not quite at , your end-range of supportive motion of your shoulder joint. This is a great place for strength of shoulder girdle. ALSO…when your arms are in this position, your latissimus dorsi (LD) is in its longest position. The tension within the muscle puts tension on the thoracolumbar fascia (TFL) which translates to tension to the contra-lateral (opposite) gluteus maximus (GM – glutes). This makes your GM work really well! So…we want to be in a position for maximal effect on the GM for the posterior tilt of the pelvis and hip extension because that’s a primary part of what The Elephant is about. And…never have to squeeze your buttocks to do it! (Read Buttocks – Seemingly Every Fitness Person’s Favorite Subject… ) With that…this position of pelvis just in front of the hips provides all of this.

Lean bodyweight back until pelvis is just in front of ankles.
Flex spine, be in posterior tilt AND maintain strength and support in spine.
Keep shoulder blades on the back which is easy when arms are up between eyes and ears.

And what is the Go?
Press the carriage out with your legs.
Resist the springs in.

What? No “pull the carriage in?”
That’s right, my Pilates friends. That’s right.
What brings the carriage in?
Nope. Not your abdominals.
Nope…not your power house.
Oops…it’s not your legs.
The springs. The springs bring the carriage in on all exercises.
Your job is to resist the springs.
The eccentric contraction of the same muscles that pressed the carriage out is resisting the springs in! Ooooooh that’s so good! (I’ll share more about eccentric contractions and their value in an upcoming piece.)

How far do you press the carriage out?
Only as far as you can keep the pressure at the very back edge of the bottom of your heel so that you work your anterior tibialis! Poor thing is a wreck from flip-flops, hard-soled shoes or clogs, backless shoes. Poor anterior tibilis that is essential to walking, simply not falling while standing and many other things in movement life.

What’s the rhythm? Good question! Ooooh rhythm questions are great (see The Music of Pilates workshop that you can download right this moment at a fab discount: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/the-music-of-pilates/)
Press the carriage out in 1 count.
Resist the springs in for 3 counts.
1  3 2 1

Here’s a little goofy video of me saying things about The Elephant:


Questions? Concerns? Thoughts?
Drop me one in the comments!

Thank you for joining me here! I appreciate your interest in learning and playing!

Want more?
Workshops: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/workshops/
Classes: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/#/classes/
Sessions: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/#/sessions/
Photos: Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theverticalworkshop/
Tips: Twitter: https://twitter.com/ShariBerkowitz

I’m all over the place and would love to see you in person or virtually!

March 15, 2018 at 1:53 pm 6 comments

I’m coming back to the blog…


Hello! I’ve been on a long journey of education and growth and have stepped away from The Pilates Teacher Blog for the most part over the past few years. I’ve just earned my Master’s in Ergonomics and Biomechanics fulfilling a promise I made to myself when I was 17. That no matter how long it took, I would return full-force to science.

Before I post my first proper piece back here, I want to invite you to check out what I’ve been posting over the past month on Twitter and Instagram.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ShariBerkowitz
I have been and will continue to post daily tips on Twitter. Yes…every day. Maybe not every weekend…but nearly.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theverticalworkshop/
Weekly photos with a bit of info, too. However…since March has turned into a mat-a-palooza…I have been joining in on March Madness and have posted one or two photos on both Instagram and Twitter with different tips in each location every single day.

I invite you to check them out…
Dig into the tips…
Ask questions…
Share with friends…


I have much to share with you…even more than ever before! Having earned my master’s was a really life-changing experience for me. Broadened my perspective and opened many doors for me. My research skills are more refined than ever and my abilities to answer your questions and bring you toward new ways of thought and understanding are at the ready!

Check out Twitter and Instagram and then I’ll have a solid piece up here rather soon!


Workshops: www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com/workshops

2018 will be full of more and more live-streaming webinars and live-streaming classes. I have been doing Live-streaming work for years now and find it quite successful for the participants. Curious? Just email me and I will tell you about it. info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com or go to the Contact section and send me an email there!

EVERY DAY at your home:
The Music of Pilates
March 18 Webinar (with recording)
April 15 New York City, NY
April 27-29 Colorado Springs, CO
May 11-13 Seville, SPAIN
19-20 Atlanta, GA
June 22-24 Rio de Janeiro, BRASIL
16 Paris, FRANCE
July 20-22 New Orleans, LA
Aug 10-12 Boston, MA
Sept 21-23 Istanbul, TURKEY
Oct 12-14 Chicago, IL
Nov 2-4 Austin, TX
Dec 7-9 Venice, ITALY

(more soon to be posted with work online, recorded and in person)

March 13, 2018 at 9:06 pm Leave a comment

Independence by toeing the line…

What does Independence mean to you?
Yes…all that you just thought is exactly what it is. It is so many things to so many people.

And in Pilates…what is Independence?

It’s Independence Day here in America and I always consider what this means in relation to Pilates. As I’ve written before, Mr. Pilates wanted to encourage independence in the studio. That his students wouldn’t rely on the teachers for everything, but for only what they need. That piece was many years ago and can be read here: Independence: It’s Fundamental to Pilates!

Today, I want to consider the remarkable internal feeling our clients develop when they discover that they are getting stronger and more able…and how we really can help them get there.

You know that feeling. The feeling of accomplishment when you’ve surprised yourself that you could do something you thought you couldn’t? And do you know the feeling of confidence that you can do anything that you call your body into? The first is more common. The second is less common. Let’s discuss…

The First: The feeling of accomplishment when you’ve surprised yourself that you could do something you thought you couldn’t?

This is something that we can really work to help our clients achieve. It’s tempting to keep our clients in a safe zone of easily accomplishable exercises. Ones they feel they “get” and need very little struggle to achieve. Keeping things safe won’t help our clients achieve their physical goals. Not really. Most physical goals are achieved by going just beyond normal effort. It’s the struggle that is of value. But how much struggle is enough? How much is too much?

I’d love to say that there is a clear sign, a meter you can attach to your client or to yourself to answer these questions. Of course, there is not. However, if we train our clients to pay attention to their internal actions and communicate with us…then we make it possible to continually work towards the appropriate struggle.

The appropriate struggle is when your client can almost accomplish the task/action without being in danger of getting hurt and can sense that it will be possible in the near future.

Wow! That’s awkward! But that’s it!
1. Safety first: NO DANGER! No danger of injury relative to your client’s imbalances and no danger of injury of falling off an apparatus or pushing too hard. (You think I jest…but I’ve seen teachers push people so hard they fall off apparatus or apparatus has fallen on them. It’s not pretty. It should never happen.)
2. Almost accomplish the action: This means it’s not perfect. It should appear to be a bit of a struggle. Your client has to fight for the exercise! And that there is a positive development from the first repetition to the last repetition. However…positive development does not actually mean nailing it! (See another really old article I wrote: Expectations: It’s About Growth – Not Perfection)
3. Sense it will be possible: That’s the kicker! An internal sense of possibility! That’s where drive and desire come in! Your client will almost be able to taste possibility! She’ll want to do another repetition when all repetitions are completed…and you don’t let her. Because the truth is…it won’t happen in this session in that one more repetition. It will happen in the next session…not this one! If you give her that one more repetition she will  feel failure. So…you say “memorize that feeling! Let’s play with it again next session! And…next exercise is:____________!”

Toe the line of possibility and accomplishment! Get your client to the edge of her abilities of the day to excitement about what is possible for tomorrow! It’s just beyond comfort into a bit of a push. An appropriate push.

That’s key: ” An appropriate push.”

I am not a supporter of giving your clients exercises that they simply aren’t strong enough to really dig into. Some teachers choose really hard exercises so that their clients feel weak and then want to be strong enough to do it. No. Embarrassment is not a good teacher. Toeing the line: Good! Pushing beyond excitement and into embarrassment or deep competition: Not Good!

We toe the line to be slightly uncomfortable in the sense of wanting to get something that is just barely out of reach. Almost accomplishable…but not quite…you can see it and smell it and taste it… From there great strength and excitement develops! An inner sense of independence develops because you’ve gone just outside of your comfort zone and then over time you’ve achieved!

Make sense?

The other concept I expressed was the amazing independence of being able to do anything that you physically (or mentally) ask yourself to do. Well, that is something that not everyone will be able to achieve for many reasons. Physical, emotional and/or chemical barriers to being able to accomplish all. Some of our clients are acutely aware that they are limited and feel their Independence is therefore limited as well. They cannot do all that they wish to do. It’s more normal than not. Feeling limitations. However, I do believe that what we do in Pilates especially when we toe the line and make for accomplishment over time and all of the time helps our clients find more and more that they are able to do rather than focus on what they are not able to do.

Independence…are we working with our clients and ourselves (our favorite client…oh there is a piece I wrote on that right there: Your Favorite Client) in a way that we seek to accomplish what is just out of reach all of the time? Can we help our clients focus on what they can do more than what they cannot do. And not by saying…but by letting them experience it!

As always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, please write in the comment section! I’m glad to have a discussion!

Thank you for having taken he time to read this article and I hope it encourages you to move forward in your teaching and practice in this stunning way!

If you have any questions at all or want to share your thoughts in the comment section, please do!

****Live-Streaming and Recorded Sessions: Twice a week I hold live-streaming group sessions with teachers that are recorded. People join in from all over the world both in the live-stream and viewing the recordings. In the live-stream, I see everyone and cue you as though we are in the studio together…individually. If you would like to learn more about these remarkable sessions, go to: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/#/classes/

****Workshops: Please view the workshop list in the side column/bar. I hope to see you soon! Or go to: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/workshops/

****Skype Sessions: Let’s work together no matter where we both are! I teach Skype sessions all over the world each week! Email me to set up a session! info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com
More information is here: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/#/sessions/

****Consultation: Are there clients you’d like to discuss? Issues in the Pilates studio of any sort: Pilates exercises, biomechanics, teacher dynamics, teaching tools…anything else? We simply set up a Skype appointment and work together! Again, email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com


July 4, 2017 at 12:46 pm 4 comments

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EVERY DAY at your home:
The Music of Pilates

Teacher Training/Bridge:
Atlanta, GA
Colorado Springs, CO

Due to Covid-19, all in-studio workshops are postponed until everyone can be together safely. Keep your eye on this space and go to the link below for Webinars and updates when workshops are scheduled.



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