Muscles

THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN

THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN….

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.

He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.

He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,

And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

 

WHILE IT SEEMS THAT WOMEN dominate in Pilates classes, reformer workouts hold plenty of benefits for men who rise to the challenge. So, let me reach out to you men out there.

Whether you're a powerlifter or prepping for your first marathon, a Pilates class can help fine-tune your performance. The truth is Pilates was created by a man, Joseph Pilates, -- for men! Pilates offers a great workout, regardless of your gender. Plenty of pro athletes, including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Tiger Woods, incorporate Pilates into their fitness regimen.

Why? Exercises are made up of subtle, concentrated movements that can help you do the following:

1. Develop often neglected muscle groups. Some of your muscles, like those that dominate your daily movements, are stronger than others, and a big part of Pilates is focusing on those muscles that don't typically get a lot of attention. In Pilates, you consciously move in certain ways to build muscles that you don't hit while lifting.

2. Improve flexibility. In general, the more muscle mass you have, the less flexible you are. But Pilates' focus on stretching helps prevent injuries and muscle strains, and increases range of motion.

3. Build core strength. Every Pilates exercise focuses on using your core to power movement in your limbs. Pilates also hits your transverse abdominals, the base ab muscle under your six-pack.

4. Live with more awareness. Pilates forces you to pay attention—you've got to focus on your breath while working through each movement and concentrating on proper form. After a Pilates session, you'll feel refreshed and relaxed, which can even carry over into the next day if you're lucky.

The first couple of times you try Pilates, you might feel stiff and a little out of place, but don’t give up!  Flexibility and coordination will improve with practice. And you will be focused so much on controlling your breathing, keeping your balance, and maintaining a straight spine, you won’t have time to worry about anything else. 

Pilates is multi-layered, which is what keeps it interesting for people, even after years of practice. You’ll learn the basics of each movement first, breaking them down as much as needed, then adding things in to deepen the experience or simply add more challenge.

So, don’t think of Pilates as “FOR GIRLS ONLY.” We would love to see you there!

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,

To see a fine lady upon a white horse;

Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,

And she shall have music wherever she goes!

I imagine this lady on a horse sitting all proper and perfect…she must also do Pilates!

What if you went to a Pilates class and your instructor didn’t bat an eye or utter a word when your ribs popped off the carriage and your shoulders were up by your ears? Pilates is meant to correct our habits that pull our body out of alignment. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t go. Pilates offers us something that we can’t get anywhere else. Specificity and deep muscle engagement. 

When you begin taking Pilates, you are, most likely, given some individual instruction. Partly it is so that you are familiar with the equipment, but more importantly, it is so that you have the correct form, movement quality and muscle engagement. Pilates instructors will cue, adjust, describe, and take the time to really explain the movement. 

I can understand the feeling of impatience and wanting to get on with the session, but without corrections you could get away with disengaged muscles the whole class, AND with improper form you could be training faulty movement patterns that may injure you in the long run. 

For these reasons and many others, a teacher’s corrections are simply an indication that they have your best interest at heart. Corrections are about you becoming the best you can be, not about being nit-picky.

Why are the corrections to your form so important?

  • Corrections could mean the difference between engaged muscles and disengaged muscles. While I’m teaching a class, I will say, “You should be feeling this in your hamstrings,” or “thighs” or “abs” and there is someone in the class who will say, “I’m not feeling it there.” Sometimes that just means the tension isn’t correct for that client, but USUALLY it is because there needs to be an adjustment to their form.  In the beginning, it takes a lot of thinking and a lot of cueing to get those muscles to engage.
  • Corrections protect you from injury and train your body to protect itself. You are training your body how to work in the healthiest, most supportive alignment possible. By increasing strength in vulnerable areas, you’re protecting yourself against injuries that may result from unusual demands on your body. The stronger your body and the better your alignment the lower your risk of injury.
  • Corrections train the brain-body connection and improve body awareness.  Our culture and our activities often separate the brain from the body, under-emphasizing the importance of engaging both simultaneously. Pilates re-engages that brain-body connection.   Think of corrections you may receive as exercise in and of itself.  You’re exercising your brain and your body awareness to understand and implement them in a split second.

At BlisPilates there are instructors who truly care and are going to be your biggest supporters when things get tough. They will always challenge you to be better; to be a fine lady with great balance and form, and you will have music wherever you go.

 

Hickory, dickory, dock!

Hickory, dickory, dock

The mouse ran up the clock

The clock struck one;  the mouse ran down,

Hickory, dickory, dock!

 

Every day the clock controls my life. I wake up to the sound of the alarm, and then for the rest of the day, I am constantly checking the time to make sure I’m getting all my “stuff” done.  There are many days I struggle to get a workout in. That means I have to workout as efficiently as possible. If I have only a limited amount of time, I always choose moving through a Pilates routine. And I will tell you why…

At about the age of thirty, man and women begin to lose muscle tissue all over the body.  We need that muscle for balance and strength as it is the best way to prevent injury.  Aerobic exercise generally does not build muscle tissue.  To build it, we need to fatigue our muscles using weight and resistance. THAT is the goal in every Pilates class.  Because your Pilates instructor knows the "good news" – we can counteract the natural decline of muscle tissue with strength training, especially around the joints.

Here is a list of other benefits of strength training:

  • Provides relief from joint pain as effective as medication
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases energy and elevates our mood
  • Increases bone density
  • Improves how we look with lean and taut muscles

So, I will battle that daily clock, and the clock that is ticking since I passed 30 years old a long time ago!  It doesn’t take too much time for me to move through a complete Pilates routine.  I’m confident in the promise of Joseph Pilates who said, “When all your muscles are properly developed you will, as a matter of course, perform your work with minimum effort and maximum pleasure.” 

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ABCD's

A, B, C, D, E, F, G....

....Next time won't you sing with me?!

When I was in training to become a Stott Pilates instructor, I made friends with an amazing girl named Tina.  She had been taking Pilates on the Reformer for a few years as a client 

and had decided to take the instructor training, so that she could exercise more efficiently and with more understanding.  I was so suprised! She wasn't spending all this time and money so that she could teach....she just wanted to be able to understand what it was that she was actually doing in her Pilates class. She wanted to know WHY we focus on breathing and WHY we stabilize the spine, and she even wanted to know all the names of all the muscles we were contracting and enlongating.  So, we quickly became study buddies and learned the ABC's of Pilates together.  I found it very inspirational to study with her. I developed a love for knowledge with her. It WAS fascinating to learn how to engage certain muscles, how to create a class that balanced out the body, and especially, how to work with those that had injuries or concerns with their health.  

Knowing the theory of Pilates helped me to recognize details and patterns for my own workout, in my own body.  I approached the classes I took from other instructors with so much more

appreciation for the control and the challenge that Pilates brings.  Even in a non-Pilates workout, I found myself applying the knowledge of core strength, breathing, stability in the joints, etc. In Pilates, your muscles are working to lift against gravity and the resistance of the springs or bands, with the ultimate goal of strengthening and isolating the right muscles. Our goal should be to take our time with the exercises, focus on the task at hand, and connect to our breath. We don't want to speed past the details and try to execute the maneuvers too quickly. 

I knew what I was learning as an instructor was valuable. I know how special it is to me, and I simply want everyone else to learn it and see the value in it too. Growing from client to student to teacher, I realize, of course, that not everyone picks up on the same aspects of anything, but I try as an instructor now to pass this information on to my clients.  I hope they retain the connection they learn in Pilates and apply it to their non-Pilates activities. I am forever grateful to all the instructors I have had the opportunity to learn from. They are my inspiration for continual learning and singing the praises of Pilates!

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POP Goes the Weasel

POP Goes the Weasel 

Or as we say in Pilates class, POP goes the imprinted spine… 

Okay, maybe we don’t say that, but we DO talk about keeping the natural space under our back in place or lengthening our lower back into an imprinted position. 

What IS IT with the neutral and imprint focus in Pilates? 

Why does your Pilates instructor keep talking about that? 

Here’s the deal: 

The optimal and most efficient way to work your body is with spine and pelvis in neutral. If your pelvis is neutral, it allows your spine to be neutral, therefore, it is holding the posture firmly in place. 

So, then, why aren’t we all working from a neutral spine? 

1) The challenge is that there are different positions that our pelvis “lives in” based on our life’s experience. For example, most women who have given birth to a child will have a tucked pelvis which can cause weaknesses and deny the spine the support of its natural curve. Or, the opposite; I did gymnastics when I was younger, so my lower lumbar spine is extremely curved; holding imprint is very difficult for this reason. 

2) Additionally 75% - 85% Americans have or will experience back pain and/or injury, which may alter the pelvic position as the body compensates for the weaknesses. 

3) And, lastly, many of us lack the abdominal strength to work our bodies in a neutral position. 

If you would like to develop that healthy spine and correct imbalances in your posture, start all Pilates moves with an imprinted spine. Gradually test your abdominal strength by holding neutral for a few reps. Be knowledgeable of your own body. Watch for a straining feeling in your lower back. Talk to your Pilates instructor about modifications to challenge as well as keep your spine safe. You can also ask him or her to give you an analysis on your posture. 

***If you've been instructed by a Doctor or Health Professional to maintain an imprinted spine, follow that direction always. 

· Neutral Pelvis is the alignment of the ASIS (Anterior Superior Iliac Spine – aka Hip Points) and the Pubic Bone in line with each other in the Coronal Plane, which allows for a neutral spine, a spine that honors the natural curvature of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine.

· Imprinted Pelvis allows the ASIS (aka hip points) to be lower that your pelvic bone; it is the act of using the muscles to draw the lower spine down towards the floor, therefore imprinting the spine. So why is this question so important? The optimal and most efficient way to work your body – spine and pelvis is in neutral. If your pelvis is neutral it allows your spine to be neutral, in it’s natural form.

Neutral
Imprint

Jack be Nimble, Jack be Quick, Jack  jumped over the Candlestick.

Jack be Nimble, Jack be Quick

Jack  jumped over the Candlestick

 

Well, maybe in Pilates we don’t have to worry about being as quick as Captain Jack escaping authorities or about jumping over a fire, but we DO think a lot about how nimble we are.  When we are nimble, we are quick and light in action; we are quick-witted and alert. Pilates brings a mind/body connection that puts us in that frame of mind.

Joseph Pilates said “Concentrate on the correct movement each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value.”

Pilates is where we learn to control each movement of our bodies. When we practice a short spine move on the reformer, we don’t let the tension of the springs fling us onto our shoulders. We focus on our exhale as we lengthen our imprint, squeeze our gluts, and inch our vertebrae open to lift up onto our scapula where we use our core to balance and lengthen down our spine. 

When I first came into Pilates, I was disappointed that I wasn’t sweating, that I wasn’t winded, and that possibly, I wasn’t even “really exercising”, but within the first few weeks, I began to understand the Pilates terminology, the idea of working from your center. I became more powerful and flexible than ever before.

The next time you are in a Pilates class follow the advice of Joseph Pilates. ConcentrateConcentrate on the breathing, concentrate on the contraction, concentrate on lengthening each muscle, concentrate on holding the joints in place, concentrate on each muscle individually. The more we are able to connect the mind to the body and do the exercise correctly, the less likely you are to feel as if you aren’t “exercising” like I did in the beginning. It is now impossible for me to make it through a Pilates class without sweating, without becoming winded, and, I definitely cannot say I didn’t “exercise”!

 

 

 

A Mermaid fair, Singing alone, Combing her hair…

 

 

A mermaid fair, 

Singing alone, 

Combing her hair,

Under the sea,

In a golden curl

With a comb of pearl,

On a throne?

  • Tennyson

 

The other day my nine-year old daughter challenged me to do a cartwheel in the backyard.  No problem, I thought. I’d done plenty of cartwheels in my life, maybe not in the last 15 years, but it’s like riding a bike, right? I could whip one off and show my daughter that I was a cool mom.  It seemed like, in my mind, I could visualize myself doing a cartwheel with ease; my muscles that I would be using seemed to contract in preparation for this feat.  Well, let’s just say that the cartwheel was performed, but thankfully, not filmed.  I quickly learned that there are a lot of muscles used for cartwheels that I hadn’t tapped into for far too long!

 

I think we can agree that we spend a lot of time flexing our spine forward, like when we reach over to put on our shoes or pick something off the floor.  We tend to spend a lot of time sitting down, so we become tight in those supporting muscles around our spine.  But, we don’t lean side to side very often throughout the day. How much does that even matter?

 

The Mermaid side stretch is a Pilates move that opens the side of the body and lengthens the obliques, QL, iliacus, and pelvic floor muscles. There is a dynamic connection between when you breath and stretch at the same time.  Pay close attention to your instructor and use that breathing pattern to open up your rib cage and get a more intense stretch.  Remember when you extend your arm overhead, do not lean forward or backwards. Imagine you are between two planes of glass. It is not about how far over you lean, but about how open you can get the opposite side of your body. Think about reaching up at an angle more than coming closer to your knee.  This will help open up your waist and hip on the opposite side. You could also keep your gaze towards your outreached hand to open the hip even more.

 

Maybe you aren’t tempted to do a cartwheel like I was, BUT, you may find yourself wanting to play tennis or golf or swing a bat.  This motion around your spine and hips needs to be stretched and fluid to keep you safe from injury.  We want lots of strength and lift in both sides of our waist.  The Mermaid exercise builds a balanced range of motion in the hip joints, resulting in less strain on the spine and more fluid cuts and turns.  So lean side-to-side and embrace your inner Ariel!

 

This Little Piggy Cried All the Way Home!

“Ah, don’t look at my feet!” 

“I’m getting a pedicure later today!”

“I’m not taking off my socks and subjecting you to looking at my feet!”

These are phrases heard all throughout a Pilates studio.  This is because Pilates is done with all those little piggies uncovered. They need to wrap around the footbar, hold firm during an up stretch, and grip the platform extender for side splits. We need to keep our feet strong and flexible as much as any part of our body.  The ankle and foot are made to move in a great variety of angles to provide stability and dexterity so we can get ourselves over all sorts of terrain from hard rocky ground to pliable soft sand. 

  • Wearing flip flops mess with your posture because your foot doesn’t bend the way it does when it is bare.
  • Wearing high heels can lead to painful muscle fatigue and strain already formed injuries in hips and knees.  They also alter our posture and gait.

If we don’t get out of our shoes, the small muscles that keep us balanced and steady in our feet will be at risk for atrophy from disuse.  If the smaller muscles are too weak to support your foot and ankle, your body reacts by increasing tension where it can, which is in your bigger muscles further up your leg in your ankle and calf.   

My favorite Pilates Reformer moves for the feet include Running, Stomach Massage, and Develope. The next time your do them in a class, focus on fully moving through the plantar flexion and dorsiflexion. 

If you MUST cover your feet, try some toe-less, heel-less options as shown in the photo, or at least have socks with some good grip on the bottom. But always be prepared to bare-all for certain moves so that you stay safe. 

So, let’s take off our shoes and socks with gusto! Let’s not apologize for the condition of our feet! We are making them strong to take us where we want to go so we DON’T cry all the way home!