Often when people start Pilates the breathing can be the bit that they struggle with the most. I often hear “I just can’t get the breathing” or “I want to breath in/out at the wrong time”. I must admit that I was the same. I found the breathing back to front and hard to master. Coming from an aerobics background I wasn’t used to using my breathing in a slow controlled way.
I’ve been focusing on the breathing with my classes, using a resistance band gently pulled around the ribcage to act as a guide. Feedback has included:
“It’s made me slow down and focus more”
“I can feel my core working more”
“It has made it harder”
“It makes me more aware of my body and what I am doing”
When performing the Pilates exercises getting in touch with the core muscles is essential to doing the exercises correctly. The core is like a house consist of the pelvic floor (floor), transverse abdominis (front wall), multifidus (back wall), and diaphragm (roof). Deep breathing is an essential part of maximizing this. When you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts downward drawing in air, allowing the lungs to inflate like balloons expanding in your ribcage, without the shoulders lifting or the abdomen being pushed outwards. It’s known as lateral breathing. When you exhale, the diaphragm returns pushing air out. Deep core muscles act as a brace around your spine to support and protect your back. Practise breathing with your core engaged, with every out breath feeling the strength of your core. Generally in Pilates you exhale on the hardest part of the exercise when you need the most core strength. So this would be when you push up in a press up or when you curl up in an exercise for example.
To practise this breathing try placing your hands on your ribcage with your longest fingers touching. As you breath in focus on your fingers moving apart and your ribcage expanding whilst your shoulders stay still. As you breath out your fingers return to touch. Breath into your ribcage. You may feel lightheaded when doing this, its deep breathing so takes some practise if you are not used to it but can be a very helpful practice in helping calm people and is used in meditation, showing the multiple benefits of Pilates.
Bodyweight workouts are those that use your bodweight as the resistance and challenge instead of equipment. Think of lunges, squats, press up, planks. These types of exercises help you tone up and build muscle. Muscle increases the metabolic rate of the body so you burn more calories. The more muscle you have the more fat you can burn so the leaner you become!
Pilates is one of those types of exercises where we often use our own bodyweight as the resistance. This offers quite a few benefits:
1. You get to know your own body and get in tune with it.
2. You don’t need expensive equipment to do it at home.
3. Using your bodyweight has been shown to be an effective way to workout in a short period of time.
4. You can modify the exercises if you feel you are not strong enough whereas it can be harder to reduce the weight of some equipment.
Good Pilates exercises to do that use your bodyweight:
Planks: 1/2 planks, full planks, planks with leg lifts.
Press ups: against a wall, half or full.
Front leg Pull Back
The hundred with pumping arms
Double leg stretch
Next time you do Pilates think about how you are using your body as a weight/resistance and how you can work against the resistance to work even harder. Think about your arms/legs being heavy as you stretch them away or them being the weights.
One of my recent posts looked at hamstrings, how they may become tight, how to test and how to stretch them back out. Keeping on that theme lets think about where else you may have tight, short muscles that could affect your posture and body functioning.
Here is today’s test… can you touch your toes? Many people I teach can’t touch their when they start in Pilates…. now instantly you may think this is due to tight hamstrings but it’s not always the case. There can be quite a few structures in your “posterior chain” that are limiting your movement. This is especially true if you have a job that requires you to sit down or drive for long periods of time.
Lets break it down…
Your calves (gastrocnemius muscles) cross the knee joint, so tightness there can make keeping your knees straight harder than it should be.
The connections from your hip/bum muscles (glutes, piriformis) can affect the ease in which your pelvis tilts, so affecting how you bend forward at the hip.
Tightness or restrictions in your lower back and pelvis. These can cause increased tension throughout your hips and legs. Often warming up the spine there can lead to more movement and flexibility. It can be interesting to compare your movement before and after a class, often without any stretching you will be able to go further in the movment of touching your toes.
Finally it may also be due to tight hamstrings, learn how to stretch them here.
So if you can’t touch your toes there are many reasons why this may be, the main thing to do is to stretch regularly and use Pilates exercises to help with posture, strength and alignment.
Looking around classes there are a fair few people who look like they have tight hamstrings so here are some tips on how to improve your flexibility in that area. Why? Because tight hamstrings can lead to lower back pain! So get stretching if this applies to you.
How to test if your hamstrings are tight:
This can be done by lying on your back with one leg outstretched along the floor and and lifting the other leg, foot towards the ceiling. As soon as the pelvis starts to tilt backwards and the back flattens to the floor stop. The leg should go to about 80 degrees. If it is less than this then the hamstrings are tight and short.
Whats the problem with having short hamstrings?
As well as being vital in sports such as football and running, it can become a major contributor in maintaining or causing back pain. Some kinds of back problems are not resolved until the hamstrings are got back to adequate length. It is also worth noting that hamstrings can get shorter as a consequence of back problems as well, thus producing a viscous cycle.
Causes of actual short hamstrings
Long hours sitting / driving.
Tension. People often hold their legs tensely, normally unconsciously. Signs of this are habitually putting feet back under chair when sitting, or holding knees tightly together.
Back problems. This is because the hamstrings are trying to stabilize the back.
Lack of core strength where the hamstrings take on the role of attempting to stabilize the trunk.
Poor coordination and habitual movement patterns. Using the hamstrings in hip extension (leg moving backwards) rather than your gluteal (bum) muscles.
3 Stretches to do:
- With band- lie on the floor in neutral. Slide 1 leg away along the floor, then put the band around your other foot and lift that leg into the air, foot to the ceiling. Use the band to get a food stretch down the back of the thigh. Push against the band for 15 seconds and then let the leg come slightly closer towards you to increase the stretch.
- Stand with your foot on the back of a chair, on a windowsill or on a Worktop, find the right height surface to get that stretch.
- Lie on the floor with one foot against a door frame, knee bent. Now press your heel into the door frame for 3 breaths and then slide your leg up door frame to get the stretch. Shuffle nearer the door frame to get a better stretch.
One of the lovely side effects I had during pregnancy was to have thicker, faster growing hair. My hairdresser was always amazed when she saw me yet again for a trim.
This extra hair growth that some ladies see is due to the hormone levels, specifically the oestrogen. Hair has a cycle of growth and loss. Usually we lose about 100 hairs a day, however in pregnancy this hair loss can be reduced giving you those extra lush locks. All good things must come to an end however and as the oestrogen levels drop so must the extra hair. It is not uncommon for clumps or handfuls of hair to come out when you are brushing or washing it. So do not panic! Your hair will go back to how it was pre-pregnancy, you will not be bald (phew).
For some mums this will happen from birth and for others it will be when breastfeeding stops.
1. Be kind to your hair, don’t was it excessively (as if you have time to with a baby!) and be gentle when styling it.
2. Try to stay away from hair dryers and straighteners, chemicals and treatments for a while.
3. Take a postnatal vitamins and eat a healthy balanced diet. Essential fatty acids are needed for hair to grow strong and healthy so no low fat diets.
4. Talk to your health visitor or GP is you feel the hair loss is excessive as it could be a sign something else is not quite right.