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.

 

 

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.

Why can’t I do a roll up? PART 2. Hip Flexors and Hamstrings.

The hip flexors include the deep muscle called the Psoas. This runs from the middle of your spine to inside the top of your thigh bone. It helps pull the spine up towards your legs. The other hip flexors are the ones you can feel in the front at then top of your hip. If you stand on one leg and hug the other knee into your chest you should feel them. So the hip flexors need to be functioning properly. Not too short and tight, not too weak. If you spend time sitting a lot in your daily life then these muscles may well be tight and weak!

HIP FLEXORS:

Shortness in these can make it hard to move through your lower back. If you struggle to sit on the floor upright this could be the case. There are a lovely range of hip flexor stretches that will open your hips and make you feel less “stuck”.

For those people who find their legs lift off the mat as they come up, well that is probably down to your hamstrings, hip flexors and back. Your hamstrings help you keep your thighs on the floor and help lever the body up. If you can’t keep your knees straight in a roll up then it’s due to tight hamstrings.

TIGHT LEGS AND BACK:

The band is your friend. Get stretching your hamstrings daily. Open up your lower back in the rest position, in hip rolls and in hip flexor stretches. Find the part where you are tight. Now work on your roll down – going from seated down to the mat using a band around your legs going vertebrae by vertebrae keeping your heels heavy and stretching out through your legs and feet. Stretching the upper and mid part of your back is also useful and the Spine Stretch is often put at the end of a roll up for this reason.

And finally here is a get out clause for some of you…. I don’t tend to use this one in classes as I like people to try without having a reason why they can’t do something. However your body proportions do play a role, making it harder to master but certainly not impossible.

PROPORTIONS:

If you have a long torso then a roll up will be harder than a short torso person. You have more weight to lift up compared to the weight staying on the mat. Teasers however will be easier for you!

I also firmly think that for some people CONFIDENCE is the key. If you believe you can do something and are determined then you will get there!

FREE YOUR FEET! 5 Reasons to go Barefoot

Feet. I’m not convinced we give them enough credit, enough attention and enough love. Recently I’ve been doing quite a bit of research and reading into the whole area of being barefoot. It has truly been fascinating and is affecting our whole family.

Pilates with Priya: Barefoot on grass

Here are my top 5 reasons to go barefoot:

1. Most foot deformities are caused by wearing ill fitting shoes. Think about calluses, bunions, toes that grow at funny angles, the way your toe nails grow. So for more beautiful feet, go barefoot. Plus it is a great excuse to get a pedicure. Beautiful nails here we come.

2. Walking barefoot strengthens and stretches the muscles, tendons and ligament in your feet, ankles and calves. This can help with back, hip and knee pain. It is well known that you don’t want to put children in shoes too soon and it is best to have them in flexible, soft soled shoes to aid foot development. I’m not sure why as adults we change to stiff soles and high heels? Oh yes, because it looks good and feels safer. It almost makes sense, but I used to live in heels once too. I know you can’t go to work barefoot (unless you are me of course) but there are barefoot friendly shoes and minimalist shoes or just look for a flat, flexible sole.

3. It can help you be more aware and mindful when walking barefoot. You need to be aware of your surroundings and any sharp objects which can help you focus on your posture, your walking and your thoughts. Some find it almost a way of meditating. For me it just feels better. I spent a lot of my teenage years walking outside barefoot and used to walk around barefoot at work as often as I could… now I am paid to not wear shoes 😉

4. It is liberating. I love having my shoes off. Feeling the grass between my toes. Walking on sand. Even walking around the house and feeling how free my feet feel, how flexible they can be without the contraints of socks and shoes. Constantly wearing socks and shoes means your toes cannot spread and your feet cannot move as freely as they are made to do. Think about it. How can your foot flex, move, bent and react properly with a thick, hard sole attached to it? Since focusing on being barefoot more recently my toes literally shout at me when I constrict them in tighter socks or shoes!

5. It is free reflexology. Having your feet massaged, releasing the tight spots and stretching them out can have benefits all over the body. Having a tight spot in your foot can literally lead to a headache. Why? We  it can mean you lean in on that foot, tightening up the side of your leg. This can lead to knee pain, which can affect how your use your hip leading to hip issues. That tightness could mean you are tilted and affect one of your shoulders, working up into the neck. tight neck flexors can lead to headaches. Amazing isn’t it.

So I’m encouraging you all to FREE YOUR FEET. Go Barefoot for some time daily. Kick off your shoes in the office, take them off when you get home, go for a walk outside barefoot. If you can’t be barefoot that often look into barefoot friendly shoes and socks. I love my toe separated socks for Pilates for this very reason. I’ve a post on this coming up.