Hip Releases

Achey hips is something I’m often asked about. There are so many reasons why your hips can be hurting. If the pain is severe then you definitely want to go and seek medical advice. If it is a lower level muscular ache then check out my tips and video below.

The impact of sitting for long periods and standing out of neutral posture all adds up to extra pressure on the hips. Hip pain on the outside of your hip, upper thigh or bum is usually caused by problems with muscles, ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues that surround your hip joint. Something is tight and out of balance. The body likes to be balanced and there are fascial lines that show us how it is all connected. A tightness in your hip could be related to how you sit and stand, but it could also be related to your shoulder. So it is worth making friends with your local sports massage therapist to get a good assessment and then you know what to work on. Having the area worked out in massage can then free it up for you to strengthen the surrounding areas and keep the tight part mobilised yourself.

So here are some yummy release moves that you can use to find those tight areas and start to work on them yourself. Or use these at the end of a busy day, before you get into an exercise session or between massage and pilates classes.

To book in for a sports massage do also get in touch.

Prepare to Plank

Let’s talk planks.

An amazing exercise for building core strength, for working the whole of your body and there is so much you can layer and add into a plank.

Also one of the exercises that therefore needs great technique or a lot can go wrong. All too often people are encouraged to dive head on into a full plank without knowing the hows, why’s and why nots. I love a challenge, but I don’t like the planking challenges. Personally I do not see the benefit to being able to hold a static plank. I have a body that rarely stays that still and so far more useful is a moving plank with levers and motion.

Many people are just not strong enough to launch into planks. These are not beginner exercises. Done incorrectly the intra-abdominal pressure will build up and it has to go somewhere, so if you have weak abdominals these may sag and bulge or the same with your pelvic floor. I remember attending a mums and babies fitness class with mums there 6 weeks after having baby – all being told to plank for 1 minute. If your core is not ready, do not do a full plank, if you have recently had a baby and you are rebuilding your strength, do not plank, if you have a weak pelvic floor, do not plank. Now that may sound harsh and rather black and white… so here is the softer version. There is a version of a plank that everyone can do, it is just finding your level and knowing which muscles to use plus ensuring you breath.

So what about if you really want to plank or if you are in a class with planks and you need a variation? Here are some plank progressions for you, including a standing version that I use with my pregnant and postnatal ladies.

 

I’d love to hear how you find these. For more videos and tips do follow me on Instagram and Youtube.

 

 

 

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.

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.

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 1. Stiff backs and getting stuck.

Roll ups can be one of those nemesis exercises that people struggle with and they can cause so much frustration. I’ve got a number of people in various classes who struggle with these so it’s made me get my thinking cap on. Why are they such a struggle? How can you get better at them? How do people suddenly manage to be able to do them?

What is a roll up?

A roll up can start from seated or lying down. I’m going to start from the mat. So we start with a curl up, chin towards the chest, working through the upper spine.

To do this you use primarily the rectus abdominus muscles (six pack muscles) and also the obliques (waist muscles). So this part of the exercise means you need to first off work on those curl ups.

The next stage is the most challenging part and brings more muscles into play. Bringing the ribs and torso off the mat. The aim is to do this segmentally, working vertebrae by vertebrae through the spine, keeping the shoulders down and not using momentum. So not only do you have too deepen and increase your curl up but you need to bend at the hips as you come up towards seated. This uses the hip flexors to pull your body up off the ground. Many people get stuck at this stage.

STUCK ON THE MAT: work on your breathing. If you get stuck at the ribcage, exhaling properly and using the diaphragm as you breath can help. It will open the ribs and help lengthen the spine. Also use spine stretches and the shoulder bridge to help mobilise your spine. Go back to the 1/2 roll back and focus on really deepening your C curve, this will stretch the tightness in your lower back and strengthen your abdominals. Think of scooping and bring your belly button towards your spine to really get the curve. When you try the full roll up, keep your ribcage heavy and down into the mat as you roll up, then once your ribs are up keep the lower back heavy on the mat and keep peeling the spine up.

For the roll up to work well you need your back to be flexible. It doesn’t matter how strong your abdominals are, if your back is stiff you won’t roll up segmentally. If you struggle with the rollover and rolling like a ball then this is likely you.

STIFF BACK: work on shoulder bridges. Get that spine moving piece by piece letting gravity help you. Focus on your breath as you do it. Breath out as you come down to the mat.

Use the spine stretch to stretch the upper-mid part of your back. Also work your C-curve. Focus on the half roll up and also rolling like a ball without rolling! So getting into that position really rounding the lower back and sinking into the tilted pelvis.

To learn more look out for part 2 of this post focusing on hip flexors.

What your shoulders are telling you

Shoulders. Officially one of my picky points. Why? Well firstly because I know what it is like to feel you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders and secondly because it such an easy thing to spot.

Sitting in a meeting today I could see that 90% of the people in the room were sat with rounded shoulders and their necks jutting forward. Over time that becomes a habit and that habit leads to a muscular imbalance.

This week I have taught a few classes that are not my usual ones. It’s given me a fresh insight into how many people struggle with their shoulders and upper back posture. If you are in a class with me “Shoulders” is one of my common cues!

I used to have awful upper body posture. I can remember back to being 18 and having a massage. Even then the masseuse told me how tight my upper traps were. Sitting at a desk, working long hours at a computer and not exercising enough really did not help. Fast forward 10 years and Pilates found me. Walking down the road next to a Pilates teacher I remember being told “Shoulders” every 2 steps. Finally I got it 😉

I now spend time focusing on my shoulder function, strengthening my lats and traps in my back. It really works wonders. I also know my triggers – stress, feeding babies and carrying children. In any of these situations I really need to overfocus on my posture.

So how are your shoulders and what are they telling you?

Take a look in the mirror at a few points in the day and check out those shoulders. Are they level or do you have 1 higher than the other? Do you have any pain or tension in them? How do you sit, stand and move your arms?

Some great shoulder function exercises include: Chicken wings, Diamond Press, Sphinx and using weights for a chest fly and ribcage closure.

Here is one of my fav’s at present:

 

Pelvic Floor: It’s not all about the lift.

I’m slowly turning into a pelvic floor geek. Someone save me! Seriously I have learnt so much more about the pelvic floor in the past year and know I have more to learn.  It’s pretty sad that so much of the information that is given out is so out of date.

Gone are the days when strengthening your pelvic floor was just about trying to mimic the actio of stopping the flow of urine. This is such a simplistic view on a working a complex muscle.

In this brief video below I talk about the pelvic floor being like a trampoline, how we need to strengthen it all the way round thinking about all the attachments and the danger of over tightening. No-one wants an over-tight muscle. Think about having a tight calf muscle. No fun. It can lead to that muscle actually being weak, which is the whole issue you were trying to avoid. Whoops. So focusing on all the muscle attachments and strengthening PLUS relaxing it is the way to go.

(This video was recorded live on Periscope some I respond to the live viewers in parts).

Perfecting your press ups

Press ups. I mention them in class and people groan. I hear you. In fact I used to groan too. That was until I learnt how to do one correctly and felt the benefit of being able to do them. Using your bodyweight as resistance is an awesome way of gaining strength and challenging yourself. I’ll admit it, press ups are not easy. If you can’t do a full on press up then there are lots of options that will help you work your way up. So let’s break them down and work out how to do them properly.

Press Up Positives: 

A great upper body workout . Strengthens pectorals major, anterior deltoids and triceps. That’s chest, shoulders and upper arms. So if you want to tone up your “bingo wings” and sculpt your chest and shoulders these are the bee knees.

Builds bone density. The weight goes through your wrists and forearms helping to build stronger bones. This has huge benefits for later in life. When you fall, you put out a hand to stop yourself, so a strong wrist is essential.

Gets your heart rate up. Some people aren’t a fan as you feel a bit out of breath and flushed after press ups. But that’s one of the benefits, you are increasing your metabolic rate and burning more calories.

Core strength. When done correctly with the spine in neutral a press up works your core, if it doesn’t you are doing it wrong, see my tips below.

Press Ups Problems:

Some of the top issues I see are:

1. Saggy back. Your spine needs to remain in neutral. No saggy lower back is allowed, it can be damaging and is not using the core properly. Keep your range smaller and go down a level to build your strength first.

2. Arm position. When doing a tricep press up your arms need to be narrow, shoulder distance apart and your weight right forward over your wrists. This will lead to your elbows bending under you and not out to the side. Often people do not have their weight far enough forward, it needs to be as far forward as you can take it.

3. Neck dipping. Your spine and body need to move in one unit. In an effort to get down lower some people dip their head and neck down. I totally understand why but you are straining the neck flexors and will just end up with neck pain, so make it smaller 😉

4. Breathe. The sheer effort of these can mean you forget to breathe. I wouldn’t advise that 😉 You should breath out as you push up from the floor, the hardest part of the press up.

5. Bums ahoy. The bum in the air look is not an attractive one 😉 It means your weight is not shifted far enough forward. Check it out.

Building up to a Press Up:

You don’t have to go right in and do a full press up… perfect the technique and work up to it.

1. Wall Narrow Press Ups – stand facing a wall, arms shoulder height and shoulder width. Take a large step backwards and stay on your toes, weight over your shoulders and wrists. Think about your alignment, slide the shoulders down in the back, find your neutral and engage the core. Inhale as you bend the elbows and lower yourself towards the wall, keeping in neutral and not letting the neck or lower back dip. Exhale as you press up.

 

2. Half Press Ups on your Knees  – come down to the mat and progress to half press ups. Start in hands and knees to find neutral spine and engage your core. Then walk your hands out about 1 hands distance further forward, still shoulder width apart. Shift your weight forward so you feel the weight through your wrists. Now try out that press up just going half way down.

3. Full Press Ups – when you feel confident with a half press up and can do 8 well, then move up to the next level. Keep your full press ups small to start with and keep checking your technique. Use a mirror to check your alignment, no lower back sagging, no bum in the air and no neck dipping. Ensure you are working through your triceps, going too far too soon can mean you end up collapsing and using every other muscle possible to get back up! Less is often more.

Pilates with Balls! A free workout Video.

Using Pilates small equipment can add variety and an extra challenge to your workouts. Here I use the Pilates soft ball and some weighted balls. However you can do the whole thing with no equipment, or use hand weights to replace the weighted balls.

The soft Pilates ball is only half inflated and you place it under your sacrum/SI joint (big bony part at the base of your spine). You could use a foam roller in it’s place or just come to the mat.

If you want to buy any of the equipment featured we sell it all through the studio 🙂

Please like the video on You tube and subscribe to the channel to get more!