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When Eme Cole hurt her shoulder while rock climbing, she immediately started researching rehabilitation. “As a Pilates teacher, I can’t be injured for longer than necessary,” says Cole, the owner of Pilates Plus in Chicago and Pilates Expanded. One of her instructors suggested an unlikely solution: Indian clubs, a wooden apparatus shaped like a bowling pin.
This ancient tool, which dates back to 13th century Persia, is used in juggling and as weights in aerobics classes. They were once so popular that a swinging-club event was part of the 1904 and 1932 Olympics, and the U.S. Army used them as part of their training regimen during World War I. Over the years, Indian clubs faded from the fitness scene—until recently.
Now the prop is making a comeback, popping up in a few studios like Cole’s. “They’re a terrific tool for Pilates, because they add a strengthening element to arm and shoulder exercises,” says Cole. By grasping the narrow neck, practitioners incorporate them in fluid movements and swings. “Indian clubs have a greater range of motion than, say, a dumbbell,” she says. As a result, these exercises improve both strength and flexibility. “That’s what makes them perfect for rehabilitating and preventing shoulder injuries,” says Cole. Case in point: Her own shoulder bounced back after two months of training with the clubs.
“Indian clubs also share the same principle as Pilates,” says Cole. In order to swing the arm, practitioners have to engage their core to stabilize their body. “It’s a full-body movement,” she says. “And if you want more of a challenge, you can simply hold the clubs farther away.”
Want to test ’em out? Pick up a pair of Indian clubs (starting at $49 for two; www.motionRx.com). Cole recommends one-pound clubs for women and two pounders for men. Then try the following moves, also shown on YouTube here.
Single-Arm Circles: Circle your right arm forward alongside your body, extending through as large of a range of motion as possible. Reverse the direction, and then switch arms and repeat.
Double Opposite Arm Circles: Circle your right arm forward and your left arm backward. Reverse the direction and repeat.
Anterior Arm Circles: Cross the clubs in front of your torso. Raise them above your head. Circle your arms out to your sides, so that your arms are outstretched and the clubs cross in front of your body. Reverse the direction so that the opposite club is in front and repeat.
Wrapping Circles: Begin with your right fist beneath the chin, fingers facing inward. Wrap the club behind your head. Then sweep it up and over your head (like a windshield wiper), continue the sweep in front of your body, and return to the starting position. Reverse the direction, and then switch arms and repeat.
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& A with Rael Isacowitz
Q: I’ve taken the same Pilates class for months, and it’s starting to feel routine. How can I increase my challenge?
A: Thank you for using the word routine. I get frustrated when people say they are bored, since this means they’ve completely missed the point of inner exploration and, truthfully, the essence of Pilates. Let’s face it: We have all probably done—and will continue to do—a Pelvic Curl in most of our Pilates sessions. But even this simple exercise can feel fresh and stimulating each time you do it.
Of course, it’s normal to get stuck in a rut from time to time. There are different ways to combat this: One solution is adding new repertoire, as long as it’s suited for your skill level and any restrictions you may have. You can also tweak your current repertoire by modifying the choreography or incorporating accessories like a ball, Magic Circle or weights. Just make sure that these modifications have a purpose, and they’re not simply for the sake of change. It’s also beneficial to progressively increase the load on the musculature by increasing or decreasing resistance; this will make an exercise feel new and challenging. Finally, introducing new concepts to think about is vital. This may be from your own self-cueing, another teacher’s cues, an article or workshop.
That said, repetition is important, and a certain amount of a class should be about reinforcing movement patterns and exercises that are ingrained in the body. It takes me back to my dance days, when I trained in the Martha Graham technique and ballet barre. It’s also similar to Ashtanga yoga, where I practiced the first and second series of poses for years before introducing more advanced moves. It brings to mind a quote of Joseph Pilates from his book Return to Life: “Make a close study of each exercise and do not attempt any other exercise until you have first mastered the current one and know its routine down to the last detail without any reference to the text.”
I, too, feel the need to discover something new each session, and as a teacher I want my students to leave with something new each time. But that something doesn’t need to be a new move. More often than not, it’s something internal; a new depth that I reach. If you continue discovering more within yourself, Pilates will never feel routine.
Rael Isacowitz, MA, has been practicing Pilates for more than 30 years and is recognized internationally as an expert in the field. In 1989, Rael founded BASI Pilates®, a comprehensive Pilates education organization represented throughout the world. For more information, visit www.basipilates.com.
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Close Up: Leg Pull Front
by Kara Wiley; photography by Sigmà Sreedharan
In our March/April issue, Kara Wily shared a Foot Corrector routine that connected the lower-body muscles with the abdomen. She takes the work a step further with the following bonus move, which boosts circulation and strengthens the muscles in your ankle, legs, core and butt.
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Setup: Lie on your stomach on a mat.
Begin the move:
1. Place your hands under your shoulders and tuck your toes under. Push up into a Plank position.
2. With your shoulders held on your back, abdomen hollowed and heels lifted, engage your glutes and raise your right leg into the air.
3. Push your left heel back. (Resist the temptation to return the heel to its original position; instead, focus on pulling from your core.) Return your right foot to the floor.
4. Repeat the move on your opposite side, lifting your left leg. Repeat the entire cycle three times through.
Tips: Avoid winging your shoulder blades. If your shoulders wing dramatically, focus on your breathing—filling the ribs on your back—before attempting the move. And lift your leg from the gluteal fold rather than lifting your hips; most people make this mistake. The key is engaging all of your muscle groups together: “The more connected the body can become, the more the body can almost levitate off the ground,” says Wily.
4 Tips for Delicious Vegan Desserts
Most people associate vegan desserts with cardboard-like cakes and cookies. But vegan Chef Chloe Coscarelli is proof that this doesn’t have to be the case: On the Food Network show Cupcake Wars, her vegan confections went head-to-head with traditional butter- and cream-filled versions—and came out on top.
Coscarelli’s new book, Chloe’s Vegan Desserts, is filled with mouthwatering cake, pie and cookie recipes that anyone—vegan or not—will love. So how does she craft these tantalizing treats without animal products? Here, she shares her tips, plus a scrumptious lemon bar recipe.
1. Create a coconut milk frosting. When a frosting’s called butter cream, creating a vegan version can be a challenge. “But I’ve found that coconut milk is a terrific alternative,” says Coscarelli.
How to whip up a fluffy frosting: Chill a 13.5-ounce can of whole (not light) coconut milk, along with the bowl and whisk of a stand mixer. Then skim off the coconut solids, making sure not to include any of the liquid, and blend it with 2/3 cup of powdered sugar until it begins to stiffen. When it resembles whipped cream, place in a covered container and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
2. Thicken with cornstarch or arrowroot. For a creamy consistency, puddings and pie fillings often call for eggs and heavy cream. A little cornstarch or arrowroot, a fine powder made from a tropical root, can create a similar creamy consistency.
3. Swap vinegar and baking soda for eggs. Combining vinegar and baking soda creates a reaction that helps to bind together a baked good, so it’s an excellent vegan alternative to eggs. (Experts recommend 1 tablespoon of vinegar and ½ teaspoon baking soda to replace an egg.) Having fresh baking soda is key, says Coscarelli, so test your box to see if it’s too old: If adding the vinegar doesn’t cause it to bubble immediately, toss it out.
4. Scout out dairy-free alternatives. There are now a number of dairy-free products available in specialty and national grocery stores. Coscarelli’s favorites include vegan margarine, like Earth Balance brand. Made from a blend of oils, it’s a perfect replacement for butter or regular margarine.
Coscarelli also looks for dairy-free chocolate chips, such as Ghirardelli and Guittard semisweet chips. Non-dairy milks, such as soy, almond and rice, are also a staple in her desserts.
Makes 16 two-inch bars
For the shortbread crust:
½ cup vegan margarine
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
For the filling:
1 cup soy, almond, or rice milk, divided
6 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon zest
natural yellow food coloring (optional)
powdered sugar (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan and line with parchment paper long enough to overhang the edges. Lightly grease the parchment paper.
2. In a food processor, pulse margarine, flour, sugar and salt until crumbly. Press into prepared pan. Bake for 18 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together ½ cup non-dairy milk, cornstarch and flour until completely smooth. Set side.
4. In a medium saucepan, combine remaining ½ cup non-dairy milk, sugar and lemon juice, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and slowly whisk in cornstarch mixture. Continue to cook, whisking continuously, for about 5 minutes or until very thick. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and food coloring, if using.
5. Pour the filling over the crust and bake for 15 minutes. Let cool, then chill in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight. Once chilled and set, lift the paper to release the bars from the pan and unmold. Using a sharp knife, cut into 2-inch squares and dust with powdered sugar.
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