Ask Rael Q & A

by Rael Isacowitz

Q: Thanks to Pilates, my legs and powerhouse are getting strong. The only problem is that I still feel weak in my upper body. What are the best Pilates exercises that will help me gain upper-body strength?

A: First, great to hear that your powerhouse is getting stronger. It is certainly from here that all movement stems.

Pilates is abundant with upper body work. After all, Joseph Pilates was a man and most men verge on being obsessed with their upper bodies; Mr. Pilates was no exception, I believe. In fact, when we enter the advanced- and master-level work, 90% or more is focused on the upper body.

The big question is whether you are doing mat only or are also working on the apparatus. Having access to the equipment opens up enormous possibilities, whereas the upper body repertoire on the mat is not quite as rich. However, integrating small apparatus into the mat work, particularly rubber bands, can help enormously. I am a strong advocate of the mat work.

Obviously, upper body is a broad term, but exercises like leg pull front, leg pull back, push up, bend and twist are just a few of the mat exercises that will certainly develop upper body strength as well as offer other benefits. On the equipment, the sky is the limit. There is a multitude of upper body exercises on all the equipment. There are so many that I encourage organizing them in series, which are essentially mini-workouts. For example on the Reformer: arms sitting, arms kneeling, arms kneeling side, rowing…and the list goes on. There are books, DVDs and, now, online software that offers a wide array of upper body exercises. I hope to meet you sometime for an arm wrestle!


Q: I’m a runner and recently started doing Pilates. Without overwhelming me, what Pilates principles should I keep in mind during my runs?

A: The principles of Pilates are about the body and the mind; personally, I find few activities in which the two connect as well as with running. Breathing is foremost. Breath fully and efficiently; nourish the body, relax the muscles and focus the mind. Breathing brings with it a multitude of benefits.

Then there’s center; a strong core helps tremendously with running, be it sprinting or long distance. A strong center will allow efficient transfer of power to your legs and the surface you are running on, plus it will protect your back from the constant impact that is entailed in running.

Efficiency is a principle I speak of often. When running, I recommend being as economical with energy and efficient with the movement as possible. This will allow you to increase your distances and speed without draining your resources. In fact you may finish the run feeling worked but rejuvenated, a feeling one often experiences after a good Pilates session. Other principles to consider while you are running that all seem to relate so well to running are: awareness, balance, concentration, control, flow, precision and harmony…for me, Pilates is an approach, it is about life. You can practice Pilates just as much during a run as when doing a Pilates session. I applaud you for integrating the principles of Pilates into your running and not seeing the two as separate activities. They are not!


This article first appeared in the February/2010 issue of Pilates Style. For more great stories about Pilates, check out the latest issue of Pilates Style, on newsstands nationwide, in the app store or at


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