Lower back pain, it’s the most common issue I see on our Pilates medical forms. Heavy lifting without engaging your core is often a cause of it. It’s common sense that if you lift badly or lift too heavy a weight it will hurt your back… but it is all too easy to do, especially when it is a child! For more on lifting babies see my video.
Think of the core as being the central point from which the power comes from or like a fulcrum that you pivot from. Every seen someone lift something far too heavy? You can see the force going into their back, not a good thing as it can damage the discs in the back. When I was pregnant and post birth I could instantly feel the effects when lifting my toddler, my core was far weaker and I couldn’t support my lower back.
Lifting safely involves engaging the core, bending the knees and thinking about your alignment. Here are my top tips:
Keep the load close to your waist – easy to do when it’s cuddling a child, less so if it is a tantruming one 😉
Get a good grip.
Engage your core.
Maintain a stable base with your feet hip width apart.
Bend the knees and hips NOT the back. Keep a neutral spine.
Know your lifting limits, we aren’t all training for Ironman.
Think about using your legs rather than your back to lift.
Often when people come to Pilates they just want to work their core, which I completely get. Coming to Pilates from a fitness instructor background I also had that mentality of wanting to work hard, wanting to feel it working and wanting to feel the aches afterwards. I’ve had to relearn things and now Pilates has changed the way I do other forms of exercise too. I hear some of our clients saying the same thing. It ruins you, this Pilates thing 😉
You definitely should feel your abdominals working in Pilates and you may well feel the aftereffects the next day. But just focusing on working the core isn’t enough. You need a whole body approach and body awareness. Knowing which parts of your body need strengthening, which parts are tights and need stretching and which parts are overworking and need releasing is so key. For example having weak gluteals can affect your posture and your back. Being tight in one hip can lead to your compensating and working harder on one side than the other. Tight hamstrings are something I often see and this can cause back issues and restrict movement as well as affect posture.
So make sure you are not just working your core. Also think about finding exercises that strengthen other areas such as your gluteals, shoulders and upper back. Take time to think about where in the body your are tight, where your movement feels restricted and then work on releasing. A foam roller or a spiky ball is your friend here. Always take time to stretch and try not to rush this, using a band can help you increase stretches and develop them further. Ask your instructor for some good exercises to help you, or book a one to one session for a posture assessment and individual advice. It will really make a difference.
We can order you rollers, balls and bands for collection from the studio.
To book a one to one session with Priya please get in touch,
This week in my classes I’ve been focusing on pelvis weight and neutral pelvis. It can be all so easy to forget the basics of Pilates and getting away from these makes the exercises easier so you get less benefits.
When lifting your legs (for example knee folds) you want to be using your lower abdominals to do the work. If not your lower back will end up compensating, leading to a weak core and over-worked lower back.
Set yourself up in neutral, focus on the hip bones being level and you being flat from hip bones to pubic bone. To check gently rock the pelvis up, then tuck it under and rest in the middle of these two movements.
Now feel the weight of the pelvis. As you focus on this, feel your feet getting lighter. You should find that as your pelvis gets heavier and your feet lighter your lower abdominals engage, so your core switches on. This is the position you should be starting your knee folds and all exercises that stem from these from.
Always better to start slow and find a place where your abdominals are able to support your legs, and with some people their legs might be too heavy for their abs to hold. Start small and build up slowly. You will get stronger.
The breathing is often the tricky part for people as it feels back to front! However it really is crucial to breath correctly to get your core really activated. When you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts downward drawing in air. When you exhale, the diaphragm returns pushing air out. The 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.
2. Neutral Pelvis.
Neutral pelvis is when the pubic bone and hipbones are level and in the same plane. This means that the pelvis is not tucked under (bum under, back into the mat) or tilted back (bum stuck out, larger arch in back). If your pelvis is tilted back pressing you lower back right into the mat for exercises such as the hundred, your spine is not being supported securely, your abs will engage but you will not get the same benefits for your back.
3. Neck Strain:
Your upper abdominals should be used when you are doing anything in a curled up position in Pilates. To help you use these properly and not strain your neck you need to get the correct neck alignment. Start with a small chin nod, and then use your upper abs to curl up, never lead with your head or neck when curling up. Always keep enough space for a small orange between your chin and your chest. You shouldn’t feel too much stress in your neck. You can always modify those exercises by keeping your head resting on the mat. 4. Lower abs support your legs.
When lifting your legs (for example knee folds) you need to make sure that the majority of the weight of your legs is supported by your lower abdominals. Your legs should almost feel light as feathers, with your neutral pelvis in place. Practice lying on your back and feeling your pelvis getting heavy and your feet getting light, then bring your knees (one at a time) above your hips, keeping neutral pelvis. 5. No Momentum.
In Pilates moving slowly and connecting every movement to your breath is key. Using momentum skips over muscles fibers and doesn’t allow you to build strength throughout the entire range of the muscle group needed to eventually accomplish the exercises correctly. One example is the roll up. If done incorrectly, overtime you can actually put more tension in your back and hip flexors. Many people do not have a flexible enough spine to execute the roll up without using momentum. To help build strength and flexibility try bringing the mat to your body, by adding a small pillow or folded towel where your spine is less flexible. Many people think quick moves equals more burn, but slow, steady movements work the deep core muscles to their fullest ability.
It’s official. I have a roller addiction. There I’ve said it! Fortunately some of those in my classes seem to have a similar roller love. So why do I love them so? Here’s a little run down on how a roller can make Pilates even better:
1. They make you work harder, place your body on an unstable surface and suddenly that core has to work extra hard.
2. Tension release – just lying on one of these babies can release in the shoulder blades and upper body.
3. Massage – it’s not my favourite thing to use a roller for but boy does it do you good.
4. They are so versatile, I use them for lying exerises, prone exercises, seated, stood and under the sacrum too.
5. Coming off the roller is amazing, that moment when you lie down on the floor and stretch out – its sheer bliss.
Here are my top 5 roller exercises:
1. Single Leg Stretch: lie on the roller in neutral, keep the shoulder blades open and touching it, come to a double knee fold then on an out breath stretch the leg away and on an in breath return it to the starting position. Repeat on the other side staying heavy through the pelvis and lumbar spine and pinned to the roller the whole time.
2. Shoulder Drops: great for tension release in the shoulders. Lying on the roller, breath and and lift both arms to the ceiling, hands over shoulders and hands shoulder distance apart. Breath out and reach towards the ceiling, breath in and drop the shoulder blades back down to touch the roller. Use the core to stabilise the pelvis and keep you as still as possible on the roller.
3. Shoulder Bridge: Lying down on the mat with the roller under your feet, knees bent, in neutral with the core engaged. Breath out and roller up to a shoulder bridge, breath in to hold and breath out to slowly roll down through the spine keeping the roller still and the legs in line. Really uses the hamstrings in the legs and the gluts in the bum!
4. CAT: Come to hands and knees, place the roller under your shins. As you breath out roll up to CAT (arched back) position, breath in to hold and then breath out as you gently release back to neutral.
5. Swimming: Lie on your tummy with the roller in front of you, holding around each end, arms outstretched. Engage the core and relax in the legs and bum. As you breathe out keep the shoulder blades pulled down in the back but lift your hand, elbow and 1 side of the roller off the floor. Breath in and let it come down to the floor. The whole time keep the pelvis still and try to think about lifting from your core and not your shoulder.
I hope that inspires you to get on a roller! If you need to buy one and are local I can order them in for you.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been shifting the focus in my classes. We’ve focused more on the sides of the body, thinking about these being “long and strong”, about them being “heavy and holding you down on the mat” and about “lifting from the sides of the body”.
It’s been an interesting experiment and has led to some great feedback of people feeling they have worked harder or reporting their obliques have been aching a couple of days after class.
Sometimes we can over-focus on the core muscles and forget about the rest of the body. Bringing that body awareness to the obliques just makes the exercises slightly different and can make you more effective.
So if you want to try a slightly different emphasis give it a go…. even in your day to day activities focus on keeping the sides of the body and the waist muscles lengthened, tall and strong. Think about not “squidging” in the sides but standing tall. Draw in the core muscles as well and see how you feel.
Wow what a day. I’ve been filming the new Pilates with Priya DVD, as I’m currently pregnant it made sense to make an antenatal DVD. Personally I found Pilates kept me well in pregnancy. I have a tendency to suffer from lower back pain when pregnant and Pilates is such a help for that. I was only teaching 1 class a week during my last pregnancy so was doing my own pregnancy pilates each night.
We now have 3 Antenatal classes running a week and it’s a joy to see so many pregnant ladies stay fit and strong throughout their journey. I’m currently 18 weeks pregnant with number 2 and am teaching 11 Pilates classes a week at present, it’s certainly keeping me toned and those aches and pains are staying away.
So as so many in my classes have said how helping Antenatal Pilates has been to them….. we took the hint and the new DVD will be coming out soon! Today we had 3 cameras, 2 sets of lights, 2 camera men and me, all in my little studio. It seemed to go well, but I haven’t seen any of it yet – looking forward to that bit 😉 The DVD includes a standing warm-up, some exercises seated either on gym ball or a chair, exercises in hands and knees and lying on the side. It’s designed to strengthen the core and the pelvis, support the lower back and help prepare ladies for labour whilst keeping them well in pregnancy.
So if you are pregnant or know any one who is – then watch out for our DVD, coming very soon.
I used to be a heels addict. I seriously lived in them.Being married to a man who is over 6 foot meant I pretty much had to in order to get to a sensible height beside him. I found heels themselves quite comfortable but when in flats for too long I always got back ache…. now I know why and what I was doing to my pelvis and hamstrings – they were TIGHT!
So after giving birth to a small one and then launching into a Pilates business I have had no time to wear my heels and little need for them. I know now why… it’s not just the fact that I am either chasing a toddler around the place, crawling on my hands and knees or barefoot in the studio…… Pilates itself has stretched me. I’ve literally grown 4cm! Yes really. I was dubious and made the nurse check 4 times, however I’ve been trained in taking heights and she was doing it perfectly. I’ve gone from 164cm to 168cm in 2 years.
Suddenly I can see why I feel comfortable without my heels. It’s certainly not the main reason most people would take up Pilates but it is a good by-product if you want a little extra height 🙂
Sit-ups, or any variation of this movement where you go into forward flexion eg when lying on your back, you bring your torso towards your knees to work the six pack muscle (called the Rectus Abdominus or RA), is considered a NO-NO for postnatal women, ladies post hysterectomy after some types of abdominal surgery, in those with abdominal doming or in diastasis recti (seperated tummy muscles). This isn’t limited to women, lifting heavy weights can cause it to happen in men too. Performing this exercise can cause more harm than good. So, if you’ve any of the above conditions and you’re doing sit ups, STOP them immediately.
How do you strengthen your abdominals? Pilates!!!
The first thing we need to do regarding this area is actually focus on strengthening your pelvic floor which is a bit like a sling of muscles supporting you from underneath, then locate the deep abdominal muscles which lie under your six-pack/R.A muscle. These deep muscles are known as the Transversus Abdominis (TA). If you work on strengthening the deepest muscles first, then focus on the next layer, then the next layer after that, then your abdominals will re-align to their original structure.
Sit-ups strengthen and work the R.A. During pregnancy with diastasis recti and after some surgeries, we know that this muscle has lengthened and separated. If you don’t have a solid foundation underneath this six-pack muscle before you work then sit-ups will actually make your separation worse, because you’re forcing the muscle to strengthen, when it’s still in a weakened, separated state. The amount of abdominal pressure placed on the six-pack muscle when performing a sit-up, forces it to separate further apart.
The best type of exercise to do for your abdominals, postnatally is Pilates-based. Pilates focuses on your pelvic floor and TA. As an instructor I’d focus on strengtheing your core first and then later on work on those sit ups to shorten the RA muscles.
So, I hear you ask: “Why do people do sit-ups?”. Well, in most cases, people do sit-ups in the hope that they will get themselves a toned, flat stomach and a noticeable six-pack. However I’d debate this, often sit-ups are not performed safely and unless you are super leaned with a strong core, they aren’t going to work.
So, to get a six-pack, there are three things you need to do: a) clean up your diet, b) make fat-burning exercise part of your routine (the best way to burn fat, is to build lean muscle eg weight/resistance training), and c) work your pelvic floor and TA by doing Pilates.
Today we had a trade stand at the Southampton Nearly New Sale…. probably doesn’t sound that exciting, but it was the first time we had done something like this.
I’ll be honest….James did all the hard work, he got all the literature, DVD’s and forms together. I just turned up with a toddler and a smile on my face, did my thing of chatting, demonstrating moves and chasing a small girl around.
We’re such a small business, we don’t yet have lots of fancy giant posters, stands or amazing things to give away, but we do love to talk to people and help them. This morning it was lots of chatter about pelvic girdle pain, weaning and tummies!
As a result it looks like our antenatal classes will be full and overflowing, great news as a lot of our current mummies to be are about to give birth. I also sold a few DVD’s and hopefully we may have got some interested in our Weaning EBook – Baby Breakfasts.
A lovely morning, talking to lovely people. Thankyou to all who said Hello. The added bonus – meeting some of our Pilates babies and seeing their mummies!!
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To book onto a class or for massage please contact Priya (best by text/email).