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!

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.


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:

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.


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.

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.


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

Yoga, Pilates, Pedicures – Dwyane Wade’s Routine

They don’t sound like the workout routine of a pro-basketball player. But Dwyane Wade, the superstar shooting guard with the Miami Heat, has embraced them.

During last year’s lockout, players couldn’t get access to NBA team facilities or trainers. “The lockout meant I was working out with a different trainer,” says Mr. Wade, “and he introduced me to different types of workouts that I didn’t even know my body needed, like yoga.”

Mr. Wade, who turned 30 in January, could be considered old by NBA standards. He says a large part of his preseason training was focused on keeping his body healthy and injury-free through the season. Nevertheless, he has struggled with injuries, including a strained calf and sprained right ankle.
In addition to his time on the court and in the gym, Mr. Wade, who stands 6 feet 4 inches and weighs 220 pounds, puts in time on the massage table. “I’m huge on massage work,” he says. “I’ve done more stretching this season than ever before. My therapist’s hands get tired from working on me.”
Since his size-15 feet take a lot of pounding, he also incorporates foot baths, ice baths and regular pedicures into his regimen. “You need to take care of your feet,” says Mr. Wade. “My feet aren’t going to look any prettier from a pedi, but they feel better from the massaging.”

The Workout

“I have tight hips and I felt I needed to loosen up and be more flexible as I got older,” says Mr. Wade. He started taking private yoga lessons. “Just basic yoga—I wasn’t ready for the hot stuff,” he says. “Yoga is a totally different way of stretching and really challenging.” Mr. Wade says he persuaded his teammate, LeBron James, to join him. “He’s stiffer than me,” he jokes.
Mr. James, in turn, persuaded Mr. Wade to try machine-based Pilates, which lengthens muscles and strengthens the core muscles. “I really felt the Pilates loosen up my muscles,” says Mr. Wade. The attention to stretching has paid off during the season. “I recall making a move, and the basketball ended up on my foot and I almost did a split on the ball. Normally, that’s a groin pull, but I bounced back.”

Mr. Wade also started running on the beach this summer. “Running on the sand strengthens your quads and calf muscles,” he says. He adds that he used to avoid running because it gave him shin splints, but running barefoot in the sand has helped him avoid that. He does some runs for distance, others for speed. “I try to do a lot of quick sprints where I’m starting and stopping and training myself to push through fatigue,” he says.

In addition to weight training, Dwyane Wade’s workout includes stretching, strengthening and soothing his muscles with Pilates, yoga and massage.

Mr. Wade has also worked on his fast-twitch muscles, which come into play for brief bursts of strength or speed. To do this, his trainer had him work out with elastic bands on his wrists and ankles. He throws a medicine ball, turns, and then catches the ball with his torso facing one way and his arms turning another. “In a game, you never know what is going to come at you. I have to be ready to react quickly.”

The Diet

Mr. Wade says he always avoided vegetables until he turned 30. “I hated all of them,” he says. But “I knew it would help me in the long run both mentally and physically” to start eating them. His solution was to have his personal chef turn them into juice.

He now starts the day with a juice that might include celery, carrots and beets. His chef sticks to healthy, low-fat, high-protein meals that often include grilled chicken and rice. He doesn’t splurge often, but when he does he has a burger, fries and a Coke. “That is heaven to me. I have a favorite burger spot in nearly every city. Sometimes I might even order two.”

Source: WSJ, Jen Murphy

Pilates and Older Adults: A Gentler, Effective Way to Stay Fit

For the older population keeping fit is essential. But traditional cardio and strength training can be hard on the joints of older adults. Many have turned to Pilates as a way to stay in shape while reducing the risk of injury that weight-bearing exercises may cause. With its focus on controlled breathing and quality of movement-not quantity of repetitions-many experts agree that Pilates is one of the best ways for older adults to stay healthy.

“Pilates is perfect for older adults because it does not have the impact on the body that other forms of exercise do, and is not nearly as severe on the joints as most workouts are,” says Ellie Herman, owner of several Pilates studios, and a renowned Pilates instructor and author. “It really is a gentle way to exercise. If you’re an older adult and haven’t exercised in a while, Pilates is a safe way to restart a workout program.”

Most conventional workouts tend to build short, bulky muscles more prone to injury–especially in the body of an older adult. Pilates focuses on building a strong “core”–the deep abdominal muscles along with the muscles closest to the spine. Many of the exercises are performed on a pilates apparatus (equipment) that allows the participant to be horizontal – therefore not bearing weight on their joints. This gives them the ability to strengthen their large muscles, small muscles in their joints and improve their posture.

Increased Stability and Balance

Pilates centers on movements at the midrange of the body instead of the extremities (arms and legs), where, again, the potential for injury is greater. In contrast with other forms of exercise, Pilates develops the midrange and gradually works toward the end range, while maintaining complete control around the joints. To the benefit of older adults, Pilates teaches control and stability in a small range of motion, graduating to a larger range of motion as they gain control and confidence.
Increased control and stability is crucial for older adults as it can help them improve much of their functional movement, including balance and posture. This, along with basic fitness benefits, can help them reduce the risk of falls. Pilates is also a good way for older adults to rehab from surgical procedures like a hip replacement or knee surgery.

An Antidote for Many Ailments

Pilates also helps with a variety of age-related ailments. Arthritis sufferers benefit because the gentle mid-range movements decrease the chance of joints compressing while maintaining the range of motion around them. For sufferers of osteoporosis or stenosis, Pilates can also help. For osteoporosis the simple and standing Pilates leg exercises may increase bone density in both the spine and the hip. For lumbar stenosis there are exercises that can stretch out tight back muscles and strengthen the extensor muscles of the spine to counteract the forces of gravity that can pull people into a hunched position.

The Importance of Scapula Retraction

Many of us carry ourselves without the awareness of our scapula placement. Truth is many of us may not know even know what our scapula does. Do you know?

Your scapula’s are on your back, they are bones that assist in holding your shoulders in place. The muscles around your scapula may be week if you sit in front of a computer all day and take on the typical computer posture. Rounding your shoulders forward, arching through your upper back. This posture leads to permanent structure changes in your body and results in muscle atrophy, contributes to a loss in bone strength and effects ease in daily movement.

Learning what muscles to use to draw your scapula back and open your chest and shoulders will help you to regain a healthy posture. Once you learn where those muscles are it is important to strength them and actively use them everyday while you sit, stand and walk.

The primary muscle that controls the scapula is the trapezius. The trapezius is a diamond shaped muscle along the upper part of your back. Engaging the trapezius muscle works to pull the scapula closer to your spine.

You can learn more about proper engagement of your scapula with a formally trained STOTT pilates instructor. Contact a certified instructor at Balance Pilates.