Pilates Circle Challenge

Bernadette Giorgi
Year Released: 2008

Categories: Pilates/Core Strength

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Iím reviewing this workout after doing it once.

General workout breakdown: Denise and Terri have already described this workout well, so Iíll just add a few more details.

I also clocked the main workout in around 46 min.
The pace of the exercises is just on the fast side of a controlled speed. Thereís not a lot of downtime between exercises, often just enough time to reset your position and the circle. There are a few moments when Bernadette briefly interjects some instruction into the middle of an exercise. Bernadette seems to favor sets of 10 reps, but even so the emphasis is on quality over quantity; except for some of the side-lying leg series youíll usually only do one set.
Bernadette teaches her own style of Pilates. She borrows liberally from the classical Pilates matwork repertoire, but presents things in her own order and puts her own spin on some of the exercises. For example, in the corkscrew she does a half circle, returns to the starting position, and does a half circle in the other direction and back to the start, making a figure 8 rather than the usual full circle; she also puts the feet inside the circle for a number of exercises, like the hundred and double straight leg stretch, where Iím used to seeing the ankles pressing into the circle from the outside. And a few of the exercises were new to me (although Iím not as familiar with the magic circle exercise repertoire).

Level: Iíd recommend this to beginner / intermediate through intermediate plus exercisers with some Pilates experience under their belts; I agree with Terri that Bernadette seems to assume you know the basics of moving and breathing already. As Terri mentioned, thereís no modifier, and Bernadette doesnít suggest many modifications. So, if youíre limited in strength, flexibility, and/or experience, this might not be the best choice for you. Itíd be helpful to have some prior experience with the Pilates ring / circle, too, but if not Iíd recommend having the remote nearby the first few times you do this in case you need a few extra seconds to get the ring in place.
I consider myself at the intermediate / advanced level of Pilates (Iíve been practicing Pilates on average of once a week for the past 8 years) and an intermediate / advanced exerciser in general. For me the greatest challenge was working with the circle after a long period of not using it all that often. I made sure to focus on form to get the proper amount of challenge out of the exercises.

Class: Bernadette alone, instructing live.

Music: sometimes classical-ish Ė mostly instrumental, but some vocals (kind of art song / light operetta type); sometimes kind of space agey sounding instrumentals, although thereís a little bit of spoken word intro to one ďsong.Ē I definitely preferred the classical soundtrack to the other, which almost bugged me in one place, maybe because I was hoping for more of the great classical songs.

Set: Yes, this is a CIA set; itís the one from 2008 with the purplish gray walls with a reddish orange stripe, a ďwindow,Ē and a few pieces of furniture, potted plants, and exercise equipment around the perimeter.

Production: clear picture and sound (which is somewhat quiet Ė I think Bernadette just isnít a very loud person), usually helpful camera angles which do a nice job of making you feel like youíre working with Bernadette right there rather than watching one person lost in a big studio. Itís all what youíd expect from Greg Twombly / CIA.

Equipment: a mat (or equivalent, as needed) and a Pilates circle (also called a magic circle / ring, Pilates ring, or fitness circle / ring; I used my cheap alternative that works well enough, but this workout may have finally convinced me itís time to invest in a real one).

Space Requirements: enough room to lie down with arms and legs extended, with space to move your limbs around plus enough area behind your head for a rollover.

DVD Notes: The main menu, which comes up after the usual disclaimers and a Just B Method screen, offers these options: Intro to Workout, Start Workout, Premixes (see Deniseís review), and Credits. A cute little cartoony bee serves as the cursor.

Comments: There arenít that many Pilates circle workouts out there. I have The Classical Pilates Technique Complete Magic Circle Matwork Series, which not surprisingly demonstrates the classical or more traditional (i.e. supposedly exactly how olí Joe taught it) approach. Iíve tried Karen Voightís Body Reform: Total Body Training (aka Pilates Total Body Training), which is especially notable for its inner thigh work, although itís more Pilates-inspired than straight up Pilates. And Iíve tried one of Stott Pilatesís offerings, Fitness Circle Flow; they also have Fitness Circle, Fitness Circle Challenge (levels 1 and 2), Power Fitness Circle, and Power Paced Fitness Circle, in addition to their recent series Pilates with Props, one of which is the fitness circle. Winsor Pilates had a few offerings, Ana Caban put out one, and June Kahn has put out at least one. Those are about all of the notable names I can think of at the moment.

Whatever you want to call it, the Pilates circle can add a little something extra to your Pilates. The difference is subtle; this will not take the intensity of your workout up to 11 by adding lots of resistance or whatever. The circle will increase your focus on and engagement of the core muscles. For example, when you have the circle between your legs in bridge, you have to activate your glutes, hamstrings, and inner thighs just that much more; when you hold the circle between your extended arms for the sweep to the side with a slight roll back, youíre activating your pectoral, shoulder, and upper back muscles at the same time that youíre probably thinking just a tiny bit more about your abs. The circle also provides some feedback; if you try to cheat or arenít otherwise doing the exercise properly, the circle will let you know by wobbling or even falling out. Bernadette does a nice job of bringing your attention to some of these points, but she never overwhelms you with too much information.

Bernadette has several long sequences of supine leg lift series and similar moves which can be hard on the hip flexors and low back if you have issues with those areas and/or if you donít have a lot of abdominal strength. If you have a big tendency toward tight hip flexors, as I do, be sure to do some foam rolling and/or stretching beforehand and remind the hip flexors not to take over from the abs while doing these exercises. You may have to reduce your range of motion, bend your knees, experiment with your pelvisí position, or even skip these exercises altogether if you have any serious problems.

Instructor Comments:
Bernadette has a pleasant, calm personality and engages well with the viewer through the camera. She leads the workout but doesnít include a lot of instruction; she tends to have more form tips and reminders, especially to relax your neck and lower your shoulders. She doesnít really cue right or left; sheíll tell you do to one leg and then the other, for example. You may have to watch her to figure out exactly what sheís doing when and how sheís doing it in a few spots, but because she moves gracefully you wonít mind at all.



This workout runs approx. 45 min. in it's entirety. There are three premixes: Core Challenge (23 min.), Side Kick Challenge (29 min.), and Butt Challenge (23 min.). There is a brief introduction by Bernadette, or you can choose to just skip that and start right out with the workout.

The setting is in a room with wood floors, light gray walls, some chairs, flowers, etc. Bernadette is alone on a mat. I believe this is the same set as in many of the CIA videos or Kelly Coffey-Meyer's 30 Min. to Fitness, which would make sense as it's filmed by Greg Twombly.

The workout starts with a warm up/stretch. Bernadette reminds you to focus and release tension. The next section is focused on the core. She incorporates common pilates moves such as the hundred, rollups, corkscrew, bicycle, rollover, V-sits, etc. using the circle. There are brief stretches between.

Then it moves into a side-lying series which really works the legs. Again, she does some stretches just when I needed them.

The next section is a prone lying series that really works the butt and hamstrings.

The final portion is the cool down stretch where she uses the circle during the stretches. On all the stretches, I liked that she held them long enough to feel them, but not too long for my tastes.

Everything is on the mat except the final couple of stretches which end in a standing position. Bernadette emphasizes that the circle helps focus on form and work targeted areas. She gives frequent reminders on form and some tips to modify are either given verbally or briefly shown by her.

I would not recommend this workout for anyone new to pilates. I think you really need a basic understanding of the breathing and engaging the core. I think she assumes some prior knowledge of this. It would have been helpful in some cases to have a modifier shown, but it wasn't a deal-breaker for me. If you're someone that needs lots of modification, then it probably would be. The music was 'there' - quiet and in the background and I barely noticed it. This is only the second pilates circle workout I've done, but I really liked it and think I'll be using it a lot. I also appreciated that it wasn't too long, and I can always do a premix to add on to another workout.

Instructor Comments:
Bernadette's dance background is obvious in her graceful movements. She has a very soothing voice and manner.



With one main workout and several lower body premixes, you are sure to tone and sculpt the lower body. The use of a pilates circle intensifies the work.

The main workout runs about 50 minutes. The premixes are as follows:

*Core Challenge-23 minutes
(w/up, core and all stretches)

*Side Kick Challenge-29 minutes
(w/up, inner/outer thighs 2 sets and all stretches)

*Butt Challenge-23 minutes
(w/up, hips/glutes 2 sets and all stretches)

Bernadette filmed with CIA Studios so the set and production quality are well done. She uses soft music to inspire calmness.

A very gentle stretch opens the body and prepares you for the simple but effective exercises. You'll begin with the 100 which will continue to warm the core. All the basics are here--roll downs and straight leg lifts. Next you'll move into glute work with the circle between the knees for glute lifts. Next you'll perform knee drops with knees inside the circle. Moving circle between knee you'll do a modification of criss cross-a great move for the obliques! Move circle to ankles for corkscrew. Then you'll reverse the motion with circle inside the ankles. Quick transition-move circle to around ankles again and perform a roll over. Stretch and then sit up placing one ankle inside circle and other on top of the circle to work the top of thighs (quad muscles). Put foot inside circle and lift up against circle. Next you'll leave foot on top of circle and perform partial roll downs working the abdominals. Put hands inside circle and perform big circles leaning back and to the side. Lay back down and place ankles inside circle. Then raise both legs up and then bring them down twisting to one side, then back up, then twist to the other side. Another fluid abdominal exercise follows. Feet outside circle, legs push down, arms come down and around. (using circle increases concentration) Next is the side kick series. You'll really get into the inner and outer thigh areas. Following this you'll roll onto your stomach and place circle at back of leg and bend leg and place foot onto pad and press into it, working glutes. Then you'll place circle between both feet and perform tiny lifts, contracting the hamstrings. Moving circle to ankles you'll lift arms and legs simutaneously. Bernadette concludes the workout by using the circle as a tool to aide in the stretches, enhancing flexibility.

Instructor Comments: