Pilates Core Challenge

Ana Caban
Year Released: 2007

Categories: Pilates/Core Strength

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I’m reviewing this workout after previewing and doing both routines once each.

General workout breakdown: This DVD has two Pilates matwork routines derived from moves usually performed on the reformer and other Pilates equipment. You will work your core in a variety of ways with a number of exercises that require stabilization while you control the movement of your limbs. This workout is designed to improve strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination. The pace is deliberate, neither fast nor slow, allowing you to focus on controlling your form and engaging your powerhouse. The moves don’t quite flow one into the other, but there isn’t much of a pause between them. Ana chooses to do fewer reps here: generally 3, but sometimes 5.
*The Main Workout (38 min.) begins seated, moving quickly into lying supine for footwork (including in Pilates stance, arches, heels, and tendon stretch). You continue on with the hundred, coordination, rowing series (including rowing 1, 90 degrees, from the chest, from the hips), long box series (pulling straps 1 = forward & back, pulling straps 2 = from sides to back), shell stretch / child’s pose, backstroke, teaser, short box series (hug, flat back, side to side, twist & lean back), tree series (extending leg, point & flex foot, climb a tree), long stretch series (plank with rocking backwards & forwards), elephant, arabesque, stomach massage series (hands at side on mat, hands behind on mat, reach = hands off mat in front – progressing into twist), short spine massage, thigh stretch, kneeling arm series (lift & lower, circle, shave the head), snake, tick tock, frog, running, pelvic lift, star preparation, mermaid, side splits (a side plank), saw (done standing!), front splits series (a lunge), final stretches (diving forward, a rainbow-type move), running in place, and inhale & exhale with arms moving up & down. (If you don’t have time for the full routine and/or want to concentrate on the matwork, you can stop after the mermaid for a 30 min. workout.)
*The Express Workout (18 min.) is basically a shortened version of the Main routine, with a few new exercises. You begin lying supine. The exercises include the hundred, coordination, rowing series (rowing 1, 90 degrees, from the hips), long box series (pulling straps 1, pulling straps 2), backstroke, short box series (hug, flat back, side to side, twist & lean back), tree series, long stretch series, elephant, arabesque, swimming, shell stretch / child’s pose, mermaid, seal, standing balance exercises, standing footwork, jumping lunges, jumping jacks, and inhale & exhale with arms moving up & down. (If you stop after the seal, you’ve gotten in a nice 16 min. matwork routine without the impact.)

Level: I’d recommend this to intermediate Pilates enthusiasts. This is NOT for beginners to Pilates, no matter how advanced of an exerciser you are, because there is minimal form tips and instruction on proper technique, form, and breathing. Likewise, if you are very limited in your flexibility (e.g. you can’t touch your toes) or somewhat limited in your core strength, you may be frustrated by this workout because there are no modifications provided. As an intermediate and advancing Pilates devotee, I found this appropriately challenging, although I felt that it was slightly more difficult for me in terms of flexibility than in terms of strength.

Class: Ana alone, with instruction via voiceover.

Music: upbeat elevator music. It’s the same for both routines – and the main menu and the interview with Ana. I finally have been able to tune out what’s used in 10 Minute Solution Rapid Results Pilates; I’m really, really hoping I can reach the same point with this stuff…

Set: outdoors in a beautiful red-rock Arizona canyon on a sunny morning(?).

Production: high quality image and sound. Unfortunately Gaiam has listened to complaints that their music is too quiet in relation to the instructor’s voice; this is one workout where a quieter soundtrack would have been welcome. The voiceover matches the moves well. The camera shots aren’t too distracting or unhelpful, although there are a number of somewhat extreme close-ups of Ana’s core and/or sweeps from side to side.

Equipment: mat (or equivalent). Ana is barefoot.

Space Requirements: enough room to lie down with arms and legs extended and to sweep your limbs around, with some space behind your head while lying on your back for your legs during the overhead move (short spine).

DVD Notes: The DVD allows you to choose Main Workout, Express Workout, or Meet Ana Caban (an interview in which she briefly mentions Pilates fundamentals, explains why she got into Pilates, and reviews her philosophy). Each exercise is chaptered separately. You can choose an English- or Spanish-language soundtrack.

Comments: This is a great video for those who want to cross train their regular Pilates matwork with something different that’s still within the traditional Pilates canon, those who are bored with the traditional matwork sequence, and those who like the idea of Pilates but just haven’t clicked with the videos they’ve tried so far. I appreciate the fact that PCC has two options here, because I don’t always have 35+ minutes for my Pilates routines. I’m not too fond of the impact moves at the end of the short one (Ana likes to do these in her short Energy Boost workouts) or the music, and I wish Ana had provided more information about these moves (specifically how the frog is different from the footwork), but I can certainly live with these things for a well-done video with gorgeous scenery that will bring welcome variety to my Pilates video collection.
If you are new to the matwork series adapted from the reformer and other machines, I highly recommend Sarah Picot’s More than Mat series, where you’ll get a more detailed breakdown of the moves plus quick demos of the full exercises as performed on the equipment. Pilates Core Challenge is close to the Advanced More than Mat, so you may want to pick up the Intermediate and/or Advanced, depending upon your level. If you’re finding PCC too challenging, you might also enjoy working up to it with Kristin McGee’s MTV Pilates, which has a number of the same or similar moves. If you find you enjoy these moves and want more, I recommend Mari Winsor’s Maximum Burn Super Sculpting & Body Slimming and/or Jodi Brennan’s P3 Pilates Plus Power Workout, Vol. 1. You can also find some reformer exercises in Ana Caban’s Energy Boost Pilates 1, Lara Hudson’s 10 Minute Solution Rapid Results Pilates, and Liz Gillies’ Progressive Pilates for Weight Loss (most of which are also on the bonus section on her Target Tone video).
I’d rank Ana’s current matwork videos in this order, from easiest to toughest: Beginning Pilates Matwork, Easy Pilates, Quick Start Pilates for Weight Loss, Cardio Pilates, Intermediate Pilates Matwork, PM Pilates, Maintenance Pilates for Weight Loss (both routines), the Energy Boost Pilates (I and II), Pilates for Abs, and Pilates Core Challenge. On paper, Maintenance Pilates has more advanced exercises, but the slower pace and higher number of reps in Pilates for Abs makes it more challenging for my core strength. The different exercises and flexibility challenges barely eek PCC past Pilates for Abs – in my opinion. Depending upon your experience, strength, flexibility, and attention to form, you may have your own order of these last three videos, but they’re all somewhat comparable in challenge and intensity.

Instructor Comments:
Ana is encouraging and positive without being overly perky. She cues movement and breath well, but if you need tons of cueing and form instruction, she doesn’t give it here. She uses many of her usual phrases (“keep your tummy tight” and “stand tall, taller, and tallest”) and images (“zip your thighs together” and “image you’re holding reins”). When cueing, Ana refers to her left and right, which most of the time is not the same as the viewer’s. Ana’s form is, as always, excellent.