Why being flexible isn’t always the aim.

Some people come to us thinking that Pilates is all about the stretch and that they need to be super flexible to be any good at it. Confession, ahem…. whilst we have super flexible people who teach for us and I envy their ability to do the splits I’m not a bendy ballerina.

Whilst I totally can work on my flexibility and improve it, I’m also aware that being super bendy is not always a good thing and you can overstretch for your particular body. Yup, I’m saying it doesn’t always pay to s–t–r–e–t–c–h.

 

Let’s think about that over-stretching:

  1. If you are hypermobile or have Ehler-Danos Syndrome then pushing your body past it’s normal range of movement into the hypermobile zone is possible for you but not a good idea. Over time moving out of the normal range can increase your risk of injury, sprains, dislocation, joint pain and can lead to the joints popping out. Pilates is one of the best forms of exercise for these conditions as a good teacher will watch your range of movement and help you work out exactly what you need to strengthen. By strengthening the areas around the hypermobile joint it can help you stay strong.
  2. The effect of hormones. When you are pregnant and postnatal you definitely do not want to be overstretching. At this point of life your ligaments are laxer and you may have a greater range of movement. But moving too far and stretching too much can lead to your muscles becoming overstretched. This leads to pain/injury for you which can then be an ongoing weakness in your body. Relaxin can take up to 4 months to leave the body after you stop breastfeeding. This can also mean your body is not as strong as you expect it to be. I remember after baby 2 really struggling with some of the harder pilates moves until I stopped breastfeeding (I fed baby until he was 16 month) and then a couple of months later my body was at it’s peak once again. So don’t rush things and risk a lasting weakness.
  3. If your body is causing a muscle to be tight for a reason. Sometimes the body is protecting itself. Much like we do not work muscles in isolation, it can be detrimental to stretch a muscle in isolation too. Instead we need a whole body approach and to think through why an area is tight. Is it due to a certain posture you adapt most of the time – in which case work on the posture. If it is due to pain elsewhere in your body and you are compensating, then the area of pain needs to be dealt with too.

Anyone can overstretch their bodies. Our collagen make up is genetic and we just aren’t all born with stretchy joints, ligaments and bodies. So whilst stretching is of course good for us, listen to your body.

Tips on the Pilates Roll Up

Roll Ups are trickier than you initially think. Few of us, once past toddlerhood, are blessed with a spine that perfectly articulates. Over time the postures we adopt and the movements we do on a daily basis affect lead to tightness in parts of our spine, the space in between the vertebrae gets cramped, it gets sticky and our movement is affected.

Just being able to get up and down in a Roll up is not the be all and end off of the Roll up. I know it often feels that way and that people will use all parts of their body to get themselves up…. however the Roll up is also about moving your spine segment by segment. The aim is to be able to lie your spine down one vertebrae at a time and then pick it up one vertebrae at a time. In order to do this, your spine needs to curve and flex. With our stiff backs from sitting and slouching this is hard to do. I know I have a section of my spine that is stiff and doesn’t like to curve and I’m working on getting it moving properly.

So here are some tips on improving things.

  1. Use a rolled up towel under your mid spine, this is so helpful at helping you not to hinge up from the mat.
  2. Use a band to firstly help you get up off the mat but also to help you focus on curving.
  3. Focus on the half roll up with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Going just half way back can help you find those sticky points and work on them.

Where the head lead the body follows

Hands up, who uses a smart phone daily? Or sits at a laptop/computer? I know I do and although it isn’t great for my posture it is something that I need to do in order to work. Modern life is not good for our bodies, so the best thing we can do is to be aware and to combat our bodies compensations. Or all give up technology…. not going to happen!

One of the main issues is the position of your neck. Leaning to look down at a screen is causing the vertebrae in the neck to jam up and get stuck for space. It increases the wear and tear in the neck. It is the same when you wear a heavy rucksack, to compensate you jut your neck forward. (Note to parents, keep your children’s rucksacks light!).

Do you get headaches, have a pain at the base of your skull or tight neck/shoulders? All this can be linked.

Our head weighs 10-12lbs but when you change the angle if increases this effective weight, so a 15 degree angle changes this to 27lbs and a 60 degree angle makes it 60lbs!!!

Try placing your fingers on the very base of you neck, just above the big boney first part of your spine. How do your vertebrae in your neck feel? Jammed up or with space between them? Trying drawing your chin back so you have a double chin and then lengthening up through the crown on the head, how different is it?

When your neck is forward jutting you should feel that pressure on the back of the neck and the vertebrae are very close together. As you lengthen back to neutral spine the load and pressure is released and there is space for those vertebrae once more.

Our heads set the tone for the rest of the body (as do the feet) so if you head and neck posture are not in good alignment then it can affect the rest of the kinetic chain. The body is like one of these baby toys…. when you push one part it affects another area too. It’s all connected!

The solution? Start eavesdropping! Well at least pretend to. Assume the posture of standing tall and thinking about eavesdropping on someone behind you and it should help you draw your head and neck back into alignment.

Also try out this exercise:

 

 

 

Pilates for tight shoulders.

Tight shoulders, neck pain, one shoulder higher than the other, restricted movement in a shoulder or shoulder pain are all issues that we see in the studio daily. There can be many causes, but many arise from our day to day lifestyle. Computers, laptops, smart phones, we all use them but they can affect our posture. Whether you have a desk job or not, you likely suffer from tightness in your shoulders and probably have a forward jut in your neck from leaning to look at a screen. So here are some tips to help and some exercises too:

Correcting your posture is a huge part of dealing with this issue.

  1. Bring your screen to eye level so you do not have to bend you neck to look at it. This may be you need a laptop raiser.
  2. Have your arms in line with keyboard so your wrists are not bent as you type.
  3. If working with your laptop, try not to use it on your lap! Instead place it ontop of a higher surface or place a laptop on your lap first.
  4. Stay away from the slouch. Sitting in good posture is an absolute must, as is taking posture breaks. Your eyes and shoulders will thankyou for a little move around.

To help deal with those aches and pains from working, lifting, leaning towards a screen or carrying children, here are some simple but effective shoulder mobilisers and release moves.

If you need more support with your neck of shoulders then why not book an assessment and sports massage with James.

Knee strengtheners

So we talked about knees and what to check for if you get that pulling in your knee when you do a movement. By this I do not mean constant pain but just a tugging on a certain move, that feels like a tight area. If you have ongoing knee issues, constant pain, popping, grinding, swelling or anything that doesn’t resolve then get it checked out!

So now we are looking at how to strengthen the muscles around the knee.

The VMO, or vastus medialis oblique: is one of the four muscles of your quadriceps. If you flex your quads, you’ll notice a large muscle toward the inner part of your thigh. That’s your VMO. The VMO attaches to the patella (your kneecap) and to the femur. It allows for normal knee function—especially during squatting and multi-directional movements as well as running and jumping. So you can see why this muscle being weak or too tight would cause knee pain. Good exercises to strengthen it are step ups. Literally climbing stairs or stepping up and down on the same step.

TEST: Sit on the floor with legs outstretched. Squeeze your kneecaps and release whilst feeling the inside of your knee. Ideally you should feel a muscle working called VMO.

The Hamstrings:  If your hamstring is optimal there should be a right angle between your 2 legs with leg in the air straight up to the ceiling and the other leg stretched out on the floor. If your leg will not go to this range you need to work on releasing those hamstrings. A good stretch with a band will help.

TEST: Lie on the floor with 1 leg in the air and one leg on the floor. In order for you to straighten you leg will and knee where does your leg have to be.

Think about what you feel when you try to stretch your knees? Is there a pull or tightness in the front, back, side or in the knee joint itself? If so it could mean you need some massage, release work and then strengthening. See a sports massage therapist for help with this.

Posture, as always is king: You can do all the release work in the world and then undo it with poor posture. So if you are doing work and not seeing the benefits get checking out your regular and habitual sitting and standing positions. Specifically think about taking regular posture breaks. Don’t remain in any one position for too long, if you are working at a desk take regular movement breaks. Check your pelvis, in seated and stood, your ribcage should be over your pelvis. You want to be sitting and standing tall and in neutral alignment.