Video Fitness

Stott Arc Barrel Workout

Moira Stott

After three years of Pilates mat practice including professional classes, home videos and mastering props including ring, stability ball and flexband, I began hungrily eyeing the Arc Barrel as a means to further strengthen and stretch my spinal muscles. This prop was a worthwhile investment for me, but I would caution anyone considering it to first take some classes from a certified instructor.

The video: as stated it is Moira and two students who trade off on demonstrating exercises. There is light, unobtrusive instrumental music in the background. Moira guides and coaches hands-on. The Arc Barrel can be used to support the spine in flexion and extension, and as a prop for lengthening and stretching exercises. Those with a lordotic spine or weak lumbar can achieve more height and stability in "legs up" exercises such as Rollover and Corkscrew.

The video starts with thoracic stretching and breathing with the upper body draped backward over the barrel. Forward flexion with the legs draped over the barrel follows - excellent for tight hamstrings.

Side stretch follows, and my thoughts while performing this are "it was worth every penny." Crispin demonstrates while seated on the mat with one leg bent behind, one forward with the hip and quad against the barrel, then side stretches over for a breathing/stretching series. This provides a release so deep for a tense back and shoulders that mere words cannot relay the joy! (Come to think of it my massage therapist is missing me.)

Reesa demonstrates Port de Bras, curling backward over the barrel and gracefully sweeping the arms. Crispin and Reesa alternate sitting on the barrel and rolling backward so the lumbar is supported and hips are elevated for a legs-up series including scissors, bicycling and reverse bicycling with deep split, windmills, froggies and reverse froggies. These provide a deep stretch for hip flexors, spine and hamstrings. "Lower and lift" tightens the core from deep within the spinal muscles.

Thus far I've performed only the above exercises and each time walk away with a sense of lightness, euphoria and well-being, I assume from having the blood flowing upward for a change and the stretching of the thoracic spine enabling breath to reach deep into the lungs. The rest of these exercises I haven't tried yet as I'm still working up to them:

Rollover prep with hips on the barrel and shoulders on floor; shoulder bridge prep; corkscrew prep; swimming with the torso supported on the barrel and arms/legs beating freely in the air; Teaser Balance which looks very interesting. The video winds up with Moira guiding Reesa through a quick demo of how the barrel can also be used with feet on it or legs draped over it for those with - again - the lordotic spine, weak lumbar, or inflexible knees/hamstrings. For those who experience neck troubles during the Stomach Series (with the head flexed upward) the barrel can also be used as a thoracic/cervical prop.

This is a video and tool for the dedicated Pilates enthusiast. Moira's constant attention to detail is welcome here because one can injure ones' self without it. I have one major disappointment with Stott's production of this video - it is a training guide as opposed to a choreographed, flowing workout. For example, the side bend is performed on one side only and I have to stop the video to revel in the splendor of stretching the other side, which dims the experience somewhat. There are no set reps, and some of the exercises are just a quick demo. I e-mailed to suggest/request a series of beginner > intermediate > advanced, fully choreographed workouts for the Arc Barrel, but sadly have received no reply.

Prop Note: several "barrels" can be used in Pilates, including the large and expensive Ladder Barrel predominantly found in studios. The Arc Barrel or Small Barrel is a more affordable and portable piece of equipment, originally derived from a section of - guess what - a beer barrel. Today's models are constructed of smooth wood and upholstered for comfort, so don't worry about getting "bent over the barrel" - in this case it is a liberating and strengthening experience!

Instructor comments: Moira delivers precise instructions in her soft monotone. She is very hands-on in this video and there is good interaction between Moira and her students, Crispin and Reesa. Beneath the stoicism vibrates an energy between teacher and students that makes this Stott student smile :) I must note that precise and deliberate instruction is required when working with the Arc Barrel/Small Barrel prop and Ms. Stott would be remiss if she did not deliver it.


October 4, 2004

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