Stott Pilates Stability Ball Challenge

P.J. O'Clair, Moira Stott Merrithew
Year Released: 2007

Categories: Balance/Medicine/Mini/Stability Ball, Pilates/Core Strength

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Iím reviewing this workout after doing it once.

General workout breakdown: This 89-min. DVD has one 50-min. Pilates workout incorporating the stability ball.
Moira introduces this workout as the ultimate stability ball challenge that will test and improve your balance, endurance, flexibility, control, coordination, and precision. This looks very different from Stottís previous stability ball releases Ė Core Balance, Dynamic Balance, 3-D Balance, and Superior Balance (formerly known as Ultimate Balance Ė which adapt either the standard Pilates matwork or reformer moves to the stability ball.
After an approximately 30 sec. intro from Moira, the warm-up (5.5 min.), done on the back, runs through breathing (bridging w/ straight legs on the ball), airplane prep (a rollover-type prep), and scapula isolation.
The workout exercises (44.5 min.) include push-thru on back (starting with arms, then adding ab prep, and finally rolling up to sitting & back down to floor), teaser preps (1- and then 2-legged), combo scissor lower & lift (first scissoring the legs, then adding in the lower & lift), cat kneeling (building up a sequence with thigh stretch, rolling into cat stretch with ball on mat, then coming back for upper back extension), ballet stretch front and side (done kneeling, with 1 leg on the ball for flexing & pointing ankle, then lunging out for a stretch, and ending with a side torso stretch), one arm prep (3 levels of push-ups with 1 hand on the ball), kneeling mermaid twist (2 variations), footwork / supine incline (meaning youíre squatting with your back to the ball, pushing against the floor; on toes w/ heels together, feet flat on floor & together, high toe position on toes with feet together, heel lifts, running), single leg stretch (using same supine incline position as footwork), rolldown (full motion, a cross between roll-up and neck pull; adding in back extension), pike (half roll-down with legs on ball), spine stretch forward, side-lying bend & stretch (with parallel knee in & press out, medial rotation knee in & press out, lateral rotation knee in & press out), leg circles (in same side-lying position with leg moving forward & behind ball while bottom leg rolls ball back & forward), leg abduction (in same side-lying leg position, lifting and lowering both legs at same time, w/ ball in between feet), adduction hip lift (in same side-lying position, lifting lower hip from ground), swan from floor (w/ hands on the sides of the ball), shell stretch, prone plank position (scapula isolations w/ protraction & retraction, 1-arm lift, knees to 1 shoulder, 1-leg lift w/ neutral spine, 1-leg lift w/ imprinted spine), standing 1 leg extension (forward & side; 1-legged squat w/ front foot on ball, rolling ball in & out, medial rotation knee in & out), ankle exercise (kneeling against ball, pressing up & back), 1-legged squat (w/ back foot on ball), and standing side bend into cat stretch.
The overall pace of this workout is somewhat leisurely, although there arenít many pauses between exercises (and no real ďhang time,Ē or instructors stopping to talk while youíre in the middle of a move, leaving you hanging there) and a number of the exercises are done at a fairly quick speed. Some moves only have a few reps (3-5), while others are done in longer series (8-10).

Those with wrist and shoulder, knee and ankle, and back issues may want to approach this one with a little caution. There are a few moves on the hands, although the ball takes some weight off of them, but the push-up with one hand on the stability ball may not work for everyone. There are quite a few kneeling, lunging, and squatting moves, including the footwork series which some cranky knees might not like, and 1-legged balance challenges. Stott Pilatesí website says this will help with back problems, but I found the side-lying hip lift threatened to aggravate my back even though I really donít have any back issues.

Level: Stott rates this a 4 out of 5, with 1 for true beginners and 5 for advanced Pilates students. Iíd recommend this to someone at least at the solidly intermediate level of exercise and Pilates with a decent amount of stability ball experience, although I think many advanced exercisers, especially those who are stability ball pros, may feel like they donít get a lot out of this one.
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 but a relative stability ball neophyte, and Iím not sure how to classify this one. I found the difficulty level somewhat uneven here (moves like the 1-legged pike definitely challenged me, but I donít know how much I got out of the side-lying leg series or the standing leg series), and I think oneís individual strengths (and weaknesses), flexibility, and experience with the stability ball is going to affect how this workout feels.

Class: Moira and PJ both do the entire workout. For one or two exercises, one demonstrates a different variation.

Music: gentle but upbeat repetitive instrumental thatís standard Stott-issue stuff.

Set: bright interior studio space with Pilates equipment neatly arranged around the room.

Production: very clear picture and sound, with the instructorsí voices clearly audible and helpful camera angles (including an overhead shot, which normally isnít my favorite but here is put to good use) that clearly show what the exercises entail.

Equipment: mat (this is pushed off to the side for the standing portion) and anti-burst stability or Swiss or exercise ball (55 cm or 65 cm, depending upon your height). Youíre better off with shorts or pant legs that can be rolled up for a few of the exercises that hold the ball between or against the lower legs.
Youíll see fitness circles off to the side, but theyíre only to keep the balls from rolling around when not being used (but here ball is employed for every exercise, so Iím not sure why theyíre there).

Space Requirements: enough room to lie down with limbs extended and space to roll over the ball; a long but not too narrow space is ideal. The final standing side bend requires enough space overhead to lift the ball up with arms extended straight; fortunately itís for a few brief seconds because my workout space has very low ceilings.

DVD Notes: I have one of the dual language DVDs, which adds an extra step to getting this DVD to play the workout. First you have to choose your language (English or French), then you have to wait for the initial warning screen to come and go, and then you have to agree to the disclaimer. Once youíve done that, thereís a commercial for Stott products, which you can skip, and the standard Stott intro, which you canít. Finally you get to the main menu, where your options are DVD Player Tips, Audio Options (Instruction On or Instruction Off), Workout Principles (Breathing, Pelvic Placement, Rib Cage Placement, Scapular Movement & Stabilization, Head & Cervical Placement, and Play All), The Workout, Chapter Selections, and Special Features (Foundersí Message & Bio, Meet the Master Instructor Trainer, Bonus! Try the Next Level, which here is Pilates with Props Vol. 1, Stott Pilates equipment, Stott Pilates education, Stott Pilates additional titles, and Get in Touch).
There is no option to select a chapter from the main menu, as there usually is in Stott videos, but you may not miss that because here the chapter points seemed to be dropped in at random since they donít actually coincide with the start and stop of all of the exercises.

Comments: Stott Pilates is rightfully known for their focused workouts with intelligently sequenced exercises (a common complaint is that Stott requires lots of shifts in positions, but the method behind that madness is to keep you balanced, never working in one direction or on one set of muscles for too long) that are well chaptered and superbly instructed. My first impressions of this workout have left me confused and disappointed, as I canít say the above statement is wholly true for this particular video. It kind of feels like Stott wants to do Pilates fusion here, with the ballet-influenced moves and a few more athletic-feeling ones thrown in, too, for good measure. (OK, so Iím not a fusion gal, and those of you who like your Pilates workouts not to feel like Pilates may find this more appealing than I do.) It worked well as a recovery day workout for me, but I wouldnít know where to fit it in otherwise, because with a few exercises each for core strength, upper body strength, lower body strength, flexibility, balance, mobilization, and stabilization it seems to be trying to do a little too much rather than focusing on the less is more approach that draws me to methods like Pilates. The hodge podge of exercises seems as if Moira and PJ cobbled together things they hadnít managed to include on their other stability ball DVDs; Like a bandís B-sides / previously unreleased album, there are a few hidden gems but more often than not thereís a reason some things never made the cut. This is presented as an at home workout and is not from Stottís Pro series, but why do I feel like this supposed to be for Stott Pilates instructors to get ideas to shake up their stability ball classes? I cannot believe the sloppy chaptering and handful of mistakes on the included list of exercises (tucked inside the caseís front cover) here, as in all other respects the production is up to the usual high Stott Pilates standards. Moira and PJ have obviously listened to complaints about too long warm-ups (I rather like them, but then Iíve spent so much time in the Stott method it feels weird to me to dive right in) and their lack of warm, engaging on screen personalities, but their attempts to engage each other and the viewer sometimes means they donít spend as much time setting up and explaining the exercise. All that said, a bad Stott is still better than some stuff out there, but Stott makes so many other better workouts, including their four other stability ball Pilates workouts, that I canít see myself keeping this one.

Instructor Comments:
PJ and Moira switch off instructing, each doing several exercises in a row before the other takes over. They focus on cuing, although they interact with each other here more than they have in the past, I assume in attempt to show their warmth, humor, etc., that so many people have said were lacking. I appreciate seeing them be more personable but currently prefer their previous more down to business personae as they included more form tips and instruction. Both are still good instructors here, just that I feel like theyíre a little short of the super high bar for quality theyíve set for themselves in previous releases.
Neither uses directional cues, really; youíll be told to use the front or back leg, lift one arm and then the other, and so on.