Video Fitness

Stott Pilates Ultimate Balance

Moira Stott and P.J. O'Clair

This is a 40-minute pilates-inspired stability ball workout.

Stott Pilates has four stability ball workouts, Level 1 through 4. Ultimate Balance is the Level 4 workout. Stott rates all its videos on a 1 to 5 scale for difficulty, and Ultimate Balance is a 5 (most difficult). I am strictly an intermediate exerciser, and while I could not do all the reps on a couple of the exercises, and I could not do the last exercise (a one-legged pike) at all, I would still consider this workout doable for most intermediates with some prior ball and pilates experience.

The setting is a corner of a studio with white brick walls and a pale wood floor -- rather pretty, especially compared with earlier Stott productions. The music is very soft and piano-y. The DVD has an option to work to music only, but I learn so much from the instruction I can't imagine wanting to do this myself.

On the DVD the exercises are individually segmented, so it is easy to skip to the next one. The exercises are also separately chaptered, but note that, once the individual exercise is shown, the DVD returns to the chapter menu rather than continuing on with the workout.

The only equipment is a stability ball, plus an optional yoga or exercise mat for added foot traction. The workout is done barefoot.

The workout is based on an intermediate reformer routine (as opposed to Stott's Level 3 3-D Balance, which adapts a pilates intermediate mat routine). I've never worked out on a reformer, so some of the exercise names were new to me, but everything was well explained so I never felt confused.

Ultimate Balance is co-taught by Moira Stott and P.J. O'Clair. One instructs while the other demonstrates, then they switch off. Both Moira and P.J. are absolutely meticulous in their instruction. I suppose this might bug some people, but I really appreciate it and learn from it. I don't feel the pace suffered for it, probably because one person demonstrated while the other instructed. (Moira has done some videos solo where she both instructed and demonstrated, and I did find those slow-going.)

The workout begins with 12 minutes of gentle moves which warm up the body while reviewing general pilates principles. I enjoy this little tutorial, and it helps me get focused for the workout itself, which is much more intense.

The workout proper begins with a series of bridges with the feet in various positions on the ball, and the legs moving the ball in and out while in bridge. Very challenging on the hamstrings!

Additional exercises challenge core and shoulder stability. There is some ab work (the "Coordination") but I wouldn't call this an ab-intensive workout. Two rowing series are done, but without hand weights, which makes them more of a stretch. Other nice stretches are interspersed -- I especially like how the Mermaid was adapted to the ball for extra range of motion. The workout concludes with a series of pike-type moves, also quite challenging.

Occasionally modifications are referred to, but not usually shown. I expect Moira and P.J. assume you would turn to the Level 1 and 2 ball workouts if you are having a lot of difficulty with the moves in Ultimate Balance.

The DVD has a few annoying quirks. You must "agree" to Stott's legal disclaimer by pushing the "enter" button at the beginning of the DVD. Also you cannot skip the opening commercial blurb (although at least it is short and fairly tasteful). On the other hand, the DVD has some nice extras, particularly the clips (decent length ones, too) of the other Stott video offerings.

As noted, this is the most difficult stability ball workout produced by Stott. It is not the most difficult ball workout I own, however. I personally find Body Bar Equanimity, Fitball Lower Body Challenge, and TLP Core Foundations harder. But Ultimate Balance leaves me with a stretched out, peaceful feeling the others don't. For that reason I would recommend Ultimate Balance and 3-D Balance to ball afficionados who enjoy pilates moves.

Instructor comments: Moira and P.J. make a good team, with P.J.'s warmth contrasting with Moira's more formal demeanor. Moira is definitely more at ease now than she was in her earliest videos. Both women are top notch instructors.

Sandra

September 5, 2005

As Sandraís review stated, Ultimate Balance is based on a reformer routine, so the focus is a bit different than standard Pilates or stability ball workouts. I did feel it gave me a pretty good full-body workout. Nothing like lifting weights, of course, but my legs, abs, and even arms were well-utilized.

I will try to describe the moves in the actual workout, which begins after the warm-up sequence. Many of the moves are similar to mat exercises. The names arenít very good, but hopefully my descriptions will be at least somewhat useful.

1. Ab crunch: Mini-crunch with legs on the ball
2. Footwork: Lying on your back with your feet in different positions on the ball, lift your hips up and keep them up while rolling the ball toward and away from you (this REALLY works the hamstrings, quads, and inner thighs)
3. Single leg: Sit on the ball with feet on the floor in front of you. Lift one foot and use the other leg to pull your body and the ball forward. Alternate feet.
4. Hundred: Lie on the ball with your shoulders and head supported, feet on the floor. Lift your hips so they are parallel with the floor. Lift your head and pump arms at your sides.
5. Short spine: (similar to jackknife) Lie on your back holding the ball between your legs (knee/ankle area). Lift legs above head, hips off ground, straighten legs above you. Roll your back down slowly, bend legs and extend them forward.
6. Coordination: (similar to double leg stretch) Lie on your back with knees bent at a 45 degree ankle over your hips and arms straight up above you, holding the ball. Extend arms and legs straight, away from you at 45 degree ankle to floor, then bring back in.
7. Round and straight back: Sit on the ball and make rowing motions with your arm, with a curved and then straight spine.
8. Stomach massage: Sit on the floor with the ball in front of you. Put your feet on the ball with knees bent. Push the ball out while engaging your abs to keep the back straight.
9. Long box series: Lie prone with thighs or shins on the ball with your arms on the ground in front of you (plank). Push and pull back and forth to work abs and arms.
10. Mermaid: Lie on your side over the ball with your legs straight out. Lift up to work the sides of your torso (like an oblique crunch)
11. Long stretch: Plank position with elbows bent and on ball, feet on the ground. Pull the ball back and forth.
12. Down stretch: (like the swan) Plank position with hands on the floor, lower body on ball. Rock back and forth.
13. Elephant: (pike) Plank with legs on ball, hands on floor. Pull pelvis up using abs.
14. Thigh stretch: Sit on your knees, lift up (like Lotte Berk knee dancing) then lean back keeping legs and back straight. The ball is held at your side and rolled back and forth as you lean back and forward.
15. Mermaid: (yes, again, but this is like the usual one) Sit on the floor, turn towards one side and lean over the ball. Push the ball away to stretch, then change sides.
16. Knee stretches: Plank with hands on floor, shins on ball. Roll ball forward and back by bending knees and engaging abs.
17. Bicycle: Same as knee stretches, but one shin stays on the ball while the other is off, alternating knees.
18. Hamstring stretch: Sit on the ball with one leg straight out, other bent, lean over to stretch.

Itís funny, the only thing that felt difficult at the time was the Footwork, but the next day several areas of my body remembered the workout. It didnít seem to work the abs as much as Iíd hoped, but surprised me by working my arms and lower body quite well.

Iím not sure if Iíll keep this oneóitís one of those Iím not sure how Iíll fit in to my schedule. I do think the ball is used effectively in this workout, so if youíre looking for a good ball workout thatís somewhat non-traditional, this is definitely one to consider.

Instructor comments: I know some say Moira can be dry, but I find both her and PJ to be really soothing. Theyíre pretty serious, but do make little silly comments now and then. They demonstrate good form and explain what NOT to do too. They both strike me as elegant instructorsóthereís something really fluid about the way they move that inspires me.

Pratima

9/29/2005



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