Do some practice at home. Pilates is like learning a new language, the more you practice, the more you learn.
Now it is common sense that the more often you practice something the better you become at it. Therefore doing some Pilates practice between classes will help you massively. If you can practice lying in neutral and breathing, correcting your posture and a move that you enjoyed in class it will help. Check out our youtube channel for videos and sequences you can try.
Slow down and breathe, breathe, breathe. Pilates is a marathon and not a sprint.
Breathing is obviously something that we do all the time but we don’t always take the time to do properly. Focus on the breath going into your ribs, so they expand out to the side. The breath also expands your tummy and your back too.
I always talk about rib cage placement. In all posts avoid the ribs flaring out, instead bury them down towards your hipbones so the abdominals engage.
If your ribs flare up when you lift your arms or legs, concentrate on there being a heaviness on your chest and your core engaging more. It may also be you need to reduce the range of movement in your shoulders and legs.
Check in with yourself from time to time through your day. How are you standing or sitting? Are you shallow breathing? When you can only attend one class a week, it’s these daily tweaks that really help to make a difference”
A focus on your posture is so key. What you do in class is a tiny fragment of your week, so finding the posture cues you need to work on is totally crucial. Whether it is adjusting your head position or bringing your pelvis into neutral more often. It all makes a difference.
Self care is the new buzz word. Personally I love it. It is something I know I need to do more of. I work my body hard in the week running from clients to classes to clinics. I don’t always build in enough time to relax, never mind time to look after my body in the way it needs, but I’m working on it. One of my new years aims was to have a spa day this year. My older girl actually laughed when I said that… as in “that won’t happen mummy”, but thanks to a lovely friend turning 30, I’m booked on a spa day with some girls – YES. Jokes aside, I am totally lucky that I teach Pilates and can incorporate some self-care into the sessions I teach. Pilates has been shown to help with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety – why? It centres and focuses the mind in a similar way to mindfulness. I swear Pilates keeps my body working and my mind sane. Here are some tips on how you can make self-care part of your Pilates lifestyle.
Seen by some as a luxury (including myself for many years) I’m not meaning that spa aromatherapy style massage (though bring that on too). Instead it’s the the dig deep and release the tight areas kind of massage that helps fix your body. We all get certain, recurrent tight spots in the body. Often these are due to posture or over-using the body in certain ways. Either way a decent sport massage can make a big difference. When the tight muscles are released you can move your body in a new pattern. I know I have certain areas that would benefit from a course of massage treatments (hint hint) – you only get one body.
I’ve totally fallen in love with breathing this year. A lot of time devoted to studying this deeply has impacted my practice as a teacher and my own day to day practice. I find myself pausing at points in the day to breath and reconnect. Just 10 minutes of deep breathing can help calm your mind, work your core and ground you. My personal preference is to teach people to lie down in neutral posture and breath as it helps you relax into it with good posture, however this isn’t always possible in the middle of the day! So sitting on a chair with a high back, breathing into your back, sides and tummy with a relaxation on the inhale and engagement of the core on the exhale.
We all know too much sitting is not good for us. So building movement into your day is key. This doesn’t have to be a massive workout. Move your body in the way that feels good. I don’t think there need to be any rules, the rules confine people. Instead just know that moving is good for your body, your mind, your soul. Stretching after a busy day, changing postures at work, a 15 minute walk – it all helps.
There are times my body is just too darn tired to do a teaser and thats ok. On those occasions it is good to listen. It all depends on how in tune you are with your body. Is it your head telling you not to bother moving today and to sit on the sofa or is it your body letting yoou know it is tired, it needs a rest? We all need a rest day in our week, even God took time to rest in creating the world. I have weeks as a teacher when people turn up to class and they all look tired out. Those weeks we change the pace and although there will still be plenty of core work and a sneaky teaser, there will also be plenty of stretching and release work built in too.
Not something I’ve managed to do much of over the past few years, for which I blame my children 😉 There is so much research now showing us how important sleep is. To be fair it’s pretty obvious isn’t it. When we sleep it’s the time our bodies renew, replenish and restore themselves. So it’s a time of new growth but also a time part of us gets to unplug and switch off. If you are not asleep at night then your body can’t do all its jobs, you are just making it extra hard work! So commit to getting to bed and resting.
I cannot emphasis enough how key getting good nutrition into your body and nourishing it is. I’m totally biased, confession I’m a dietitian too… which means I have seen first hand how nutrition plays a vital role in healing and in health. Simple things like ensuring you eat plenty of fruit and veggies, stay hydrated and have your cupboard/fridge stocked with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, yoghurt, oats, nut butter to keep you out of biscuit tin on some occasions. I live by the 80/20 rule which states you eat healthily 80% of the time and you relax your approach 20% of the time. There is always room for cake!
However self-care works for you, try to build it into your week, your day, your life.
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.
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:
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!
What are they are where are they?
The hip flexors are the:
Tensor Fascia Latae
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.
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!
After much nudging and poking from my own daughter and other mummies, I’ve finally taken the plunge to put on a children’s Pilates class. My own girl loves Pilates and often asks to come into a class. She actually really gets the concept of it and it helps her move more, stretch and slow her busy mind down too.
Theses classes will be focused on partner work, posture, stretching, functional movements and chilling out. Mindfulness is the buzz word right now, we will be using body movements in a calm, flowing way to relax the mind and hopefully the children will really benefit from this and sleep well!
Get in touch if your child would like to come along.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.