4 Pilates Stances – Deeper discussion on parallel vs. external rotation
Hi, Everyone! My blog is extended to www.powerpilates.com as well and I got a wonderful e-mail from Colin in Scotland asking some questions about parallel legs vs. external rotation and asking that I explain the 4 Pilates stances (thank you, Courtney, for asking for the same). With that, here is the e-mail Colin wrote to me and my response! Let’s keep chatting about it. It’s important to question what we’ve been taught, etc.! I love these conversations!
Here it is (Colin’s e-mail first, followed by my response):
I have seen your article posed on the Power Pilates website abut EXTERNAL ROTATION VS PARALLEL which I found very interesting indeed.
I live in the west coast of Scotland, and am a devotee of the Classical Mat work, in that I want to fully understand, interpret and do each exercise correctly! A challenge!
You have raised many questions in your article which I have been asking about for sometime so may I seek your guidance please:
1. Standing in Parallel as I understand it is considered standing in neutral or standard alignment. In this position weight bearing through the lower extremities should be even. When the legs are in optimal position for weight bearing the hips and knees and ankles align in neutral. Feet hip width apart? Do you concur?
2. Knee caps align with the second toe and feet are approximately three to four inches apart. Do you concur?
3. Pilates Stance: You mention that there are 4 Pilates Stance? Can you explain the four different types please?
4. You seem to blame Romana for this misunderstanding…can you explain more please?
I have tried to get clarity about the feet position in say for example the 100, or, the Teasers. If you look at Peter Fiasca’s Classical Mat DVD he appears to have his foot softly pointed with the “arch” in the foot……as though emphasizing this connection. The heels are together and the toes, that is the distance between the two big toes is minimal, say maybe 2 inches from what can be observed from the DVD. This connection in my body is important for the Teaser, so maybe you would explain what is correct? Without this connection my Teaser suffers if you follow my explanation?
On the other hand I have seen it demonstrated with what appears like the feet in parallel, inner edges together and softly turned out emphasis on the arch of the foot?
A Romana trained Teacher described the turnout as a natural turnout, as though you were hanging by yours hand from a bar, this is the natural rotation your feet would find. Do you concur?
Have you any photo-images of the correct positions?
I really look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for reading the blog and then reaching out with your questions. I will try to answer them as comprehensively as I can in e-mail.
1st, let’s just remember that Pilates is a method of exercise designed to balance our body’s imbalances. We must not feed in to our imbalances. Our external rotators of our legs are powerful and meant to be, but we must not neglect our adductors. They are all too often weak and forgotten. Making a heel-to-heel connection in our legs connects us in to our adductors/inner thighs. We must strengthen that connection. Ideally, that connection ought to be with parallel and together feet and legs. So that in Pilates we are working to strengthen those adductors.
Our “core” is more than just our abdominals, but everything that supports the centerline of our bodies. Our abdominals, spinal erectors/back extensors, hip flexors, adductors of the legs…and more. These are a good start. So, with that, that heel-to-heel connection with parallel and together feet and legs is vital to develop.
Develop is the operative word. If there is a needed modification of heels together, toes slightly apart (no more then 2 fingertip widths so we go as least-modified as possible), then great! Then remember to close up the rotation over time to parallel and together. Over time might take weeks, months, years. But always try to get to the ideal version.
When standing in parallel, there are 2 versions of parallel:
1 – Parallel and together (heels and big toe knuckles together) – This I consider a “false parallel” meaning that it’s not really parallel at all…it’s just all the way together. But this is the way that we work towards often.
2 – Parallel and hip width apart (hip socket width). That’s 2nd toe knuckle in line with the middle of the heel. Big toe knuckles the client’s fist width apart.
4 PILATES STANCES:
These stances are used in different ways lying down, sitting, kneeling, standing.
1 – Parallel and together – Again, what I consider a “false parallel” – Heels together, big toe knuckles together. When standing, this provides and rather small amount of surface area to stand on which requires great ability for stability. (Any exercise where the knees do not bend out to the shoulders, this is the ideal position of the feet i.e. The Hundred, The Roll Up, Footwork Arches and Heels, Footwork Tendon Stretch and so many more)
2- Heels together, big toe knuckles 2 finger tip widths apart – This is a modification of Parallel and together. The heel connection may be easier to achieve. And there is a little great surface area for balance. (This is a great tool in exercises like Footwork Tendon Stretch until the ankles and adductors strengthen.)
3 – Military Stance – Heels together, one fist width apart between the big toe knuckles. This is what most people commonly refer to as “Pilates Stance” or “Pilates First”. From what I have learned from many of the great teachers and Mr. Pilates clients, Mr. Pilates never used these phrases. He said, “Military Stance”. This stance provides both greater surface area to balance on and a strong heel connection. (This is the foot position for Footwork Toes, Stomach Massage and other exercises that require the knees to bend and be shoulder width apart. This is also an appropriate position to learn standing exercises such as Standing Arm Springs, The Wall, Ped-O-Pul Arm Circles, Knee Bends, Centering)
4 – Parallel and hip socket width apart – 2nd toe joint in line with the middle of the heel and 1 fist width apart between the big toe knuckles. This provides a wide base of support, but without the heel connection…so…there must be great strength in the abdominals and adducturs. (This position is seen in exercises like Wunda Chair’s Table, High Chair’s Pumping Parallel and Hip Width, Standing Arm Springs’ Squats)
Yes, Romana became very attached to external rotation/turn out. I am not shy to say that she seemed to tire of refining and helping her apprentices understand what we do in Pilates and why. It’s ok…but we must work to discover the answers to the questions that we never got. We must ask our other elders, we must investigate, we must challenge ourselves and our teachers and get answers! So…I do believe that Romana dropped the ball on the through-line of education. She was a great teacher to me in many ways and now as I run this training program, I see how exhausting it is and what an enormous responsibility it is. As a Teacher Trainer, we have to reiterate the same things over and over again for each group. It is essential to make sure we don’t assume that they understand. We must make sure that every group gets the information from the most basic to the most intricate…in a fashion that they can understand. We must not neglect something so basic and important as: If knees do not bend out to the shoulders, then the ideal placement of the feet is parallel.
Again, I honor Romana in my teaching as only few of us can, but I see her faults and humanity. And it’s our job to understand and improve.
Now, you mention, Peter Fiasca’s Classical Pilates videos. Peter uses an external rotation in his Teaser. If you need it now as a tool to connect your legs. Use it, but then lose it. Start to get deeper in to your abdominals and work to lift your spine. TIghten that heel connection and begin to rotate it parallel as I hope you begin to do to all of your work over time. Over time, remember. If you’re used to working in external rotation, you will find it more difficult to do this work in the ideal manner. Of course you will. And you will grip in your hip flexors because you are all too used to working in a modification. Practice. Try it out. Strengthen in this manner and you will see and feel enormous changes over time. Over time.
And come take a session. Sure, Scotland is very far away…but L.A. is lovely! People travel all over the world to come take a session…it would be great to have you be part of that community!
One more thing…if, as you wondered, I was hanging from a bar by my hands, would my legs naturally rotate outwards…yes. I should hope so. My glutes and other external rotators and abductors of the leg need to be strong, but my adductors must be remarkably strong to balance them out in the way our body ought to work. That is why in Pilates we work to strengthen in this false parallel, so that in life we have a balanced natural rotation.
I’ve enjoyed writing this response! Please ask me more if you need!
All the best!
Director of West Coast Education, Teacher Trainer
The Vertical Workshop, Owner
9012 West Olympic Boulevard, Suite 200
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
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