If you need a visual for Pulling Straps or T-Press on the Long Box... Read more!
Sunday, March 30, 2008
All pilates movements include stretching certain muscles while contracting others. Its this combination that causes your body to feel so amazing after a session- you worked out, and stretched, continuously for one hour.
Did you know there are certain stretches and ways of stretching that you should NOT do in pilates? We all know that doing any type of exercise improperly can cause injury. Its important to remember that stretching improperly can also cause serious injury!
Here are some positions and movements that you should not do in a pilates session, along with better alternatives.
Laying Over the Ladder Barrel
Does the Ladder Barrel just call out to you, "come stretch on me"?It seems like it would feel so good just to drape your tired bod over the barrel, face down, laying on your stomach. But this is a dangerous position to put yourself in and you could really hurt your back. Passive stretching of any kind should be avoided, but this particular position stretches out the ligaments in your back- not your muscles. When you begin stretching ligaments, the ligaments eventually begin to elongate and become weaker. Then, when you try to stand up again, your back will not have strong support to hold you upright, leading to back pain, your back "going out" and ultimately, possible arthritis.
This also goes for draping yourself face down over a physioball.
Instead, use the simple yoga position on the mat, Child's Pose, to stretch your back safely. Or, mentally connect into all the ways your back stretches during every pilates exercise, and you won't need to collapse over the barrel anymore.
Your Ankles Under the Foot Bar
In the last exercise of Foot Work, when you are lowering and lifting your heels, you must resist the urge to bounce your ankles under the foot bar. Bouncing while stretching anything, anywhere is never a good idea. Bouncing actually causes the muscles to tighten up more and can cause scar tissue to build up.
In archival footage of Joseph Pilates demonstrating his exercises, and in a few of his mat and Standing Mat exercises, he advocates a pulsing, similar to bouncing. This was before research proving that bouncing, or ballistic stretching, is not a good idea. But back in the day, it was done to increase flexibility and bring energy to the exercise.
These days, we know that bouncing the feet under the foot bar, or the spine during Push Through is never a good idea! Just stretch through these movements smoothly and let your breath take you further into a stretch. Don't force it.
Hanging Back from the Electric Chair
There is a stretch on the Electric Chair that requires you to hold the handles, with toes on the peddle, then round the body back into a position similar to Elephant. In a way, you are hanging back from the chair, but you must keep this movement mindful.
You should be scooping your abdominals in to support this position, not just hanging all your dead weight back from where your hands hold the handles. The chair is not nailed down to the ground, and it will tip over onto you if you hang back from it!
Also, every exercise and stretch has an "in and up" quality to it, never just "hanging back" and forgetting the principles of pilates.
Stretching the Hamstrings with a Bent Knee or Rounded Back
Ballet Stretches on the barrel, specifically the Hamstring stretch, feel really great, but there is also proper form even for these moves. The idea is to make the leg straight, then fold your torso over the leg, with an elongated spine.
If you keep your knee bent while attempting to stretch your hamstring, you are not stretching the hamstring, you are stretching your low back.
If you simply cannot straighten your leg for this stretch on the barrel, standing on a Moon Box could be a big help. If you still cannot straighten the leg, stop the stretch. Here is a better option for you:
Stand behind the ladder of the barrel, facing it. Hold the handles and place one foot on the lowest rung of the ladder (not the wooden piece on the floor, I'm talking about the actually rung). Step the other leg back so both legs are straight and the standing leg is perpendicular. You can now fold over your straight legs, and stretch the belly of the hamstring, not its attachments or your back!
You can also check out my other post, "How to, and How Not to, Stretch Your Hamstrings":
Use proper stretching to live a LONG and healthful life! Read more!
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Summer is coming soon and we all know what that means! It means tank top season, bathing suit season, bare arms season!
We all know pilates works the "core" muscles, but pilates can also give your arms a great workout, too!
Each piece of equipment offers many ways to work your arms by using the springs for resistance. If you're working out on the mat without springs, hand weights work just as well.
Every exercise described here as arm work, is really primarily upper back and core work. When you're able to stablize the upper back and core, you can use the stabilization to initiate each movement, which then works the arms. And of course, every pilates exercise works your arms, because with every exercise, your entire body is working.
On the tower, every exercise in the Standing Arm Springs Series works your arms, and many similar moves can also be done kneeling. There are other arm springs exercises, that are done laying on your back in various positions or sitting up facing towards or away from the tower.
If you are prone to neck or upper back tension, the best arm exercises for you on the tower are probably done standing or kneeling.
On the reformer, a great set of arm exercises is Swakkiti. You can work all around the arms at every angle and feel your strength build up over time as you practice. This is an advanced set of exercises. To built upper back strength for these exercises, you should learn the Long Stretch Series, Chest Expansion, and Arm Circles first.
On the Chair, there is a whole series of Push Up exercises that, of course, work the arms. There are also multiple ways to do Tricep Presses.
If you're working on the mat, there are a variety of push ups, and Balance Control Front and Back. There is also the whole Standing Arms Series, done with weights, that is very similar to the Standing Arms Springs on the tower.
If you feel shoulder pain or clicking in your shoulder during arm work, talk to your instructor. It could be caused by poor alignment in your neck, a tendon rubbing over a bone, or a shoulder injury/issue that should be looked at by a doctor.
For interesting information on push ups, see my post: "Heads Up on Push Ups":
Can't wait until the summer!
If you're trying to increase the flexibility of your hamstrings, and you frequently stretch like this, you will get more out of your stretch if you focus on other parts of your body besides the hamstrings.
Unfortunately, for the unknowning dude in the photo, his form needs some work. Not much, but some.
Try this stretch in front of a large mirror, or with your teacher,. Most often, we think we have good form, only to learn that we've been doing something else completely and we weren't even aware of it!
First, stand with your feet hip width apart, parallel. Roll your spine down over your legs, with your arms dangling below. Stop when you feel as though you've reached your end point. When you look in the mirror, where are your hips?
If your hips are shooting back behind your legs, like in the photo, you need to move them.
They should be right up above the ankles, so your legs are perpendicular to the ground. I'll explain how to do this in a few paragraphs down below.
Where is your head? It should be dropped between your arms, following the shape of your spine- not like the photo. Don't allow the head to break the flow of energy in the stretch. If your head is lifted, your neck is shorten, which then translates to tension in the low back.
One good thing about the photo is that his knees are straight. Look in your mirror and check out your own knees. One thing you definitely do not want is for your knees to hyperextend, or lock backwards. Soften the knees so they're not locked, not very bent, but neutral.
Now, back to your hips. To shift the the hips forward, focus on your shins. Bring the weight of your shins forward, so the shins are perpendicular to your feet. You're ankle is now more flexed and non-resistant. When your shins come forward, your knees will also bend. This also puts equal weight in the soles of the feet, not just back in your heels (like in the photo).
Now, focus on your sitz bones. Keeping your shins right where they are, slowly spin the sitz bones upward, away from your heels. Your knees will begin to straighten a bit, and you'll start to hang forward further. You should now feel a true hamstring stretch.
The added bonus is that you can most likely now touch your toes, something you may have previously thought you could not do. Keep a slight abdominal connection the whole time, so you don't hang in your low back. And, of course, definitely do not bounce in this stretch!
Certain pilates exercises also stretch the hamstrings in the same way. Hamstring Stretch on the chair, is one obvious one. Push Through, Elephant, Spine Stretch Forward, and Ballet Stretches are all worth practicing to help increase hamstring flexibility!
Don't all these details seem complicated? If it sounds too confusing to figure out yourself, ask your pilates instructor or personal trainer to check out your Stretching Form and to give you a few pointers! Read more!
Thursday, March 27, 2008
I firmly believe that doing pilates will boost anyone's business. Pilates give you a new outlook at customer relations, compassion for customers, and the overall future.
When you do pilates, you learn so much about yourself, how to listen to another person (your teacher), and how to listen to your own body. This "art of listening" does not come naturally to most people- its something that must be experienced before you learn how important it really is to listen to what your gut is telling you, and what someone else is saying.
You might think that you hear your customers, patients, or clients, but until you place yourself in a position of a client, you really can't know how it feels to be heard, or not heard.
When you start practicing pilates with an instructor, you'll be able to look at your professional self from a distance, with more clarity. You might realize that you could show more compassion and understanding towards your customers when they ask for your help or opinion- just like your pilates teacher shows you compassion, and just like you learn- through pilates- to show compassion towards yourself.
If your business deals with people learning new skills, practicing pilates will help you understand a student's perspective. You can practice pilates for a lifetime, and still learn new things every week. Not just new exercises, but new information about your body, new insight, or a new visual cue.
You'll also learn something that I think is very important- You don't know everything! You don't know everything about your body, or about exercise. In pilates, the routine changes slightly week to week, so you don't even really know exactly what to expect when you walk in.
Pilates is humbling in all the best ways. Its a reminder that we all always have something to learn.
When you embrace new things and check your ego at the door, you open your heart up to great things. Your energy changes, and this change can be felt by those around you. You will have a magnetic personality, an invisible glow that will draw people in.
Not only will your renewed energy draw people towards you, it will also open your eyes and heart towards the future. Pilates reminds you that you really don't know what's in store, but you are always up for what's to come!
You might also be interested in my post, "Exercise = Success": http://headsuponyourbody.blogspot.com/2008/02/exercise-success.html Read more!
The transitions between all pilates exercises are actually exercises within themselves.
When you transition properly, your pilates session has more flow, focus, and energy.
Lowering the foot Bar of the reformer is a great transition to practice. When you master this transition, you can rely less on your teacher to do things for you and take responsibility for your own body and session, which is what pilates is all about!
I'll use the example of just finishing Foot Work, getting ready to do the Hundreds.
1. After the final foot work exercise, both of your feet are on the bar, resting. During this transition, be sure to keep your head down the whole time!
2. Keep one foot on top of the bar, and take the other foot down low, under the foot bar and below the level of the smaller, metal part of the foot bar, which I'll call the Kick Stand.
The foot below the kick stand is getting ready to catch the kick stand, any minute now.
3. Now, back to the foot up on the foot bar. Take that foot, and hook it under the foot bar, and use it to lift the foot bar up. The kick stand will follow the footbar and will also lift up. Use the lower foot to catch the kick stand so it doesn't fall into the springs.
4. Using the lower foot, lift the kick stand and the foot bar up- they will collapse into each other. Using that lower foot, guide both the kick stand and foot bar away and down, so the foot bar is now in the "down" position.
This transition takes some practice. Its difficult because you can't actually see what your feet are doing. You have to practice and feel where exactly your feet need to be for this to work.
Don't give up and say you can't do it and then just wait for your teacher to lower your bar for you!!! Its worth learning the transitions, not just for flow, but also for independence. Someday, you'll find yourself working out alone, and then what will you do? Read more!
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
"Every action has an equal and opposite reaction"
That is Sir Isaac Newton's third law of motion, which sums up the essence of pilates movement. We sometimes overly focus on the aspect of "drawing into the abdominals" during pilates, as if that is the most important part of every exercise. Connecting into the core is very important, but it must be balanced out by the realization that, for every action, there is always an equal and opposite action that occurs.
It is this balance of actions that creates the "pilates body" that we're all trying to achieve!
Here is a list of exercises, with some thoughts on balanced actions, equal and opposite:
Stomach Series: abdominals draw in as the inner thighs stretch out
Hundreds: Inner thighs wrap together as the collar bones open
Magic Circle Inner Thigh Squeezes: Inner thighs press in, low back is wide
Side Kicks: Top leg stretches out long as the spine stretches out through the top of the head
Footwork: Abdominals draw in and up, inner thighs reach into the footbar
Running: One ankle lowers, the other ankle lifts
Long Stretch Series: The midline pulls through the arms as the shoulder blades slide down the back
Elephant: Heels come under as the abs scoop up
Leg Springs: Palms push into the bars as the inner thighs reach out
Standing Chest Expansion: Arms press back, arches of the feet move forward
Push Through: Heels reach forward as abdominals scoop back
Mermaid: Spine stretches up and over as the outer hip drops
Leg Pumps: Hamstrings press down as the spine lifts up
Pull ups: Abs scoop up as the head drops between arms
Going Up Front: Inner thigh lowers as the spine stretches up
Push Ups: Spine stretches out as the elbow bends back
Short Box: Abs scoop back as tail bone drops down
Hamstring Stretch: Hip plugs back as the heel stretches away
Thigh Stretch: Thigh drops down as the spine stretches up
Swimming: Spine stretches out as the tail bone stretches back Read more!
Monday, March 24, 2008
I was inspired to write this because someone in class tonight, during Rolling Like a Ball, said- "I feel like I'm going to fart!" This is a very unusual announcement. Everyone laughed, and as the teacher, I felt as though I really needed to respond. So, I said,
"Well, you know what?.... I mean.... we all fart sometimes."
Chances are, if you practice pilates regularly, you yourself have farted at least once during a class. It is embarrassing, for sure, but- don't sweat it. Its really not that big of a deal. As the instructor, I really don't care if you just farted, (except for reasons I'll state below) and your fellow students won't remember that you farted 5 minutes after. They'll probably just feel bad for you... and they should know that chances are likely that one day, they will fart in class, too!
WHY do you fart in pilates?
If you find that you typically fart during pilates exercises such as Rolling Like a Ball, the Roll Up, or Stomach Series, the way you are contracting your abdominals may be causing you to fart.
It is likely that you're "bearing down" into your pelvic floor muscles instead of "scooping the abdominals in and up, while lengthening the spine" like you should be.
In all the exercises I listed above, and others like them, there is an initial movement that begins the exercise- an abdominal contraction proceeded by spinal movement. Here are some examples of movement that could cause flatulence, and the proper way to move that avoids flatulence:
1. If you sit up on the mat and start to lay back, what direction are you moving in? Down to the mat? No. Instead, you should be scooping back along the mat, away from your pelvis.
2. During Rolling Like a Ball, which direction are you headed towards when you roll back? Down to the mat? No. You should be scooping back towards the end of the mat while sending your tailbone up.
3. During the Stomach Series, where do you bring your belly button? Into your low back? No. You should be drawing it in and up along your spine, away from your tailbone.
You'll notice that in all the incorrect ways of moving, the abdominals and pelvis move together, as if they were one solid block. Instead, you should scoop the energy in and up, away from the pelvis, to create length.
And, don't forget your breath. Holding your breath on the exertion of an exercise is almost a fart guarantee!
I should point out, I'm talking about specifically farting during pilates, not during the rest of the day. If you have a general flatulence problem, you should talk to your doctor. You should also take notice of what foods you eat before coming to pilates. Avoid foods with beans, certain fruits (melons) and vegetables (broccoli), for example.
In the end, farting is embarrassing, but think of it as your body trying to tell you something. Maybe you're not connecting in properly, or maybe you just had bean salad for lunch. Or maybe you are just trying too hard. Think of it as a rite of passage (no pun intended). You're learning more about your body, and ultimately advancing in pilates by discovering the most effective way to contract your abs!
It might also help to know what to eat, and not to eat, before a pilates class. Check out my post, "What to Eat Before Pilates": Read more!
Friday, March 21, 2008
If you've decided its time to lose weight and have begun practicing pilates, good for you! Pilates can be a perfect addition to your weight loss plan. Just remember-
Pilates is part of a weight loss plan. You must also include cardio exercise and proper nutrition to really see the results you're looking for!
If you hear famous people in Hollywood saying they "only do pilates", you can bet that they're lying! It would be great if there was just one habit you had to keep in order to stay fit and healthy, but its just not realistic to expect this with any exercise program or diet. If you try to rely on pilates by itself for your path to weight loss, you might end up disappointed. Its important to know that pilates tones and stretches your body, and helps you to achieve a lean look, though pilates alone does not really raise your heart rate high enough to be considered effective for weight loss.
A pilates teacher can help to schedule your classes, a trainer can show you how to use the treadmill, and a nutritionist can help you look at your diet. In most cases, these professionals love their jobs and would love to help you succeed at getting healthier!
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Another reason for bringing the thumbs forward with the fingers is that its proper alignment for the wrists. If your thumb is on the wrong side of the bar, your wrist is torqued and could cause wrist pain.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
In order to really understand what it means to "connect your abdominals in", you should know a bit about the abdominal muscles.
There are three layers of flat abdominal muscles, plus one pair of vertical muscle strips through the middle. In each of these segements, the muscles fibers run in a certain direction.
These muscles run in an up and down direction and resemble "strips" rather than flat layers. These are the muscles that we connect "in and up along the spine", because that is the direction of the fibers.
This picture is a cross section of the Rectus, as if you were standing, looking down at your toes.
These muscles are responsible for spinal flexion (i.e. rolling up). Sometimes, during ab work in pilates, you can lift your head and see the Rectus Abdominis popping up, like two little hills on either side of your belly button. If you do see that happen, imagine the muscle fibers running up and down your midsection, and try to draw them "in and up" the spine.
It is very challenging to do this. In fact, the next layer of abdominals I'm going to talk about will help you to do this.
This layer is the deepest layer of abdominals. The muscle fibers run in a horizontal direction.
In the picture, the Transversus is in red. There is also a little cross section cut out of the Rectus for you to see.
Because of the direction of muscle fiber, this layer cannot connect "in and up", but it can connect "in and OUT to the sides". Use this direction to help flatten the Rectus Abdominals so they don't pop up and are able to connect in and up.
This advanced technique in pilates is really what will give you a flat stomach. Just connecting one layer of abdominals in and up will not do it. You must also connect the Transversus in and OUT!
This layer of muscles is what we are working in exercises like Criss-Cross and Side Ups. These muscle fibers running diagonally downward toward the pubic bone.
This layer is just like the External Oblique layer, though the fibers run diagonally upward, towards the sternum.
You can see that each layer of abdominals runs in a different direction, so every angle of your torso has potential support.
When trying to connect into your center, imagine each layer drawing in and running in the direction of its muscle fibers. You'll get much more out of the pilates workout, and you'll see a new kind of result. This is what separates pilates from traditional crunches at the gym.
Like I said, this is an advanced technique. You must first practice just connecting "in and up", then later, begin thinking about the other layers of deep abdominals working as well. Read more!
Monday, March 17, 2008
Right now, the buzz around my studio, Rhinebeck Pilates, is about a recent New York Times article titled, "An Enduring Measure of Fitness: The Simple Push-Up".
One reason for all the talk about push-ups is because most people hate doing push-ups! But we are also talking about the very real reasons, as the article tells us, why we need to practice push-ups.
Sometimes, what you hate is what you actually really need to do!
And that is the premise of the NY Times article. The article points out that the push-up,
"...tests the whole body, engaging muscle groups in the arms, chest, abdomen, hips, and legs.... The act of lifting and lowering one's entire weight is taxing even for the very fit."
The article continues to point out that arm and upper body strength are particularly important as we age. Push-ups in particular not only strength the arms and back, but also train our muscles to use "muscle memory" when breaking a fall. For example, to break a fall, the necessary arm movement to stop impact resembles that of a push-up.
Not only is upper body strength required to break falls, but also to help yourself back up after falling.
How do push-ups fit in with pilates? Well, like it or not, push ups are part of Joe's original mat work series!
If you feel as though you can lower down into a push-up easily, but just can't get back up, here are some suggestions:
-Don't rely on your arms to do all the work. Use the midline. Lift and push the WHOLE midline up each time.
-Lengthen the midline out through the top of the head and out through the heels, equal in both directions, as you lower and as you lift.
-Look straight in between your hands, not down or forward.
-Specially, use the abdominals and inner thighs to help lift you up. Don't leave the inner thighs hanging as you try to push up, you'll feel it in your back and you'll never get all the way up.
Push-up bars are very helpful if you have wrist pain during push-ups, or if- for some insane reason- you want to make push-ups harder.
If you have wrist pain during push ups, see my post, "Wrist Pain During Plank Positions", located in BODY.
To find out how many push-ups you should be able to do at your age, see this calculator:
For more the NY Times article I've sited:
If you have wrist pain during push ups or plank positions in general, see my post, "Wrist Pain During Plank Positions":
http://headsuponyourbody.blogspot.com/2008/03/wrist-pain-during-plank-positions.html Read more!
I was just talking with a friend of mine the other day, who is about three months pregnant with her first baby. She’s always enjoyed running but was complaining that she feels to nauseous to run lately, and mentioned that she might want to try doing pilates while she’s pregnant. Know what I said to her?
You should start doing pilates before you become pregnant! In fact, most doctors say that you shouldn’t start any new type of exercise after you become pregnant.
There are a few reasons against starting pilates while pregnant. Pilates works the deep, core muscles- which are an effort to find even when not pregnant. To focus on the core in a pilates session for the first time while carrying a baby is a lot on the system, and may be too much.
Pilates is also three-dimensional exercise that places the body in a lot of different positions during the hour, including inversions, laying on the stomach, abdominal work, and periods of time laying on the back. All of these positions are contraindicated for pregnant women! If you are first learning pilates, but have to leave so many positions out, its very challenging to understand the fundamentals behind the method.
However, if you are absolutely determined to start pilates while pregnant, and you’re physically fit (and you probably are if you’re reading this blog!) you can ask your doctor for permission. Most doctors and pilates instructors will advise that you wait until early 2nd trimester to begin. Starting sooner can be possibly detrimental. Waiting too long might make pilates sessions nearly impossible! Though, nothing is really impossible with pilates :)
If you do get permission from both your doctor, ask your friends to recommend a pilates instructor who has experience with pregnancy. Your teacher should know the “do’s and don’ts” of pilates for pregnancy.
Basically, all the “don’ts” are the positions I listed above… which are many! If you’re determined to start pilates while pregnant, its important that you don’t expect a kick-butt workout from the sessions. Pilates can be very intense and really is a kick-butt workout, but not while you are pregnant and especially if you’re new to the method.
While pregnant, you can expect:
-A lot of arm work, both standing and kneeling, with weights, springs, and bars on the equipment.
-Side-lying leg work, with or without springs.
-Exercises with the Magic Circle.-Many exercises can be done sitting or standing with the pilates Chair.
-The physioball is awesome for arm, leg, balance, back, and stretching exercises.
Your instructor will also probably focus on your breath and posture as your pregnancy continues, to help you avoid low back or neck pain as your tummy grows.
The benefits to using pilates for pregnancy are innumerable! The best bet is to start before your pregnancy, to help prepare your body for the changes its about to undergo, and to keep your back, legs, and abs strong over the nine months. If you do start pilates while pregnant, it can be good to relieve some problems that start to come up. Then, after pregnancy, when you want to tone your whole body and work out harder, you can continue with your new pilates addiction!
Look for this article on www.bookieboo.com, beginning Wednesday, March 19, 2008. Read more!
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Instead of crossing your ankles or knees while you sit, place both feet flat on the floor and stretch your spine upwards to lift your body weight up out of your waist.
Also, notice if you cross your ankles while watching tv, laying in bed, and at periods of rest in your pilates or yoga classes.
Habitually crossing your legs isn't balanced- it has a domino effect all the way up your spine. If your feet are the base of the body, and they're crossed, a similar twisting and tightening energy travels up into the rest of your body. This tightening rests at points on the way up, specifically in your low back or neck.
As a pilates teacher, I've been taught to notice this. If a student comes in, complaining of neck pain, they are very likely to cross their ankles subconsciously during exercises like Kneeling Chest Expansion and Swan on the tower.
So next time you're sitting at the computer and feel low back or neck pain coming on, stop for a minute and notice how you are sitting and what your feet are doing. If you're sitting like the dude in the photo, get thyself to pilates! Read more!
I'm not a big fan of pilates variations, but this little additional move after Push Through on the tower is so fun and feels so great that I just have to share it with anyone who doesn't already add it into their Push Through movements.
After a few rounds of the regular Push Through (stretching up with the push through bar, rounding back, then pushing through), try adding these two flowing stretches:
-Begin the stretch after the last time you push UP on the bar.
-Take the right hand off the push through bar, palm up, and reach that arm back behind you. Follow your hand with your eyes. Stretch your arm back so its about shoulder height above the mat while your leg arm is also straight. Its almost like you are "hanging back" from the push through bar, but your whole body is really stretching out long.
When you do this long stretch, be sure to reach both heels into the poles, especially the right heel. This way, your whole body is stretching, in more than one direction.
-Next, keeping both arms straight the whole time, bring your right arm around the front of your body, under the push through bar, and grab hold onto the inside of the left pole, above the left foot. This is a sweeping motion of the arm from the back end of the mat all the way around to the front and to the pole. Push up on the push through bar with your leg hand.
Use your waist to twist into this position, and stretch UP on the push through bar so your spine is lengthening up.
Repeat with the left arm.
1. For a more advanced variation, add this in before you circle it forward to the left pole: Keep your eyes on your right hand.
After you stretch the right arm back behind you, continue following your hand with your eyes as you reach it further and further back behind you, until you can't take it back any further. Your waist will be stretching back more and more. In a "dancer-like movement", sweep the right arm overhead and almost try to touch the left corner of the push through bar.
Its one of the most amazing side stretches ever!
Be sure to keep following your hand with your eyes. After this extra stretch, reverse the movement, back all the way around to the left pole above your foot. Think of this variation as making a large, circular movement with your arm and torso.
2. Instead of holding onto the left pole from inside the pole, flip your hand around to hold the outside of the pole. Read more!
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Whenever you hang from or stretch from the trapeze on the cadillac, do you feel your hands painfully transform into raven-like claws from holding onto the bars? Ouch!
Do your feet cramp during Parakeet on the tower?
Or do you slip backwards on the chair during leg pumps on the chair?
One of my favorite ways to almost totally eliminate these problems is so simple. Go to the kitchen utencil isle at the grocery store and buy a roll of kitchen drawer liner. Buy the kind that's sticky and foamy with little holes in it. Cut the liner into 1 foot squares.
You can wrap one square around each bar where your hands are going to hold on the cadillac for trapeze work. The liner works as padding for your hands, and is also sticky so it won't slip off.
These home-made sticky pads can be used for all kinds of exercises around the studio... you can sit on one during Stomach Massage on the reformer, or sit on one during Leg Pumps on the chair. You can wrap them around the push through bar so your feet don't cramp during Parakeet. You can even stand on one during Long Stretch.
A cool thing about these home-made pads is that a whole roll costs less than $5 and they come in a million different colors so you can color-coordinate them with your studio!
Some teachers out there consider using sticky pads to be cheating... and to be honest, it kind of is like cheating to use the sticky pads.
All the problems listed above can be fixed with proper form.
So just use the sticky pads as helpers towards your form! Read more!
Friday, March 14, 2008
You may have noticed that I've written a few posts on sciatica, and I also happen to be a pilates instructor and do pilates myself. It may have you wondering, does pilates cause sciatica?
No, pilates does not cause sciatica, but there are certain positions and movements in pilates that can spark sciatica if done incorrectly for your specific body.
If you feel sciatic twinges after a pilates session, or if your low back aches and feels tight (a possible sign of upcoming sciatica) after pilates, you might need to look at these factors:
1. Spring Tension
If your springs are too heavy, you could be bracing down into your low back and shoulders in an effort to push your legs out. This undue pressure into your back could create muscle tension-induced sciatica.
2. Extreme External Rotation
If you turn your legs out too far, you are not only using poor form, you're sending all the energy of the rotation straight into your low back, the place where sciatica typically originates from.
A good rule of thumb is, rotate you legs so there is a fist's width between your big toes.
If you look down and see that your feet are turned out wider than a fist's width, you're turning out too far.
3. Squeezing your sitz bones.
When externally rotating your legs, its just the bones and muscles gently spinning into the position. This rotation shouldn't feel any more tense than just standing with your legs parallel.
Squeezing your butt tightly while turning your legs out is one of the number 1 causes of pilates-induced sciatica.
You can "hold on" to your sitz bones too much during any pilates exercise, no matter what the position. If you think that this is what's attributing to your pain, ask your teacher to help you learn to drop the sitz bones... you'll work more from your core and less from the periphery!
4. Connecting into your abdominals incorrectly
Be sure that you're not pushing your low back down into the mat as you connect your belly button to your spine. Keeping neutral pelvis and the natural curve of your lower spine while you connect in is not only the proper way to do pilates, but it will also save your back from pain and even strengthen your back and abdominals.
5. Specific exercises
Try leaving out one of these exercises each session, and see how you feel the next day. Sometimes these exercises just don't work for people prone to sciatica:
-Climb a Tree
These are just some suggestions to try with your instructor! Always be sure to tell your instructor how you feel before, during, and after your session so they can help you figure out what is inducing the sciatica and to structure the best session for your body! Read more!
Has anyone ever told you that you only use 10 percent of your brain?
Doesn't that question get you thinking about the potential for the other 90%? What could it be used for? Psychic abilities? Advanced reformer exercises?!
Wrap your mind around this- the saying, "you only use 10 percent of your brain" is a myth.
The exact origins of this myth are unclear, though its obvious that this myth is just an interpretation of what scientists have actually found to be true. Brain scanning techniques have shown that although we do not use 100% of our brains at all times, we do most every portion of our brain at one point during the day.
Every daily activity (eating, brushing your teeth) requires a small part of the brain to be active. The more complex the activity, the more parts of the brain are active to accomplish the task. Therefore, a simple glance at brain research would tell the novice that we only use a small portion of our brains, and that's it. A more thorough look at brain research would reveal that we eventually end up using all parts of our brain throughout the day, as our activities becomes more and more complex.
How does this relate to pilates and being physically active? The more complex the activity you're trying to accomplish, the more "brain" you require to work. Pilates is a complex activity that requires coordination, precision, and focus to move all the parts of your body at once. Other complex movements and sports (yoga, dancing, basketball, etc) also call on multiple parts of the brain to kick into action.
Pilates exercises such as Coordination, Snake, Butterfly, and most chair exercises (just to name a few) are great examples complex movements that require complex brain function!
For a more detailed article on this myth, its origins, and real brain research, see:
http://www.snopes.com/science/stats/10percent.asp Read more!
Thursday, March 13, 2008
If you've read my previous post and decided that you have the space and desire to add pilates equipment to your at-home gym, here are some suggestions of equipment to buy. This selection is based on what takes up the least amount of space, yet offers the most possible exercises.
If you want a reformer and really have the space for one, why not get a reformer/tower combination unit? They both take up the same amount of space (the heights are different obviously) and you can get a lot more use out of a combo unit than just one reformer or one tower.
A Reformer/Tower is the best, most versitile piece of equipment to get, and you should have no problem reselling it in the future if need be. If you have the money and the space, get one.
The best bet is to buy the brand you have the most practice with.
Don't be fooled into buying a reformer with a million footbar positions or a reformer that folds up and goes in the corner. Stick with the design most like Joe's original plans, and you'll be satisifed.
If you plan to order a metal Gratz unit, know that while it is a superior brand, they are extremely heavy and cannot be easily moved once in place.
Small Barrel or Spine Corrector
If you have limited space, a small barrel gives a lot of "bang for the buck".
You can do the Short Box Series, 2nd Long Box, leg work, arm work, mat work, and stretches on these harmless looking little guys.
Peak makes a cool Barrel called the Instep Barrel, which is a Spine Corrector with removable barrel. This piece would give you the most exercise possibilities. If you're trying to keep costs down, I suggest ordering a Small Barrel. Ask your instructor which barrel height is best for your body.
Different brands have different names for these barrels, so you'll have to search the sites for the right ones.
The Chair definitely high on the list for pieces of home-pilates equipment because that's why Joseph Pilates originally designed it. He created as a Reformer for a NYC apartment. The chair is widely considered to be one of the first pieces of home exercise equipment.
Since it is a reformer for the home, most reformer exercises can be done on the chair similar to the ways they are done on the reformer. There are also many moves unique to the chair.
You could buy a simple Wunda Chair, or for even more versitility, buy the Electric Chair. Peak makes a nice electric chair that has a back piece that can be removed while leaving the handles on, for even more possibilities.
While the physioball is not really pilates equipment, it is so useful and amazing on its own. So many reformer exercises can be adapted to the ball, its really cool. The ball rocks the abdominals and legs, and you can do great back extensions as well.
Balls can be ordered from many online sites, or bought at any sporting goods store. Ask your instructor which size ball is best for your body.