Ask Rael Q & A: 19th Issue

by Rael Isacowitz

I’m interested in adding some winter sports (skiing, skating, snowboarding) to my cardio routine. What Pilates exercises would best prepare my body for these activities?   

I am an avid skier and snowboarder myself and have been enjoying an epic season up on Mt. Hood, Oregon. Undoubtedly, all Pilates exercises are good for general conditioning and preparing you for peak performance and injury prevention. I am a strong advocate of the mat work. As one of my assistants often says, “there is fit and there is mat fit”. I agree; a good mat work session is hard to beat for developing core strength and control, both essential for winter sports.

When it comes to conditioning specifically for winter sports, the lower body needs a boost, and there is no apparatus better at providing that turbo-charged boost than the Wunda Chair. Exercises like the Forward Lunge, Backward Step-down (aka Mountain Climbing) and the foot work on the Wunda Chair are all exceptional for building up leg strength and endurance. The sensation of completing a good leg workout on the Wunda Chair is very similar to that of completing a good solid run on the slopes . . . just imagine the powder flying up all around you!

Is taking an apparatus-based group class better than taking a regular mat one?

I would never say that one is better than the other without knowing the situation. There are certainly specific situations where working on apparatus would be preferred, such as when doing therapeutic work following an injury or surgery or for developing specific skills. These are situations that are not ideal for a group class. In addition, if improving strength is your goal, the apparatus can provide resistance in ways that the mat work cannot.

People tend to gravitate towards apparatus, so it may be easier to promote an equipment-based class; but physiologically they both have their benefits and we should be aware of them. For instance, it is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve the same flow in an apparatus-based class as can be achieved in a mat class. They are both wonderful, as long as they are taught well!

I’ve been taking mat classes and doing Pilates workout DVDs for a month, but have not been seeing dramatic results. What am I doing wrong?

You may not be doing anything wrong. First and foremost, you need to assess whether your expectations are realistic. “Dramatic results” is a very high expectation and more than likely will not be achieved in a month. It takes around 6-8 weeks for apparent muscular changes to occur. Yet it is not only the time frame that needs to be addressed. In order for change to occur (I am assuming you are referring to muscular changes) certain criteria must be met. For instance, are the classes you are doing demanding enough to overload the muscles? The muscles must be challenged sufficiently for change to occur. Are your workouts at regular intervals? The breaks between workouts should not exceed 72 hours, meaning at least 3 workouts a week for the training effect to take place. This is not to say that other changes cannot happen immediately, like better alignment and posture, heightened awareness, more muscular control, and achieving an overall sense of wellbeing.

Be patient you are on the right track. Pilates is a lifelong path . . . I assure you that you will reap the rewards!

I’m a runner and suffer from super-tight hamstrings. I stretch regularly, but I was wondering if you can suggest some Pilates exercises to help loosen my body?

Runners are notoriously tight and Pilates is a great form of cross-training for you. It is not a matter of one or two specific stretches, but rather the nature of the workout, which should complement your running and help counteract the tightness that often accompanies it. At the same time, there are definitely stretches in the Pilates repertoire that specifically target hamstring tightness, such as Saw and Spine Stretch sitting on the Mat. There is also an array of hamstring and hip flexor stretches on the Reformer, including Front Split; this is very challenging, so be well prepared.

The footwork on the Cadillac targets hamstring flexibility, and there is a wonderful stretch on the Wunda Chair taught in my Wunda Chair workout DVD (see I will add that all exercises must be done with the utmost precision for them to be effective, particularly when it comes to stretching specific muscle groups. Enjoy your newfound flexibility!


This article first appeared in the September 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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