Let’s have a little discussion about “the Pilates wrap”. What the heck is it, and how and why would we even want to do it? “The Wrap” is a rather vague and confused term used by many primarily classically trained Pilates teachers, supposedly to activate the gluteals. It’susedinterchangeably to mean anything from “squeeze your butt”, “pinch your butt”, “squeeze your sitz bones together”, to “tuck under”, and more. Romana used to say, “Pretend you’re sitting on a block of ice” to get the effect she was looking for. I heard that Kathy Grant, who could be somewhat more graphic at times, would say something like, “Don’t let your butt hang out all over my equipment like that.” Lol
The trouble is, how do we really do this movement and what is it for really? Mostly, when coached to “wrap,” clients simply tuck and squeeze their lower butt together. This in effect, pushes the lower part of the buttocks under and forward into the upper quads, posteriorly rotates the pelvis, over-flattens the spine and low back, and even often hyper-extends the knees as they try to counter the curve of the forward thigh. It even leads to rounded shoulders and forward head posture. As you can imagine, this can lead to many problems.
If, for instance, you “wrap” in this manner as you roll down in Short Spine, you could potentially strain your back muscles or joints as they are being pulled apart by the directional force of the tucking, hyper-elongating them, and then are being passively stretched with the addition of a gravitational weight on them. This is really a scenario where the client is hanging into their back versus supporting it while massaging it. It should be a huge red flag.
If you wrap in a way that pushes your femurs into the front of the hip joint over and over, for instance in Footwork or Roll up, you can easily be chronically wearing out the hip labrum or socket, leading to potential tears and joint deterioration. I find this pattern to be so common as to be practically the norm today. The low back is flattened, unsupported and very vulnerable to strain and weakness, especially when forward flexing to pick something up off the floor for instance. We see many herniated discs due to this exact series of events. Also, the hip sockets are thrust forward out of the line of gravity, aggravating the hip joint, labrum and quadriceps, and leading to hip and knee pain, dysfunction, and even replacement. It’s an epidemic. There’s got to be a better way, right?
Let’s look at the actual directional force of the contraction of the gluteus muscles. There are three layers: Gluteus Minimus, Gluteus Medius, and Gluteus Maximus. They all attach to the greater trochanter of the femur, and then rise diagonally upwards from there toward the low back, sacrum and/or ilium. If you think of “the wrap” going upwards in this direction, where the gluts pull the greater trochanter slightly back and then up obliquely into the powerful lift of the low back fascia, then your whole body will feel the rising effect of being your tallest self, with muscle support everywhere. No hanging.
This movement will naturally pull the femur backwards under the hip joint, where it should be, sending the weight of the body cascading straight down through the center of the knee joint, down the tibia to the ankle/Talus, and out into the arches of the feet where it should land; and conversely it should send you up your spine, open your shoulders, and put your head back on top of your neck correctly. This should give you a feeling of a tremendous uplift in your spine and relief in your legs, hips, back, neck, and maybe even heart, lungs, eyes and brain. You can probably think, breathe and maybe even see better.
The extremely 3-dimensional nature of the human design can make this concept relatively easy when standing up in gravity, but when we transfer it to lying flat, either prone or supine, or sitting up flexed at the hip, as in Short Box or Stomach Massage, or turn it upside down as in Short Spine, it becomes more complicated to imagine let alone do. However, it’s still the same. The gluts should lift upwards from your greater trochanter towards your sacrum to support and lift your back, spine, neck and head up, and completely prevent you from tucking under or hanging in your lower back.
Just like flying buttresses on the side of a cathedral enabled a gothic church to rise upwards to the heavens for the first time ever, so should the muscles that work to keep your femur as it angles into the hip joint like a flying buttress, i.e. your gluteals, thrusting your spine spire upwards to the sky.
Amy Taylor Alpers is the co-founded of The Pilates Center (TPC) and The Pilates Center Teacher Training Program (TPCTTP) over 25 years ago in Boulder, Colorado. When not traveling the world to teach both foundational and graduate level Pilates teacher education she remains part of the core faculty for TPCTTP, mentors advanced teachers, teaches classes and sees clients. In addition to teaching TPC sponsored workshops, Amy has presented numerous times at the Pilates Method Alliance Annual Meeting, Balanced Body’s Pilates on Tour and Passing the Torch. In 2013, Amy presented at the Shared Traditions Conference for Fletcher Pilates and will present at The Pilates Roundtable to The PMA Teacher Training Summit.
Amy was born in Youngstown, Ohio where she began classical ballet at age two.
She attended The Juilliard School for Dance, danced with the Garden State Ballet in New Jersey, and received a B.A. in Dance and a M.A. in Dance History from New York University. In addition, Amy taught ballet at various dance schools in New York City for ten years before launching her Pilates career.
Both Amy and her sister Rachel studied Pilates under the direct tutelage of Romana Kryzanowska at the original Pilates Studio in New York City. They received their Pilates teaching certificate from there in July of 1989. In 1990, after moving to Boulder, Colorado, Amy and Rachel founded The Pilates Center. The sisters then created and established The Pilates Center Teacher Training Program in 1991. The school has since expanded to include an Intermediate Program, Advanced Program, Bridge Program, Master’s Program, and a Mentorship Program. In addition, TPC now has “Licensed” and “Host” studios established all around the world.
Amy and her sister wrote The Everything Pilates Book, published in 2002. She was a founding board member of the PMA and sat on the board that created the PMA Certification Exam. Recently she has also had the honor of filming classes and workshops for online organizations such as Pilates Anytime and Pilates On Demand.
In 2011, Amy, her sister Rachel, and Ken Endelman of Balanced Body, developed CenterLine – a line of equipment designed for classical Pilates and based upon the specifications pioneered by Joseph Pilates.