Video Fitness

Classical Pilates Technique: The Complete Magic Circle Matwork Series

Bob Liekens

If you are used to Pilates videos along the lines of Denise Austin or Ellen Barrett, this DVD is definitely NOT for you! Classical Pilates Technique provides much more serious, no-nonsense Pilates instruction. In fact, even the individual workouts have more of an instructional feel rather than seeming like actual workout routines, as the voiceover instruction fails to provide adequate cueing for movement changes, breath, etc. Instead, you will be in the middle of one exercise and hear "now another variation is..."; I found myself struggling to keep up with these rapid changes. Similarly, there is no pause between the moves, which would be fine if this was a Pilates mat routine only, but with the ring added, it makes it very difficult to find time to re-position the ring before the next exercise begins.

The DVD starts with a brief introduction to Pilates, which is basically a lying and seated breath practice. You then have four workouts to choose from. The first, Basic, is only 5 minutes long and is more of an introduction to using the ring; 6 basic Pilates matwork exercises are included. The second, Intermediate, is 18 minutes long, and the exercises included are similar to what would be found in most advanced beginners programs. However, the addition of the ring makes the exercises more challenging, and there is also a tough teaser sequence--three Teaser 1's repeated three times--at the end of the workout. At 20 minutes, the advanced version is slightly longer, but it moves even more quickly to include a larger variety of exercises. With a few exceptions (eg, full shoulder bridge, boomerang), most of the exercises included here are what I'm used to seeing in intermediate Pilates programs (rollover, corkscrew, hip circles), but again, using the ring ups both the intensity and the difficulty level. The final workout is called a "Super Advanced" Reformer Mat sequence; the overview stresses that this should ONLY be attempted by very advanced students and teachers, and they also mention that it is the first time that the entire 35-minute reformer sequence has been filmed. I previewed this segment only, and while I'm sure I could do some of the exercises--including the yoga-inspired moves and the arms series with light weights--others were clearly beyond my skill level, and they definitely required the use of a raised Pilates mat rather than a thin multi-purpose yoga/Pilates mat.

There is no music on this video, and each workout features a single participant following the rapid voiceover instruction. For someone who is experienced with Pilates and can follow the fast-paced movements in the intermediate and advanced programs, I think these routines could be highly effective, but for me, the low "fun" factor means I am not likely to use this video again.

Instructor comments: Bob provides voiceover instruction. He is very good at reminding you to use your core--in fact, he constantly says that when you use the circle, you should feel it in your core, not the part of you that is pressing the circle--but he is not so good at cueing movement changes, breath, etc.

Beth C

June 21, 2005

As the layout of this dvd has been addressed, I feel that I should offer some of my comments as to my experience with these routines. I enjoy pilates routines that are efficient, and put some (although a lesser value) on how fun they are. Although I own various pilates dvds, I keep coming back to this one.
What I like about this dvd:
1. The routines really utilize the magic circle well and demonstrate various ways in which it can be incorporated.
2. The instructor explains the use of the magic circle so that it is used to increase the intensity of the movements (and not simply as a fun tool – although that helps too!)
3. The longest magic circle routine, the advanced variation, lasts under 25 minutes and is a flowing sequence. I finish this routine feeling firm and stretched. I am always sweating by the end (okay by the mid-point), and after finishing I feel as though I’ve definitely gotten a workout. In other words, the flowing pace (at least of the intermediate and advanced routines) really gives the workout a new dimension.
If you can’t stand to be bored by your workouts, this dvd isn’t for you. I find that the lack of distraction (of music, scenery, etc.) helps me to concentrate more on connecting my mind, body, and breath to each movement. If you are serious about pilates, I definitely suggest this dvd. Also, if you have a magic circle, this is a great dvd to learn different ways that you can incorporate the circle into pilates routines that don’t feature one.

Instructor comments: No-nonsense approach. He definitely knows what he's talking about. He's an explainer not an encourager.



I’m reviewing this workout after doing it multiple times since getting it at least a year ago.

General workout breakdown: This DVD contains, as others have mentioned, three traditional Pilates matwork routines which incorporate the Pilates ring and one routine comprising exercises adapted to the mat from the reformer and other Pilates machines.
The Basic Magic Circle Mat (8 min.) contains the hundred, roll up, single leg circles, single leg stretch, double leg stretch, and spine stretch forward.
The Intermediate Magic Circle Mat (18 min.) contains the hundred, roll up, single leg circles, rolling like a ball, single leg stretch, double leg stretch, single straight leg stretch, double straight leg stretch, criss cross, spine stretch forward, open leg rocker, corkscrew, saw, swan, single leg kicks, double leg kicks, neck pull, shoulder bridge, side kick series (front & back, up & down, small circles), ankle beats, side leg series with ring (press down, press up, lift up), teaser series, and seal.
The Advanced Magic Circle Mat (20 min.) contains the hundred, roll up, single leg circles, rolling like a ball, single leg stretch, double leg stretch, single straight leg stretch, double straight leg stretch, criss cross, spine stretch forward, open leg rocker, corkscrew, saw, swan dive, single leg kicks, double leg kicks, neck pull, shoulder bridge, spine twist, jackknife, side kick series (front & back, up & down, small circles, bicycle), ankle beats, teaser (1, 2, and 3), hip circles, swimming, leg pull down, boomerang, seal, and push ups.
The Super Advanced Reformer Matwork (35 min.) is supposed to be performed only with the aid of a Pilates instructor; its presence here is more of a demo “just ‘cause we can.” It includes footwork (toes, arches, heel, and tendon stretch), the hundred, overhead, coordination, rowing (6 variations), Long Box Series (swan, pulling straps, backstroke, teaser, horseback), short box series (round, flat, side to side, twist / reach, tree) long stretch, down stretch, up stretch, elephant, arabesques, long back stretch, stomach massage series (round, hands back, reach up, reach / twist), tendon stretch, short spine massage, high frog, headstands, semi-circle, chest expansion, thigh stretch, back bend, arm circles, swakate series (arm to side, arm to ceiling, combination, profile, circles, lotus flower), snake, twist, bridge, corkscrew, tick tock, balance control step off, second long box series (grasshopper, rocking, swimming), mermaid, long spine, knee stretch series (3 variations), running, pelvic tilt, balance control push up front, balance control push up back, star, side splits, front splits, high bridge, and Russian squats.
The moves are performed quickly, with fast transitions between moves. It doesn’t seem like a lot of reps, but boy are there a lot of teasers.

Level: I’d recommend this to someone who’s at least at the beginner / intermediate crossover point; intermediate through advanced Pilates mat mavens will get the most out of this video. You need to be familiar with basic Pilates moves and have a decent amount of strength and flexibility in order to control the ring. There is nowhere near enough instruction here for a true beginner; you might want to look at the Stott, Caban, or Winsor circle videos instead. You need to preview this video and get when the moves change and where to hold the circle from looking at the screen, ‘cause Bob ain’t always gonna tell ya.
I consider myself almost a solid intermediate; I have about three years of Pilates experience but am still working on improving my flexibility and strength. The intermediate level workout is a great level of challenge for me right now. I tried the Basics when I first got this, when I was at the beginner / intermediate point, and it was helpful to get me used to working with the circle. But I quickly found it relatively uninspiring and moved up to the intermediate, which was almost overwhelmingly challenging for me at that point.

Class: A different instructor (1 woman and 2 men, including one who wears glasses!) performs each segment alone while Bob describes via voiceover.

Music: none.

Set: bright interior space with white curtains and wood floors.

Production: good picture and sound (if on the quiet side). The camera angles tend to be long and steady as well as helpful.

Equipment: The three Magic Circle sequences require a mat (or equivalent) and a Magic Circle (aka a Pilates ring, Resist-A-Ring, or fitness circle). The Reformer Mat Workout assumes you’re on one of those special thick Pilates mats with handles; you’ll also use light dumbbells for the arms series and a pad of some sort for the headstand. All participants are barefoot.

Space Requirements: You should be able to lie down with arms and legs extended as well as to sweep your limbs to each side.

DVD Notes: The main menu, which starts right up, allows you to choose the Intro, Basic Magic Circle Mat, Intermediate Magic Circle Mat, Advanced Magic Circle Mat, Super Advanced Reformer Matwork, or Epilogue (photos, plugs for Alycea Ungaro’s books, and leftover clips from filming). There are no chapters within the workouts, a fact which means you have to sit through the brief intro every time.

Conclusion: This video seems to have been made more as a demonstration piece than as an exercise video. Another VFer and I decided this could be best described as a “visual textbook.” That said, it is possible to work out to the video, although the idea certainly won’t appeal to everyone.
The ring doesn’t seem like much, but when used properly I can actually feel a difference. I feel the Classical Pilates group integrates the ring well into the exercises, not just throwing it in for the sake of throwing it in. In fact, exercises for which the ring isn’t effective or practical are left out.
If you find the matwork moves interesting, several other videos offer many of the more accessible moves. Liz Gillies’ Progressive Pilates for Weight Loss features a 10-15 minute segment, much of which reappears as the bonus workout on her Target Tone video. Mari Winsor mixes traditional matwork with reformer moves in her Maximum Burn Super Sculpting & Body Slimming. And Sarah Picot’s More than Mat series offers Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced versions of reformer moves only.

Instructor comments: Bob doesn’t instruct so much as note each move, the basic form, and offer a few tips about where you’re to feel the effect of the circle. I had difficulty understanding his Belgian accent at first, but once I got used to it I haven’t had a problem. He’s positive but not perky or annoying.


March 8, 2006

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