DIGGING DEEPER- Get to know your Pilates exercises: Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer

Stomach Massage Series

By Amanda Turner

Hi everyone! We’re digging deep this month so let’s get into it!! We’ll be dissecting Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer and, as you know, with any beginning level exercise there are a lot of intricacies.  Keep in mind that there is a Stomach Massage Series on the Mat which can be used on other pieces of apparatus - but this Stomach Massage is different choreography.  

When teaching this to new students I see excitement in their eyes with the word massage. I get them set up and then I see the grimace. Then comes the question,

“Why the heck is this called a massage?"

Here’s my answer: because you are using your powerhouse so deeply that your internal organs receive an "internal shower."  In his book, "Return to Life", Joe Pilates described an internal shower as bodily house cleaning with blood circulation comparing it to heavy rains and melting snow causing rivers to swell and rush to the sea.  
"These exercises induce the heart to pump strong and steadily with the result that the bloodstream is forced to carry and discharge more and more of the accumulated debris created by fatigue". -Joseph Pilates
Good stuff right - so while it’s a lot of effort and work, your body will appreciate it.


Reformer Set Up: 
~Footbar is up
~Pad is on mat closer towards the springs than shoulder blocks
~Springs can vary depending on the student - but for the sake of consistency let’s go with 4 springs (Feel free to discuss with your teacher your specific spring and or gear setting**)

Position Set Up:
~Sit on the black pad, centering your hips on the both the pad and Reformer
~Bring the balls of your feet to the foot bar in your Pilates V, heels together toes apart
~Hands will hold the front of your mat on the outer side of your legs, spine is rounded (very similar to your Rolling Like A Ball position)

The Movement:
~Squeeze your glutes, scoop your abs, stretch out to straight legs, inhaling
-Lower the heels, lift the heels (keep the heels together, do not let them separate)
~Bend the knees, returning to your starting position, exhaling- 10 reps of this total
~On your 10th rep, you’ll reach your right hand between your legs and remove the right center spring 
~Arms will reach around back to the tops of the shoulder blocks, finger tips facing away moving into arms back position (This might be a really challenging position on your shoulders, so you may have a modification, check with your teacher to see what’s best for your body) 
~same choreography: stretch out to straight legs inhaling, lower the heels, lift the heels, bend the knees coming back in exhaling -10 reps
~After the 10th rep your left hand will reach between your legs to take off your left center spring, only 2 springs remain
~Reach both arms forward, keeping the heels lifted, stretch out to straight legs inhaling and come back in exhaling. 4 reps
~Add a twist! (My personal favorite of this series) as you straighten the legs inhaling, rotate through the ribs reaching your right arm to the right, eyes will follow your hand
  - bend the knees bring the arms back to center exhaling, on your next rep switch sides, reaching and twisting the the left. Alternate for 6 reps total. 

~The shoulders love to get involved, keep them pulling into their sockets, squeezing the shoulder blades down and together simultaneously lifting the collar bones to the ceiling
~keep the heels together, remember this is Pilates and your powerhouse is working the entire time. Generally speaking, if your heels come apart you’re locking your knees which means you’ve let go of your glutes - stay in them!
~Try not to use your hands to hang on for dear life. Loosen your grip and use your abs ;)

Exercises to focus on to strengthen your Stomach Massage Series:
~Footwork, including Tendon Stretch
~Short Box series 
(Conveniently, all the exercises that come prior to Stomach Massage Series)

To advance your Stomach Massage Series:
    Work on speeding up the transitions of getting into the first exercise, spring removal, and moving to the next set of exercises. Often much time is spent getting the set up perfected at the start of and between each spring removal. My suggestion is to sit, place the feet, place the hands and move. Run through your checklist of abs, glutes, heels and shoulders correcting as you go. 
When I first learned the Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer, I vividly remember disliking it. I was gripping onto the mat with all my might, scrunched in a very uncomfortable position, and my dancer calves made it feel impossible to keep my heels together. But slowly I’ve learned to love it. I love the lengthening and strengthening of the glutes and various leg muscles, I love the chest opening of the second position, and the twist felt sooo yummy as I was returning post pregnancy. Basically try to find the benefits of this series and embrace them. 

**Gear Setting - you may adjust your gear (standard setting is first gear) but 2nd or 3rd gear will require moving the bar your springs are attached to and place a block in the wheel well. This adjustment could be for a variety of reasons, maybe a tight lower back or your body requires less bending of the knee perhaps.