Do I Need My Hundred Examined?

By Sue Lessor
Certified STOTT PILATES Instructor

While on vacation recently, I did one of my favorite things.  Attend a Pilates class! This one happened to be mat and I was excited for the workout against gravity. The instructor was certified in a another Pilates method and I listened intently for her cues. At about fifty arm pumps into the Hundred, one of my least favorite Pilates exercises, she stopped next to me. I tried not to hold my breath and waited for a comment or adjustment.

Instead I heard, “Is that the way you always do the Hundred?” I think I nodded or grimaced and waited for her to continue, explain, correct, compliment, something! But she didn’t. Say. Anything.

She walked away, then led us into the Roll Like A Ball. I did my best to concentrate the remaining forty-five minutes, determined to ask her after class what she’d meant by her question. However, by the time I got over to her, she was deep into conversation with other clients. I left without knowing.

One question followed me home.

Did I need to have my hundred examined?

In search of answers, I revisited and studied the exercise in my mat manual, I ordered Joseph Pilates’ book, ‘Return To Life, Through Contrology’, and sought out quite a few other contemporary methods taught nationally and internationally.

I started paying closer attention to my clients during the Hundred and was surprised to see looks of discouragement and frustration.  Especially at about the forty or fifty mark. I also saw shoulder blades pressed on the mat or carriage, chins jammed, eyes fixed on the ceiling. Many legs way too low for their ab strength.

At this point you may be asking yourself, so what does a proper, safe, well executed Hundred look like? How will it benefit me? What should I feel when I perform it incorrectly? Have I hurt myself by doing it improperly?

As one of Joseph Pilates’ signature ab exercises, the hundred is the first exercise in the classic lineup and recognized for it’s breathing pattern. Joseph Pilates instructed his clients to lock their knees and hold their feet a miniscule two inches off the mat, with eye gaze directed at their toes.

Yikes! Two inches? It’s tough for most people’s abs to support their back or hip flexors two feet off the floor!

(Not sure if the following paragraph is necessary?)

Contemporary Pilates methods, on the other hand, such as The Stott® Pilates Method, build on the principles of Joseph Pilates original exercises, yet incorporate modern knowledge about the body. Focus still centers on the abdominal muscles, stabilization of the shoulder girdle area, and maintaining an imprinted spine when the feet are off the floor, however modifications have been added and encouraged for beginners and those with health issues or limitations. Legs are held only as low as imprint of the spine can be maintained. It’s also not the first exercise, but preceded by at least three to five exercises which warm up the abdominals, neck, and shoulders.

To Joseph Pilates credit, he did say about the Hundred, “At first you will not be able to carry out instructions as illustrated--this proves why (this) exercise and preceding ones will benefit you.”

So even Joseph Pilates encouraged building up to the full exercise. Earn Your Progression, might be an expression he used with his clients.

Things you SHOULD NOT feel while happily(and correctly of course) performing the hundred:

Neck tension
A tucked pelvis or tight buns
Pooching or popping appearance in your abs
An overworked upper rectus abdominis
Low back pain or discomfort
Like giving up

What you SHOULD experience:

Your lumbo-pelvic area imprinted to support the weight of your legs
Your shoulder blades off the mat to their tips
Your shoulder blades stabilizing against the movement of your arms
Concentration in your lower abs
A free neck and upper torso
Lungs that can inhale and exhale fully, unhindered by tension or “sucked” in abs
A feeling of accomplishment!

(Keep in mind, though, it’s important to ‘earn your progression’, to work your way up to the full hundred by performing twenty really well and safely. Start with your feet on the mat or carriage, knees bent, spine in neutral, making sure you have proper ab support and shoulder stabilization before you bring those knees to table top or extend those legs to the ceiling, or lower.)

Starting Position

Lie face up, imprinted spine, legs parallel in tabletop, toes gently pointed, arms long by your side.

Inhale: stay

Exhale: nod your chin slightly, stabilize your shoulder blades, contract your low abs, curl up your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor or mat-- to the bottom tips of your shoulder blades, lift your arms off the mat, reach fingers just above your hips.

Then pump the arms, making sure the movement originates at the shoulder joint not the elbow, inhaling for 5 counts, then use that exhale for 5 counts. Inhale for 5. Exhale for 5.

(Joseph Pilates instructed a specific radius of 6-8 inches for the arm movement without touching the body, but small vertical pulses work.)

Then stop. Take a body inventory break.

Did you maintain imprint, keep your shoulder blades off the mat, hold your eye gaze safely toward your thighs, avoid tightening and tucking your pelvis, avoid tension in the your neck?

If not, go back to feet on the floor, knees bent and keep working on it.

Remember, concentrate on correct form, stabilization, and movement each time you perform the hundred, for all 100 counts. But progress yourself with confidence and knowledge, work your way up to the full hundred by performing twenty really well. Then maybe twenty more and so on until you can perform all one hundred counts in good form. The middle breaths and arms pumps should be just as strong as the first ten. And strive to finish those last ten counts as well as, if not better, than the first ninety. And use that breath!!

Ask to have your hundred examined next time you’re in class. That’s why we’re there-for you!

I wish I could say I emailed the instructor from vacation and solved the mystery, but alas I did not. But I did have my hundred examined and found out I was rounding my shoulders forward too much. Whether or not that’s what the vacation instructor saw or not doesn’t matter at this point. What matters is that her comment drove me to investigate and learn and improve.

And I am happy to say, the hundred is now one of my favorite Pilates exercises!!

Sue is a STOTT PILATES Certified Instructor with certifications in Matwork, Reformer, Total Barre, Zenga and Injury and Special Populations and is trained in the Stability Chair.  After dancing and jogging her way into her forties, Sue was left with neck and shoulder injuries and three choices--surgery, painkillers, or a new life style she was able to choose the latter and after consistent sessions of Pilates, she has been surgery free and almost completely pain free, along with increased core strength, flexibility and balance. Her greatest desire as a Pilates instructor is to help others find similar freedom and healing while reaching their goals for their exercises or hobbies. When Sue's not teaching or taking Pilates, she enjoys reading, sewing, writing, hiking and kayaking. And recently, kale chips have become a major addition to her life. Yum!  Sue's mantra is Life is so very short, try not to take one single moment for granted!