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.

Why you could live longer if you can sit and rise properly.

Recently I’ve been looking more at how functional exercises equip us for everyday life and how important that is. Being able to sit down and get up from a chair or the floor unaided may not sound like much but actually it can make a huge different to your quality of life and your mortality risk.

A study in 2012 looked at this in 2002 adults, following them for a median of 6.3 years. Those who had lower scored in the sitting-rising test had a higher mortality risk.

Go on, try it now. Can you get down to the floor using no levers (arms/body parts) to assist you and then up again? In the research they asked people to sit all the way to the floor crossed legged and then get up.

If you can’t do it, then hey there is a great challenge to work on.

Ideas:
Maybe start by using a curtsey lunge and focus on your alignment as you go up and down to the floor. This is also a great move for picking up things off the floor without hurting your back by the way.

Have a pile of cushions underneath you so it is not as far to get down and up.

Practise makes perfect, the more you try it the easier it will become.

So in your next pilates class when you are told to get down to the mat, try crossing your legs and just sitting straight down with no props.

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!

Pilates at Riverfest

May bank holiday weekend is festival weekend. Well in Southampton anyway. Whilst Common People had all the big names over on the Common, our local park, Riverside Park,  had it’s own first festival called Riverfest. This was a wonderful event that brought together so many from our local community and worked to highlight our local businesses, science, arts and celebrate our river and park.

Pilates with Priya: Riverfest 1

With music from many bands (my fav being the Southampton Ukelele Jam), puppet shows, stalls, cafe’s, spoken word, fruit and vegetables, scientific experiments, boating, whisking (swapping of items you no longer need), yoga and of course, pilates.

Pilates with Priya: Riverfest 2

This was the first time I’d taught Pilates outside. I’d often thought about it, Pilates in the Park sounds fabulous, but a studio with a comfortable floor, mirrors and easy access to equipment is always easier! We bundled some mats up into our pram and set off to the park with the whole family to give it a whirl. Setting out mats on the grass instantly attracted lots of children, so I actually ended up teaching quite a few small people. It was so nice to see them get involved and enjoy it, showing their parents what to do. I think we need a children’s class added to our studio timetable now!

Pilates with Priya: Riverfest 3

Pilates with Priya: Riverfest 4

The event had a real community spirit to it. It was lovely to see so many people (about 4,000 attended) come along, lots we knew, lots who knew who we were. It showed the local talent and amazing businesses we have.

So would I teach Pilates outside again? Totally YES. It obviously presents its challenges, but it was such a beautiful setting and so nice to be in the fresh air doing our thing.