Exercising for Two

When asked to advise on fitness during pregnancy, often my response is: start a little sooner. So if you’re pregnant and a little bit delighted because it’s time for you to sit back and eat for two, please reconsider. The second person you’re considering is very tiny and requires little need of Chinese takeout and a pizza.

It is possible to put on too much weight in pregnancy and this can affect your health and your baby’s. Guidelines suggest an average of 300- 500 calories extra per day.

In most cases, once you have medical clearance from your doctor, it is perfectly healthy, advisable even, to continue exercising. Exercise at a controlled intensity has been proven to reduce the length of labor and decrease delivery complications. It also helps to prevent back pain and improves your energy levels.

All good news then, but safety is always your primary concern.

So here are a few tips to ensure you are exercising safely:

- Keep your intensity under control and stay hydrated.

- During pregnancy your posture changes which affects your balance. Try to avoid any exercise that involves any quick or sudden changes in direction.

- These postural changes can also be responsible for back and pelvic pain, so ideally the type of exercise you choose to do should address this. Pilates-based programs are specifically designed for analyzing and correcting body posture.

- The most important muscles to strengthen at this time are your pelvic floor and glute muscles, both helping to stabilize the pelvis.

With all this to think about it is worth considering bringing a qualified trainer on board.

Improve Your Spine Health

Are your current breathing practices helping you stay fit, or contributing to back pain, shoulder pain or neck pain?
Do you know if your current breathing habits are helping your posture or only making it worse?

We breathe to keep us alive, but oftentimes we take our breathing habits for granted. Breathing is normally on autopilot. We take in air the moment we are born, and the last thing we do is exhale when we die. Every second of the day of our entire life, our heart pumps life’s blood through our system, and our lungs and diaphragm work together to provide nourishing oxygen to our blood and cells to help keep us alive.

It’s good to know that we don’t have to think about every breath to stay alive, but improved breathing habits have many added benefits to keep us healthy.

There are 3 Distinct Curves of the Spine:

1. Lumbar Curve – An arch in the lower back. (Ideally with the apex of the arch at L3 –the belly button.)


2. Thoracic Curve – A rounded, flexed upper back. (The curve of the shoulder blades rests on the curve of the ribcage that is attached to the curve of the spine.)


3. Cervical Curve – An arch in the neck. (Which mirrors the arch in the Lumbar spine.)

These three curves help in maintaining balance and serve as shock-absorbers as we move, sit, stand, walk, and run.
What Happens If These 3 Curves Are Not Functioning Properly?
Our sense of balance is compromised, and there can be unnecessary stress placed on other parts of our torso, neck, and back. Movement can be restricted, and injuries can result.

Recognizing and improving your breath may help improve the elongation and movement of your spine. What Are Your Breathing Habits?
 Become aware of your breathing habits: Stand in front of a mirror and watch yourself breathe. Where does the air go when you inhale?

• Into the Belly?

• Into the Back, and Lower Ribs?

• Into the Chest?

If the air goes into the belly when you inhale – there is no support in the front of your Lumbar Curve. This puts more stress on your lower back. Your back may be arching more on your inhale causing your back bones to come closer, producing compression instead of decompression when you inhale and even more compression when you exhale.

If the air goes into your chest when you inhale – you are extending more your Thoracic Curve, your whole back is probably arching more. The result: more tension in your mid-to-lower back and a reduced ability to fill your lungs with air. Your breathing will be fast and shallow, with over-worked back muscles, and abdominals not functioning well enough to give you more balance and support. Your shoulders will likely elevate increasing tension in the neck and shoulders, and your head will probably be out of balance with the rest of the spine.

Knowing how to inhale to fill the back, bottom ribs first, then maintaining to fill the lungs up through the back of the torso is vital for better breathing and improved whole-body health.

This is called Posterio-Lateral Breathing. Traditionally, this is a Pilates breathing technique. Your breathing goes into the back and sides of your ribcage, since the ribs are attached to the spine, if you start filling air at the bottom first – the ribs will elevate and separate as the air goes in. The result is that your inhale will pull each segment of the spine apart, providing more space between each joint, decompressing pressure on the spine.

Using this Posterio-Lateral/Back Rib Breathing technique will allow your ribcage lift up off the hips while sustaining and lengthening the natural curves of your spine. With practice, this helps improve body posture, decreases back pain, and can help improve range of motion for functional movement of your spine.

source: www.selfworth.com

Tips for Improving Core Strength

Learning to use your core properly to support the body and develop effective functional movement habits is essential to reducing back problems, improve body mechanics, increasing strength, mobility and support.

Whether your goal is to enhance sports performance, or just enjoy an adequate amount of fitness for a happy life, learning to find and use your core muscles and incorporate core training exercises into your workouts can help ensure great whole-body health.

Contrary to what many people believe, using the arms to crank the head and shoulders up off the ground for a sit-up isn’t the most effective way to improve core strength. With this “cheating” habit, the arms are doing more work than the Abs. And if the arms aren’t trying to do all the work… the legs try to do it. The front of the thighs instinctively grip, the pelvis tucks and the glutes squeezed tight – all of which jams the hips and makes it more difficult to use the right muscles of the abs to support the length of the torso and achieve a true core workout.

The Muscles of your Core

Imagine your Core like a box. The foundation of the core is the pelvic floor. The top of the core is the diaphragm. In between the pelvic bones and the rib cage are your abdominal muscles. The lowest layer is the transverse abdominis, on your sides are your internal & external obliques on the surface is your rectus abdominis. In the back your core muscles are the Erector Spinae muscles which lie along either side of your spine, and your multifidus which connects through the vertebre.

Every muscle of the core needs to be properly trained to work the core effectively. With proper core work we are able to strengthen the abs and provide proper support to the spine. The end result, the development of a fit, strong, stable, freely mobile spine that makes it easy to support the body and move in any direction. A thousand crunches, (OK, a little exaggeration…) but if you’re only doing crunches to “strengthen your Abs”….you’re probably putting more strain on your back than helping improve core strength. With crunches alone you may not be utilizing all the parts of the core that need to be developed. There’s a chance you may not even realize that some of these muscles exist, much less have the capability to fire them.

Which Muscles Need to Be Worked To Improve Core Strength?

Exercises for all of the core muscles should be incorporated into your strength training workouts. Use of these muscles should be practiced every day to strengthen maintaining proper core support for sport, recreation, and daily life activities.

If you’re uncertain where some of these muscles are, or how to feel them contract, it’s a logical assumption that you might not be optimizing your core training efforts during your workouts, and probably not using enough good Core support throughout the day.

STOTT Pilates trained instructors can help you find all of your core muscles, engage them and use them during simple daily activities such as sitting and standing.

Source: www.selfgrowth.com

Pilates: Side Plank

Focusing your mind and body on great technique is the essence of pilates. Side plank is one example of an exercise that requires focus from both. Side Plank helps improve upper body strength, it can also be the reason for shoulder pain or injury if done improperly. It is imperative for you to use correct shoulder mechanics during while moving into the exercise, holding the plank and moving out of the plank to avoid unnecessary injuries.

3 BENEFITS OF SIDE PLANK:

1. Improves Balance to Support the Body


2. Helps Strengthen the Upper Body & Shoulders


3. Improves Lateral Core Control

The Side Plank exercise is one of the original Pilates Matwork exercises that Joseph Pilates describes in his book Return to Life. In Return to Life, the Side Plank exercise is called The Side Bend. Regardless of the name you use for this exercise, here are a few exercise tips to help you improve technique and get the best whole-body health benefits from your workouts.

PILATES TIPS TO EXECUTE A SAFE AND EFFECTIVE SIDE PLANK

Starting Position:

• Sit on your right hip with the knees slightly bent. Preferably the legs are stacked on top of each other. Or, place the top leg forward, feet hip width apart, to help keep the hips stacked and assist with balance.


• Support on the right arm, under / inline with the shoulder, with the fingers pointing away from the body.


• Keep the right elbow bent and the shoulder pulling down away from the ear.
• The left arm rests along the left side of the body.


• Eyes look straight ahead.

Executing The Side Plank Exercise:

• Inhale, pull down the shoulder blade and begin lifting the ribcage, hips, and thighs up off the mat. Balance on the right arm and shoulder, and side of the foot.

• The non-supporting arm can assist by reaching up to the ceiling to create a T-shape. Having both arms reach away from the body helps to spread the shoulder blades and activate the serratus and lat muscles to support the lifted position.

• Using the Pelvic Floor will help balance and body control.

• Activate the muscles along the outside of the supporting leg to keep the hips lifted.

Source: www.selfgrowth.com

• Hold the body lifted up off the mat and breathe.
The goal is to hold the plank for a minimum of 30 seconds.

• To transition out of the exercise, bend the elbow and pull the shoulder down first, then with control, begin lowering the hip to the mat.

High Heels Survival Tips

For many of the women who in with ankle, knee or lower back pain, the cause is the same. High heels.
If you’re attached to your high heels, the following stretches – three times a day at least – will help give you maximum style points for minimum injury risk.

1. Calf stretch

Stand with your toes on the edge of a step and relax your heels down, until you feel a stretch through the back of your legs. Stretch for 45-60 seconds.

2. Thigh stretch

Counteracting the anterior tilt that heels cause to the pelvis. When in a standing position simply lift your ankle to your bottom, pushing the hip forward. Hold for 45-60 secs. Repeat for the other leg.

3. Arch stretch

By shortening the muscles under the foot, high heels put pressure on the Achilles tendon and calf, and can cause the arch to fall and the knee to rotate internally. To stretch out these muscles, roll a golf ball slowly under the arch with as much downward pressure as you can take, especially on any knots. It’s painful but worth it.

4. Toe stretch

An easy stretch that you can do at your desk. Pull your toes back and up, and hold for 60 secs. You’re working and strengthening the shin muscle, counterbalancing the shortening effects of heels on your calf muscles.

5. Remember

High heels are designed for standing around in looking glamorous, not for hiking. So wear flats to and from work and keep heels under your desk for going out.

Source: Ten Pilates

Can Pilates Help Your Tennis Game?

Sports place their own distinct set of pressures and stresses on the body – usually resulting in its own distinct set of injuries. Tennis is no exception.

Tennis is a high speed, high impact, power-based game, requiring rotation and extension through the spine and putting particular stress on the shoulder – usually one, rather than both. Unsurprisingly, back, hip, knee and shoulder injuries are amongst the most common.

Whether you’re a social player or a budding pro, Pilates can not only help reduce the number of common tennis injuries you pick up, it can also improve your movement, power and ultimately, your game itself.

Here’s how:

*Knees
The high speed and high impact nature if tennis means the joints take a beating, particularly if you’re playing on the harder surfaces like tarmac, indoor or all-weather courts. Tennis players need strong stabilizing muscles in order to cope with the short sprints and sharp turns. Key stabilizers for tennis players are the Glutes. Pilates is a particularly effective way to isolate and strengthen these muscles, helping them stabilize the knee and produce power when moving and lunging laterally.

*Shoulder

A lot of strain goes through the shoulder, especially during the service. Strong rotator cuff muscles are essential to stabilize and mobilize the shoulder through the range of movement required to serve with power.

In addition, the nature of most tennis strokes mean that regular players typically have posture-based imbalances through the shoulder that can lead to injuries if unaddressed.

Pilates is an excellent way to strengthen, stabilize and mobilize both the shoulder and rotator cuff, enabling you to spend less time on the couch and more time on court.

*The spine

In tennis, much of the power comes from rotation and extension through the spine. To produce these movements you need a mixture of strength and flexibility. Pilates will help loosen some of the typically tight muscles through the chest, shoulders and upper back, while strengthening the muscles through the waist. This increase in both the strength of the rotator muscles and the range of motion combines to generate more power through your strokes.

*Flexibility and suppleness

No matter what level you play at, you’re often trying to return a ball from an imperfect position, stretching forwards, sideways or overhead and frequently off-balance. Pilates’ focuses on strong core muscles will help you generate more power and reduce the risk of injury when you’re off balance, and recover your balance faster. And by increasing flexibility through the lower back, and hips, Pilates will also help you get down lower for the drop shots and up higher for the lobs.

Source: TenPilates

Ten Reason to Do Pilates


1. Pilates works your whole body

Pilates training focuses on core strength, it trains the body as an integrated whole. Pilates workouts promote strength and balanced muscle development as well as flexibility and increased range of motion for the joints.

2. Adaptable to Many Fitness Levels and Needs

Whether you are a senior just starting to exercise, an elite athlete or somewhere in between, the foundations of Pilates movement apply to you. Building from core strength, focusing on proper alignment, and a body/mind integrative approach make Pilates accessible to all. With thousands of possible exercises and modifications, Pilates workouts can be tailored to individual needs.

3. Creates Strength Without Bulk

Long, lean muscles are the name of the game here. In Pilates, we are not looking to build muscles for show. We are building toned muscles that work perfectly within the context of the body as a whole, and the functional fitness needs of a person as they move through life.

4. Increases Flexibility

In Pilates we work toward a safe increase in length and stretch of the muscles and range of motion within the joints.

5. Develops Core Strength

The core muscles of the body are the deep muscles of the back, abdomen, and pelvic floor. These are the muscles we rely on to support a strong, supple back, good posture, and efficient movement patterns. When the core is strong, the frame of the body is supported. This means the neck and shoulders can relax, and the rest of the muscles and joints are freed to do their. A nice side benefit is that the core training promotes the flat abs that we all covet.

6. Improves Posture

Good posture is a reflection good alignment supported by a strong core. It is a position from which one can move freely. Pilates movements through exercises on mat and on pilates apparatus, train the body to work with strength and fluidity.

7. Increases Energy

It might seem like a paradox, but the more you exercise, the more energy you have and the more you feel like doing (to a point, of course). Pilates gets the breath and circulation moving, stimulates the spine and muscles, and floods the body with the good feelings one gets from exercising the whole body.

8. Promotes Weight Loss and Long, Lean Appearance

If you practice Pilates regularly, it will change your body. Known for creating long, strong muscles and a leaner look; Pilates improves muscle tone, balances musculature, supports beautiful posture, and teaches you to move with ease and grace. All of these things will make you look and feel very fit.

9. Increases Awareness – Body/Mind Connection

Joseph Pilates was adamant that Pilates, or contrology as he called it, was about “the complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit.” This is one of the secrets of Pilates exercise: we practice each movement with total attention. When we exercise in this way, the body and mind unite to bring forth the most benefit possible from each exercise. The Pilates principles — centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow — are key concepts that we use to integrate body and mind.

10. There are Many Ways to Learn Pilates

Pilates instruction is easy to come by these days. The ever-growing popularity of Pilates has put it on the map all over the world. It is important to start with a certified Pilates instructor who can provide you with safe and efficient instruction. To supplement your learning you can learn to practice at home.

Importance of Pilates During Pregnancy


Pilates is an ideal form of exercise for pregnancy. It is no impact, focuses on balancing and core strengthening. By practicing Pilates throughout your pregnancy, you will maintain a stronger core, experience a more comfortable pregnancy and delivery, and recover more quickly. Pilates will also help you to get back into your pre pregnancy clothes quicker.

As a woman’s posture changes during pregnancy many women experience back pain. As the baby moves your center of gravity forwards your low back experiences additional sway. In addition, the extra weight of larger breasts may cause your shoulders to round forward putting strain on your neck, shoulders and upper back. Pilates helps to release tension in these areas and also increase mobility and postural awareness. Even if you have good posture, pregnancy can challenge your ability to maintain it. Working on your posture while pregnant can alleviate muscle tension and reduce stain on your muscles, joints and ligaments.

A thorough prenatal Pilates practice focuses on stretching, relaxing and gentle toning. Strengthening your core, pelvic floor muscles and improving your breathing will go a long way to easing delivery and speeding up your recovery. In addition, the Pilates emphasis on deep breathing is wonderful for relieving stress and increasing circulation, which in turn minimizing the risk of varicose veins and leg cramps. After birth, it is recommended that you wait at least 6 to 8 weeks to resume your Pilates practice.

The Benefits of Pilates During Pregnancy Include:

•Maintain strong core muscles -Increasing the deep abdominal strength provides support for the weight of the baby and takes pressure off the spine
•Strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and create greater awareness of the muscles used during childbirth
•Increase energy levels
•Improve your evolving center of balance
•Improving muscle endurance especially in your core
•Reduce your chances of developing chronic low back pain
•Improve breathing & lung capacity
•Increase circulation – reduces the chances of developing edema (water retention)
•Promotes emotional centeredness and sense of calm – Promoting relaxation through the use of flowing movements and focus on breath
•Re-gain your pre-pregnancy body faster

Please consult with your Health Care Provider prior to attending class. No experience necessary.

Source: Forrest Pilates

Why Should Men Do Pilates?

Despite the growth of Pilates, there seems to be a misconception among men that Pilates is only for women. Women have been the first to adopt the method in masses, but Pilates is just as beneficial for men as it is for women. Pilates is not, and never was a gender thing. As a matter of fact, Pilates was developed by a man who was a boxer and a gymnast.

When men try Pilates for the first time they are surprised to find out that Pilates is not easy. Jack Cohn, a CEO of a commercial production company who took on Pilates to deal with back injuries, was marveled by the difficulty and the athleticism required by the Pilates method. His trainer Regina Joseph in an article in Pilates Style magazine shares what Jack whispered to her at one point; “Boy, I’d never expected it to be this tough. I always thought Pilates was… you know, kind of girly.”

Why Men Need Pilates More Than Women.

Many physiotherapist, doctors and sport coaches agree that based on men’s biomechanical and physical needs they could benefit from Pilates more than women. The reason is simple.

•As boys, men start training in sports earlier than girls and due to poor training practices at a young age, they don’t develop core strength and correct exercise habits. Through time, lower abdominal weaknesses and destructive workout routines can result in back pain and inflexibility, especially in the hamstrings.

•Men don’t bother to stretch after an activity and if they do they do it quickly and without much focus. Over time they develop microscopic tears in the muscles. With time scar tissue develops and when the muscle is fatigued it loses flexibility.

•Men don’t know how to engage the transversus abdominis properly. In other words, they don’t use their abs correctly.

STOTT Pilates instructors teach men how to regain flexibility, engage the core correctly and begin to treat many of the injuries and misalignments that men frequently impose on themselves.

Source: Forrest Pilates

The Importance of the Psoas Muscle

Feeling strong in your core ultimately depends upon a healthy and responsive psoas. The psoas (pronounced so-as) is your core muscle and an integral aspect of a centered and functional body. As a major player in back pain, knee injuries and tight hip sockets, it is often the exhausted psoas that disrupts range of motion, as well as digestion and bladder functioning.

WHERE IS THE PSOAS?

Your psoas is located deep within your core, growing out of the spine at approximately the twelfth thoracic vertebra (the area called the solar plexus), and moves through the pelvis, crossing over the ball and socket joints into the inner thighbones at the lesser trochanter. Being the only muscle to connect your spine to your legs, the psoas moves through the core like a pendulum synchronizing the free swinging of the leg when walking.

WHAT DOES THE PSOAS DO?

With a psoas on each side of your spine, this tissue communicates relationships between right and left, back and front, upper and lower body. Located behind the large abdominal muscles, digestive and reproductive organs, arteries and veins at the skeletal core, your psoas creates a muscular shelf that your kidneys and adrenals rest on. As you breathe and your diaphragm moves, your psoas gently massages the abdominal organs, stimulates blood circulation and enhances the flow of synovial fluid.
The psoas is complex and mysterious, and though defined as a muscle, it is actually a very sensitive and responsive tissue; a vital part of your survival fear response, also called the flight/fight and freeze reflex. As part of the fear response, it is your psoas that propels you into a full run, kicks your leg in defense or curls you into a protective ball while falling. The psoas responds to the full range of the both sympathetic (survival) and the parasympathetic (thriving) nervous systems.

HOW TO IDENTIFY AN EXHAUSTED PSOAS

The psoas becomes exhausted when it is overused, misused and abused. Whenever there is a loss of skeletal proprioception, unresolved trauma and defensive muscular development there will be depleted adrenal health and an exhausted psoas. Poor ergonomics and traumatic events can cause compensations that lead to a shortened, dry and exhausted psoas. If your psoas feels constricted, it may be a reflection of the chair you sit on, the shoes you wear, the stress of sports or fitness activities you engage in (or not), and/or the emotional or physical injuries that you’ve sustained but have not yet healed from. Car accidents, falls, abuse and habitual behaviors are often the cause of muscular/skeletal imbalances that invariably demand help from the psoas.

Here are some visual clues to look for:

•When there are any tips, dips and torques in the pelvis, the psoas is being engaged to try and maintain poor core coherency.
•Overdeveloped muscles pull on the skeletal system causing core disruption and evoking a response from the psoas. For example, powerful quads can pull the pelvic basin forward and down.
•Tight, restrained or locked hip sockets are often a result of sacral Iliac injury or dysfunction and a clear sign that the psoas is compensating for healthy proprioceptive joint response.
•Low back, knee, ankle and toe problems all suggest the psoas is involved. Over time, the delicate psoas tissue dries and shrinks compensating for healthy skeletal balance.

TAKING CARE OF THE PSOAS

As a messenger of the central nervous system the psoas should not be manipulated. Having your psoas directly palpated is not only painful but can be harmful causing bruising, broken arteries and hernias, as well as evoking old trauma without resolution. Manipulating the psoas simply does not address the reason why your psoas is constricted. Although invasive techniques may sometimes achieve temporary relief, they ultimately do not address the messengers’ message.

The best way to sustain or regain a healthy psoas is by listening to its message and resolving dysfunctional patterns and habits. By creating coherency through somatic awareness, you can revitalize the psoas thus gaining a deeper level of core integrity. Working with, not against, the psoas will bring you into direct contact with your deepest fears, but it will also connect you with an instinctive wisdom and deep relaxation within your belly core that increases functional movement and self-expression.
Releasing stress accumulated each day helps keep the psoas invigorated. Take a leisurely walk, enjoy a soothing bath (with Epson salts or sea salts added) and keep your feet supple. Check out the shoes you wear. Are they comfortable and neutral with low heels and bendable soles? Are they wide and long enough for all your toes to move? Choose a desk chair that has a firm or padded flat bottom, and fill in the bucket seat in your car with a flat folded towel or wedge. Sit on top and in front of your sits bones with both feet on the floor and keep your hip sockets slightly higher than your knees.

CONSTRUCTIVE REST POSITION

The constructive rest position (CRP offers a safe, comfortable position to release both physical and emotional tension in the psoas. It helps to relieve low back, pelvic and hip tension and allows your whole body to gain the core neutrality that is so important before beginning an exercise or activity. Simply rest on your back, knees bent with feet on the floor parallel to each other, the width apart of the front of your hip sockets. Place your heels approximately 16 inches away from your buttocks. Do not push your low back to the floor or tuck your pelvis. Keep your arms below shoulder height, resting them over your ribcage, by your sides or on your belly. Rest in this constructive position 10 to 20 minutes every day. In CRP gravity works for you, releasing tension throughout your psoas and helping to reestablish neuro-biological rhythms that calm and refresh.

Source: Pro Pilates