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Posted by on Mar 18, 2010

AKWA Magazine March 2010


From the classical Greek elements of Fire, Earth, Water, Air and Ether, we draw on two of these, Earth and Water. Plato characterizes these elements as pre- Socrates times originating from the Sicilian philosopher Empedocies (450BC), and persisted through the Middle Ages. Elements refer to a substance, chemical compound or a mixture of chemical compounds. They correspond with states of physical matter: Earth is solid, Water is liquid, air is gas, and fire is plasma.  And in the physical body, earth corresponds to our bones and teeth, and water corresponds to the blood, lymph system, fluids between the cells, regulates temperature and carries waste away.






Viscosity of Air

Resistance from one direction

Pilates Equipment: spring pulleys


Liquid Buoyancy

Viscosity of Water

Resistance from multiple directions

Aquatics Equipment: gloves and drag equipment, dumbbells, and buoyant equipment

Of these properties, the most prevalent is gravity vs. buoyancy, which are opposites; buoyancy is like upside down gravity. In water, the upward thrust of buoyancy causes people to be lighter, add in buoyant equipment, and it increases the upward thrust even more. The lower the placement of the buoyancy, the more difficult the stability. The ground of Earth is solid, and the ground of a pool is also solid, however the viscosity of the air on earth is less than the viscosity of water, and so the downward pull of gravity is slowed in water, and due to that viscosity, the resistance is in all directions in the water, as opposed to the gravitational single direction on earth. If we add in weights, and springs and pulley resistance exercises, the resistance direction will include either added gravitational pull (weights), or pull from the direction of the spring/pulley attachment. In water, we can use drag equipment that adds resistance in all directions, or buoyant equipment which increases the resistance upward.


Pilates was developed by the late Joseph H. Pilates as an exercise regime focused on breath, control, centering, fluidity, precision, and concentration. Both Pilates and yoga traditionally use body weight exercises as resistance in exercises. On earth we are fighting gravity to lift weight, and gravity assists when we lower the weight. Pilates equipment such as the Reformer, Cadillac/Trapeze, and Chairs add in spring and pulley resistance. The biomechanics of Pilates can be broken down into concentric and eccentric muscle contractions, prime mover, stabilizers, just as with any type of exercise. The sequence of the firing of the muscle contractions, and the quality of the movement is paramount in Pilates.


How on earth do you do Pilates in water? That’s what I asked myself, and many of my colleagues, when in 2000, the Peninsula Spa at the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago asked me to develop a mind/body class of Pilates based exercises in water for their members and guests. The pool at the Peninsula was an inspiration to create a peaceful mind/body class based in anatomy and biomechanics, that would be safe for all ages, and suitable for many different fitness levels. Under the eastern influence at the hotel, we named the course Peyow Aqua Pilates. Pe-yow’ is the Chinese Mandarin word for floating or to float; or “floating Pilates.”I was immersed in the Stott Pilates certification courses in Mat, Reformer, Cadillac, Chairs, Barrels, and Special Populations which was the most comprehensive training I’d received in my 18 years in the fitness business. It deepened my knowledge of Pilates, dissecting the components of each exercise. I headed to the healing environment of the pool to see how I could create the same exercise in the water. I understood the basic properties of water from working in the aquatics field at clubs and resorts. In this liquid world, there are unique forces that act upon the body while exercising. The challenge was to use the water’s properties and forces, and not just imitate the choreography or position of a Pilates exercise on land. In 2005 I called on my friend and colleague Lee Everett, MPT, and asked her to join me in developing this program for instructors. We grouped the exercises together in small progressions, and co-authored a 160 page instructor manual, with accompanying DVD, which has become a CEU course accredited by ACE, AFAA, and AEA. To analyze each exercise and convert it to water, we asked the following questions:

  • What muscles are stabilizing?
  • What muscles are mobilizing?
  • What order they should be contracting?
  • What muscles were likely to compensate for others?




People get very nervous about not understanding the breathing in Pilates. Let’s just think of it as another classical Greek Element, AIR. Basically it is practiced with and inhale through the nose and an exhale through the mouth, with a slightly forced exhalation through the lips. The full exhale cues the pelvic floor and Transversus abdominus to co-contract. The inhale is an expansion of the rib cage in all directions with a focus on the lateral and posterial movement. Most people expand very naturally to the front, releasing the abdominals and don’t use about 70% of their lung capacity. Pilates focuses on keeping the abdominal support while breathing into the lower portion of the lungs, and expanding the back and sides of the rib cage.


Imagine a plumb line going thru the body and look at your students alignment. Feet releaxed, arches lifted, toes not gripping the floor. Knees straight without hyper-extending, quadriceps pulling up patella, hips level, pelvis in neutral, supported abdominals, (TA engaged), ribs stacked directly over pelvis, collar bones straight across or slightly angled upwards from the center outward, shoulders level, scapulae lying flat against the back of the rib cage, ear lobes stacked over the center of the shoulder (unless shoulders are protracted forward). Neck should have a natural curve to it, convex forward, (skin on the back of the neck, unwrinkled), eyes level looking forward, not up at instructor.


Older adults benefit from mind/body connections, control of muscles, postural alignment, balance training, greater awareness of unnecessary tension, pelvic floor strength, limbo-pelvic region stabilization.


Biomechanics retraining involves getting students to focus on the core muscles first, then only using the necessary muscles to do the exercise.


Practical Application. Since when teaching a group from the deck, you will be unable to palpate the clients, as with a personal Pilates session, there is a need to look for other signs that students may be using incorrect muscles, and other ways to communicate it to them. Watch the movement. Is it initiated from the correct area of the body? That there is no unnecessary tension, particularly in the upper trapezius and levetor scapulae (due to the upward thrust of the dumbbells). Ask questions as to where they feel the exercise. If limbs are getting fatigued rather then the abdominals, cue them to work more abs, less shoulders. Look for equal weight distribution in the feet, without the toes gripping the floor. You can see the toes gripping by watching the phalanges sticking out.

AKWA Magazine March 2010

About Anne Pringle Burnell

Ms. Burnell is the developer of the Peyow Aqua Pilates Program, which is certified for Continuing Education Credits by Aquatic Exercise Association. The program is also part of a pilot study being offered by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.Ms Burnell teaches at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the University of Illinois at Chicago, The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, The Center for Whole Health, the Peninsula Spa, , Core Pilates, and Elements in Motion, a Stott Pilates Certification Center in Chicago.As an Instructor Trainer worldwide for Stott Pilates she is involved in certifying personal trainers, many of whom work with Seniors. Other certifications include: Seniors Group Instruction, Nia Technique (Black Belt), Kickboxing, Cycling, Aquatics, Pre & Postnatal exercise.Anne also developed the Stronger Seniors Chair Exercise Program, which is certified for Continuing Education Credits by ACE, and AFAA. Seniors institutions across the country are practicing the Stronger Seniors Program.