Neutral Spine

Pilates Potatoes


One potato, two potatoes, three potatoes - four 
Five potatoes, six potatoes, seven potatoes - more 
Eight potatoes, nine potatoes, ten potatoes - all

Sometimes we can get a little discouraged with the parts of our body that do not seem to improve in Pilates as fast as we would like. For me, it is my lower back.  It's difficult, but crucial, to constantly pull your belly button to your spine to activate your deep abdominal muscles throughout the exercise. Sometimes I forget to concentrate on this which causes some soreness after a class. 

The strain in my lumbar spine, or small of my back, could possibly be caused by tight hamstrings or I could be overextending my lower back by forcing my legs to straighten. Weak ab muscles and tight hip flexors could also be the culprit.  If I stay consistent in modifying the exercises below, my lower back actually feels strengthen and unstrained after a Pilates workout.  

1.      Keep the spine neutral- (using the natural curvature of the spine) is the only place where the muscles can work safely and effectively to support the spine in all movements.

In neutral spine, we work the transverse abdominis, this muscle spans from the front of your belly to the connective tissue on each side of your spine. This is quite often an overlooked muscle, and it’s generally weak. It’s also difficult to access properly unless you are working with an experienced instructor who will know how to cue for proper muscle activation. You can continually connect with those muscles as you focus on the exhale of breath through each movement.

 

2.      Be careful with Roll-up movements- motion that moves from laying flat to sitting up.

This Pilates motion can cause lower back pains and injuries when done repetitively and with tight hip flexors and weak core muscles.  By jerking yourself up repetitively to try to accomplish this exercise, you can really damage your back over time.

 

Use a mini ball at your lower back to help support the spine as you roll into it only half way down, or, use a stretch band looped around the feet to give yourself a little bit of tension to go up and down easily.  Make sure to keep your arms long and not pull yourself up with your arms, but use the rolling action of the spine and deep abdominals.

3.      Laying on Stomach movements- like swimmers, “Superman” pose, laying on long box on stomach

While doing these exercises, only lift gently and maybe even just one leg and arm at a time, making sure to draw the abdominals up off the mat.  These movements, lifting the arms and legs too high, can cause the back to hyperextend and cause excessive disc compression.  Also, keeping the neck alignment in neutral will keep strain off the lumbar spine.

 

4.      Teaser movements- advanced movement requiring you to come up into a V - sit movement.  

If you don't have strong and developed transverse abdominal muscles then you will not be able to properly execute this advanced movement. You will strain the lower back when rising up into the V-sit with your legs straight.

 

When the class does this move, instead, bend your legs grabbing under your thighs as you gently rock yourself forward and then up into a balanced position.

As your hamstrings and hips loosen up and your abs become stronger all these Pilates moves above will start to feel easier. Easier on your back that is; Pilates is always going to be a killer on your abs, which is why we love it so. Also be careful to work within your range of motion when doing the exercises and only straighten and/or lower the legs if the low back can remain glued to the mat or carriage.  

Don’t be discouraged if you have lower back pain or strain, but DO let your Pilates instructor be aware so they can help make adjustments and cue moves to help strengthen your core and loosen your hamstrings. 

Five Potato, Six Potato, Seven Potato More Pilates

Leads to

Eight Potato, Nine Potato, Ten Potato ALL Pilates moves!

Shoulders

 

Shoulders

You shoulder the burden
And shoulder the storm
Provide me your shoulder to
Protect me from harm

 

My life has been in overdrive lately and all that tension and stress has ended up in my shoulders.  I try to think about it and relax my shoulders, but I still find them creeping up to my ears and causing a pinching between my shoulder blades. 

 

  • Have you ever injured your arms and shoulders?
  • Do you carry stress and tension in your neck, upper back?
  • Do you ever notice your shoulders hiked up around your ears?

     

    It’s not surprising that so many people, including myself, experience one, or all of these shoulder issues.  To maintain our erect human posture we have two options – good core support, or overuse of our arms and shoulders to try and hold us up.  You might experience more headaches, or be prone to shoulder injuries and rotator cuff problems.  The good news, things can change quickly with the right body awareness, exercises, and improving our posture.

    First of all, we need to strengthen our core and back. It seems a little odd to focus on our muscles SOUTH of our shoulders, but the stronger our abs and back are, the more our shoulders can relax. It’s like the abs and back are a tent pole holding the shoulders up.

    We can also do some active work to pull the shoulders away from the ears. While standing with your spine in neutral, let your arms hang down by your sides. Inhale into the back ribcage and lengthen your spine. Then exhale and draw the shoulder blades gently downward towards the back of your waist. Repeat that 3-5 times.

    Good Pilates exercise techniques makes a healthy body.  If you have a weak core, chances are your shoulders like to be hiked up around your ears.  With a strong center it’s much easier to improve shoulder mechanics, reduce joint pain, and maximize your Pilates workouts.  Doing the right exercises to strengthen your abdominals and back, along with practicing your active relaxing of the shoulder blades, and you’ll be off to a great start for developing strong and healthy arms and shoulders with any and all of the exercises you do. Then we can keep that tension out of our shoulders and put them to better use for those we care about.

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!

2abcd.png

Jack fell down and broke his crown

…Jack fell down and broke his crown….

 

So what about our “crown”? Do we actually work it out? Well, no, but in Pilates, we are very concerned with the placement of our head and the strength of the vertebrae that lead up to it. How many hours a day do YOU spend hunched over reading texts and emails? I know I can spend several hours some days.

 

We joke about having texting thumb problems or trigger finger issues from using a mouse, but an actual serious condition these days is text neck syndrome which is caused by looking down at a screen.  When the head is brought forward and the neck bends, the weight on the cervical spine increases. Just a 15 degree forward angle adds 27 pounds to the spine!  Over time, adopting this posture, we places stress on the back of the neck leading to premature wear and tear.  We can joke about how “text neck” sounds like a silly ailment, but the effects of having it are not silly. It causes headaches, spasms down the arms and back, and even spinal disc compression. Not to mention that it isn’t attractive!  In this society, we are going to use our phones, tablets, and computers, so we can’t eliminate the problem completely, but we CAN do all we can to keep our cervical spine healthy. 

 

It reminds me a little of being frozen in a “walk like an Egyptian” move. When we look at ourselves head-on, we might not notice how far forward our head sticks out in front of our shoulders.  Ask your Pilates instructor to look at your posture the next time you go in and come up with a plan to correct damage that is done by screen use. 

 

In the meantime, try holding a neutral spine by keeping your shoulders relaxed and your ears in line with your shoulders. I do this while I’m driving. It’s a great time to stay alert and hold my head in proper alignment.  Also, remember to take breaks when you participate in screen time. Slowly rotate your head back and forth, and up and down; Drop tension from your shoulders.  When you get to the Pilates studio, all the exercises that work your scapula, especially the long box arm series will help pull those shoulders back along with your cervical spine and your “crown” will be right where it belongs!

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