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.

People image created by Kjpargeter – Freepik.com

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.

 

 

What postnatal pilates can do for you.

When you are pregnant there is a lot of focus on keeping your body healthy, looking after yourself and putting you first. There is a lot more time to focus on exercising well, cooking good meals and thinking in general. The midwife and friends/family are asking how your body feels, how is the bump, what aches and pains do you have and giving plenty of advice. Then the delicious baby arrives and is totally the centre of attention. Your life is suddenly a whirlwind of feeds, sleepless nights, surviving as best you can. There is little time and energy left for exercise. Cake and chocolate can be relied to get you through the day or are part of a treat at playgroups. No-one really asks how your body is feeling or what they can do to help YOU, it is more about the baby.

The problem is that when you are postnatal your body is pretty vulnerable. It has been stretched, carried a heavy weight around and then birthed a baby. Now if you had a major operation you would lie in bed, rest, recover, have meals brought to you and be looked after for a few weeks. This is really what you need after having given birth. Instead you have a little person dependant on you, you cannot rest as much as you need and you cannot listen to your body.

Postnatal Pilates: why all mums need it

As a pre/postnatal specialist Pilates teacher this is an area I focus on and love to teach.

Postnatal Issues Pilates can help with:

POSTURE:
It is hard to maintain good posture when you are sitting up feeding, especially at night. However without good posture, those aches and pains slip in. Muscles get tight in the wrong places which can cause restrictions in your movement and cause you to compensate.

Over time poor posture can cause long term pain throughout the body, so it’s not something you want to ignore. Postnatal pilates when run by a specialised teacher will put in exercises to strengthen your upper back, talk through shoulder placement with you and use functional exercises to help with those motherhood moves that you do daily.

Sitting more will also lead to tighter hamstrings, so these need to be stretched out regularly.

The key really is to find out which part of your posture you need to focus on and which muscles need releasing. A good class and teacher will highlight this to you.

FLEXIBILITY:
There can be a lot of hormones flying around. Relaxin is a hormone that can affect the laxity of your ligaments, so this can leave you vulnerable to overstretching and potentially pulling a ligament. Learning to work within the normal range of movement for your body is the key here and not pushing yourself too hard, too soon.

PELVIC FLOOR:
Having carried a baby around your pelvic floor has taken a lot of strain. If you have then pushed baby out then that is even more damage that will have occured to the pelvic floor. Pilates will help you strengthen the whole of your core, including your pelvic floor. If you need more help in this area then check out  “Pimp Your Pelvic Floor”

ABDOMINAL SEPARATION:
Many ladies suffer from Diastasis Recti, this is a condition that is common in pregnancy and nothing to be concerned about as long as it is fixed postnatally! For some, the abdominals will naturally heal up by themselves, for others it will take more work. Exercises such as curls ups, planks and sitting up from lying on your back are not suitable and can make matters worse. A specialist pilates teacher with postnatal training will be able to help you.

PELVIC GIRDLE PAIN:
If you suffered from this in pregnancy then the likelikood is that it will disappear once baby comes along. However it is always a good idea to do some strenghtening work postnatally. If your hips and pelvis were struggling in pregnancy then some TLC for them can make all the difference in the long term.

LOWER BACK PAIN:
One of the common complaints I see in mums. Those babies get heavy when you are carrying them around a lot. Having a strong core and good posture when you lift and carry is so important. Pilates will help train your body so you are stronger and more able to manage this. The release exercises will also help mobilise and decrease any pain.

If you aren’t local to me, then check out my Postnatal Pilates DVD.

A Man’s Pilates Journey and a Challenge for you.

It’s been a while since my last Blog.

I am still regularly attending classes, and loving it. 😉 The only week I have missed, was when I was in Spain for a family holiday…the commitment is paying off. I am starting to see the benefits.

I look forward to Wednesday evenings. It is a time where I can focus on my back, my posture, and relax from a busy day. It’s lovely to take part in a class myself and experience how the studio feels as a punter.
Firstly, as I mentioned in my last Blog, my Hamstrings are TIGHT. Jo reminds me of this, and it seems like the exercises are set to “…test James…” – or am I just paranoid? The sign of a good instructor – one who knows her classes well.

The Challenge:

I find that using the Bands are very useful, such a great tool for stretching.
I am going to set myself a challenge in the coming week – stretch each morning, to set me up for the day. Just a few minutes, but it will reduce my back pain, and loosen my muscles.
Will you join me in this challenge? Go on… you know it will make a difference. If you need a band then we have these available in the studio.

Hamstring Stretch
Band Hamstring Stretch

I banter with Jo, but ultimately, I know this is a part of me that I need to work on.
I probably drive more than I should do…definitely sit down more than I should (this is not a time for Priya to comment!), and sit on the wrong types of chairs, using my laptop for writing emails, social media updates, and suchlike…

So again – more walking to do the school-run, sitting square in the chairs, and generally being more active.
Today I was preparing some of the veg beds, so got some Vitamin D, some fresh air, and some exercise. Was only about 30 minutes, but it was 30mins more than the day before, so that is a bonus in my books. 😉

I have found that over the last few months, I have consciously thought about my posture more. And now I am training as a Massage Therapist, it is important I continue my focus on that.

I hear from others over the years, that the classes are ‘hard work’, and I can completely agree with that. What I knew before I started my Pilates Journey, was that the speed of repetition was not the key. It was the way the repetition was done. When I say that, I mean, 20 fast reps could be less beneficial that 10 slow reps. Core Strength is built in keeping the muscles engaged, and working.

I love the relaxation that class gives me and have been surprised by how much work Pilates actually is. That feeling the morning after when my muscles tell me Jo has worked them hard – it’s quite rewarding.

Have a great week, and remember, stretch those Hamstrings. 😉

PS – We sell Bands in the Studio – just ask James or Priya for one.

Office Exercises for backs & shoulders.

Do you sit a lot for work/travel? It’s well known now that sitting for long periods really isn’t good for our bodies, however it isn’t always avoidable!

Sitting can often lead to tight hamstrings, rounded shoulders and lower back pain. Here are some ideas to help you release tension, alleviate pain and correct your posture.

Ask for someone to look at your chair and work station with you sat in it. Looking at whether your feet can go flat on the floor, how upright you are sat, the position of your laptop/computer in relation to your eyeline, arms and shoulders.

Think about what work you can do stood up. Can you make a standing workstation? For example, I often use our breakfast bar as a place to work as it’s the right height for me to work on my laptop.

Take regular posture breaks. Make sure you get up and walk around, change position and check your posture every 30-40 minutes. Build it into your schedule. This could even be a walk to make a drink or go to the toilet!

 

Whilst sat at your desk use shoulder shrugs, shoulder rolls and gentle release exercises to release tension.

 

Stretch at the end of every day and during the day if you can. A decent hamstring stretch will really make your body feel much better. Combine it with a CAT and your lower back will love you.

 

Align your weaknesses for better posture.

Ever noticed what happens to your posture when you are tired? I definitely slump through my thoracic spine (upper back) and have  tendency to round my shoulders. I have a large mirror on the wall in my room and sometimes at night I will catch a glimpse of my posture. If I’m tired out it’s not a pretty sight. Knowing what your bad habits are is key to improving your overall alignment. Bad posture will lead to pain, tightness and weakness. That niggling back pain, shoulder tension and neck ache…could well be due to your posture.

DiagramPosture-01-209x300

A couple of definitions:

Posture: the way in which your body is positioned when you are sitting or standing. Good posture require the least amount of muscle activity to keep an upright position.

Good Posture reduces stress and fatigue on the body so helps it work more effectively.

Alignment: the proper positioning or state of adjustment of parts (as of a mechanical or electronic device) in relation to each other i.e. the body constantly works to try and maintain neutral.

Alignment takes into account the forces on the body and looks at how the body should be.

I know from my bad habits that I need to remind myself throughout the day and when I am doing Pilates to check my shoulder alignment and pull up through my thoracic spine.

Top Tip: Work out your weaknesses so you can become stronger.  Give yourself time to stretch and iron out thoses niggles. 2 examples that I often see:

1. Rounded shoulders:  Work on lifting through the ribcage (but not sticking it out too far) and sliding the shoulder blades down in your spine.  Use exercises like chicken wings and try lying on a roller to release.

2. Slumped and rounded lower back? Think about coming into neutral pelvis at certain points throughout the day. Try some pelvic tilts to find neutral and to strengthen the core.

Perfect your Posture

Think about it, however often in your day do you pay attention to your posture? If you don’t do Pilates then I am guessing the answer is not often if at all. Yet our posture plays a large role in how we look, walk, sit and feel on a day to day basis. Bad posture can result in back, neck and shoulder pain along with too tight muscles in some areas and overstretched, weakened muscles elsewhere. Over time poor posture can result in disc issues and degneration of joints.

So in the next few posts I am going to talk through different types of posture, hopefully this will help you identify your own postural imbalances, make you more aware, so that you can focus on correcting the problems.

posture picture

In this post we are going to recap on Neutral Spine in a lying position.

Neutral spine is the natural position of the spine when all 3 curves of the spine — cervical (neck), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) — are present and in good alignment. This is the strongest position for the spine when we are standing or sitting, and the one that we are made to move from. Knowing how to find the neutral spine position is crucial for doing many Pilates exercises correctly.

Neutral spine lying down:

1. Feet hip socket distance apart, flat on the floor, straight and facing forward.

2. Knees bent, a small gap between them.

3. Pelvis rocked into neutral so it is neither tilted up (lower back pressed into the floor) or tilted under (large curve through the lower back). The hip bones should be lined up and you should feel you are flat from hip bone to hip bone and through to the pubic bone.

4. Slight natural curve through the lower back, think about being able to pass an envelope underneath.

5. Shoulder blades slid down in the back.

6. Neck long with the chin slightly tilted towards the chest as if you were clasping an orange between your chin and your chest.

DSCF9775

Just lying in this neutral position can help with back ache, try lying there for 5 minutes, release the tension in your neck and shoulder, drawing your core and relax yout bum, thighs and feet. Take a few deep breaths. Feels good doesn’t it!

 

Top Tips on Maintaining Neutral Spine and Pelvis

Neutral pelvis is a funny concept where we aim to keep the pelvis neither tilted up or under but in “neutral alignment”. The idea is to have a straight line from hip bone to hip bone and to be flat from that hip bone area all the way through to the pubic bone. With Neutral spine it can be simpler to think of the spine being straight, however this isn’t actually true! When lying down there will be a slight natural curve in the lower back, for some this will be bigger than others. Think about being able to pass an envelope underneath your lower back and get your instructor to check if you are not sure.
Most people find getting into neutral is relatively easy to achieve at the start of an exercise but maintaining it is the tricky bit. My top tips are to:

1. Think about the lower back being heavy and almost sinking into the back (we don’t actually want it to do this but the imagery can help)
2. Think about there being a heavy weight on the ribcage holding you down to the mat.
3. Keep the sides of the body long and strong to hold you still.
4. Think about the core being weighty as this is what is keeping you in neutral.

If you feel yourself coming out of neutral, stop the exercise, check your core is drawn in and then try again. You may need to make the movement smaller until your body is a bit stronger.

 

Pilates helps in Sport.

Currently we are getting a few more sporting types coming through the studio who are looking to use Pilates to improve their performance. Pilates is especially effective in building core stability, improving focus and injury prevention. All sports have their own key patterns of movement and repeated use of these movement patterns can result in muscular imbalance. Less relevant muscle groups can become weak and inefficient, with the more predominant muscles becoming bulky and tight. Pilates focuses on the body as a whole, aiming to rebalance muscles and improve postural alignment. Here are some of the ways Pilates can help in specific sports.

 

Cricket:

Both Mike Atherton and Graham Thorpe use Pilates as a way to overcome previous injuries and to prevent future ones. Pilates provides key benefits for both batsmen and bowlers, which is why many top cricketers use it in their training. Mike Atherton, the former England captain, swore by Pilates as a way both to recover from injuries and to prevent future ones. Graham Thorpe, another England batsman, abandoned his cricket equipment and used Pilates to overcome serious back problems he’d acquired from playing the sport.

Pilates improves flexibility and strength, enhances posture, balance and co-ordination and develops core strength. Incorporating Pilates into your training programme is the perfect way for cricket players to improve their posture which in turn will improve the way they handle their cricket equipment.

Cricket

Snowboarding and Skiing plus Watersports:

Pilates challenges the deep abdominal ‘core’ muscles that help to maintain the dynamic, balanced posture that is essential for safe and efficient skiing or snowboarding. A strong core helps to counteract the twists and turns of the slope, and gives you the ability to negotiate the slopes or the water with great balance and poise.

Golf:

Tiger Woods, Annika Sorrenstam and Rocco Mediate have all incorporated Pilates into their training regimen and the results are clear!

The golf swing is a little one-sided, which can create imbalance in the body. Pilates helps you to swing from your core, not from your limbs, and to balance out the body against the forces of the swing. If you strengthen the core, increase your flexibility, build stability in the pelvis and shoulder girdles and balance both sides of the body, it will allow you to hit it farther, straighter and more accurately.

Golf

Running:

Runners advocate Pilates because it builds long, strong muscles, improves flexibility and lessens the risk of injury. Runners often suffer from back, knee and hip problems from the constant impact involved in running. Pilates concentrates on posture and alignment – it opens up the hips, the vertebrae in the lower back and focuses on joint mobility.

Horse-Riding:

This requires balance, good posture and strong gluts, thighs and core. Pilates will help to correct postural imbalances, create body awareness and stretch out tight glut and hamstrings.

Show Jumping

Football and Rugby:

A growing number of top footballers and rugby players do Pilates as a way of improving co-ordination, mobility, flexibility and technique, as well as for prevention and recovery from injuries. The All Blacks and the Welsh Rugby Union is among the high-profile advocates of Pilates

Football and rugby both demand rapid directional changes, often at near-maximum pace, which demans flexibility in the body. The players also need to deliver controlled power from unbalanced body positions for tackles and scrums – all Pilates movements are initiated from a strong core to provide stability, and targeting these requirements can aid injury prevention and enhance performance by developing stamina, co-ordination and strength. Hamstring tears are common in both sports – focusing on the stabiliser muscles of the pelvis (the buttocks and groin muscles), will help prevent them.

Height Measure

Pilates makes you taller!

I’ve had a couple of people mention to me lately that since starting Pilates they have grown from 1cm to 1.5 inches taller. Initially I laughed at this, but then I happened to re-height myself and guess what? I’ve grown too, one whole centimetre.

It got me thinking. What’s this about?

Pilates helps with alignment and posture. Over time  either the principles of neutral alignment become a bit like second nature or you end up with my voice nagging in your head…. “stand up tall with a piece of string pulling you up towards the ceiling, shoulder pulled round and down in your back, pelvis in neutral, core engaged….” So it does make sense that over time, the practise of standing tall whilst using your core can make you taller.

The normal ageing process affects our height, as the disks in the spine lose hydration and elasticity they start to shrink. Sitting at a desk hunched over a computer screen leads to the back becoming stretched, the shoulders and chest tight and the hamstrings shortened. To me this shows how much we need to focus on stretching and on proper alignment. If your muscles are tight and short it leads to pain.

Strengthening the back and stretching the shoulders and chest whilst remembering to lengthen through the neck can correct this and make you taller!

 

 

Pilates helps Back Pain

As my Pilates classes have grown and my networking has increases I’ve had more and more people being referred by Chiropractors or Physio’s. A lot of these people are coming because of back pain. What’s so exciting is to then hear and see the improvements in people after just a few sessions.  So what is it about Pilates that works so well for back pain relief?

Pilates addresses the underlying structural imbalances in the body that lead to back pain. Issues like lack of core support, pelvic instability, muscular imbalances, poor posture, and lack of body awareness all affect back health.

Pilates Helps Correct Posture

In Pilates, we pay a lot of attention to how our body parts are lined up in relation to each other, which is our alignment.  When alignment is off, uneven stresses on the skeleton, especially the spine, are the result. Pilates exercises, done with attention to alignment, allow movement to flow through the body in a natural way.

For example, one of the most common postural imbalances that people have is the tendency to either tuck or tilt the pelvis. Both positions create weaknesses on one side of the body and overly tight areas on the other. The spine can’t form its natural curve and you get aches and pains all up the spine and neck.  Doing Pilates helps you focus on holding a “neutral spine” which means the proper placement of the spine and pelvis. Strengthening your core creates the inner strength to support the natural curves of the spine.

Pilates Develops Core Strength

Having core strength means that all of the muscles of the trunk of your body are strong, flexible, and working together to support and stabilize the spine. This goes deeper than the big surface muscles, it’s not about building  “6 pack” I’m afraid! The core muscles include the muscles that are below the surface musculature.  Some of these less obvious but very important core muscles are the muscles of the pelvic floor;  and the psoas, which play a huge role in keeping us upright and in hip bending; which are small muscles that weave along the spine; and the transverse and oblique abdominal muscles.  All of these muscles play crucial roles in the support and stability of the spine.

Pilates Promotes Flexibility

A healthy spine can curve forward and backward, twist, and move side to side, and do so in a way that reveals all the subtle articulations that our many vertebrae allow us to have. Pilates exercises are easy to modify so that we can develop spinal flexibility at our own pace. This is one of the things about Pilates that makes it easy for people with back pain to work with. In my classes there are different options for exercises so you work at your level.
Pilates Increases Body Awareness
Back pain is a messenger letting us know that we have to pay more attention to our bodies. The Pilates method is full attention exercise. You can’t do Pilates without becoming extremely aware of your alignment and how your body works. This is extremely important for people with back pain because Pilates not only improve physical functioning, but makes you more aware of what you are doing in day to day life. So as you are walking, bending and sitting you start to think about your alignment and core.
Do you have back pain? Try out Pilates! It really does work.