Element Slim & Tone Pilates

Kara Wily
Year Released: 2009

Categories: Pilates/Core Strength

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I’m reviewing this workout after doing it once.

General workout breakdown: This 34.5-min. Pilates matwork routine combines moves from the traditional matwork repertoire with moves adapted from the various Pilates apparatus (reformer, etc.). What is particularly attractive about this routine is the relatively high amount of extension and upper body work compared to your typical Pilates matwork video; this is a total body workout, not just a few Pilates exercises for the abs.
The exercises include controlled sit-down, breathing, footwork (heels together & knees apart, heels & knees together w/ toes curled as if on perch, heels & knees together w/ feet flexed), tendon stretch (pointing and flexing feet), hundred, single leg circles into climb a tree, roll-up, rowing series (#1, #2, #3, #5 – aka shave the head, #6), pull straps (#1, #2), rest position (aka child’s pose / shell stretch / little piece of heaven), single leg kick, swan push-up into neck rolls, rest, rolling like a ball, single leg stretch, double leg stretch, criss cross, spine stretch forward, saw, kneeling arm series (double arm circles in both directions, [a word I couldn’t quite catch but sounded like “swakti”] variations – lawnmower-type pull), thigh stretch, lying side kick series (front & back, up & down, ronde du jambe – aka big circles), heel beats, teaser (1-legged variations, including grabbing the ankle, twisting over each leg, and lowering with arms overhead; double leg teaser), can can, swan, swimming (first slow, than fast), rest, twist, leg pull front, rocking, jumping knee stretches, alternating lunge jumps, Russian split with push-ups (hip flexor lunge, pulling back into straight leg pyramid hamstring stretch, then stepping back for Pilates – aka triceps or hands narrow – push-ups), chest expansion (option to do on toes), knee lifts front & side, shake out arms, and jumps.
Kara includes enough time to, say, release your neck after a pose and transition into the next one, but she moves quickly during the exercises themselves. There’s little hang time, however (meaning she won’t leave you hanging in the starting position while she dissects how to do the exercise).
Most exercises only get 3 to 5, maybe 6, reps, although some see 10 reps (like the footwork and swimming). The focus is truly on quality over quantity, especially since the exercises are done so quickly that you’ll really need to be precise.

Level: I’d call this an intermediate plus / high int. routine. I’d recommend it to intermediate and up exercisers with a solid background in basic Pilates moves and breathing techniques who are comfortable with at least intermediate level routines. This is not suitable for beginners to Pilates, even if they are advanced exercisers, because Kara, although she cues some breath and provides form reminders and even offers a few options for modifications or substitutions, doesn’t provide instruction on Pilates breathing techniques and form. She assumes you already have a good handle on at least the basics. In addition, Kara’s natural flexibility paired with her years of experience as a dancer turned Pilates instructor means that she exhibits a far greater range of motion than the average person might be able to achieve, at least while they’re still learning the exercises. It is imperative that you work with perfect form within your own abilities rather than sacrifice your form to mimic hers - Kara may be able to get her legs 6-12” off the ground during swimming, but if you can only manage 2-6”, then that’s where you should work; to her credit Kara stresses this a few times during the workout.
I consider myself an int. / adv. exerciser who’s at an int./adv. level of Pilates; I’m comfortable with the traditional matwork repertoire up to some of the most advanced poses and have a good amount of experience with videos of apparatus moves adapted to the mat, but I have some flexibility and strength limitations still. I found this appropriately challenging but not overwhelming, and I liked the selection of exercises, with the exception of the jumping series at the end (I have short arms in relation to my torso and legs, making jump ins, like yoga jump throughs, not exactly comfortable or pretty).

Class: Kara alone, instructing via voiceover.

Music: upbeat instrumental muzak. I actually had to pop the DVD back in to listen for whether or not this had music. It’s that uninspiring, but, hey, at least it fades into the background.

Set: platform in the middle of a manicured lawn and landscaped garden, with a pool and a view of the ocean. It’s a bright sunny day.

Production: clear picture and sound, with Kara’s voice clearly audible. Camera angles are much more helpful than distracting, mostly showing all of Kara all of the time.

Equipment: a mat or equivalent. Kara recommends grabbing light hand weights (2-5 lbs.) for the arm exercises once you feel comfortable with the routine. Kara is barefoot and recommends you follow suit.

Space Requirements: You should be able to lie down with arms and legs extended and to sweep your limbs from side to side.

DVD Notes: After the initial warnings and Element intro, the DVD launches right into Kara’s introduction (2 min. total), which you can skip. Your only menu option is “Play Program,” and there are no chapters.

Comments: Kara introduces herself as a student of Romana Kryzanowska (aka Romana K), one of Joseph Pilates’ most trusted pupils who carries on teaching in his tradition in the NYC-based so-called classical style. But, unlike some of the other classical instructors, Kara here doesn’t feel rigidly constricted by this training; she presents a sequence which feels fresh without losing its sense of authenticity.
As you probably know if you’ve read any of my Pilates reviews, I prefer Pilates routines that are strictly Pilates rather than a fusion with other disciplines, which makes me more of a “purist,” for better or for worse. Needless to say this sort of video is right up my alley.

Brooke Siler’s Element Pilates for Weight Loss for Beginners vs. Kara Wily’s Element Slim & Tone Pilates: If you’re new(er) to Pilates, definitely pick up Brooke’s first, because Brooke will give you a solid foundation in Pilates principles, which you’ll need before tackling Kara’s. However, if you already have Brooke’s, Kara’s will offer you some variety. Both are set in the same place (and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have similar, if not the same, soundtrack), for what it’s worth. And some of the same exercises pop up in both: hundred, roll-up, some of the stomach series / series of 5, teaser, etc. That said, the moves adapted from the reformer and other toys will spice things up, and Kara has a slightly different instructional style and a different manner of teaching and provides some different tips that complement Brooke’s. I will say that because Brooke’s includes two workouts, even if the first is more of a dynamic stretch warm-up rather than the “cardio” and “Pilates” of its title, it’s a bit disappointing that Kara’s only includes one. Fortunately it’s a solid one.
Element has so far produced two solid classical-style Pilates matwork videos – both Brooke and Kara are Romana K protégés -, and I’m pleased with their current offerings. I will definitely be interested in any future releases in this series.

If you like the combination of traditional and apparatus-derived matwork, you may also like videos like Ana Caban’s Pilates Core Challenge, Lara Hudson’s 10 Minute Solution Rapid Results Pilates, and Mari Winsor’s Winsor Pilates Maximum Burn Super Sculpting & Body Slimming. Sarah Picot’s More than Mat series is all about apparatus work adapted to the mat.
I hadn’t seen the kneeling arm work Kara includes here before, and she includes a few tips and tidbits that were new to me, so even if like me you wonder if it’s worth it to get this one when you already have several similar ones, I feel Slim & Tone does offer something a little different to the ever growing collection of traditional meets apparatus-derived matwork.
Sadly, I’ve still not yet had the pleasure of playing on the Pilates equipment, so I can’t compare how any of these videos, including Kara’s, compare to working on the real deal.

Instructor Comments:
Kara’s strength is in providing form tips and filling you in on information about what you’re doing. If you can’t see your television while doing matwork on the floor, you’ll need to preview this one to get a sense of what Kara means by certain exercises and at what pace she proceeds. In other words, if you must have meticulous cuing of each movement, this may not be the best choice for you.
Kara has a pleasant voice and a natural manner of speaking that’s easy to understand. I didn’t realize this while doing the video, but while reviewing the video I noticed Kara has a bit of a rhythmic (but not quite sing-songy) manner of speaking in a few parts; this is somewhat common among Pilates instructors during percussive moves like the hundred, and not only did this not register with me but it certainly didn’t bother me. And the fact that I have to nitpick to that extent to find something potentially objectionable about an instructor should tell you how much I like her.