cervical 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!

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!

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!