By Lesley Logan • Edited by Amanda Altman
One day while running the shortest distance home to grab a cup of coffee, I misjudged a crack in the sidewalk and my leg hyperextended and became a “pole” that felt like it drove straight through me. I found myself on the ground. Never an injury in my 10-plus years of running competitions, but there I was, on the pavement with traffic whizzing by. I tried to get up but could not put weight on my leg. After calling the orthopedic surgeon recommended by a friend and fellow Pilates teacher, I picked myself up and managed to squat-walk the two blocks back to my apartment. Soon, after demanding to be treated like Kobe Bryant, I found out that I had fractured my tibial plateau—and would not be permitted to walk for up to two months. It was at that moment I swore I would never let my knees enjoy hyperextension ever again.
To achieve this, I needed to find and fall in love with my seat. Not just the booty we tend to think of, but the second one. You know, the butt below the butt. This strength would help me stand out of my knee joints and into my muscles.
This mini workout is designed to help you find your thuttocks—where your thighs meet your buttocks—and learn the power your seat can have on the Reformer and the mat. If you or your clients tend to lock out in those knees, overuse those hips flexors or are recovering from knee issues, then this workout is for you.
The Reformer provides feedback from the springs, straps and shoulder blocks: If your springs crash, you didn’t resist with your seat. If your feet slip off the footbar, you didn’t find the reach from your seat, or you may have locked into your knees. The Short Box is a love/hate relationship for many, but adding a resistance band helps you discover a whole new world of muscles and teach your body to let your knees not take over. The additional mat exercises are easy for you to do no matter where in the world you may be.
These exercises helped me take the pressure off my knees and transfer the work to my muscles. I have found that hypermobile clients and those suffering from minor knee aches and pains enjoy more connection to their body and less “hanging out” in their joints. Grab a seat—and see for yourself!
Props: Sitting Box; heavy resistance band; weighted pole; Magic Circle
Breath: As long as you’re not holding your breath, you’re on the right track!
• If you’re currently healing from a knee issue or are in pain, check with your doctor or physical therapist to make sure these exercises are safe for you.
• Be patient—it took me a long time to feel what “straight”—and not “locked”—really was.
• The goal is not about gripping your seat—Pilates is not about overusing any muscle group.
• If you don’t have a band, use a Magic Circle.
Spring Setting: 3–4 heavy
Purpose: warms the body with a focus on the seat
Setup: Lie on the carriage with your palms down by your sides and the balls of your feet on the footbar, heels together and toes about a fist-distance apart. Lift your heels and engage your “second seat.”
1. Press the carriage out, straightening your legs without hyperextending your knees.
2. Bend your knees and pull the carriage in. Do 10 reps.
3. Repeat steps 1–2 on your arches with your feet in parallel, and then on your heels.
4. Return to the starting position with your toes on the footbar. Lower and lift your heels for 10 reps.
Secrets to Second-Seat Success: Always push your feet into the footbar even as you bend your knees. To test whether or not you’re recruiting the correct muscles, try this exercise on one spring; if your feet slip, you’re using your dominant muscles and letting the springs bring you home.
Modification: If your knee does not allow for turnout, do this in parallel, or add a block or ball to connect to your midline.
Advanced: Focus on flow!
Spring Setting: 2 heavy
Purpose: teaches how to use the outer hips—not the knees—to press the strap open
Setup: Sit on the Short Box with your feet parallel in the strap. Double-wrap the band around your thighs and press your legs out. Wrap your arms around your waist, and find the tallest round shape you can make.
1. Press out on the band and round back, but only until you can’t go back any further without your legs narrowing.
2. Press out on the band to round up. Do 3–5 reps.
Setup: Same as Round Back, but sit tall, and reach the weighted pole overhead. Allow the weight of the pole to “seed” your shoulders on your back.
1. Press out on the band as you reach back with a flat back, but only until you can’t go back any further without your legs narrowing.
2. Press out on the band as you lift back up. Do 3–5 reps.
Twist and Reach
Setup: Same as Flat Back.
1. Twist from your waist as you press out on the band.
2. Lean back into the twist, only going as far as you can while maintaining the length of the springs and tension on the band without your legs narrowing.
3. Lift back up as you deepen your twist.
4. Return to center, and then repeat to your other side. Do 2–3 sets.
Secrets to Second-Seat Success: Double-check that your knees are not pressing your legs apart—let your outer hips own this exercise. If your legs start to narrow, that’s a sign that you’re losing your seat connection. Note that sometimes your legs will feel “bent” when they’re actually straight.
Modifications: Use a lighter resistance band. If using the pole causes strain or issues in your shoulders in Flat Back and Twist and Reach, place your hands behind your head.
Advanced: For Round Back, allow your body to move into extension if you can maintain tension on the band throughout. For Twist and Reach, add in Around the World Twist to one side, and then open up to the ceiling; twist to the other side; return up and to center. Reverse. Do 1 rep in each direction.
Single-Leg Knee Stretch
Spring Setting: 2 heavy
Purpose: encourages the seat to press the carriage out and resist it back in
Setup: Kneel on the carriage with the soles of your feet against the shoulder blocks and your hands shoulder-width apart on the footbar. Bring one foot forward, planting your toes on the carriage. Round your back and lift your other knee 2 inches, keeping your shoulders on your back.
1. Using the back of your leg, press the carriage out as far as you can while maintaining your starting position.
2. Pull the carriage in as you resist the springs home. Do 5–10 reps, and then repeat on your other side.
Secret to Second-Seat Success: Press your heel into the shoulder block as you close the springs.
Advanced: Repeat in the Knees Off position with both feet against the shoulder blocks.