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Abdominal Bracing and Back Pain

abdominal bracingHave 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.

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Here are 3 things I share with my clients to help them practice finding and using better muscle support for their at-home workouts. 

 

Resources:

Laser Spine Institute – Abdominal Bracing Exercise
Abdominal Bracing and Hollowing

Posted by administrator in Back Pain, Functional Movement.

7 Training Tips for Better Upper Back Mobility to Improve Posture and Reduce Arm and Shoulder Pain

Upper Back MobilityHow 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:

  1. Improve Your Standing and Seated Posture Habits
  2. Improve Your Pilates Posterio-Lateral Breathing Habits
  3. Improve Pelvic Floor and LOW Core Support
  4. Work to Release the Pecs and Strengthen the Serratus
  5. Find and Use the Lower Trapezius to Actively Pull the Shoulder Blades Down
  6. Wake up the Posterior Deltoid and Activate the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock arm position.
  7. 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.

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Take the Centerworks quick Posture Quiz Today!

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Posted by administrator in Functional Movement, Posture Improvement.

6 More Fitness Myths

Fitness Myths

It’s interesting what gets spread around and accepted as fitness “facts” when in truth they’re fitness myths, or misinformation. Or as some folks like to call it, “FAKE News!”

Whether it’s fitness, health, nutrition, religion, or politics, sometimes it can be challenging to know what’s a myth or truth.  With almost anything, a Google search will give you some sort of answer, but then we must ask ourselves, “was it a good answer?”  This is especially true for health topics or finding specific exercises to “solve” a pain or injury problem. There are many fitness myths and it seems there is not one right answer that will be the magic answer for everybody.

Here are a few more Fitness Myths that I’d like to help shed some light on…

  1. MYTH: Static Stretching Should Always Be Done Before a Workout

Static Stretching done pre-workout can reduce performance and power.
(Static stretching is when you get into a position and hold it.)

Static Stretching can still be done at the END of your training session to improve flexibility but it’s best to warm-up with dynamic stretching.

Dynamic stretches are active movements that take the body through a comfortable range of motion without “holding” a position.

  1. MYTH: Pilates is only for your Abs

While it’s true that a strong emphasis is placed on using good core support with every Pilates exercise, Pilates is a WHOLE-BODY Workout.  It’s more about connecting mind and body to develop whole-body health – balanced body development, breathing, posture, concentration, control, centering, precision.  Pilates can help your feet, knees, hips, back, shoulders, neck… It’s a lot more than just abs!

  1. MYTH: Pilates is only for fit, young, healthy people

Pilates is for EVERY body!  But just like any other type of activity, it’s important to start with basics and have a well-qualified expert help you develop your workout program.  Not every exercise is safe and appropriate for every body.  But everybody young and old, fit or unfit, athletic or never-exercised a day in their life, can benefit from learning and practicing Pilates.

In the past 25 years of my Pilates teaching career, most of my clients started because they had an injury or chronic pain problem.  Rarely have I had a young, fit, healthy person walk thru my door to get started.

  1. MYTH: Sugar Causes Diabetes

If you do not have diabetes, sugar intake will not cause you to develop the disease.  The main risk factors for type 2 diabetes are a diet high in calories, being overweight, and an inactive lifestyle.  If you have diabetes, work closely with your physician and dietitian to help manage your blood sugar levels to stay healthy.

  1. MYTH: Running is Bad for Your Knees

There is no research that shows a greater instance of joint issues or osteoarthritis in people who run versus those who do not.

Women are prone to more knee issues, but it’s a biomechanical issue, not pounding the pavement that is the primary factor in knee pain.

Have you seen my knee cap tracking video? If you’re knees make that crackling sound when you bend and straighten them, it’s due in part to the kneecap not gliding in it’s groove.  And this can be caused by a muscle imbalance through the quadriceps.  Check out my Knee Cap Dance exercise on YouTube

  1. MYTH: Walking isn’t as good as Jogging

Not only is walking as good as jogging, in some ways it might be better.

A study done by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, revealed that over 6-years and nearly 50,000 participants, researchers found that:

  • running reduced the risk of high blood pressure by 4.2 %
  • walking reduced high blood pressure by 7.2%
  • running reduced high cholesterol by 4.3%
  • walking reduced cholesterol by 7%
  • running reduced heart disease by 5%
  • walking reduced heart disease by 9%

In addition, walking is one of the best whole-body activities that you can do to enhance functional movement (if you’re using the body correctly).

Interested in learning more about how I re-educate my clients to walk well?  Snag a copy of Pilates Walk – Tips, Techniques, and Exercises for a Healthy Stride.  And get started improving how you move to maximize the benefits of your walking workouts.

Are any of these 6 fitness myths something you believed to be a fact?  Have you always started your workouts with static stretching?  Have you been afraid to try Pilates because you’re not “fit enough?”  Were you thinking that walking for fitness wasn’t worth your time?  I hope this post helps shed a little light these fitness myths.  Make smart wellness choices and find the best ways to fine-tune what you’re doing to stay healthy!

Missed my previous installment about other fitness myths? Read about them here.

Posted by administrator in Exercise and Fitness.

Finding the Best Workouts for Your Personality Type

best workoutsHello there! Quick question! How many times did you skip your workout this week? Twice? Thrice? We have all been there – paying for an annual gym membership and visiting the gym once in a blue moon. Most people think fitness is a one-fit for all. If you are someone who thinks the same, keep reading!

The best way to make the most of your workout routine is to identify the workout that matches your personality type.  Let’s take a look at various personality types and the workout that suits each of them.

The Control Freak

Control freaks are very precise, calculative, organized and punctual. They are looking for a perfect workout session where they can sweat it out. The best types of workouts that will suit this personality type are full body intense workouts. Barre workout which is a combination of Yoga, Pilates and Ballet is one good example. This workout is very specific and tough. It delivers a very precise and controlled exercise experience. If you are a control freak, try your hand at Barre and feel the grace of Ballet along with the intensity of Pilates.  

The Lazy Bug

A lot of us fall into this category. We snooze the alarm at least three times before we finally get out of bed. If you are someone who can relate to this, work out with a friend who is a fitness freak. You can even try your hand at group workout activities. There are many exciting group workouts like Yoga, Pilates, Zumba, Cardio kickboxing, and Group cycling which are very engaging.

Go for fun workout sessions and boot camps which have a high-energy atmosphere and great music. If none of this seems to work, choose a personal trainer or Pilates teacher who will never let you skip a workout.  Having the encouragement of a motivational instructor can also help you do better.

The Competitor

Some people just love competition. They live for challenges and thrive for competitive workout regimes. Winning and achieving the goal matters the most to them. Crossfit is the ultimate workout for those who are looking for a challenge. It is extremely tough and pushes your limits. The excessive number of repetitions in the limited amount of time is not an easy thing to do. Crossfit also has a big workout community where you can share your results and set higher goals for the next workout regime.

High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT is also an excellent choice for people who are looking to challenge themselves with some tough workouts.  Both the competitor and the control freak will enjoy High-Intensity Interval Training workouts.

The Adventure Lover

Adventure lovers are always looking for something new and get easily bored with stale workout routines. They want flexibility and are always looking for a room to experiment with new things. Workout routines which involve a lot of variety and creativity are the best choice for them.  A 5-minute intense workout on different machines is good to start with. Power Yoga is another workout which involves a lot of poses in different degrees which are challenging at the same time very interesting. Zumba dance and  Aerobics are also for adventure lovers who are looking for something exciting and fun.  But even more than indoor workouts, the adventure lover is going to want to be outdoors. Activities like running, biking, hiking,  or obstacle racing and triathlon training can provide both a change of scenery for your workouts, and the variety needed to stay engaged.

The Night Owl

The most common reason people skip a workout is that they have to wake up early. Good news to all of you night owls out there! There is no hard and fast rule that you should work out only in the mornings. If you are someone who finds it easy to stay up late but don’t like waking up early here’s a tip: workout when you want to!  Find a time that fits your schedule.  Lots of health clubs are open 24 hours these days, and even with minimal equipment, there is lots you can do at-home in your living room for cardio, strength training, HIIT, and even Pilates Matwork, and Yoga.

Regardless of your personality type, what’s important is that you find fitness activities that you enjoy and want to incorporate into your weekly workout routine. Whether you’re at the gym, a Crossfit box, Pilates or Yoga studio, Barre or Boxing club, at-home in your living room, or enjoying the great outdoors, finding the best workouts for your personality type can help you stick with your fitness plan.

In fact, night workouts have a lot of benefits. To begin with, you don’t have to fight the crowd, and you may have the gym all to yourself. This leaves you with many options to exercise. You can let out all the frustration from a tough day and have calmer mornings. Night workouts are the best way to de-stress. All the sweat you break can help you sleep better at nights as well.

The Early Riser

The lucky lot are here! People who find it easy to beat the alarm, have a lot of time for everything. Nothing can beat a dawn-breaking sweat session. Since you are up early, you have ample time to complete your workout. You can schedule your week with specific routines for each day. Monday can be abs, Tuesday for arms and so on. Getting a personal trainer can make your workout session all the more effective.

There are many personality tests online which you can take to identify your type and begin with the workout routine that will suit you.  To all the lazy bugs out there, the most important thing to remember while working out is to keep it consistent. If you are a control freak make sure you give your body the appropriate rest. Stay fit! Stay happy!


Guest post for Centerworks® by Edgar James.

Edgar James is a prolific fitness writer and editor for Garagegymplanner.com. He writes in-depth fitness equipment reviews for home gym owners and motivates others with his personal experiences. A true naturalist and outdoors-man, Edgar loves hiking through forests and reconnecting with nature.

Posted by administrator in Exercise and Fitness, Guest Bloggers.

Fitness Frequency Gets Results for Better Health

Fitness FrequencyBy ramping up your fitness frequency you can start enjoying the benefits of better whole-body health.

Why should you care about fitness frequency?  As Americans we spend waaaaay to much time sitting on our rumps, slumping with poor posture. This not only affects our strength, flexibility, and physical ability to move, but sitting  – at work, commuting in the car, watching tv, and staring at your computer screen or other digital gadgets – is wearing the body out at a rate that might be affecting your lifespan too!

In a U.S News & World Report article, James Levine, an endocrinologist and researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, addresses this idea of a lack of fitness frequency.  And, while this article was written in 2012, I’m afraid conditions may be worse now than they were 5 years ago.  Are we moving more, taking better care of our health? Or, are we struggling, battling diseases and chronic health challenges caused by inactivity and poor lifestyle choices?

“The human being is designed to move,” says Levine, “you need to move your body. If you stop your body, idle it—which sitting is—it crumbles on every level.” What can result is an increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression, and possibly Alzheimer’s disease,says Levine.

Studies show that the average American sits for about eight hours a day. “Sitting is like a disease,” says Edward Phillips, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. “The goal is to avoid prolonged sitting and to add any kind of physical activity to your day.” Any movement you can do, even something as simple as tapping your feet, is a start, says Phillips.

From my perspective as a Pilates expert and functional movement specialist who spends a lot of my time with clients who are challenged with pain and chronic posture-related wear & tear injuries from lack of use and repetitive mis-use, we need fitness frequency executed with the best possible breathing, body alignment, and proper muscle firing patterns or we’re putting more stress on the body and increasing the risk of injury from our workouts.  

There must be a good balance between fitness frequency, intensity, and healthy movement habits to enjoy the best possible health benefits from your efforts.

If you don’t realize that every time you do a squat, you’re rolling out on your feet, or twisting your hips to use one leg a little more than the other… and you do this over and over again (with or without weights for extra resistance) sooner or later your ankles, knee, hips, or back are going to bail out causing pain and potential injury.  But, taking the time to focus on your form and learn how to find and use the right muscles from your feet, through your hips, core, and all the way up to your head, you can do lots of squats to stay fit and injury-free!  This is just one example of using an exercise to benefit your health.

If what you’re doing hurts…it’s probably not something you should continue.  But that doesn’t mean that there is NOTHING you can do safely to keep moving!  You just might not know what you can do; or how to do it correctly. This is when seeking expert advice can make a huge difference in the results you’re getting with your fitness program to be confident that you CAN do more, and more often without risk of getting hurt.

It’s not all about having 6-pack abs, or a body-builder physique…  If you want that, you’re going to really have to work for it.  Fitness frequency, to me, means moving well on a daily basis to keep my body feeling good, staying strong, fit, and flexible so that I can enjoy sports and activities. This also allows me to do what I want, when I want, because my body will let me!  It’s learning to take what I’m doing with my muscles and movements in my fitness workouts and applying them to all my daily life activities. So, when I sit, I’m sitting taller; when I climb stairs, I’m using my glutes and hamstrings more than my knees; when I carry laundry and groceries, I’m using my core; as I’m driving, I can be confident that my shoulders are relaxed instead of wrapped around my ears.  I can easily bend down and pick something up, standing back up without throwing my back out!  My feet don’t hurt so I can walk, jump, and jog.  I practice fitness frequency so that as I continue to age, I’m not getting old – feeling old or forced to acting old because I’ve gotten lazy, or let the little aches and pains I had incapacitate me.

Yes, rest when you’re injured.  Continue to do things that hurt? You will stay hurt!  You might need a mental adjustment to help shift your focus and find things you can do that don’t hurt.  Even if it’s not your “favorite” activity, it’s allowing you to move safely. In the end it’s going to be a good choice to help you up your fitness frequency and improve your whole-body health.

We will never be able to out-exercise our diet!  And if you are sitting in a chair for 8 hours a day at work, then go home and watch tv for another 2-4 hours, sit for 1.5-3 hours a day for meals, and lie down to sleep for 7-8 hours a night, you’ve spent roughly 18.5 – 23 of the last 24 hours not moving!  Even a 1-hour workout daily can’t completely offset this lack of physical movement. Get up and get moving!

What can you do to up your fitness frequency?

  1. Plan more moments of movement into your daily routine.
    • Stand up, walk, squat, lunge, stretch your arms, legs, and torso, bend in all directions – forward, backwards, twist, and side bend.
    • Start your day with 10-15 minutes of exercise.
  2. Take the stairs whenever possible.
  3. Park your car farther away and walk. When you get home, take a quick 10-15 min walk around the block before you go inside. Walk slow, walk fast, walk, walk, walk…
  4. Set an alarm to get up out of your chair at work and do at least 2-3 minutes of simple standing stretching and movement exercises every hour.
  5. Be conscious of your posture habits. Be sure they are good posture habits!
  6. Find a variety of physical activities and sports you enjoy. Do something daily to improve your cardio, strength, and flexibility! (keep in mind how many hours you’re not moving… be sure you’ve got lots of minutes build into your daily routine to be moving too!)

Unfortunately, younger and younger people are dealing with health issues that used to only challenge an older population.  A big part of this is how much we’re NOT moving.  Get inspired, get off your duff, and plan more minutes of fitness into your every day and weekly wellness routine.  Move it or lose it!  Use more minutes of movement to amp up your fitness frequency, improve your longevity, and help make a positively impact on your whole-body health. 

Posted by administrator in Exercise and Fitness.

Work vs. Force: Optimizing your Efforts for Health Improvement and Exercise

Stop Struggling to Get Benefits from Your Workouts and Reduce the Risk of Injury by Paying Attention to Work vs. Force.  work vs. force

What are Your Movement Habits?

Are you able to efficiently maximize the benefits from your exercise program, or do you tend to force your way through, pushing hard to get it done, whatever the exercise might be? When we exercise it’s called a “workout” because there is effort involved in doing the work necessary to improve cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility.  But how well are you really working out?

Maybe you’re not sure what the difference between work and force is and how it might be affecting your ability to get the health improvement benefits you want from your efforts. I believe the work vs. force dilemma is something relevant for people at all ability levels on the spectrum of health.  If you’re highly fit, strong, and flexible your ability to “push” is greater. Along with this push comes a much higher risk of injury.  It can be easier to override signals the brain sends out – be cautious, rest, don’t push as hard – because you ARE an athlete. You expect your body to do what you tell it to, when you tell it to, because you are always striving to do more.

At the other end of the spectrum are people like me who, for whatever reason, have chronic health challenges, fatigue, inflammation, and injuries that take longer to heal. These folks may have the tendency to sit back and do nothing, waiting until their body feels better.  But this isn’t always the best health improvement strategy either.

Regardless of whether you’re a super-fit athlete, someone who is struggling with chronic health challenges, or somewhere in-between, having a better understanding of work vs. force to connect mind, body, and movements during your workouts can help you harness the energy you need to stay safe, pace yourself appropriately, and ensure that you’re using the right amount of muscle to do the work, without forcing the body past the point of no return leading to injury.

Have you ever done the “push” test with a friend?  Find a buddy and stand facing each other. Place your palms together in front of your chest like a push-up.  Gradually, one of you starts pushing – when this happens, what does the other person automatically do?  Push back, right?  The one who pushes the hardest will force the other person off-balance.  If there is equal force, you will both just stand there pushing hand to hand, going nowhere.  And what if nobody pushes?

When doing a sit-up, do you throw your arms forward to get up and yank on your head with your hands? Or, are you using the muscle work of your abdominals and core to sit up? Do you find  your arms and shoulders to doing most of the work?  Either way, you’re going to get up. However, the question is which of these options is actually working to improve your technique and get the right muscles working to improve core strength.

Imagine you are doing a standing bicep curl exercise. If you lean back with your body to “swing the bar up,” are you working the bicep muscles, strengthening the arms, or are you using momentum (and your lower back) to do the movement?  You’re either working the biceps, or you’re forcing a bar up that’s too heavy for you to lift correctly with the right muscles. Which of these is going to maximize health benefits?

Using the correct muscles to work is important as you move. If you aren’t able to move using the right muscles, how many of the wrong ones will your body recruit to “force” the body to complete the task?  Doing this over and over again, will cause your brain to start to believe “The muscles I’m using right now and the way I’m doing this exercises is the correct way to do it.  Always do it this way.”  Suddenly you’ve created a habit, or movement pattern, that will have you repeatedly reinforcing bad habits.  The body might be able to do it this way for a while, but sooner or later the repetitive wear and tear will take its toll and an injury will occur.

As you work you should actually become more conscious of your movement habits, posture, breathing, body alignment, and how to do the work correctly.  This means your workouts become a continuous improvement program.  The last rep you do should always be your best one.  And if you’re too fatigued to do a good one STOP before you recruit muscles that don’t need to be involved!

A part of why I love Pilates is because the Pilates Method brilliantly helps train the mind-body-movement connection, improves posture and body alignment, can help retrain and rebalance muscle habits, and focuses on low reps so that the last one IS always the best one.  I also believe it’s easier to learn how to “work” with the resistance of a spring.  And of course, with time, everything you can learn through Pilates can transfer to every other sport, physical activity, and exercise you do.

My husband, Ford, is a cyclist;  a consistent work vs. force example.  When you ride a bike, you can either mash down on the pedals (forcing them to turn) or you can “spin” them by using a balance of quads and hamstrings to both push down and pull up on the pedals – creating a work vs. force movement.

When the group of guys my husband rides with meets, they start by deciding as a group what kind of ride they’re going to do that day.  Some days it’s long and fast;  other days they decide on long and slower; other days shorter; or, because they had a hard ride the day or two before, they might do a “recovery” ride.

If you’re really in-tune with your body, there will be days where you can push harder and do more, and days where you need to coast – keep moving, but do less, do lighter, go slower.  This group of cyclists has identified the need to vary their workouts to give themselves the recovery they need to correctly move, or rest, those muscle groups. They understand that you have to put forth effort that is in line with the energy you have to expend rather than forcing the body to do more than it’s capable of that day.  Tomorrow, check-in with your body and perhaps it will be refreshed and ready to work harder.

Regardless of the type of workouts you do, keep in mind the thought of work vs. force.  Remember the saying, “You can’t force a square peg into a round hole!”  Forcing your way through an exercise will not improve your health.  Forcing your body to do a long, hard workout, when it needs an easier “recovery” day won’t help either.

Work efficiently, work effectively, and work smart to optimize your efforts for health improvement during all your fitness workouts.

Posted by administrator in Exercise and Fitness.

Osteoporosis and Exercise: Keeping Your Bones Healthy – Exercise Safety Considerations and Resources

Osteoporosis and ExerciseI have posted several blogs about Osteoporosis and exercise, and seemingly this is a topic that I get questions and comments from readers quite frequently.  Over the years, I have had numerous clients with osteoporosis, and we’ve adjusted their Pilates workout programs to keep them safe based on their Dexa-scan results.  I’m also reaching the age, where I need to be a little more careful with my own bone-density issues.

But with this said, I don’t necessarily consider myself an “osteoporosis expert.”  So when I get specific questions about personal health issues, or osteoporosis and exercise, especially from readers all over the globe who cannot come into the studio and work with me personally, it’s nice to be able to refer people to a professional I trust to help answer questions.

Sherry Betz, PT, GCS, CEEAA, PMA®-CPT is a leader in the field of exercise, Pilates, and osteoporosis.  Her company, Thera Pilates® offers Physical Therapy and Osteoporosis Programs.

American Bone Health is a non-profit organization that provides education, resources, and tools to help you understand bone disease and bone health.

Here’s a helpful Poster from American Bone Health for improving your bone-healthy habits during everyday activities.  Regardless of whether you have osteoporosis or not, these tips and exercises can benefit your whole-body health! 

Posted by administrator in Exercise and Fitness, Osteoporosis.

Push-Up Pull-Up: Tips to Improve Upper Body Strength for Push-Ups

Did you know that by practicing the Push-Up Pull-Up phase of your push-up exercises you can improve upper body strength and successfully do a great, get all the way down and back up again push-up?  

(This post with tips to improve your push-up pull-up technique is Part 3 of a four-part article series to help you improve your Push-Up Exercises)

Improve Upper Body Strength for Push-Up ExercisesIf you haven’t read my previous articles in this series, you might want to check those out first; Push-Up Prep and Practice Better Push-Ups.

I was helping a client improve their Push-Ups recently and had a cool A-Ha moment. We were working on improving her upper body strength to maintain a better Push-Up position, working in a full range of motion to lower the body down in one long, strong piece.  We spend almost ALL day using our arms in front of the body. Push-Ups, Bench Press in the weight room, or Chaturanga in Yoga class are all different forms of a Push Up.  I see so many people struggle with good form to get down (and back up) for a good Push-Up.  Who has ever cued you to pay attention to the work that’s happening behind your back — with your arms, shoulders, and upper back to control lower the body down for your Push-Up Exercises?  Let’s talk about the Push-Up Pull-Up phase of this exercise…

It’s funny, I like to do hanging Pull-Ups in a Plank Position for my circuit workouts at the park on the playground equipment.  And when my husband joins me for a workout, he hates this exercise.  It’s difficult to do a hanging Pull-Up because it’s basically a rowing exercise against your body weight (a reverse Push-Up because the back is doing all the work).  On the Pilates Cadillac, we have a version of this exercise too; usually reserved for more experienced “advanced” clients and a slightly easier version standing on the Cadillac (the Spread Eagle).  After 40 plus years of coaching experience and 22 years of teaching Pilates, I have a newfound appreciation of hanging Pull-Ups and the huge benefit they can offer to help you improve your Push-Ups.  Are you ready to take your understanding of Push-Up exercises to the next level?

Not everybody needs to dash out to the park to play on the playground (although if you feel inspired after reading this, go for it!). However, I do want to share with you some things to think about from a technique standpoint for why paying attention to the Pulling/Lowering Phase of your Push-Up exercise is important.

Posted by administrator in Functional Movement, Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips.

Core Conditioning – Are You Listening to Your Body to Improve Core Strength and Whole-Body Health

Core ConditioningCore conditioning is a multi-faceted jewel that is key to enjoying a healthy life.  On so many different levels we need to be more focused on improving core conditioning.  I’m going out on a limb here and saying that I believe that at least 95% of “issues” related to poor health are a result of a core challenge.

For years I dealt with an abdominal muscle tear that made doing sit-up exercises impossible!  I felt like a hypocrite, spending all day teaching my Pilates clients how to find and use their mid-sections, and mine was so broken I couldn’t even roll over in bed!  But what I learned through the process of recovering from this injury, was how many other muscle groups, besides just the fab 4 abdominal (Transverse, Internal & External Obliques, and Rectus) muscles are necessary for healthy movement.  And I was forced to listen to my body and act accordingly.  You see I had about 10-12 years where flexing my rectus, or doing 1-sided exercises caused me immediate abdominal pain, and prohibited my injury from fully healing.  I had to get creative in finding other muscles to help support movement so I could continue to be active.  I had to make smart exercise choices that allowed me to enjoy full body workouts without causing strain and pain on my abdominal tear.  I had to let go of my ego and be happy that I was able to do something, and not whine about what I wasn’t able to do.  Then I had to do what I could do regularly, listen to my body, and just work at my own pace.  And patience…. lots of patience.

Now I can pretty much do what I want with my abs without fear, pain, or negative repercussions.  But it was a looong time getting back to this point.  Even when I work with clients who have never had an abdominal injury – it can be quite the journey trying to find, feel, and activate the right muscles to maximize healthy movement.

Posted by administrator in Functional Movement.

Bye-Bye Back Pain By Practicing this Simple Back-Opening Breathing Exercise

Reducing Back Pain with Breathing Are You Ready to Take Action and Do Something About Your Back Pain?

Back pain can be anywhere along the spine from the tip of your tailbone, all the way up to the base of your skull.  Regardless of where it hurts, or what you’ve done to aggravate it – the truth is, that all anybody ever really wants is a quick fix to make the pain go away.

I know personally how life-altering it is to live with chronic back pain.  I was born with defects at L5-S1 and that instability has made maintaining my core strength a necessity to keep me healthy.  And if you’re low back is out of alignment, nothing stacked on top of that is quite right either so back pain can result anywhere from the bottom to the top.

If it’s not your low back that’s bothering you, it might be your mid-back, or upper back / neck and shoulders.  It’s nice if a chiropractic adjustment can get you back in alignment, but then the question remains – how long will your adjustment hold before it hurts again?  Pills and shots tend to mask the pain so you feel amazing while you’re medicated, and worse off when it wears off!

There are 2 critical things to pay attention to that can quickly begin alleviating your back pain problems. 

  1. Better Posture
  2. Breathing

Ideally our spine is designed to move freely in all directions.  When the bones are “out of balance” it restricts movement.   Muscles get into tight over-holding patterns, and the daily activities we do over and over sometimes only make it worse.  Muscles move bones, so getting the right muscle balance to maintain healthy body alignment for better posture really does matter if you’re serious about fixing your back pain problems.  We need stability AND mobility.

It’s nice to think, “ If I could just “relax” my back would feel better.”  But the truth is, it’s a combination of both work and release that will make the biggest difference to improve your health.  Right now that work/release balance for good posture is out of whack, and the only way your body can tell you there’s a problem is with a pain signal.

Improving posture is going to be a long-term project…  There is lots to become aware of, bad habits to replace with better habits, and never-ending opportunities to incorporate posture-improving exercises into your weekly workout program. If you’re interested in getting started paying attention to your current posture habits click here to take this Posture Quiz.

Now let’s talk about breathing: Keep reading and take in a few deep breaths.  Notice where the air is going inside your body.

  • Does your low belly stick out when you inhale?
  • Does most of your air rise up into the front of your chest? 

(Both of these not-so-hot breathing habits are contributing factors to low back pain.)

  • Are you able to take a full, deep breath, or are you a shallow breather?

If your back really hurts you might be compensating by not breathing deeply enough to avoid more pain (when in fact this choice is only making the lock down effect worse, and creating more tension.) 

  • Do you breathe evenly into BOTH lungs?  Or tend to fill one side more than the other? 

(Not breathing evenly, back muscles are not working/stretching evenly.)

  • When you inhale do you lift your shoulders up around your ears, or is the ribcage lifting and the shoulders are just riding along on the lift of the cage?

(If you’re actively hiking your shoulders up, you’re jamming your head/neck into your body compressing the cervical spine.)

Since so many people these days have forward head posture your poor neck and shoulder muscles are already on over-drive to keep your head from falling off your body, which is a part of why your shoulders want to hike up to begin with and why you may be dealing with neck pain, mid-back pain or both.

Poor neck! Poor shoulders! Poor back!  Have I gotten your attention yet?

Posted by administrator in Back Pain, Breathing.