by Rael Isacowitz

Q: I have been told that I have osteoporosis in my hips, and I need to do strength training. Is there a way to incorporate weights into my Pilates routine? I have a Reformer at home, just need some tips.

Rael: It is not only possible but also recommended to utilize the Reformer for strength training. However, if this is the goal then certain criteria must be met. First and foremost, ample resistance to the target area needs to be provided. Too often I hear instructors saying they are developing strength of a particular muscle group but there is insufficient overload to achieve this goal. Bottom line, if you are focusing on the strength of this region, choose hip exercises such as the frog, leg circles, openings, all with feet in the straps. In addition, I highly recommend standing exercises (weight bearing) such as scooter, skating and side splits. Please note that at times working with light resistance actually overloads the muscles more than working with more springs, such as the split exercises. When focusing on strength do 8-12 repetitions at close to maximum load and then allow the target area to rest for around 2-3 minutes before returning to it.

Finally, although you did not mention the spine, I will add that when osteoporosis is present spinal flexion should be minimized or eliminated entirely from the program and special emphasis should be placed on spinal extension. Pilates offers tremendous potential for working with osteoporosis, it just needs to be used with discretion. I wish you the best and please be cautious. I urge you to seek further medical advice and guidance along the way.

Q: When I wake up in the morning, I’ve noticed that my neck feels tight and I have difficulty pulling my shoulders down and back. Is there a Pilates way to sleep?

This is an interesting question. I must confess that I am not a good sleeper so I feel somewhat hypocritical offering advice or input on this topic. But I will refer back to the founder of the system, Joseph Pilates, who I assume must have slept well. Certainly, his writings and the archival film footage I have seen indicate so. Joseph Pilates promoted his method of Contrology as a way of life, not just an exercise system. In this context, he spoke about eating, washing, sleeping and other fundamental aspects of life. He invented a bed, which was shaped like a V. The sleeper would lie along the base of the V shape. I am not sure if it ever became popular but Mr. Pilates was convinced this would provide a good night’s sleep (I doubt you could sleep with a partner in this bed!).

Other than that, I personally sleep with a memory foam pillow that is shaped to support the neck and head. It helps me a lot. When I find myself in a hotel (which is more often than I like) and sleep with a regular pillow, I am certain to wake up with a stiff neck. It is recommended to sleep on your back to maintain optimum alignment of the spine. Personally, I cannot force myself to do this, but a good mattress does help maintain correct alignment of the spine even when sleeping on your side. When sleeping on your front there is the possibility of stress on the lower back. If you can sleep no other way try placing a pillow under your mid section to provide support for the lower back. Unfortunately, this position is hard on the neck, which relates back to your original question. So this would be the most undesirable position for you. Sweet dreams


Q: I’m a ballet dancer and have problems getting my arabesque even to 90 degrees. What are some good back stretches/strengthening exercises to help?

Having a better arabesque is the eternal quest of many a dancer. Certainly, strengthening the back is important, but you must also consider other factors, such as well-conditioned hip extensors and flexible hip flexors and extensors. An arabesque is the immaculate coordination of many muscles and their actions, the primary ones being back extensors and hip extensors. Also, flexibility of the hip flexors of the lifted leg and the hip extensors of the supporting leg is required.

It is normal to only have about 10 degrees of hip extension. Certainly some dancers and gymnasts are blessed with up to 30 degrees, but that is the exception rather than the rule. The more flexible the hip flexors are, the better chance you have of achieving greater hip extension. Once maximum hip extension has been achieved the remaining range is achieved by tilting the pelvis forward and this is where a strong back and flexible hamstrings of the supporting leg are vital.

I suggest you practice exercises like the Swan on the ladder barrel and Hanging Front on the Cadillac, both of which simulate the pattern of maximum back extension together with maximum hip extension. They are both beautiful exercises but demand tremendous support of the abdominals to help protect the lower back and distribute the forces throughout the spine. Doing the arabesque with the fuzzies on the Cadillac helps develop range, while doing the Elephant arabesque on the Reformer is a wonderful exercise for developing strength of the hip extensors and back. I am certain that utilizing the appropriate Pilates repertoire will get you to your goal of a 90-degree arabesque. I look forward to seeing it; send pictures!


Q: Do you have any tips for us on how you’ve balanced being successful as both a teacher and businessman? I know many talented teachers who can’t seem to run a business and yet this can often prevent them from teaching if they need to find other work. Would love to know your thoughts!

Your statement above is so true, particularly during times like this of a tough economy, which makes it that much harder to survive in business. I also know many talented teachers who have simply not made it in business. Although these two talents, teaching and business, certainly do not contradict each other, they do not always coexist in the same person. I was never trained in business (unfortunately,) yet from the very beginnings of running my own businesses I have always made a point of running them according to business protocols; being organized, keeping very clear records and, very importantly, drawing on the acumen and services of other professionals (accountants, bookkeepers, lawyers) when need be.

I have managed to run two successful businesses for the past 20 years: On Center Conditioning studio in Southern California and BASI Pilates, which is an international educational organization. In addition I have had several partnerships, like Pilates Interactive online software, Avalon equipment with Balanced Body and Z+Z Active clothing. This has meant dealing with agreements and contracts.

My tips would be as follows:

  1. Believe in what you are doing and in its success.
  2. Do as much research as possible regarding demographics, accessibility, rent rates, salaries, taxes, business models, etc. Knowledge is power.
  3. Seek advice from others and employ the services of qualified professionals.
  4. Read through agreements and contracts, or get someone else to do it for you. Surprises are never a good thing in this realm.
  5. Offer the best quality service you can. I believe quality always shines through in the end.

Finally, go in with your eyes wide open. Running your own business is not easy. It is a 24/7 job and you will probably take some falls along the way, but the rewards are immense… far beyond the financial success only.


This article first appeared in the April 2011 issue of Pilates Style Magazine. 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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