Importance of Spinal Extension


Extension of the spine is the opposite of flexion. From a terminology standpoint, it’s helpful to be specific. If the cue is “bend the spine” it could move in one of three directions. Forward (spine flexion), Backward (spine extension), or Sideways (lateral flexion). The other direction our spine moves is to rotate or twist. Normally “bending” means flexion, or moving the body forward towards the legs. Extension would be taking the body backwards in the opposite direction, OR un-bending.

A Back Out of Balance

Without active thought during daily life activities, we can lose the three natural curves of the spine, and all of a sudden our posture is well, kind of poor. Our head may be sitting forward on the neck from too many hours straining to look at a computer screen. Our shoulders and upper back may be hunched forward from slumping in our chairs, or spending all day doing things bending forward. After all, we really don’t do anything in daily life with our arms behind us. If the upper body slump becomes extreme it’s called kyphosis.

When we’re standing, we may get lazy and forget to maintain some support through the mid-section. With the abdominals hanging farther out to the front, the lower back will get pulled forward too, creating a more noticeable lumbar curve. If we become sway becomes extreme in the low back it’s called lordosis.

The body will strive for balance. If there’s too much going on at one end, it’s going to make some changes at the other end to compensate. Over time it will tell the brain that these changes were done to be in a normal, balanced position. At some point, the brain will accept the changes as the way it’s supposed to be, and voila. You now have a body that won’t fight for a better position, because it thinks it’s placed where it should be.

The Importance of Practicing Spine Extension

Spine extension is very important for posture and health. Since there is very little in life that we do bending backwards, taking time with exercise to move this direction can help keep our backs in balance. Ideally, every segment of the spine should move freely and easily in all directions. The real goal with good spine extension is to get the entire spine actively participating, which means the middle back has to learn how to extend – movement away from its natural curve. Practicing extension exercises also provides an opportunity to stretch and lengthen through the front of the body. In the long run this will help improve movement of the spine in all directions. A great quote from Joseph Pilates is, “A man is as young as his spinal column.” Practicing sequential, segmental spine extension will help keep you feeling young. Swan Lift Tips to Improve Your Technique (lay on your stomach, tip of the nose to the mat.)

1.Lengthen your spine as you inhale, before beginning to lift into extension. As you do this, pull the shoulder blades down towards your hips and it will be easier to feel this lengthening action.

2.Be sure the head doesn’t crank backwards causing the neck over extend. Let the head ride on the neck, start your lift from the base of the neck and work from the top downwards to the lower spine.

3.Feel the breastbone slide upward as the spine lifts, and slide downward as the spine lowers.

4.Work to feel even engagement with all the muscle close to the backbone, throughout the entire spine to hold your extension. (If anything, work to feel more in the upper back. Because it’s not as strong when moving in this direction – it may need a little extra effort to lift & hold you in this position.)

When you begin to push with your arms to lift higher, use the muscles in the back of the arm & shoulder and be sure that the upper back muscles are still engaged. (if the arms start working and the upper back lets go you’ll lose your extension where you need it the most.)

Pilates to Strengthen Ankles

Winter sports such as skiing and snow boarding are tough on a part of the body we often forget about- the ankle. We forget until we injure them, that is. An ankle injury can really put a crimp in your winter fun.

Common foot and ankle injuries include:

•Strain- an injury to the tendon that connects the muscle to the bone
•Sprain- an injury to the ligament which holds two bones together
•Tendonitis- which is inflammation of the tendon that connects the muscle to the bone
•Stress fractures- which are tiny cracks in the bone due to repeated stress to the weight bearing bones

The soft tissue injuries like strain, sprain and tendonitis should all be treated with RICE: Rest Ice Compression Elevation.

Most of these injuries are due to over-use. There are things you can do to prevent them. First, make sure to warm up adequately, that doesn’t mean stretching but warming up your whole body with walking or full body movement.

And don’t forget about the ankles, some foot circles or pointing and flexing should do the trick. Second, begin the winter sports slowly. Likely, you haven’t been on skis or a board all year. Try to restrain yourself from jumping on the tough slopes first. Even if it feels good at the time, you are setting yourself up for potential injury. Start with an easy slope and build up gradually.

You can also use your pilates classes to train and strengthen the ankles. Sitting on the mat you can use a band around the ball of your foot to point and flex the foot. Then loop it around the top of your foot and anchor the two ends to something in front of you like a couch, then pull your toes towards you. The reformer has many leg and ankle exercises that specifically target the ankle and foot.

Balance exercises are important for the ankles too. Something simple you can do anywhere is just standing on one foot for a minute. This makes the ankles and lower legs work and is something most people don’t do enough. If you’ve had ankle injuries in the past, the time to make sure you don’t re-injure is before you start the activity. Have fun on the slopes!

Tune- In to Your Workouts

Health improvement can mean many things to people. For many it is centered around wellness, whether it’s for a better physical body, mental body, whether it incorporates diet or stress management. The larger pictures is about staying healthy and always striving to live a healthier life.

Fitness and exercise should be on the top of everyone’s list of health improvement. Performing daily exercises and maintaining an active lifestyle is key to enjoying good health. Developing functional movement habits is essential to keep you muscles strong, safe, and injury-free while striving to achieve added strength, flexibility, and overall fitness.

The only aspect of fitness you should be aware of is the “tuning-out” during your workouts. Headphones, TV, Kindles, and I Pads are frequently used while working out. And you should be tuning in to what your body is doing. The body will do the work out on auto-pilot because you are too busy singing along with your favorite tune to give yourself clear instructions and pay attention to be sure they are being executed correctly. To really get maximum benefits from your workouts, tune-in. Start with the mind/ body workouts such as yoga and pilates. Then challenge yourself to tune in during strength training/ plyometric workouts. And if you really want a challenge tune in while doing cardio.

It takes brain-power to tell the body what to do and how to move well. This is the art of “tuning-in” You can get faster, better results if you are aware of what you’re body is doing. You will also have the chance while you’re working out to evaluate whether you are doing things right or not, which can help decrease your risk of injury and develop more efficient functional movements for improved health.

This attention to detail one of the primary reasons that Pilates and other mind-body workout programs are so beneficial. Having to focus on what you are doing every single second of your workout, you will become more aware of how things feel, what muscles are really working (or aren’t working), how easy or difficult the challenges are, and can really be conscious of your body’s posture while moving. And what about paying attention to your breath? There are so many details to pay attention to.

If you’ve been exercising regularly and aren’t getting the results you want from your fitness program, first re-evaluate your goals and action plan. Then check in with your exercise routine, and “tune-in” to what you’re doing during your workouts. You might also find it helpful to work with a certified STOTT pilates instructor to help you identify things that can be fine-tuned to improve your posture, body alignment and exercise technique for maximum benefits from your fitness program.

Core Strength: The Core Foundation in a Pilates Workout

The Christmas holidays bring in more than just excitement. With so many festive parties this season, we are all eating more ‘naughty’ foods and drinking more alcohol than we usually do. It’s no wonder that so many people gain extra weight during Christmas. But you can keep your core tight this holiday season with a little core training through Pilates workouts.

International celebrities love Pilates because it works the “core” muscles with a series of slow, controlled movements. STOTT Pilates instructors guide you through these precise movements helping you to achieve maximum benefits.
So who loves these amazing Pilates benefits? The secret to Pippa Middleton’s perfect figure – lean, long body and a sough to after bottom – is a weekly Pilates session. Kate Winslet says no matter how busy her schedule is she always squeezes in at least 20 minutes of Pilates every day. David Beckham was introduced to Pilates while he was with AC Milan in 2009, and he has been in the best shape he ever has been since he started doing a one-hour daily routine.

If you’re interested in looking good, feeling great and living healthy, contact a STOTT Pilates instructor.


Methods for Enhancing the Side Leg Exercises

One of the most difficult challenges when doing the Pilates mat work side leg series exercises is keeping the body completely still while swinging the leg. Many of the Pilates Mat exercises that are done before you get to the side leg series will help you prepare to lie balanced on your side and still be able to hold a solid position.

Here are 5 things you can practice to help keep your body still and improve the free swing of your leg on all of the hip and leg exercises in this series:

1. Practice the side leg series exercises with your back pressed against a wall. Make an effort to keep everything from the top of your head to your waist against the wall while moving your leg for through little circles, front and back lifts.

2. Maintain your eye focus straight ahead. There’s a tendency to want to look at the legs move. Whenever you are look at your legs, it shifts your head, neck, and torso position out of tall posture. Keep looking straight ahead and maintain a tall/long body position. Try to “feel” what’s happening in your body, instead of watch your leg move while you’re working.

3. Keep an active pelvic floor. Particularly the pubic bone to tailbone connection. The entire torso should be aligned along the back edge of the mat this means a slight arch/neutral pelvis position. This will actually make it easier to hold the pelvis still while moving the leg. Be sure that you tailbone is not swinging forward and back with your leg.

4. Use your abs to slightly lift and support the side of your abdomen that Is closest to the ground. When you’re lying on your right side, the right side of your abs pulling up and in. You should be able to place your hand between your lifted abs and the mat.

5. Keep strong shoulder depression. Keep the shoulders stacked vertically, and actively pull the left shoulder downward. This keeps the shoulders still, and provides a well-balanced anchor so that the hips and legs can lengthen away from the center for a better leg swing.

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.


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

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Pilates for Athletes

Whether it’s in team sports such as lacrosse or football, individual sports like tennis or golf or even endurance events such as a marathon run, pilates is playing an important role in sports.More teams and athletes are making it a fundamental element of their training regime. In fact, incorporating Pilates into a training program benefits sports people at all levels, with three key advantages:

1 Reducing the frequency and severity of injuries

By addressing postural issues and core strength through Pilates, athletes can avoid many common injuries.

Instability through the pelvis is a common cause of lower back pain. The cause is often postural; an anterior pelvic tilt, which is often caused by tight hip flexors. This in turn shortens the low back muscles and brings the hamstrings into an over stretched position, leaving both areas vulnerable to injuries. Pilates is excellent for releasing the hip flexors, which will help bring the hips in to a more neutral position, and reduce strain through the back and hamstrings.

Pilates also progresses into more ‘functional’ exercises. This helps train the muscles to work more efficiently and effectively throughout a range of movements that replicate some of the actions and stresses common in many sports, for example lunges, squats and lateral movements.

Addressing these points can significantly reduce the prevalence of injury, both chronic and impact-related.

2 Increased body controls

The reformer is piece of exercise equipment specifically designed for Pilates and is a fundamental element of many Pilates programs. It is designed to challenge the body in a variety of different ways, but in all of them, control is paramount. Pilates on the reformer gives more feedback to the athlete than traditional weights, machine-based or mat workouts. This feedback helps build awareness of where the limbs are in relation to the rest of the body, and how to correct their position whilst moving. Pilates will also build awareness of which muscles are working and how to activate the necessary muscles to provide movement and stability.

These motor patterns are fine-tuned through repetition over time and are directly transferable to the gym, the tennis court, the golf course or during a long run.

3 Increased power output

The body cannot generate powerful movements from a position of instability. Increased core stability is one of the key benefits of all Pilates programs, enabling athletes to channel and maximize their power more effectively.

The extra stability through the hips and core that pilates develops can allow athletes to generate power from a multitude of positions. A lot of exercises in Pilates are unilateral, generating strength and control in unstable positions even through an athlete’s ‘weak’ side.

Source: TenPilates