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.

Reformer Pilates March Madness

Reformer March Offer

 

OH MY DAYS. We are SO SO lucky. We now have a reformer and a half Cadillac in our 1-2-1 studio. A friend reminded me yesterday how I have been talking about having one of these for around 4 years, finally the day has come.

The reformer is pretty much like a bed with pulleys and springs, which means you work against resistance. This makes you focus on your technique a lot more, makes you work harder and gives a greater depth to a lot of the exercises and amazing stretches.

The cadillac is a frame that goes over the bed, with bars and springs you can pull on that give beautiful length and enable you to go further in movements.

Both of these pieces of equipment were designed and used by Joseph Pilates himself and are just awesome for focusing on your body, working your weak areas, stretching the tight areas and getting stronger session by session. You really will see and feel a difference with it.

I’d highly recommend you give it a go hence we are offering it at a special rate in March. Personally I find doing some sessions now and again on the reformer makes a huge difference to how I then do Pilates on the mat. It also help me work on the imbalances in my body – shoulder tighness, leg length, tight hip flexors, tight back etc…

If you even just want to have a peek and a 5 min lie down on it after class let us know.

You can guess where I am spending all my spare time at the moment!

 

Pilates : the overspill

Pilates isn’t just for the studio, the practise is meant to overspill into everyday life. If all you get out of it is a class that leaves you feeling you have worked hard, released tight areas, exhaled your stress and shifted your focus from life’s stress to your body, then that is good….. but you are missing the added bonus. Pilates is a discipline, so much like meditation or religion, it is meant to be practiced daily and to influence how you life your life. I’ve gone a bit deep there I know. So let’s unpack it a little.

Pilates with Priya: pilates-the-overspill

 

The Pilates basics include breathing, core activation, control, concentration, precision and flow. All things we need everyday.

Breathing correctly can help relieve stress and intra-abdominal pressure. Just the act of breathing alone can release tension, reduce anxiety and strengthen your core.

Knowing how to use your core will make everyday movements safer and protect your lower back. For example lifting a heavy load. If you have a solid understanding of Pilates you will naturally exhale on the lifting phase, engage your core and lift with good posture. Thus protecting your back, keeping tension out of your neck and shoulders and using the power in your legs and bum.

Rotating with good technique using your obliques can prevent twinges in your back and tension in the shoulders. Squatting or lunging rather than bending will ensure you use the global leg and bum muscles and not puts strain on the lower back. All techniques you can learn in your Pilates class.

The concentration use in Pilates can be transferred into your work and home life. Being able to clear your mind and bring your focus to your body, is a useful relaxation technique and can bring mental clarity. People often leave the studio feeling calmer, refreshed, less anxious and more in control of life.

I personally love the  control and flow in Pilates being able to go from one movement to the next using a natural rhythm and flow has a certain beauty to it. If you can apply that to the tasks you have to do in day-to-day life, life becomes more beautiful! It is something to aspire to. Flowing from one task to another, multi-tasking in a calm, concentrated manner and being precise in all you do.

Pilates fights pain

Sometimes we can feel as if the weight of the world is on our shoulders, but actually more accurately it is probably on our backs. Back pain can be a result of working environments, busy lifestyles, driving, lifting, poor posture, tiredness and medical conditions. Pilates is proven to be one method to prevent and ease the discomfort of back pain by improving your posture and strengthening your core.

Poor posture through slumping and collapsing in the spine or rounding the shoulders leads to the weight in the body being incorrectly distributed, too much force goes through some areas and not enough through others. Some of your muscles begin to overwork and are constantly fighting against gravity, the composition of these muscles begins to change and they develop more stringy fibres. This is done to save the energy that would otherwise be required to hold a muscle fibre in a constant state of contraction. This stringy feeling is a knot or a tense, tight spot. That’s the point lots of people go for a massage, which I definitely recommend. However, once you have had the massage you need to address why you needed it in the first place.

 

Pilates with Priya: Pilates fights pain

 

These tight muscles are often weakened, leading to changes in the natural movement patterns of the joints. A pull one way from a tight, overworked, weak muscle can cause a muscular spasm as the body attempts to quickly stabilise the movement. When one part of the body is not working properly, another part will try to compensate. It sounds like a great plan, but really we want to fix the broken section or we end up with a whole body that is out of balance. It is like tuning an instrument. If one note is out of tune, you can retune to that pitch and the instrument will sound fine, until you play with another instrument.

Pilates gives you the opportunity to work out which parts of your body need correction and attention. By working on your posture in classes, it should have a knock on affect in daily life. There are exercises to strengthen muscles, lengthen muscles, shorten muscles and relax muscles.

The changes that Pilates quickly makes in the way we live in our bodies is always so rewarding to see. Often after only a few sessions, clients will tell me how it is making a difference. I remember one lady telling me how she has to adjust her rear view mirror overtime she gets in the car after class as she has “grown”. Showing how slumped she had become in the day and the difference just one session can make. Another client found his sciatica had gone after 4 classes, meaning he could get down to the floor and play with his kids. Often we will adjust sessions to deal with people’s aches and pains that week. Pilates is a practice that once you feel it’s benefits you won’t understand how you managed without it.

So if you want to deal with those aches and pains, book a 1-2-1 session or a place on an introduction course today.

Pilates in Pregnancy, it’s a must.

I’ve been lucky enough to teach antenatal pilates for 4 years now and in that time I must have worked with over 250 ladies. I’ve also used pilates myself through 3 pregnancies and it has helped keep me strong, shown me which parts of my body needed working on and enables me to keep working and being a hands on mum throughout. The comments we get from some of our ladies are:

“If I miss a class I really notice the difference”

“My hips and pelvis ache less and I can feel the difference Pilates is making”

“Classes help to keep me strong and relaxed during pregnancy”

“I always leave feeling better than when I arrived and with exercises to use in the week”

 

Pilates with Priya: Antenatal Pilates class

 

Antenatal Pilates offers multiple benefits including, developing your natural corset to support your back and baby, helping with the changes to your posture, pelvic floor education, breathing technique, toning the muscles and, thus, helping in weight management. Practising Pilates on a regular basis can improve posture, alleviate backaches, and, ultimately, help with labour and delivery. It can even help the baby rotate in the optimal position. I tend to have a format where I use a mixture of functional exercises that help in daily living, for example moves you will need to bend, lift, rotate, get to the floor, release stretches for the areas I know get tight as pregnancy progresses, core strengthening exercises and some move to help in labour and for baby positioning.

CAT

Lets look at some of the changes that happen in pregnancy:

1. Breathlessness:

There is around 15-20% increase in oxygen consumption during pregnancy. The breathing rate will stay the same, but an expecting mum will breathe more deeply each time. The changes in the blood vessels caused by the hormonal changes together with the changed position of the ribcage and diaphragm may make a mum-to-be feel breathless at times.

The breathing we use in Pilates helps make an expecting mum’s breathing more efficient. Focusing on breathing in an antenatal class also has a relaxing and calming effect which can then be used in labour.

2. Muscle, ligament, joint and postural adaptations: 

Hormonal changes during pregnancy have an effect on muscles, ligaments and joints. There can be more movement, stretching and instability. A safe pregnancy pilates class will help you exercise within a safe range of movement and strengthen the supporting muscles. It can really help with conditions such as SPD/pelvic girdle pain.

3. Core Strength:

Pilates exercises focus on core stability, and pelvic stability. This obviously helps keep the abdominals strengthened  but it also can help keep your pelvis in good alignment and reduce pelvic girdle pain.

4.Posture:

Pregnancy affects posture as the centre of gravity shifts. Some women adopt a posterior pelvic tilt (tucked under) with a flat lower back, whilst others adopt an anterior tilt (bum stuck out) with an increased curve in the lower back. Either way it is not helpful for the body. Knowing about neutral posture will help you correct this in day to day life and pilates will provide you will a range of exercises to strengthen the right muscles.

So if you are pregnant, antenatal Pilates with a specialist teacher is a MUST. If you can’t get to a class or want something to use in between sessions check out my specialst Bump to Birth DVD.

Why we all need a Pilates class. 

Having had a baby just a few weeks ago my body is not what it used to be and I am in the rehabilitation phase. Moves I can usually do with ease I can currently not do with proper technique. Harder moves I know I shouldn’t even attempt until I am stronger. So instead of teaching them, I am attending some of our postnatal classes. It’s actually something I’ve never done before as we’ve never had a teacher who was able to cover those specialist classes for us.

It’s made me think about the benefits of  being in a class. When I’m fully fit I usually attend a teachers Pilates class. Why? Well to be a good teacher myself I still need to continue to be a student. I need to be challenged t

o work harder and do exercises I am unsure about. I need someone to watch me and correct my technique. I need to work my body in different ways. I need to learn how someone else teaches and pick up tips from them. I need to be inspired.

Yes you could do Pilates using a book, a DVD or an online video. Those can all work but personally I think the class is king. A DVD or online class is great if you know what you are doing. A book is good to read but I don’t see how you can properly do Pilates from a book!Pilates with Priya: Class in action
What you get out of a class:
1. A teacher who watches your body, corrects you, gets to know how your body works and what needs strengthening/stretching. Some of my clients have been with me for years and I can tell them exactly how their body will respond to a certain exercise or give them an adaptation before they even start.

2. Teaching points that are designed for you. I may not hands on correct you but may talk to you about the exercise to get you to think it through and use your body to respond. Self correction can be better than teacher correction. It builds that body awareness but with feedback from someone who has a different view. I can see if someone’s gluts are working hard when they shouldn’t be and coach them to switch them off at each repetition.

3. If you don’t get an exercise a teacher can explain it in a different way, give you an adapted version or physically move your body. Sometimes we all need a hand to adjust us.

4. A class is designed for you. I have a lesson plan but adapt it as I go along for each class. I may give different people in the class differing levels, give them equipment or a completely different exercise. It’s more personalised.

5. You can ask questions and get answers.  I still do this myself. It’s how I learn. Some people in my classes ask heaps of questions and want to know exactly how an exercise works. Others just want to get on and do it under a watchful eye. However you work that’s fine!

6. Any aches and pain can be taken into account. Our bodies differ week to week. A good teacher will ask his you are and adapt accordingly. I’ve had people unable to put weight on their knees, wrists or who have fallen over and broken a bone – but are still in class!

7. You are accountable to others and in community. Doing exercise with others makes its more fun and encourages you to attend more often and to keep going for longer. In our classes people make friends and really support each other. It’s a lovely
Vibe.

8. There are less distractions. With 3 children I have a lot that can distract me and stop me from doing exercise. Often it’s only after the children are in bed I have time to myself and by then exercise is not the first thing on my mind, the sofa can be more inviting!

Rounded shoulders and how to help them

Take a look at people around you, especially if they are sitting. See any rounded shoulders? I guarantee that once you start looking you will find more and more people that fall into this camp.

Sitting at a desk, slouching on the sofa, carrying heavy bags on your back, leaning forward to play with your kids on the floor or changing nappies, breastfeeding, driving, lifting heavy loads …all these activities can lead to rounded shoulders, tension in your back, neck and shoulders so pain in those areas and headaches.

What happens? Well it’s known as upper crossed syndrome. Here is how is affects your muscles:

The pectorals in your chest become tight and short. They need stretching and releasing.

The lower trapezius and serratus anterious (mid back and shoulder blades) become weak and need strengthening.

The upper trapezius and levator scapulae become tight (neck and shoulder area, the classic areas most people want massaged), these need releasing.  

The deep neck flexors are weak and lengthened, so need some strengthening and postural correction.
Uppercrossed-syndrome

Some exercises to help:

1. Pectoral stretch on the wall: Put your hand against the wall with elbow at shoulder height. Rotate your body away from the wall to stretch through the pec (chest) and anterior deltoid (shoulder).

pectoral stretch

2.  Chin Tuck: Lie on your back in neutral. Push the chin down towards the chest while pushing the head into the floor.

chin_nod_horizontal

3. Dumb waiter: Starting with the palm facing the ceiling, elbows bent and against your sides as if you have a tray of drinks on each hand. Rotate the arm out to about 45 degrees while maintaining a neutral wrist. Add a resistance band held over your palms and between thumb and first finger for more of a challenge.

Pilates with Priya: Dumb Waiter Start

 

Pilates with Priya: Dumb Waiter End

4. Scalenes and upper traps stretch: The scalenes are muscles in the sides of the neck. To stretch the right side, tilt your left ear to you left shoulder. You will feel a stretch through the right side of your neck. Now tilt your head up to look at the top corner of the room or the coving. The stretch will move from your neck to your upper back.  Place your left hand over your right eat and using gentle pressure push your ear into your hand and hand into your ear. Hold for 30 seconds.  Bring your head up slowly and roll the shoulders to release. Do the same for the left side. You can either sit or stand when doing this stretch.

scalenes stretch
5. Wall Angels : Stand with your back touching the wall, arms by your side. Engage your core, think about your posture, lengthen up through your spine and the crown of your head. Raise both arms up so you can still them slightly in front of you. As you breath out bend your elbows and think about your arms sliding down the wall behind you (they probably won’t actually touch the wall it is there as an aid). Bring your arms down to a right angle or a chicken wing position, then straighten them back up. You should feel this strenghtening in your shoulder blade and upper back area. Keep your neck long throughout.
Think about your posture as much as you can. These exercises will help but ultimately correcting your posture throughout the day will make the biggest difference. Try setting a reminder on your phone/screensaver or stick a post-it note somewhere as a visual. After a few weeks of working on your posture you should notice that you automatically remember to adjust your body and things feel better but keep working on it. It  is an ongoing lesson to complete!

Pilates with Priya:  wall angels exercise 1

 

Pilates with Priya:  wall angels exercise 1

The best exercises for your bum!

A wonderful review of the scientific literature was carried out looking at the research between 1966-2010 on glut activation in certain exercises.

Let’s just recap first, where are the gluteal muscles? Well, they are your bum muscles. Gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the whole body and the one that you think about when you shake your booty. It has attachments on the hip, the sacrum and the coccyx. It inserts onto the IT band and the inner thigh muscles. It’s role is to extend the thigh backwards, such as rising up from a squat.

Gluteus medius is higher up and sometimes I find people confuse this with their lower back because it does attach there. It helps move the thigh out to the side and rotate the thigh.

 

 

Gluts:Posterior_Hip_Muscles_3

 

Poor posture often leads these muscles weak as can too much sitting! So building in some glut activation exercises is important. If you come to one of our pilates classes then you will be working those muscles in a shoulder bridge, an oyster, a squat or swimming for example.

Back to the research. They found the following exercises have the best activation of glut max:

Forward step up
Single leg deadlift
Single leg squat
Wall squat
4 point kneel with opposite arm and leg lift

glute-Max-activation

The glut med exercises giving the most muscle contraction were:

Side bridge to neutral
Single leg squat
Single leg deadlift
Side lying hip addiction (leg lift)
Wall squat

glute-Med-activation

This is not to say other exercises are redundant as sometimes we need to start with lower level exercises and build up. But it does make interesting reading and highlights the role of squats and bridges 🙂 2 of my fav exercises.

If you like to multitask then exercises that worked both gluteus medium and gluteus maximus at once:

Single leg squat, single leg deadlift, wall squat and forward step-up.

 

Here are some good starter exercises to try out:

Step ups, use your bottom step at home and step up and down.

<a href="http://worldartsme.com/">WorldArtsMe</a> Swiss ball or pilates soft ball squat against the wall with the ball behind your back.

Shoulder bridge making sure you squeeze and activate the bum muscles.

Shoulder Bridge End

 

A Man’s Pilates Journey and a Challenge for you.

It’s been a while since my last Blog.

I am still regularly attending classes, and loving it. 😉 The only week I have missed, was when I was in Spain for a family holiday…the commitment is paying off. I am starting to see the benefits.

I look forward to Wednesday evenings. It is a time where I can focus on my back, my posture, and relax from a busy day. It’s lovely to take part in a class myself and experience how the studio feels as a punter.
Firstly, as I mentioned in my last Blog, my Hamstrings are TIGHT. Jo reminds me of this, and it seems like the exercises are set to “…test James…” – or am I just paranoid? The sign of a good instructor – one who knows her classes well.

The Challenge:

I find that using the Bands are very useful, such a great tool for stretching.
I am going to set myself a challenge in the coming week – stretch each morning, to set me up for the day. Just a few minutes, but it will reduce my back pain, and loosen my muscles.
Will you join me in this challenge? Go on… you know it will make a difference. If you need a band then we have these available in the studio.

Hamstring Stretch
Band Hamstring Stretch

I banter with Jo, but ultimately, I know this is a part of me that I need to work on.
I probably drive more than I should do…definitely sit down more than I should (this is not a time for Priya to comment!), and sit on the wrong types of chairs, using my laptop for writing emails, social media updates, and suchlike…

So again – more walking to do the school-run, sitting square in the chairs, and generally being more active.
Today I was preparing some of the veg beds, so got some Vitamin D, some fresh air, and some exercise. Was only about 30 minutes, but it was 30mins more than the day before, so that is a bonus in my books. 😉

I have found that over the last few months, I have consciously thought about my posture more. And now I am training as a Massage Therapist, it is important I continue my focus on that.

I hear from others over the years, that the classes are ‘hard work’, and I can completely agree with that. What I knew before I started my Pilates Journey, was that the speed of repetition was not the key. It was the way the repetition was done. When I say that, I mean, 20 fast reps could be less beneficial that 10 slow reps. Core Strength is built in keeping the muscles engaged, and working.

I love the relaxation that class gives me and have been surprised by how much work Pilates actually is. That feeling the morning after when my muscles tell me Jo has worked them hard – it’s quite rewarding.

Have a great week, and remember, stretch those Hamstrings. 😉

PS – We sell Bands in the Studio – just ask James or Priya for one.