“In Joe’s studio the worst sin you could commit was to bang the carriage.
The 2nd worst sin you could commit was to make any noise with the clips.”
The “clips” in the quote above refer to the double-ended clips that attach the two black straps inside the front of the Reformer for the short box series.
Some of you may know of my deep devotion to all-things Short Box. Nearly mid-way through Joe Pilates’ sequence of Reformer exercises, you can get a nice massage, do some exacting work and possibly make sparks shoot from your toes. More on that later.
or the Short Box series.
Only a few components assist you in this series of exercises:
The Box, the pole…
And the two black straps.
Yup. That’s all you get. But you do have your stomach.
There are two straps for safety, in case one should fail. While the failure of a strap may seem remote, worst-case scenario, it lands you abruptly onto your head, neck or back, so to me that second strap is Joe Pilates’ brilliant foresight. The “business” end of the clips should face up and away from the frame.
The pole should ideally be about three feet long. I, too, have some of those cute little ones that fit inside the Box, but well, it just ain’t natural, and there really is no need for them to fit in that Box. Jay Grimes would like to see all of those short poles disappear, to be lost forever inside the Box, never again to see the light of day.
The Short Box is one of the few times in Joe’s Reformer exercises where you do not have the luxury of springs. Ay, there’s the rub. Your connection to the apparatus is only through the proper use of the strap. It is your only hope, so best make the most of it.
Sit back far enough on the Box so that your legs can potentially be straight. Taller people or long-legged folks may have to bend their knees a bit, but according to Jay, “tall” does not really begin until about 6’3’’. Put your feet under the straps and reach your heels forward. Press the legs open to tighten the strap. The strap is on the ankles and should remain perfectly taut. The clips—as mentioned above—should be quiet. This is the goal, and it may not happen today, but the trying is what counts. And it’s great feedback as you work: If you hear any jangling of clips, you could probably work a little harder, increasing your lift and therefore your oppositional pull on the straps.
So now you’ve got the oppositional force of the upper body lifting you from the waist/low back upward. To work the strap well, the reach of the lower body—from the ribs/upper stomach all the way around the back of the legs and in this case to the heels—must be equal to the reach of the upper body. Therefore you secure your spot on the Box, keeping the straps tight and the clips quiet. I know, lots going on just to keep the strap tight, right?
Now to tackle the exercises…*grooooooaan*
To use the strap to your best advantage in this first exercise, round back just as you would for the Roll-Up on the mat. It’s really the same exercise, right? Pay no attention to that Box underneath you, I say…Lift your curve to exert an inward and upward pull on the strap for help to get even more lift and length/height. No slouching or crunching backward, please. As you unroll and roll back up you can get a nice back massage and perhaps a stretch of the hip and thigh when you get all the way back there and you work the strap well.
Ah, now the real work begins. You still want to use lift to reach up and forward on the inside. Can you have both ends of your body reaching longer and taller as you stay connected in the middle like one solid piece of steel? Lift from the low back up and out the fingertips and reach from the scoop of your stomach all the way to your heels under the strap. Strive for quality above all. It is not about how far back you go, but how much you can grow your back tall to the ceiling as you reach away and, more importantly, as you return. Ooof.
Let’s just call this one my nemesis…oh wait, that might be the Twist. Well, this week we’ll say it’s the Side. Truly unique in its lateral movement, I find the Side-Bend to be at once familiar and esoteric. Again, not a crunch of one side, not a lean out to the side, but a side bend: lifted in the waist with the sides of the body reaching ever upward—yes both of them. Now for the strap! You have to work the strap continually, consistently pressing the legs apart to secure the strap and therefore your hips into the Box. Make sure you don’t relax your oppositional pull. Keep your lift in and up as you stretch to the sides with hips anchoring into the Box and your back soaring to the ceiling.
4. Twist (and Reach)
Ach mein Gott. Well, now you’ve done it. You’ve gotten so good at the previous three exercises that we get really fancy and Twist. You still need that strap, your lift and the skills you learned in the Reach and the Side. No crunching of either side as you Twist and, of course, no side bending as you reach…uh oh, what is that strap doing? It is so far away. Now is the time when you may find out your feet/legs/hips are just sheep following your twist wherever it wants to take them. Remember that the effort exerted to press outward on the strap in the Twist and Reach is helping you to stay anchored and not fall off the Box. Continue your reach through the heels without locking the knees as that may only make you tippy on the Box. Be aware that one leg may totally abandon its task of keeping its side of the strap tight as you twist to the other. Uh-oh, one side may not wish to hold up its end of the bargain…
5. Around the World
This one is almost more fun than the plain ole Twist and Reach (did I really just say that?). Mainly because you now must suck it up and stay connected to your strap or you’ll never make it Around the World. You can get a wonderful, long, reaching feeling as you go from the first twist and through the Reach position on your way to the other side. I like to imagine that I am being lifted up from the waist higher and higher as I continue on my journey. I arrive at my tallest as I face front to begin the—oh no!—Return Trip (the other side)! The strap is your foundation: strong and solid so you can reach up and out forever to stretch and twist the sides in this exercise variation.
Whew, you made it. The Tree used to be my saving grace after the hot mess of those last few exercises. Take one leg out from under the strap, which will be slack for a bit as you limber up your leg. Once you tip back, “plant your tree” and again secure the strap. Reach your heel under it all the while if you can. Once you go all the way back in your tree don’t forget about that leg/foot in the strap—I know, again it’s so far away…hard to keep track of what’s going on way down there. Well, get ready on your climb back up to maintain the tightness of the strap and the reach upward of the top leg. Scoop your stomach in and up to exert even more oppositional pull.
7. Bonus: Leg Circles!
Ultimately go all the way back in the Tree, unrolling down into the well and rolling back up again. On the last one after unrolling all the way down, put your hands on the floor and push up as much as possible to extend the upper back and open the chest. Control your top leg with your stomach, and do 3 leg circles each way. Now for the sparks: See if you can have both legs reaching constantly from your super-strong center. Reach so much with your circling leg that you are nearly in danger of sparks shooting out of your toes and stretch the other leg just as fiercely to the strap. Keep steady pressure and push firmly into the floor as you do the Leg Circles to build stamina in this first taste of the High Bridge exercise.
Another testament to Joe’s genius: After all your hard work up, down and around you are ready to receive a wonderful and delicious treat, Short Spine. Enjoy!