Give Yourself the Gift of Good Heath
The Holidays…the season that we tend to spend more time eating cookies than exercising. When socializing becomes all about food and family and we find ourselves forgetting about our fitness.
In honor of not falling off your wellness wagon through the holidays, I hope you’ll join me for the Centerworks Holiday Health Challenge! It’s easy, it’s on the honor system, and it’s the best gift you can give yourself this food-filled, holiday season!
Here’s the Centerworks Holiday Health Challenge – Ready… 4,3,2,1, GO…
- 4 Days a week (minimum)
- 30 minutes of Cardio
- 20 Minutes of Strength & Conditioning
- 10 Minutes of Stretching
Workout a minimum of 4 Days a week from NOW until the NEW Year! You pick the days you’re going to do the work, and the activities you enjoy. And if you get carried away and do a 45 min walk/jog instead of 30 min – SWEET! You’ve just given yourself a bonus fifteen minute health boost! (But, here’s the catch, your extra minutes do not carry over for you to “skip out” on another day’s workout.) Also, your Workouts for this challenge do NOT have to be completed in one continuous hour. It is perfectly ok, to break it up throughout your day. JUST strive to get everything done that you’ve committed to with this challenge to take care of YOU before your head hits the pillow. OH, and if you’re bursting with extra energy and nothing else to do…feel free to do MORE than 4 days of workouts a week, but at a bare minimum this challenge is to get you to commit 4 of the 168 hours you’ve got each week to take care of your mind and body through the Holidays.
Those who successfully complete the challenge and turn in a copy of your workout log by January 7th, will be entered into a special prize drawing (prizes to be announced at a later date).
Start at any time. There is no cost and no catch to participate in this Centerworks Challenge… Just be consistent with your commitment. After all, the person that is going to benefit the most from participating is YOU!
I hope you’ll join me!
Download the Holiday Health Challenge Tracker
Is Pilates a Good Workout? This is a question asked by someone who has never done a Pilates workout! But the answer might surprise you, because there are several factors to consider – and really who is the best person to decide what qualifies as a “good” workout?
What do you consider a good workout? Is it one that gets you breathing harder or elevates your heart rate? Fatigues your muscles? Improves your flexibility? Focuses on your core? Works the whole-body? Makes you think? Challenges your physical abilities? Breaks a sweat? Improves your balance? Enhances coordination? Do you have to be thoroughly exhausted after a good workout or are you a-ok with being more energized? Does a good workout for you help reduce stress, improve sleep, and help put a smile on your face? Are your “good workouts” helping improve posture, reduce aches and pains, and reducing your risk of injury? Are your workouts helping you get stronger, fitter, and enhancing your health? ALL the qualities I’ve listed above are a part of what a Pilates workout can do to help improve your whole-body health.
Now with that said, you might not always break a sweat doing Pilates. There may be days where your workouts are more mentally taxing than physical. And there can be a huge difference in intensity level between a beginner’s Pilates workout and an intermediate-advanced level Pilates workout. Good is relative. The better question is, what is good for YOUR body? What do you need to work on to improve and enhance your health? Which are the best Pilates exercises that can help improve how you move based on your personal health history, your strengths, your weaknesses, and your muscle imbalances? The answers to these questions won’t be found in a cookie-cutter workout, but they are the primary reason for the exercises IN your Pilates workouts!
Pilates is a mind-body modality. Every exercise, regardless of whether you’re working out in the weight room, doing Yoga, TRX, CrossFit, Aquatics, sports…every workout needs to have an element of brain-body connection. If you’re working the body, your brain should be engaged too! But, a lot of people want to tune-out instead of tune-in to what they’re doing while they’re moving. And this can make any workout a dangerous affair. If you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing, the muscles you’re using, how your body feels, what’s working well, and what needs to be improved, how fatigued you are to be able to safely execute another rep… there’s a good chance that “good workout” you were just having will turn into a pulled muscle, or other accident, and you’ll be sitting on the sidelines wishing you could workout.
There can be many different criteria used to decide what qualifies as a good workout. With Pilates the exercises are always challenging, and even when you progress to more intermediate and advanced exercises, the basics can still be very tough and give you a good workout. With Pilates “more” is not always better. But rather “more correctly” will give you better benefits from your Pilates workouts. As you become more familiar with the exercises and can do them well, your pace will pick up. Increase the pace and you’ll either complete your workout more quickly, or have time to pack in two to three times the number of exercises you used to complete in an hour!
Joseph Pilates believed that you could achieve a well-rounded, full body workout with the Pilates system in 60 minutes or less. That would be Reformer, Mat, and perhaps a few supplemental exercises your body needs either on the Cadillac, Chairs, or Barrels. While Pilates is not considered a form of “aerobic” exercise, if you’re working at a brisk pace as you trot thru your workout, it is possible to get an elevated heart rate. And, if you add some of the Pilates Jump board exercises on the Reformer into your routine, you might end up with some full on cardio benefits.
But Pilates isn’t about cardio. And there is a lot more to Pilates than just Matwork. Pilates is about uniformly developing the whole-body in a well-balanced manner to improve strength, flexibility, posture, breathing, and body control – mind, body, and spirit feels better after a Pilates workout.
So, is Pilates a good workout?
Pilates is for every BODY. But not every exercise is for every body.
Whether you’re young or old, healthy or de-conditioned, athletic, or have never played a sport in your life. Maybe you are coordinated, have two left feet, are able-bodied, or have physical limitations and health challenges that make regular exercise almost impossible. If you’re looking for a good workout, and want to improve your whole-body health, find a well-qualified Pilates teacher to assist you (to help maximize the benefits your body will receive) and be sure to make Pilates a part of your weekly workout routine.
Interested in learning more about the Pilates System? Grab a copy of Return To Life Through Contrology. Return to Life is the original Pilates Mat exercise book written by Joseph H. Pilates and contains the concepts and philosophies of The Pilates Method or “Contrology” and the original Matwork exercises.
Inside, find a step-by-step demonstration of how to do the original 34 Matwork exercises as well as why Mr. Pilates found the mind-body connection to be an integral piece in his development of the Pilates system.
Why Hips and Pelvic Placement Matter for Healthy Movement and How Pilates Exercises Can Benefit You
Are you dealing with annoying chronic aches and pains, or have you experienced an injury that seems impossible to fully recover from? Body posture and proper pelvic placement play a HUGE role in how easy (or challenging) it might be to maintain your whole-body health. Doing Pilates can be an excellent way to explore exercises to help you improve pelvic placement, enhance posture and body awareness, and put your pelvis where it belongs to help develop healthy movement habits for better functional movement.
If injured, we compensate. It’s not just the injury that’s the problem, it’s all the ways we compensated during the injury that reinforces bad body mechanics, increases wear and tear, and makes it more likely that we’ll get stuck in a pain-injury cycle. Who do you know that’s experienced the domino effect of the knee injury leading to the hip pain, leading to a low back problem? Or a shoulder injury, leading to the upper neck and back pain, then lower back and hip pain, and other related chronic aches and pains (that they might not even realize are related!). How about that fall you took as a kid when you landed hard on your tailbone. How long do you think your body has been compensating for that?
I had a new client this week who complained of a tight hamstring. She’s younger, has done lots of stretching, and just can’t get it to release. Her assumption was, “My hamstring is tight, it will always be tight, there is nothing I can do to fix it.” In less than an hour of discussing her posture, breathing, and pelvic placement, she began to realize that there are things she CAN do. The habits she’s been using to stand, sit, and move are contributing to the problem. With a better understanding of how to change your habits and get the right things working correctly, you can improve just about anything!
Another new client had a shoulder injury many years ago. Her shoulder still hurts, nobody’s been able to totally “fix” it. And in addition, she’s now plagued with hand issues and severe carpal tunnel problems. She’s had carpal tunnel surgery once already that helped for a little while, but now she thinks it’s time to do it again. Looking at her posture, it’s easy to see why her shoulders and arms hurt! And while hand surgery might help, there is no way it’s going to be a long-term solution. I’m confident that when we fix her posture issues, there will be less nerve impingement, so the notion of more surgeries can go on the back-burner as a last-ditch option (Because surgery is not really “fixing” the problems causing the nerve impingement in the first place!). But who would think that correcting pelvic placement would matter for a shoulder problem? Trust me, it does!
Here’s a question for you — Who is paying attention to your posture and pelvic placement?
When you go to your doctor and complain of a pain anywhere in your body, how often do they look at the one specific spot you’re complaining about vs. how it should be integrating with the rest of your body?
When you do therapy or rehab, are the exercises focused on the parts or the whole? Because it might not be your quad/hamstring muscle balance that is causing your knee pain but rather your foot/ankle mechanics, the ability of your thigh to rotate inward and outward, freely, how over-grippy your hip flexors are, or functional hip mechanics and pelvis placement that really need to be addressed to help your knee bend and straighten without hurting. And this is just one example… Pick a body part!
Is anybody looking at what is going on above and below what hurts and then recommending exercises to correct or adjust the things that are out of balance everywhere?
Yes, I know there might be so much to pay attention to and improve that it can be a little overwhelming at first. But would you rather focus on the pain, pop a pill, schedule and expensive surgery, or focus on finding new ways to support yourself, improve strength, flexibility, and body mechanics by changing how you use your muscles to improve body alignment and start feeling better?
If you want to stay healthy, you’ve got to choose healthy habits. And sometimes that involves un-learning bad habits to replace them with better ones. Whether your aches and pains are above or below your pelvis, improving pelvic placement will improve posture, body mechanics, and help you find and use the right muscles to move without pain.
The first step to improving pelvic placement, is becoming aware of your posture habits and working to improve both posture and breathing. But muscle imbalances and old bad habits might make it challenging to stand tall. It will take movement to change muscle habits. It’s challenging to change standing still – which is why working diligently to improve balanced muscle development is so important. And this is a built-in feature of the Pilates system! When you get it right, it’s easier to move, your muscles and joints can start doing their job effectively, you will get stronger, more flexible, and quickly start to reduce or eliminate pain.
If it’s difficult for you to notice what you’re doing when you’re standing still – can you imagine what havoc is happening when you’re moving?
Possible Pelvic Placement Positions
In very un-technical terms, when you look at Pelvis Placement there are three basic positions your hips might be in:
- Tuck Butt
- Duck Butt
- Middle of the Road Butt
The Trouble with “Tuck Butt”
If your preference is to live your life in a “Tuck” butt position, here are a few ways this poor pelvis position is harming your health. First, your glutes are over-working as stabilizers. Second, this position shifts a lot of stress straight into the knees. Third, the ball of the thigh bone is jammed up into the socket – so it’s impossible to effectively get a good leg swing to the back when you walk.
“Tuck Butt” Pelvis Placement can lead to low back pain, knee pain, hip pain, and upper back, neck, and shoulder problems. With the hips in a posterior pelvic tilt, it pulls the low back out of it’s normal arch, glutes and legs are doing so much that the low abs get lazy. Because the low back tucked, the mid to upper back is likely trying to reverse its curve and arch more, making it impossible to get a deep breath into the bottom of the lungs. There is a chain reaction that goes all the way up. Because the natural curves of the spine are gone and the back is weak and out of position, the chest and upper trapezius muscles take over and pull the shoulders too far up and forward. I could go on… but I hope you get the point. If your normal posture position is to stand and sit with your butt tucked, it’s inhibiting functional movement. Sooner or later when your body can’t take it anymore, you can expect chronic aches and pains, or a more serious injury to occur.
The Difficulties of “Duck Butt”
If you’re comfort zone is a “Duck Butt” there’s a ton of stress on your low back and it’s harder to find your abs because your back wants to do all the work. Because you don’t have the support in the pelvis, chances are you live life overworking your chest, arms, and shoulders. Aside from the structural aches and pains, you might also experience digestion/bowel difficulties because all your internal organs are falling out to the front which means they’re not in position to function optimally. With a forward tilted pelvis, it is impossible to get a good leg swing to the back when you walk, so your gait will be compromised and the chain reaction of poor posture and bad pelvic placement begins…
“Duck Butt” Pelvis Placement can lead to similar low back, knee, hip, upper back, neck and shoulder pain issues but for different reasons. Because the pelvis is tilted too far forward, the lower back muscles end up on lock-down. The body weight is usually resting more on the heels with the knees locked. In trying to stand upright with the pelvis tilted forward, the shoulders will be too far back and may end up behind the hips – which throws the entire back into an arch. Instead of the three normal curves of the spine, there is one long arc (like a banana). Abdominals pooch out and the head shifts forward to counter balance the weight on the heels. Because the whole back is now inappropriately arched and the shoulder blades need a curve to rest on, the shoulders will hike up and round forward. Duck Butt pelvis placement people tend to have super-tight lower backs, usually have super tight quadriceps, and hip flexors that are working overtime. Know anybody that looks like this?
Remember I’m speaking in general terms here. Your pelvis placement might be creating other issues not mentioned above!
Here’s the deal. If your hips and pelvis aren’t living in the optimal position for movement, you will be unable to move efficiently, effectively, and without pain. Without good posture and the right muscle firing patterns it is almost impossible to maintain (or improve) your health. If you’re one of the millions of people struggling with low back pain, SI joint issues, hip, knee, or foot pain, there’s a very high probability that your posture and pelvic placement could use fine-tuning for new and better movement habits.
Sometimes the pelvis needs to be stabilized. Sometimes it needs to move into an arch, sometimes it needs to move into a c-curve or scoop. Sometimes both halves of the pelvis need to do something different at the same time (Gait and WALKING for example!)
Next couple of questions…
How are you going to improve your Pelvic Placement when you’re not sure:
- Which position the pelvis needs to be in?
- Is the pelvis supposed to be stable or mobile?
- What is MY pelvis doing and what do I need to do to fix it?
If you’ve been doing exercises that are supposed to be “good for you” but they’re not. or they hurt while you’re doing them, or you’ve been doing them for months and don’t see the improvements you’d hoped for – your pelvic placement, posture, breathing, and body mechanics might need to be adjusted to work effectively. Not everybody cues all this when they tell you to do every exercise in your workout!
When you understand the difference between tucking and scooping – and learn to scoop correctly when you need a posteriorly-tilted pelvis, you’ll have the right support to do exercises like the Pilates Roll Up.
When you understand how to tilt the pelvis forward and hinge from the hips effectively with good core support, you’re going to get big improvements in your hamstring flexibility, and significantly reduce stress on your lower back.
And when you understand how to stabilize the sacrum and mobilize each side of the pelvis independently – you’ll be well on your way to a healthier stride.
Ultimately it would be great to find, feel, and learn how to live with “Middle of the Road” butt as your neutral or functional pelvis position. Not too arched, not too tucked. There are a lot of other little details that can help you fine-tune your posture and figure out where this pelvic position is, and this is where working with a great Pilates teacher can help you figure it out.
How Can Pilates help Pelvic Placement?
I am such a huge fan of Pilates! Of course, teaching Pilates daily for the past 25 years has given me the opportunity to see how powerful it can be to connect mind, body, breathing, and movement. The Pilates equipment can help both support and assist developing new and better habits for pelvic placement. Because exercises are done lying on the back, side, belly, kneeling, standing, right-side up, and upside down, Pilates students are given the opportunity to learn how to organize the body and keep everything working well regardless of where they are in space. The spring resistance on the Reformer, Cadillac/Tower, and Chairs help the muscles learn to work and release properly, meaning that unlike lifting weights where it’s difficult in one direction and gravity does the work the other way, you must work to control the springs in both directions. Pilates Barrel exercises, especially the Pilates Arc Barrel can be fabulous for becoming more aware of pelvic placement, core support, and spine, shoulder, and hip mobility. There is so much variety with Pilates that it’s never boring, there is always something to focus on and endless variations and exercises to modify for those who are working their way out of pain or to challenge even the most highly skilled athlete.
That is why it’s a worthwhile investment to find a well-qualified Pilates teacher and take some private sessions. Having a well-trained and experienced set of eyes helping you become more aware of your good/bad habits, and helping you with specific exercises to improve pelvic placement, posture, breathing, and movement – can be worth every penny! It’s difficult sometimes to see, or feel what we’re doing on our own, and in a group class – you will miss out on some of the hands-on help you get with privates. Logically understanding what to do, and confidently knowing in your body that you can do it well takes time, practice, and a good movement mentor can help speed up the process. Exercise is designed to keep us healthy. But if your Pelvis isn’t in a good position to start with, it will be impossible to activate and strengthen the right muscles to keep you moving well – regardless of the exercise!
Are you ready to improve health and eliminate pain? It might be time to start paying more attention to your posture and pelvic placement.
Take the Centerworks Posture Quiz and become more aware of your current posture habits.
I mentioned that gait and walking is an important activity that requires good pelvic placement and functional movement habits to get optimal benefits from. If you’re interested putting Pilates principles to work when you walk, (whether you’ve ever taken a Pilates lesson or not…) check out my Pilates-Walk book. It’s a simple system of tips, techniques, and exercises to break down the complicated aspects of improving gait to help improve your stride.
Another one of my favorite places to focus on pelvic placement is with the Pilates Arc Barrel. If you have an Arc Barrel at home, there are lots of great exercises you can do not only for your hips and pelvis, but to help your whole-body. Get yourself a Pilates Arc Barrel, then grab a copy of my book, A Barrel of Fun! Pilates Arc Barrel Workout and start practicing better pelvic placement to improve how you move, help enhance posture and help eliminate pain.
It’s a question frequently asked by new Pilates students, “When will I see measurable results from my Pilates workouts?” Everyone is eager to start reaping the benefits from their investment in Pilates workouts. And since we’re living in an instant-gratification society, the faster we can get results, the better! Patience seems to be a lost art. We want our aches and pains to disappear instantly – even though the poor posture and movement habits we’ve been using that created the problems have accumulated over time, leaving us with the aches, pains, and injuries we are now trying to get rid of.
Results, it’s all about Results. One healthy dinner is not going to result in a 10 lb weight loss. But it’s a great start for a lifetime of better eating habits! Pilates is the same. One workout probably isn’t going to “fix” all your bad habits and miraculously make your aching back feel better – but there are lots of Pilates enthusiasts out there that have seen amazing results and improvements even from one Pilates Workout. These client success stories help create the belief and awareness that it is possible to change your body and improve your health with Pilates!
Results need to be measurable. It’s the only way that you’ll really know things are changing. The question becomes, what do YOU want to measure? Is it how you feel? How much energy you have to get through the day? A decrease in the amount of pain you have on a 1-10 scale? How close are you to touching your toes? How easy it is to climb up a flight of stairs? How easily you can balance on one leg without falling over? How many push-ups, pull-ups or dips can you do? How many inches you’ve lost around your waist? How many pounds you’ve lost or gained? How easy is it to fall asleep? Has your golf score improved? It’s easier to breathe? Are you less fuzzy-headed and can think more clearly? Have you eliminated your chronic knee pain, foot pain, hip pain, back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain? All of these are measurable results my clients have experienced over the years thanks to their Pilates workouts.
In my experience, it’s rare for me to see a new client who is healthy and fit! Usually people show up at the studio with “issues” they’ve put up with, feeling crappy for a long time. Maybe they’ve tried other things and didn’t really get results. Pilates is their last-ditch effort to see if it’s possible to get their life back. (They haven’t’ lost all hope, but they’re pretty close to rock bottom…) I love these clients! They are the most eager to work, try their hardest, and are always eternally grateful as they start to see and feel the progress they’re making to get their life back. And most of the time changes start happening quickly – even during their very first session! It’s not what I’m doing for them, it’s what they are doing with the help of the Pilates System to improve posture, breathing, and re-educate the body for better health!
When the body is in good alignment, it’s easier to activate the right muscles to move. Improve how you move, and good health follows.
What’s more important than quick results, is the consistency and discipline to keep plugging away at it. There is always more to learn and ways to continue challenging the body with Pilates to improve your health. I’ve got clients who have dedicated more than twenty years to consistent 2-4 day a week Pilates workouts! Why are they still at it? Because every week things improve and their bodies feels better. They know that they are STILL getting results from their efforts.
Pilates isn’t just about doing the exercises… It’s about improving them – every single time you do a workout. With this philosophy in place, results happen (and keep happening) because you’re always striving to be better, stretch farther, and find a little bit of extra muscle to move and improve your balance, coordination, and body control.
Joseph Pilates had this to say about getting results from his method of exercise:
“In 10 sessions you’ll feel the difference. In 20 sessions you’ll see the difference. And in 30 sessions you’ll have a completely new body.”
The only way to start seeing measurable results from your Pilates workouts is to make the commitment to do Pilates. Work the system – Reformer and Matwork in addition to supplemental exercises with the Cadillac, Chairs, and Barrels. By using the Pilates system, (not just doing a couple of “Pilates” based exercises during a workout.) you will be able to really reap the benefits of better whole-body health from your Pilates program. If you’re doing Pilates and striving to make the last rep of every exercise your best rep ever, you will continue to see measurable results from your Pilates workouts.
Pick a goal or two that you want to achieve. Let your Pilates teacher know what you want to work on and improve. Be aware that even though you might not see the relevance, there are probably a myriad of exercises in your workouts that are helping to move you forward to your goals.
Don’t lose faith. Sometimes change happens very quickly and other times it’s a journey – your brain and body must arrive at a place where change can happen. When the time is right and the body is ready, you WILL begin seeing measurable results from your Pilates workouts. The effort is worth it! Better health is a birthright.
To learn more Pilates and Whole-Body health tips, sign up now to receive the Centerworks Newsletter. Find information in your inbox you can use to inspire and education yourself and others and learn tips and tricks for getting measurable results from your Pilates workouts.
Do you have Kyphosis?
It’s a fairly common back problem. In fact, there are more than 3 million cases of Kyphosis in the US per year. What is Kyphosis? It’s commonly known as having a “hunchback.” Kyphosis is an excessive outward curvature of the upper back and is most common in older women, often is related to osteoporosis. But it’s not just a women’s problem, men can have Kyphosis too. Some people experience back pain, neck pain, and stiffness. Kyphosis is a body posture that can become disfiguring. Sadly, with the increased number of hours that we’re sitting in front of our computers and ducking our heads forward to look at our cell phones, everyone is at a higher risk for developing Kyphosis with our poor posture habits! And just because you have Kyphosis, doesn’t mean you’ve got osteoporosis. There are different ways you can treat Kyphosis including, pain meds, physical therapy, back braces, exercise, and surgery.
How can Pilates help Kyphosis? Dramatically! First of all, Kyphosis is mostly a postural problem. Yes, there might be underlying medical issues or a genetic predisposition to carry yourself with a hunchback. But ultimately it’s about body alignment and developing better muscle function to help you stand taller and be straighter. Exercise is crucial to develop better body alignment.
Pilates is one of the best physical activities on the planet to help eliminate hunchbacked, Kyphotic posture. Why? Because there is so much emphasis in a Pilates workout on moving the spine. By bending forward, backwards, sideways, and twisting the muscles of the torso in both the front and the back, the spine is getting stretched and strengthened in ways designed to help lift and lengthen it for better posture.
When the body is bent forward in Kyphosis, the upper back can become both over-stretched and weak while the chest muscles end up being too tight and strong. Added to this is the fact that 98% of what we do in life is in front of us – we’re ALL at risk for developing Kyphosis.
To begin re-balancing the upper body, the chest muscles need to be stretched and the upper back, arms and shoulders needs to be strengthened. Getting stronger with the hips, pelvic floor, and low core will also provide an anchor of support to help lift the spine into a taller position.
Why is Pilates a great way to help kyphosis? So many Pilates exercises are done flat on the back – and lying on your back can be a great way to let gravity start opening the chest and straightening out the spine. In the weight room, most exercises are done with a flat back. But staying flat isn’t going to give you the best benefits for improving Kyphosis – it’s the movement of the spine that will help elongate the muscles and re-align the spine. Every Pilates exercise is a combination of work and release. And Pilates exercises focus on both stability and movement. This is key in alleviating back pain and improving Kyphosis.
If you think the Pilates Roll up is making your Kyphosis worse, you’re wrong. Rolling UP on this exercise is strengthening your low center and stretching your back. Rolling DOWN is helping to strengthen both the abs and the back. As you lay each segment of your back on the mat one-by-one, you are helping to reinforce taller posture! This is just one example of a spine flexion exercise from Pilates. (And every exercise that bends the body forward and returns the body tall is helping you get the back muscles working more effectively.) It’s all about sequential, segmental, articulation of the spine. If your upper back is stuck like a chunk the segments cannot move freely. Pilates is designed to help free up the body for better movement.
The Pilates prep exercise “FLIGHT” is a great way to open the chest by strengthening the upper back. If you don’t lift too much with your head and low back, you can begin to activate the middle-upper back muscles which is where the hump is. To do this effectively, the bones and muscles in the back almost need to relax first to fall closer to the breastbone (going from a hunched position, passing through a flat spine, to then begin lifting the back into arch.) In learning how to do this on Flight, the motion can transfer to all the other Pilates back extension exercises like the Swan, Single Leg Kick, the lift up in Open Leg Rocker, Pulling Straps, the T, Down Stretch, Kneeling Knees Arched, Back bend over the Barrel. There are so many great Pilates exercises that focus on back extension!
Side bending and Twisting exercises are the other two ranges of movement that are needed to help improve posture and reduce the exaggerated curve of Kyphosis. And both side bending and twisting exercises are excellent ways to begin mobilizing the mid to upper back for better posture to reduce the excessive outward curvature of Kyphosis. But as with any exercise, it might be challenging to get the parts of the back that really need to be moving to do the work to twist and side bend for maximum benefit.
There are many ways these concepts and exercises can be incorporated into a Pilates workout. For side bending exercises there’s the Mermaid on the Mat, with the Chair, on the Reformer, with the push-thru bar, over the Arc Barrel, Side bend on the Short Box, Side bending on the Ladder Barrel, Arm Waves on the Arc Barrel, Kneeling Side Legs, and more…In particular, emphasizing the upper back doing the side bending, rather than just side bending from the waist will be most effective for mobilizing the upper back to improve posture and reduce the unnatural curve of a Kyphosis.
And finally, twisting exercises. In my opinion, twisting exercises are one of THE best ways to free up the spine! If you think about getting water out of a wet washcloth you twist it, and then fold it. To help improve mobility through the upper back, you can apply this concept for similar results. There are lots of great twisting exercises in the Pilates repertoire. Saw and seated twist in Matwork; Short box twist (and variations); Stomach Massage Twist; Saw with the Push Through bar; Spiral Twist with the Arc Barrel; Seated Twist and Teaser Twist on the Chair.
This is not an exclusive list of ALL the Pilates exercises that will benefit your back if you have Kyphosis. But an example of some of the exercises that might be included in your Pilates workouts to help improve your posture if you have Kyphosis, as well as to help keep your back in great shape to avoid getting Kyphosis.
There isn’t one exercise that you must to do to help Kyphosis. But a better understanding that you can improve posture and re-educate your muscles to reduce problems caused by Kyphosisis important. When you improve strength, flexibility, and body support it is possible to improve your alignment and alleviate the aches and pains. Pilates can be a valuable part of your exercise program to help improve posture and reduce the severity of Kyphosis and its associated aches and pains.
Johns Hopkins Medicine has a nice article in their health library that goes into more details about kyphosis, the different types of kyphosis, and different treatment options. It’s interesting to note that postural kyphosis is the most common type and can improve with exercise!
You don’t have to live with a hunchback. By improving your posture with Pilates, you can stand taller, undo the bad habits that have you bent over, and keep your spine moving in a more normal and natural way.
Get started improving your healthy movement habits by paying attention to your posture! Discover more about your current posture habits. Take the Centerworks Posture Quiz
Have you ever wondered if doing Pilates can make you taller? It’s an interesting question… Can Pilates make you taller? We assume that we hit that growth spurt in our youth and then at some point the tables turn and we seem to start getting shorter. You go to the doctor for a checkup one day to discover that you’re not as tall as you used to be! Poor posture, as well as gravity, have somehow stolen a quarter of an inch or more from what we once thought of as our “adult” height. And for most of us, we just assume that this is the natural order of things, and that as we age, not only do we decline in health, but we decline in height. Did you ever stop to think that there might be something you can do about it?
It’s a great question: Can Pilates Make You Taller? The Answer is: YES
I gained a quarter of an inch during my first Pilates Teacher-Training workshop! And, I have clients who regularly tell me that they went in for a check up and are taller since they started Pilates. A few of these folks gained up to three-quarters of an inch!
Is it some weird adult growth-spurt? Not quite… So what’s happening to help make participants who practice Pilates get taller? Is it the magic of the method? Something in the water at the studio? A revelation from working out on the Reformer? Perhaps some of this might factor in… but there are 3 key principles that are cornerstone philosophies of the Pilates Method that contribute to helping Pilates students get taller.
Three Pilates Concepts to Help Make You Taller:
- Balanced Muscle Development
How can Pilates Breathing make you taller? Well it’s an interesting concept that should be the way you breathe all the time, not just during a Pilates workout. Learning Pilates posterior-lateral breathing techniques can help you more efficiently improve lung capacity, get more oxygen into your system to nourish your cells and, most importantly, assist in the compression/decompression of the spine that helps reduce back pain and makes you taller. Strengthening your diaphragm and lungs with better Pilates breathing habits also helps improve core support. Every exercise you do has a breath pattern connected to it that makes the exercise easier to execute. Getting a grip on good breathing improves efficiency not only for breathing but also for movement.
Posture problems can wreak huge havoc on your height! And for the most part nobody realizes how big a contributor poor posture and bad movement habits are to chronic pain, stress, and strain. If any small part of the body is out of balance, the entire body is out of balance. Over time, we try to adapt as best we can – until we can’t… and an injury occurs. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a tiny part of your body (like your big toe) or something bigger and farther up the chain (like your low back, shoulder, or neck). Posture problems can create life-altering issues not only for your height (which is no big deal really), but the repetitive stress, chronic aches and pains, and injuries caused by poor posture are what can keep you from enjoying a healthy active life.
The Pilates Method is a system. There are specific exercises, done in a specific order with specialized equipment that is spring-tensioned and designed to work just like your muscles do. One of the biggest benefits of using Pilates equipment is that it gets you out of a weight-bearing position (i.e. that crappy posture position that you’re stuck in) and helps you learn how to re-organize your muscles for more efficient and effective movement. With both the resistance and assistance of the springs on the Pilates Reformer, Cadillac, and Chairs, you can start to re-train your body. By discovering your strengths, weaknesses, and muscle imbalances with the exercises on the Pilates equipment and working to improve your strength and flexibility, your body will get longer and stronger. As you improve, these new muscle habits transfer off the Pilates equipment and back into your everyday life. Pilates Matwork (which is the other half of the Pilates system) is designed to really test this, since there is no equipment for the Pilates Mat exercises, you must use your muscles to work against gravity, reinforcing what you’ve learned with the benefit of the Pilates equipment. By using the Pilates System (both equipment AND Matwork) you can quickly start to experience the benefits of getting taller that Pilates can help you achieve.
Balanced Muscle Development is the result of a well-designed Pilates training program. We all have dominant and weaker muscles. If you’re right or left-handed, by default you’re stronger on one-side of your body. If you play sports, your athletic endeavors may create a wider-gap between your strengths and your weaknesses. If you’re a mom and always have a kid perched on one hip while you’re moving through your day – mommy life is could be creating some imbalances in your body. If you’re a dentist or surgeon – you might always be on the same side of your patient. If you’re a hairdresser or play baseball, how overused is one arm and shoulder? Do you play golf, tennis, or bowl – all of these are somewhat lop-sided sports.
Pilates is one of the best athletic endeavors to help counter-act the imbalances that life puts into our bodies. By improving body awareness and focusing on posture and breathing during Pilates training sessions you get the benefits of working the whole body to improve whole-body health. When breathing, posture, and body alignment are all working together, the result is balanced muscle development. A body in-balance can move easily and effortlessly. With room to move and space to breathe, the spine will be lifted, separating the joints and giving you not only the appearance of being taller, but I bet you’ll be able to see a measurable difference the next time you decide to check your height. It might be only a few millimeters, a quarter-of an inch, or more, but Pilates can be a great way to help make you taller.
Take the Centerworks® Quick Posture Quiz – and start discovering what you can do to stand taller. Start improving your health with the power of better posture.
Is Pilates Good for You? My initial response is YES, Pilates is good for every body! In fact, I think that every body should be doing Pilates. Joseph Pilates believed this too! He wanted the world to do his exercises at least 4 days a week, as outlined in his book Return to Life through Contrology.
But it’s expensive, there’s equipment that I don’t have at home, I can’t afford Personal training, I don’t have time, It’s too hard, I’m not fit enough… These are just a few of the excuses I’ve heard from people who are trying to justify why Pilates is NOT good for them.
If you don’t like to exercise, Pilates might just be the best, most efficient workout you can do. If you do like to exercise, Pilates is going to help you do every other sport and activity you enjoy better!
10 Reasons Why is Pilates Good for You?
- Pilates helps develop better whole-body health
- Every Pilates exercise involves both strength and flexibility
- Pilates focuses on improving functional movement
- Pilates develops longer, leaner muscles, not bulk
- Pilates can help improve posture
- Pilates can help reduce your risk of Injury
- Pilates can help alleviate body aches and pains
- Pilates improves core support
- Pilates reduces stress
- Pilates Improves balance and body control
I could list thousands of additional reasons why Pilates is good for you, this is the short list… What do you want to improve in your life? Whether it’s big or small, or seemingly insignificant, I’d bet my life on the fact that somehow, and in some way Pilates could make a positive impact on improving whatever it is.
Heck, I started Pilates for a career change… Little did I realize that the voice injury I had that was forcing my career change was going to be fixed by doing Pilates! You never know the power of Pilates until you dive in and discover what it has to offer you.
Yes, Pilates training is an investment. But it’s an investment in YOUR HEALTH!
And without good health, nothing else matters.
Even if you cannot afford to take private Pilates lessons for the rest of your life, I’d encourage you to find a great Pilates teacher and schedule at least a series of 20-30 sessions to get you off to a great start. This would be 2-3 sessions a week for a couple of months. It just might be the best investment you’ve ever made in your body. Getting help from a well-qualified Pilates teacher to become more aware of your good/bad habits and getting expert help re-learning how to find and use the right muscles to support your health can mean the difference between going through the motions and doing exercises that are reinforcing your bad habits vs. developing new and better habits and ultimately better whole-body health. What you learn during your Private Pilates sessions and while using the Pilates equipment can then be applied to other sports and activities you do.
If after a few months of private instruction you love Pilates and see the value in your investment, you just might find a way to make Pilates – in a studio, on equipment – a regular part of your life. On the flip-side, if you know affording regular instruction is not an option, ask your Pilates teacher to develop a personalized at-home program for you to continue with on your own. Maybe you’ll invest in a Pilates Arc Barrel, Magic Circle, or other small equipment to use at home. Or perhaps all you’ve got at home is a Mat to continue with Pilates Matwork on your own.
By working with a Pilates teacher, you’ll have more confidence to exercise at home on your own and will be able to make wiser choices if you’re following along with a workout video to know what exercises are safe for your body or need to be modified or omitted. You might do 95% of your workouts solo, and every so often schedule a tune-up session with your favorite Pilates teacher to keep learning new exercises and fine-tuning your technique to progress your Pilates program.
Ask any Pilates participant why they do Pilates and what benefits they’ve received from their workouts. I bet each individual will most likely give you a slightly different response. But, within each response will be an overwhelmingly positive thread of how good Pilates is for achieving and maintaining whole-body health. The subtle things that make each of us unique, also make the benefits of Pilates unique to each individual.
But here’s the catch… Not every Pilates exercise is good for every body… And that’s where getting help from a well-qualified Pilates teacher can make the difference between getting great benefits from your Pilates workouts, and getting hurt. Any exercise done incorrectly can lead to injury. It’s not just Pilates exercises that can be risky. Learning what your body can do safely based on your health history, past injuries, and health conditions, and selecting the most appropriate Pilates exercises along with learning how to do them correctly to avoid injury is a huge part of developing a safe and effective Pilates training program.
What are you waiting for? Yes Pilates is good for you! And it just might be the best gift you’ve ever given yourself. Find a good Pilates Teacher and get started today… Your body will thank you for doing Pilates.
Have you been taught abdominal bracing exercises for back pain? Are you aware of how you’re using your ab and back muscles? Can you feel what’s happening in your core – in the front, in the back, along the sides? Does your belly push outward, stay the same, or flatten when you think about stabilizing your center?
I’ve recently been asked why I want the low belly (and whole-belly) to flatten towards the spine to support the back. Some of my clients are realizing that this is NOT what they normally do, but until now have been in the habit of pushing the abs out when they engage their core.
After a quick google search – I have to say that I cannot agree with much of what I’m seeing posted on the benefits of abdominal bracing! Or, the methods in which these other blog posts and videos are explaining it. Keep in mind that I am not a doctor or physical therapist – but with a lifetime of my own personal lower back issues, more than 20 years teaching Pilates and helping people eliminate back pain, i am confident that my logic and methods are sound. There’s a lot more to eliminating back pain than bracing, and bad bracing habits are only going to make your back feel worse, not better.
Here are a few reasons why poor abdominal bracing habits might be contributing to your back pain:
If you push the abdominals outward to “brace” it’s going to pull the lumbar spine forward (out of position) too. This creates an excessive lumbar arch and the back muscles will tense up to keep you from going too far. This is NOT helping to stabilize a healthy back position! The larger QL (Quadratus Lumborum) muscles are going to activate and try to work as stabilizers. But the QL is designed to help you MOVE – to arch the back and side bend – not just support posture to hold you steady. When this is how you’re holding for support, your brain is being trained to use a movement muscle as a stabilizer. As a result, what muscles are you going to use instead when you need to bend forward, sideways, or backwards? You’ll end up playing tug-of-war and straining your back because the lower back won’t “let go” when it needs to!
Take walking for example: If both QL’s are busy “bracing” for support, you cannot unlevel the pelvis when you walk. This unleveling action is what helps stretch and strengthen the back with every step. Walking should be working the Obliques, and when the body is working properly this allows the leg swing to swing freely from the hip like it’s supposed to. There is also a component of spine rotation that should be happening to get the whole-body benefits of walking for a healthy stride – but if you’re practicing abdominal bracing all you can swing is your arms. Abdominal bracing puts your back and pelvis on lock-down, resulting with a tiny stride and your back/core/everything that should be working to make walking an excellent healthy-back exercise isn’t doing its job. The result of this mis-managed core support, your back gets weaker, and you end up experiencing more pain not less.
What about the actual back stabilizers? The smaller Multifidus muscles are the back muscles that need to be working in opposition to the abs to help stabilize the back (and the Multifidi can work to hold you tall, arched, rounded, twisted, or in a side bend). Also, the Multifidus muscles span the full length of the spine and are segmental – which means it’s possible to stabilize the lower back and have free movement of the ribcage and upper back, or vise versa. Stabilize the upper spine, move the hips/pelvis, and low back, or use the Multifidi to stabilize the full length of the spine. (Your QL muscle are only in the low back – there is no way tensing up this muscle is going to help you support healthy movement!) Do you know how to find, and use your Multifidi?
Why better posture matters for eliminating back pain
If you’ve been told to do back “exercises” but nobody’s looked at your posture habits – or shown you how to start improving your posture – can you see how the back exercises you’ve been given may not fix the underlying problems? If your posture and body alignment are off, your body is by default – out of balance. Because of this, it will be nearly impossible to find and use the right muscles for your “back-care” exercises. They might be great exercises, but if you can’t do them right because of posture or muscle imbalances, you’re not going to reap the benefits. The body is great at “cheating!” It will always find a way to do the work, without actually doing the work when the right muscles aren’t strong enough to get the job done.
When the body fears that the low back is in trouble because it’s over-arched, the abs aren’t strong enough to pull in effectively, and the QL won’t let go to help shift the spine into a safer, more functional position… the Glutes start grabbing and typically people end up “tucking” the pelvis to try and take the stress out of the lower back.
But what this does is pull the pelvis even farther out of a functional position, locks up the hips, and starts shifting the lumbar curve up into the mid back, creating more stress, and ultimately, additional upper back, neck, and shoulder problems. The abdominals continue to get weaker and the arms and shoulders take over. What should be “low center” support, has shifted to “high center.” It’s impossible to maintain a healthy back without proper posture, the correct pelvis position, and the right muscles in-balance to support you.
Following Bad Cues Won’t Keep Your Back Healthy
If you’ve been told to pull your “navel to spine” you’re missing out on most of the muscle support that needs to be activated to protect your back. This one-point of support is more likely creating a bigger divide between the upper and lower halves of your body. There’s a good chance that because of this, you’ve got a habit of using your hip flexors instead of your abs to shore things up! This jams your pelvis, spine, and ribs together creating compression for support instead of finding support with length and strength. When the hip flexors grab, and the pelvis gets pulled towards the ribs, there is not enough space for the abs to pull inward! The bad habit of popping the abs outward, and the Quadratus Lumborum and other back extensor muscles overworking, gets reinforced.
Body awareness, and a better understanding of how to find and use the right muscles, matters if you want to really get the right support to eliminate back pain.
It’s important to learn how to correct the relationship between the pelvis and the ribcage so that the spine is in optimal alignment; then properly activating the sequence of support through the whole length of your torso (and keep the length) while you contract the deep core muscles for back support. This involves pelvic floor, transverse abs, obliques, multifidus, proper breathing habits, and better spine alignment!
Bracing by tensing everything up like you’re going to get punched in the gut might be useful if everything you need to do with your body involves zero movement. But if you’re going to walk, be active, use your arms & shoulders, legs & hips, and spine to bend in any direction, you’re going to have to learn how find and feel different layers of muscle support to work and release when needed depending on the movement or activity.
Change for better habits won’t happen overnight, but it can improve quickly once you know what you’re doing!
Tuck vs. Scoop vs. Neutral/Functional Pelvis
If you always tuck your pelvis to do abdominal strengthening exercises, you are not most effectively training your body to feel better. Sometimes the hips need to scoop when the abs work, and sometimes we need to maintain more of a “neutral/functional Pelvis” and still engage the core. Knowing when your muscles need to contract and hold everything still to stabilize vs. contract to move your body, is vital information for developing healthy movement habits to keep your back safe. Learn the difference between tucking, scooping, and stabilizing a functional pelvis for a healthy spine.
Check your Curves: Lay on your back with straight legs and notice where the highest point of your back is off the floor. (it should be at approximately the navel.) For most people it’s probably much higher than this. Getting the back bones to relax and drop closer to the floor, to help reset the natural curves of the spine is key to then finding and using the right muscles to stabilize the back. Ultimately, your Rectus Abdominals (the 6-pack muscles) are the least important for spine support. The Transverse, and Oblique Abdominals play a much bigger role in keeping your back healthy, and the Multifidii are the missing link on the backside. None of these can effectively work without an anchor (the pelvic floor), which most people have never thought about, or been taught to activate properly. Please note that practicing Kegels is not helping, but could make your back feel worse. Activating the pelvic floor for support, to be able to lift and decompress the spine with better breathing, will help your back feel better.
Help eliminate back pain by doing more than Abdominal Bracing. Pilates can be an excellent way to start connecting mind, body, and movement to identify which back muscles are movers vs. stabilizers and getting them to do the right job at the right time will set you up for success to maintain a healthy, pain-free back. If you’re experiencing back pain, find a well-qualified Pilates teacher and get started with one-on-one sessions, it will be the best investment you can make in re-educating your body to beat back pain. Discover how much more you can do with the right muscle support to break the bad habits caused by poor posture, muscle imbalances, and abdominal bracing.
Here are 3 things I share with my clients to help them practice finding and using better muscle support for their at-home workouts.
Laser Spine Institute – Abdominal Bracing Exercise
Abdominal Bracing and Hollowing
8 Ways Pilates Benefits Runners – Why Pilates is Important to Reduce the Risk of Running Injuries
Are you passionate about running? It doesn’t matter if you’re super-speedy or slow, if you love to run just to run or if you’re a little more competitive and plan your life around your favorite races. If running is your #1 workout of choice, it’s going to be the one thing that’s going to happen regardless of how crazy your life gets. But how many running buddies do you know who are plagued with aches, pains, and injuries? Maybe it’s an Achilles tendinitis issue, plantar fasciitis problem, knee pain, a pulled hamstring, hip pain, or SI Joint and low back pain problems. I often hear runners say, “It only hurts a little bit. Once I start running I don’t notice it so I’m not going to stop running…” The problem is they are actually ignoring the signals the body is sending them and are making things worse instead of better! Luckily, I’m here to tell you that Pilates benefits runners!
It’s hard to stop doing something you love. Especially when it’s something that helps de-stress your body, gets the blood pumping, fills you with endorphins, and makes you happy. But wouldn’t it be even better if you could run without pain or fear that you’re going to aggravate an old injury? Would the extra time cross training with Pilates be worth it if it could help you improve your core support, free up your hips, improve the mobility of your hamstrings, help your knees, and fix your feet? Pilates benefits runners because it has so many excellent whole-body health benefits. If you love to run, Pilates can help keep you in tip-top shape to make the most of your miles whether you’re pounding the pavement, hitting the trails, or sprinting on the track.
Personally, it’s difficult for me to call myself a “runner” since slow-mo is my M.O. But I do enjoy getting out there and I have even done a couple of half-marathons. For me it’s not about being competitive, but the act of moving, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, and getting some cardio accomplished with a little extra impact to help keep my bones strong.
When I was younger (in my teens and twenties), way before I knew anything about Pilates, I basically ran from injury to injury! I’d get inspired to want to add more running to my weekly workouts and as I upped my mileage, or attempted to speed things up. Inevitably, I’d end up with something hurt. Never the same part of my body; sometimes it was a foot issue, Achilles tendinitis, sprained ankle, or plantar fasciitis problem. Sometimes my knees would hurt. Sometimes my back would go out. Other times I’d pull a hamstring. It was annoying, frustrating, and made my attempts at running as successful as yo-yo dieting! But this was BEFORE I started doing Pilates.
While I wasn’t looking at Pilates as an activity to cross-train and improve my running when I started, it’s had miraculous affects on my ability to maintain an active lifestyle with fewer aches and pains. Now I rarely, if ever, have an activity halting injury. I’m sure the Pilates clients I have that are runners will all agree that Pilates has made a big difference in their core support, body alignment, and ability to find and use the right muscles for a healthy stride.
As a runner, the one activity you want to focus all your time on is running. But if you’re willing to invest a couple of hours a week to do Pilates, you’re going to gain the benefits of a more balanced body and fewer aches and pains. Aches and pains that never seem like a big deal until you can’t run because you’re injured.
This is a general statement, but most of the runners I know hate to stretch. Tight, strong quads, hamstrings, and calves are contributing factors to an increased risk of injury. Then there’s the repetitive motion of running. Your dominant “running” muscles are getting stronger while the rest of your body is getting weaker. When the imbalance becomes too great, an injury will result. And you can’t forget about the feet…a very important part of a healthy stride. If you tend to pronate or supinate – even if you’re wearing shoes that are supposed to help correct this – the primary corrections need to be with how you’re using the muscles from the toes, thru the foot, to the ankle, calf, and all the way up to the hips! This can be very challenging to correct when you are full weight bearing with years of ingrained running habits. Plus, it’s difficult to make changes when you’re moving quickly during a running workout.
Unless you’re being coached at a very high level, or are a genetically gifted, mutant runner, you might not even realize the imbalances or poor body mechanics you’re using when you run, walk, and move through life. Finding, feeling, and fixing these functional movement patterns is what Pilates is all about.
Here are 8 ways Pilates Benefits Runners
- Pilates equipment is spring-tensioned providing both assistance and resistance to help improve functional movement habits. The springs on the Reformer, Cadillac and Chairs help you find and use new and better muscle habits that eventually will transfer back into running workouts to improve your stride. By working with the springs, you can learn how to better strengthen your abs and back and free up the legs to swing freely from the hips. You can also gain great insights for shoulder strength/mobility to better understand how to integrate healthy movement habits through your whole body. Pilates is an excellent way to connect both mind and body to re-train and re-educate your body for better health.
- Every Pilates exercise is a combination of both strength and flexibility. Just stretching isn’t ever going to help you get the strength and support you need in the opposing muscle groups for the too-tight muscles to let go.
- If you’ve been running and stretching for years and can’t figure out why you’re not getting more flexible – lack of balanced muscle development might be the reason why you’re seeing improvements.
- If you’ve been running and NOT stretching, doing Pilates exercises will take you through a full range of motion to improve mobility in a fun way that’s more effective than just “holding” a stretch.
- Pilates also helps build strength with length. Instead of focusing on the larger, bigger surface muscles, Pilates gets to the deeper, smaller, postural muscles and works the body from the inside out. Pilates can help you learn how to use your overdeveloped muscles a little less and your weaker muscles a little more. Balanced muscle development = a reduced risk of injury.
- Pilates can improve your breathing habits. Breathing is kind of important if you’re wanting to run or do other intensive cardio activities. The more efficient your breathing habits are, the easier it will be to pace your runs and maximize your oxygen availability. Better breathing habits can also help your back, arms, and shoulders move more easily for a healthy stride. If you’re back gets tight after a run or you end up with neck and shoulder pain, there’s a great chance that by learning Pilates posterior-lateral breathing skills you’ll free up your entire upper body, reduce back pain, and be able to breathe easier during your runs.
- Pilates can enhance body awareness. This is a concept that gets lost on a lot of people. Better body awareness is key to avoiding injuries. By becoming aware of your good and bad movement habits and doing Pilates exercises to help reinforce good body mechanics, you will gain the confidence needed to know when you’re moving in a healthy way or doing something that might get you hurt. Our muscles don’t have mouths. The only way the body can communicate with us is to send a pain signal. It’s important to learn to listen to the body. Pain is a signal that something is not quite right. A quick adjustment (if you knew what to do) might be all that’s needed. If making an adjustment or modification doesn’t eliminate a pain signal and we ignore it and continue, the risk of injury is imminent.
- Pilates improves both functional movement and stability. Every activity we do involves work and release. This requires our muscles to be proficient to support us for movement and stability. Learning how to gain control over work/release patterns and knowing the difference between when to use a muscle group for stability vs. movement can help avoid “tug-of-war” issues that can lead to injury. Stability in the right spots also means freer movement where it needs to happen. This helps improve both strength and flexibility and assists with balance and body control.
- Pilates is a barefoot activity. By exercising barefoot, you can become more aware of how you’re using your arches, ankles, and toes to help activate your feet and improve your alignment. Working against the springs on Pilates equipment helps stretch and strengthen your feet and ankles. There are lots of targeted foot and ankle exercises in Pilates that can help reduce the risk of ankle sprains, Achilles tendon issues, and plantar fasciitis problems.
*(All of my Pilates running clients also have a Centerworks® Runfit Kit at home, with extra foot fitness training tools and exercises for targeted foot care that can be used to warm-up and cool-down after a run or other fitness workout.)
- The things you can learn and improve with Pilates are limitless. Pilates is never boring if you’re working with a well-qualified Pilates Teacher who understands how to help you progress and fine-tune your form. An ideal Pilates workout is done on the Pilates Reformer, Mat, and supplemental exercises with the Cadillac/Trapeze Table, Chairs, and Barrels as needed. There are over 500 Classical Pilates exercises, and thousands of additional modifications, variations, and additional exercises that can be incorporated into a Pilates workout. By knowing your goals, as well as strengths, weaknesses, and past injuries, your Pilates teacher can help guide you step-by-step into a new and improved stronger, fitter, and more flexible runner.
By incorporating both Pilates and running into your active lifestyle you will gain the benefits of great cardio training for your heart and lungs, and the right combination of strength and flexibility to keep your whole-body healthy. Pilates benefits runners so learning how to be mindful during Pilates can help you pay closer attention to what your body is doing while you’re running. By incorporating Pilates concepts for better breathing, body alignment, improved posture, functional movement, and support, you will be able to make every stride more efficient, enjoy maximum benefit from your running workouts, and minimize the risk or aches, pain, and injuries.
If you haven’t made Pilates a part of your weekly workouts to enhance your running program, now is a great time to get started with Pilates. Find a well-qualified Pilates teacher and schedule a private session to get started. Next to a great pair of running shoes, it just might be the best investment you can make to enjoy a lifetime of injury-free running.
To take good care of your feet, and be sure you’ve got the resources you need to stretch, and strengthen your ankles, arches, and toes – I recommend you get a Runfit Kit. The Runfit Kit contains all my favorite foot-fitness exercise tools and toys to help keep your feet in tip-top shape for better health. (Running is not a requirement, to get benefits from the foot-care resources in this helpful foot-care kit!)
If you already have a copy of the book Fantastic Feet, and have been doing your exercises, you can purchase the rest of the foot-care resources separately in the Foot Fitness section of the Centerworks store.
How is your upper back mobility? Is it easy to arch, bend, and twist your spine? Or, do you feel kind of stiff, sore, and tight?
Ever wonder why it’s a challenge to improve how you move for a healthy spine and pain-free arms and shoulders?
Are your Pecs on overdrive? Do your Anterior Deltoids do too much work? Are Your Lats on Lock-down? Do tend to hold up the weight of the world with your shoulders? Are your low abs pooching out more than pulling up, back, and in? Do you tend to get grippy with your Hip Flexors, or do way too much with your Glutes?
Heck, in the one quick paragraph above, I’ve given you at least 7 reasons why your upper back mobility might be compromised and why your neck and shoulders might be giving you grief when you’re exercising. Or maybe you aren’t exercising because they hurt!
You might not even realize that the bad habits you’ve been using are creating the posture problems you’ve developed. Perhaps you’re thinking, “but I used to be able to _________________ (fill in the blank),” “and then one day my (upper back, neck shoulder, arm, elbow, hand, hip, knee, foot) started hurting. I have no idea what I did to injure myself?”
Or maybe you DO remember the moment that your poor posture and bad functional movement habits caught up with you and your body reached the tipping point of no return and said, “I can’t take it anymore!” And poof… pain or injury occurred. You might not have realized that it was a lifetime of bad body mechanics that’s landed you in the state you’re feeling yourself in now.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re lifting weights, lifting children, or pulling straps in Pilates, if the balance of work and release for proper muscle support and free range of movement is not quite right, sooner or later the wear and tear is going to get you.
Proactive is always better than reactive. But sadly, its usually not until we hurt that we start looking around trying to figure out how to feel better and get our life back. A part of this includes taking responsibility, becoming aware of good and bad habits, listening to the body better to ensure that the new and improved muscle habits you’re working on are actually moving you towards better health.
One of the perks of Pilates is that we’re not just working on strength with the spine in a stable position, like you should be doing in the weight room. But instead, there’s a focus on improving spine mobility. Not just upper back mobility, but improving both support and mobility through the entire spine – to flex the body forward, arch and extend the spine back, side bend, and rotate the back segmentally and sequentially. Sometimes this is done independently without the arms involved, but more often exercises involve multi-tasking where the back is moving in conjunction with the arms and shoulders moving too!
Here Are My Top 7 Training Tips To Help You Get Started on Better Upper Back Mobility:
- Improve Your Standing and Seated Posture Habits
- Improve Your Pilates Posterio-Lateral Breathing Habits
- Improve Pelvic Floor and LOW Core Support
- Work to Release the Pecs and Strengthen the Serratus
- Find and Use the Lower Trapezius to Actively Pull the Shoulder Blades Down
- Wake up the Posterior Deltoid and Activate the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock arm position.
- Let the Lats go (so the spine and ribcage can swing freely from under the arms)
All of this involves teaching the spine, ribcage, shoulder blades, and arms how to work independently of each other and with each other effectively depending on the action and the movement needed from the body.
Globally, these are the seven big concepts that can transform your body for better upper back mobility. There is not a quick fix, but changes can happen quickly once you’re aware of what’s needed and can start feeling and finding the changes happening as you work at it.
There are a million little nit-picky pieces to each of these seven concepts that can provide you with lots and lots of valuable things to pay attention to not only during your workouts, but throughout the day, at work, at home, and when you’re exercising.
The best place to start is Posture, Breathing, and Pelvic Floor/ Low Core. Without these three KEY components in place, getting the rest of the upper body to play nice and work right is going to be an impossible challenge.
But get confident with Posture, Breathing and finding/using your both your Pelvic Floor and Low Core, and this will take a huge chunk of stress out of your neck, arms, and shoulders (not to mention the positive health benefits to your feet, knees, hips, and back!). I’ve seen the positive results of following these strategies repeatedly with my clients who’ve come thru my door complaining of shoulder pain problems.
Once you’ve got a grip on the three key concepts of Posture, Breathing, and Pelvic Floor/Low Core, it gets easier to tackle the focus and fine-tuning needed to get the final 4 concepts that really matter for strong, flexible pain-free shoulders and better upper back mobility.
I know, you started reading this looking for the one magic “exercise.” Well, there isn’t one! It’s everything you do in life, done as efficiently and effectively as possible by maintaining good posture habits while you find and use the right muscles to move. Re-educating your body for better body mechanics will help you more easily improve not only upper back mobility, but strength and mobility for your whole body.
It can be overwhelming to think about all seven of these key training tips happening at once, so take it a step at a time. Keep in mind that it’s a process…and it will be easier to practice the exercises needed to make lasting improvements for better upper back mobility and eliminate arm and shoulder pain once you’ve got more awareness of body alignment, breathing and better support.
There is never going to ever be one be-all, end-all exercise that’s the magic pill because there are a lot of moving parts and pieces to the upper body and shoulder girdle that need to integrate and work as a team. And the one exercise that makes the most sense to you, might not be the one that helps the next guy figure out the same thing… But on every exercise incorporating good posture, breathing, and body mechanics will give you the opportunity to improve strength and mobility for better health.
If you are weaker in your “low center” chances are you’re using “high center” to support AND move. How well does your car function when it’s high centered? Guess what, your body doesn’t work too well high centered either. Are you ready for a change?
Get the concepts first, and the right exercises will follow. I’ve got a few favorites to help improve upper back mobility that I’ll share in future posts. If you want an action step to get started, take the Centerworks Posture Quiz and see what you discover about your current posture habits. It just might reveal some interesting clues you never knew were compromising your whole-body health and restricting your upper back mobility. You don’t have to live with a stiff back and painful arms and shoulders (or chronic aches and pains anywhere). Once you start improving your body posture and movement habits, it becomes easier to let go of stress where you don’t need it, and find support where you do.
Take the Centerworks quick Posture Quiz Today!
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