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.

People image created by Kjpargeter – Freepik.com

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.

 

 

Hypopressives are coming to Southampton

The Hypopressive exercise, is a relatively new technique developed to help with pelvic floor rehabilitation and postnatal recovery of the abdominals. It is a form of breathing and intense posture work that involves creating a vacuum with your breath. This activate the involuntary fibres of the pelvic floor and abdominals, you don’t have to find the right muscles and squeeze them, instead you work with the bodies natural reflexes.

Where did the Hypopressive Exercise originate?

In the late 70’s, Dr. Marcel Caufriez realized that ‘traditional’ abdominal exercises were damaging women’s pelvic floors. So he looked into alternatives, moving away from high intra-adominal exercises such as creates and planks, the hypopressives were born. These exercises have been used for 30 years in Spain and are now used postnatally in hospitals in Europe with ladies with know pelvic floor and diastasis issues. However this is all brand new to the UK, we are pleased to be on the cutting edge, bringing you this technique.

Priya has trained with UK Hypopressives and has started doing hypopressives herself. With just 10 minutes a day she is feeling the effect on her core. These exercises are fabulous as they don’t take a lot of time and do not need any equipment. If you can breath, you can do them! However you do need hands on help to learn the technique.

This is a technique that can be incorporated in with other pelvic floor safe rehabilitation work, or used on it’s own for 30 days. It really depends on what level you enter this at. For example, someone with a prolapse it would be sensible to use the hypopressives only, then build on other pelvic floor work later.

 

Additional benefits can include:

1. Decreasing back pain

2. Reducing the waistline

3. Preventing disc and abdominal hernias

4. Improving sexual function

5. Treating and preventing urinary incontinence

6. Treats and prevents Pelvic Organ Prolapse

7. Improving respiratory function

8. Improving posture and balance

If you would like to learn more and experience hypopressives for yourself then please book onto our workshops. These are kept to small numbers so that you can have plenty of hands on help to learn the technique.

Dates:

Monday 29th January 10-12pm

Book Here

Thurs 22nd March 1-3pm

Booking to come

Can you do the knee cap dance?

Knees can be tricky things and are something that people often comment on in class.

“My knee pulls when I do that” 

Now pain is always a sign to stop and reassess.The body is telling you there is a problem and you need modify your movement.

There are a few things you could do:

  1. You can make the same movement smaller working within a range that causes less pain (note it may not be entirely painfree).
  2. Change over to a different exercise that works the same muscles but doesn’t hurt your knee.
  3. Stretch the muscles around you knee and then try again.
  4. Work out what the actual problem is with your knee and work on releasing the tight areas, strengthening the weak areas.

So all these options have their place and in the context of a class it is often options 1-3 that need to be done. However at a later time I definitely advise that you start to assess where the problem is coming from. Start with your range of movement. Can you fully bend and straighten your knee without forcing it? If not it’s about working out which muscle is the problem (see my next blog post to help with this).

The muscles:

The muscles of the knee include the quadriceps/quads, hamstrings and calf muscles. Some other muscles that assist with the movements of the knee include the tensor fasciae latae, popliteus and the articularis genus muscles. The quads extend the leg at the knee and flex the thigh. The hamstrings help to extend the knee and slow down the quads preventing the locking out of the knee or that fast smashing action. All these muscles need to be working properly and at their correct length/tension for the knee to function optimally.

A key exercise to help with kneecap function:

Sit with your legs outstretched, toes to ceiling but relaxed feet, feet in parallel with knee caps towards the ceiling. Feel around your kneecap, if it is relaxed you should be able to wiggle it gently with your fingers. Stroke up the inside and outside of your leg from kneecaps upwards. These are the muscles we want to use, so you are priming them. Now can you do a knee cap dance? Using your quads in the front of your thigh pull your kneecaps up and fully relax afterwards. Place your hands under your knees for a few, on the top of your thigh and around your knee cap. What do you feel? You want the muscles in the front of the thigh to be doing the most work, so your knees do not push down into the floor when the kneecap is tensed. Start doing this exercise seated and progress to standing.

Look out for my next blog on knees which will look at specific muscles to target and how to do so.

30 Sessions to a New Body?

There is a well known and loved quote from Joseph Pilates himself that in 30 sessions you will have a new body. I sometimes think that this quote gets taken out of context and leads to people expecting a beach bikini ready body from 30 pilates sessions. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but doing Pilates once a week for 7 months is not going to do that.

So was Mr Pilates wrong? No, I don’t think so, but I think he had a different emphasis on this. I think he was meaning 1-2-1 sessions rather than group classes, he used a lot of equipment including the reformer and cadillac. I think he would have been expecting homework to be done between sessions and I think his style of teaching would have demanded you continually work on your posture and core daily.  Let’s face it, 7 months working in this way and you should be seeing great results.

This is not to say doing a weekly Pilates class isn’t beneficial. More of the point to highlight is that a weekly class is only 1% of your week and what you do the remaining 99% is key. So making Pilates a regular part of your day is the key. This doesn’t have to be a full hours workout, but more taking 10 minutes to focus on a few target exercises and keeping your posture high up the list of priorities in your day.

If you can manage a regular 1-2-1 session then this will also step things up a gear for you. I always notice that I work harder and see greater benefits for my own Pilates practise and body when I have regular 1-2-1’s. These don’t have to be weekly, I have clients who book in monthly for a reformer session to get that extra input and encouragement. Taking your Pilates from the mat to the equipment can show you where you need to focus your efforts. I’ve recently found that although I can do a roll up on the mat with ease, when I do it on the box on top of the reformer I struggle to get segmental work through one part of my spine. Cue a lightbulb moment and lots of focused stretching, segmental moves and practise.

So this post is all about encouraging you to take your Pilates out of the studio. Find some moves that you know you need to work on. The moves that you struggle with or the ones that you know help your body. Get your focus onto your posture and your everyday movements. Then you will really start to see the changes.

Are my hip flexors tight or weak?

The hip flexors are a complex group of muscles that play a huge role in posture, pilates and day to day life. They are also a muscle that I often see people struggling with when undertaking curl up, roll ups, sitting up and any exercises with the legs in the air!

By Beth ohara – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=545389

What are they are where are they?

The hip flexors are the:

Psoas

Iliacus

Sartorius

Tensor Fascia Latae

Rectus Femoris

Pectineus 

Adductor Brevis

So a whole host of muscles. They attach to the vertebrae of the lower back, the inside of the femur in the top of the thigh, the hip bone and some run down the inner thigh. 

These muscles interact with each other, so if one is tight or weak it can affect the others. The same goes if one is too strong or overstretched. Ideally we want these muscles to be at the correct strength, length and position. 

What happens if these muscles are not working optimally?

The peso and iliacus are commonly know together as the iliopsoas. These muscles stabilise the spine and if out of balance they can affect your posture. A tight iliopsoas causes an anterior tilt of the pelvis (bum sticks out behind you and a curved lower back). This can result in lower back pain and pelvis issues.

A weak or long iliopsoas can mean the pelvis is pushed too far forward (posterior tilt). The person may feel the hamstrings are tights and pull and the lower back weak. 

Testing:

Try this out at home. Lie down on the floor with legs outstretched. Hug a knee into your chest. Now you are in a posterior pelvic tilt. If the iliopsoas is of optimal length the leg stays on the mat and knee stays down on the mat. If the foot flops out to the side or the knee lifts up it is tight. 

Signs in class:

The hip flexors can try to take over and do the work of the core in certain exercises.

For example if your legs lift up off the mat in a roll up or your legs lower and ache in a teaser. 

To fix this it is a case of going back to basics. Strengthen the core more and mobilise the lower abdominals by using a half roll up. Use a band for a teaser and focus on working through the spine going back down to the mat.  To strengthen the hip flexors practise those knee folds and any exercise with the legs in the air. To rest the hip flexors practise being in neutral letting go of any tension and just being there for 5 minutes or try out some of the hip flexor stretches – there are so many of these so find one you like and be consistent with it.

I’m going to be focusing on this in class for the next few weeks. Join me on the mat!

3 reasons your abdominals may not be healing up.

Saggy Tummy skin?

Mummy pouch?

Abdominal separation that hasn’t healed?

Here are 3 reasons you may not be seeing results.

1. Posture.

I can’t highlight this enough. Try this out. Place one hand on your tummy muscles. Stand up with poor posture, rounded shoulders, head jutting forward. Now what does it do to your tummy? Those muscles feel taut and strong, or saggy and loose? What changes when you lengthen up through the spine, bring the shoulder blades round and down in your back and straighten your neck? You should feel your tummy muscles are tighter and in a better position to heal up when you have good posture.

DiagramPosture-01-209x300

2. Nutrition.

If you are not giving your body good nutrition then you aren’t giving it the best chance to heal. Protein, zinc, iron and vitamin C are all important in wound healing and muscle repair. I know as a mum you need quick meals and often have to eat on the hoof, but you can eat still eat healthily. It is all in the preparation and mind set. Step away from the cake and focus on nutritious snacks that give you energy and fill you. Nuts, seeds, homemade granola bars, hummus, egg muffins are good examples. A bowl of fruit, Greek yoghurt (higher in protein) and a small handful of nuts is a fabulous snack. Make overnight oats with fruit and seeds the night before, ready for an instant breakfast. Bake a pile of sweet potato’s ready for lunches, then you can heat them in the microwave for lunch, top with tuna, pile some salad on the plate and it should keep you going. The diagram below is both relative for pelvic floor healing and diastasis recti.

Nutrition for pelvic floor

3. Breathing and Stress.

How much attention do you give to your breathing? Probably very little. Yet thoracic breathing can be a deal breaker. When you breath into the ribcage and not the belly you activate the intercostal muscles instead of forcing the tummy muscles out. As you breath out your pelvic floor lifts and you core activates. So breathing alone can work to strengthen your pelvic floor and lower abdominals. Stress leads to shallow breathing higher in the chest. It also affects hormones, posture in a lot of people and eating. A triple whammy. So taking time to relax, bring your cortisol levels down and calm down can be a factor. A bath, reading for 10 mins, a pilates class, it all helps.

Breathing Quote
I know how hard it can be. I’ve been there. But I also know this stuff works! I’ve closed 2 diastasis in my own body. Don’t delay, start with the tips above today.

If you want a 1-1 session for posture assessment and exercises you can use at home then get in touch I can even work over Skype.