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Latest "Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips" Posts

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.

Practice Better Push-Ups

5 Movement Training Tips to Maximize Healthy Movement Habits

(This post is Part 2 of a four-part article series to help you improve your Push-Ups)

Do you struggle to find and use the right muscles to do the work on Push-Ups? 

Push-Ups aren’t easy, especially for us gals due to the weight distribution in our bodies.  But that doesn’t mean doing them is an impossible dream!  Men naturally have more upper body strength and typically not a lot of “junk in the trunk.” This makes Push-Ups easier for them because there is not as much mass in the hips to have to move up and down.  Men tend to have wider shoulders and narrower hips. Men also tend to be stronger from where the movement is initiated (Chest, Upper Back, and Shoulders). However, that strength is both a blessing and a curse because stronger, tighter shoulders can easily get pulled out of position while moving up and down on your arms.  Women tend to have less upper body strength, narrower shoulders, and wider hips.  We have more weight to hold up that is farther away from the pivot point of a Push-Up.  Regardless of whether you’re male or female, we ALL need good arm and shoulder mechanics for both our fitness and daily life activities because without the right muscles working, one bad rep during your push-ups can quickly lead to a shoulder injury, rotator cuff problems, or chronic neck and back pain.

Every body CAN do Push-Ups.  Paying close attention to what muscles you’re using and how you’re moving matters if you want all the benefits possible from your hard efforts practicing Push-Ups.

If you haven’t read my article with tips on Push-Up Prep, you might want check this out first to help you practice getting into a good starting position.  Finding and maintaining a good position is the first step in being able to practice a better Push-Up.

Here are 5 Movement Training Tips to Help You Practice Better Push-Up Exercises

  1. Strive to “Un-grip” your Pecs and keep the Ribcage lifted with the Serratus Muscles along the sides of the body.
    • If you are sagging and pinching your shoulder blades together to start your Push-Up, your body is out of alignment right from the start. Not everybody talks about the Serratus muscle – it’s a much-needed muscle to strengthen and use for a great Push-Up.
    • If you “grip” your Pecs, it’s impossible to lower your whole body down. Instead, the head and hips will drop first and your shoulders will be the last thing to hit the ground.
  1. Find and Use your Multifidi Muscles! They are the magic bullet for helping to stabilize the spine position while moving your Push-Up down and up.
  1. Keep Your Weight in LOW Center throughout the exercise (avoid shifting your body weight forward onto your hands and arms; keep your weight back over your heels and hips) 
  1. “Tighter is Lighter” If you relax any of the pieces of the body that you organized in your setup, it will be more difficult to execute good Push-Ups. People tend to relax the Glutes, Inner Thighs, and Low Abs when they pull the shoulder blades down to lengthen the upper back. Or, when they release the arms to lower the body, they relax the whole body! The strong support below is what the top of the body is lengthening away from to move on your Push-Ups. 
    • Inhaling lengthens the spine and helps maintain your plank line while you lower the body to the mat.
    • Exhaling helps gather more low core support while you lift UP away from the floor.

These five healthy movement habit training tips might sound simple (or overwhelming) depending on how many of these muscles you are familiar with using during your workouts.  Ultimately, it’s about connecting mind, body, and movement.  Being able to find and use not just the big muscles in the body, but some of the smaller muscle groups that help support and stabilize a good position, will help you improve your range of motion and body mechanics to maximize the benefits of practicing your Push-Ups.


Don’t miss the next post in my How To Improve Your Push-Up Exercises, article series.  Subscribe now to the Centerworks Wellness Success eNews to get article updates, and more…

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

Push-Up Exercise Prep: Improve Your Push-Up Exercises with a Great Starting Position

6 Simple Training Tips To Get Into a Good Starting Position

(This post is Part 1 of a four-part article series to help you improve your Push-Up Exercises)

push-up prep

How easy are Push-Up exercises for you?  A piece of cake; easy to pump out 5, 10, 25+ reps without breaking form, no problem. Or, do you struggle thru, finding yourself dreading the exercise and wondering what you can do (besides more frequent practice) in hopes that at some point you’ll hit the tipping point and magically your push-up exercises will get easier?

Push-Ups done well are NOT just a Pec Exercise.  In my opinion, the chest muscles are the least important muscle group for the execution of successful push-up exercises.  I’ve been polling my studio clients lately to see what goals and exercises they’d like to focus on improving in the coming months. Improving upper body strength has come up numerous times for both my male and female clients.  And, while I’ve spent a good amount of time helping them perfect their push-ups, there always seems to be another little piece of the puzzle; a piece that’s important for improving movement technique and maximizing the health benefits of this fabulous upper body strengthening exercise.

In this 4-part series, I will provide some training tips for you to consider in order to improve how you move for your Push-Up exercises.  I think you’ll see noticeable improvements quickly, once you start paying attention to the little details; which will ultimately help you to improve your Push-Up Exercises.

My favorite Push-Up, the one I ultimately challenge you to practice, is the Pilates version.  There are a million variations of Push-Up exercises you can play with – from hand placement, to leg placement, to angles of work, to where the arms are tracking while they bend and straighten.  For a Pilates Push-Up exercise, the upper arms stay close to the body as you move up and down.  If you’re in a Yoga class doing your Sun Salutations, this movement is similar to lowering the body for Chaturanga Dandasana.

Done well, Push-Up Exercises are an awesome upper body (and whole-body) strengthening exercise!  Done poorly, Push-Up exercises can potentially be a quick way to strain your low back and injure a shoulder.  A Push-Up is the body weight version of both a Bench Press and Rowing exercise in the weight room. If your body mechanics aren’t working efficiently for one version, there is a good chance that you’re continuing to reinforce your bad habits anywhere else you’re practicing a similar movement.  Are you ready to fine-tune your focus and pay attention to how you’re executing your Push-Up exercises?

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

Get The Best Pilates Exercises Into Your Workouts To Maximize the Whole-Body Health Benefits of the Pilates System

Are you interested in getting the best Pilates exercises in your weekly workout routine to maximize the whole-body health benefits from your efforts?  Check out my myth-busting training tips to be sure you’re working everything from your head to your toes to harness the true power of the Pilates System.

On a pretty regular basis I have clients ask me what the best Pilates exercises are they can use to fix a problem area, spot-tone, or solve a nagging ache or pain.  And occasionally there can be one specific exercise that works to help head them in the right direction to get results. But more often there’s not one exercise that will ever be the BE ALL, END ALL, only thing you need to do to improve your health.  That’s like wanting to take that “magic pill” to lose weight, or expecting surgery to take you from incapacitated to better than new.  It just doesn’t work that way!

Recently, I had an old friend call me who’s got a back pain problem.  He’d tried physical therapy (before he knew exactly what was wrong…) then pain meds, and then finally went to the doctor.  Definitely a backwards order to address the issue, but at least he finally knows what’s wrong, and can start working on a real solution.  His doctor recommended Pilates, and told him he needed “rock hard Abs” and Pilates would help with that.  His PT gave him an exercise sheet with a couple of Pilates Mat exercises.  Then he remembered that he had a friend that teaches Pilates, so he called to get some insights on how to proceed.  Not sure he loved my answer…  Since I couldn’t recommend that he just pull a couple exercises out of the Matwork series to solve his back pain problems, but that I needed to see and work with him to help get the best Pilates exercises into his program, and that Matwork probably wouldn’t be what I would start with for his particular back issues. (And in my opinion, “rock hard Abs” aren’t the full solution either!)

Then, while I was at the doctor’s office chatting with a gal in the lab, she found out I taught Pilates and her comment was, “Pilates is really hard, I’ve done a class or two at the gym, I’m not very good at it.”  So I asked, “Have you ever had a lesson with the Pilates equipment?”  And her response; “There’s Pilates equipment?

Why yes, Pilates is a SYSTEM, which includes a series of Matwork or floorwork exercises and specialized spring-tensioned equipment.  To get the best benefits from Pilates, it’s ideal that you work the system, incorporating both the Matwork and Pilates exercises on the Reformer, Cadillac, Chairs, and Barrels into your workouts.

This reminds me that even though Pilates has been around since the 1920’s, and has gained huge popularity in the past 20 years, there are still lots of people who really know nothing about the health benefits of the Pilates system.  As Pilates professionals, we’ve still got a little bit of myth-busting to do to help people get the best Pilates exercises in to their weekly workout routine.  Ready?  Here we go…

My Myth-Busting Training Tips To Help You Get the Best Pilates Exercises into Your Workouts

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

10 Pilates Moves to Alleviate Back Pain: Don’t Do These…

Why these 10 Pilates Moves to Alleviate Back Pain, just might make your back feel worse instead of better…

10 Pilates Moves to Alleviate Back PainI recently read an article from ACE: 10 Pilates Moves to Alleviate Back Pain and I so vehemently disagree with the exercises and information in this article that I have to share my thoughts.

Here’s the short version of what I’m thinking about this article:  10 Pilates Moves to Alleviate Back Pain if executed well because you really understand Pilates and don’t have any back problems to start with!

Now if you want a few more details about this, keep reading.  I’m on a rant and this is a longer than usual post, but if you have chronic back pain and want to use Pilates as a method to help, the info below will be worth your time to read more.

I love that Pilates is a hot topic to help people alleviate back pain, but it really bothers me to read articles like the recent post from ACE Fitness, which starts by saying that, “Many people with chronic back pain have felt their aches diminish with regular Pilates sessions.”  Yes, I agree.  Then the article goes on to say, “While equipment-based Reformer sessions can be costly and group mat classes may not target your specific needs, many Pilates exercises can help realign your movement patterns to prevent and lessen common back pain.” And then there’s more… “Here are 10 moves that, when practiced regularly, can help improve posture and strengthen the support structures that take pressure off the lower back.”

Sigh… as a fitness professional who has been in the health and wellness industry for forty years, and more specifically focused on Pilates and functional movement training for the past twenty years. It frightens me to see this article and think that people with chronic back pain are reading this and thinking, “Great, I don’t need to invest in Pilates equipment training, OR find a well-qualified Pilates teacher to help me, and why bother with group mat classes, I can just do these 10 exercises on my own and my back pain will go away!” AUUGHGHHHH!

Here’s why if you chose to follow the advice from the ACE article, 10 Pilates Moves to Alleviate Back Pain, your risk of further injury is imminent:

Posted by Aliesa George in Alleviating Pain & Chronic Health Problems, Back Pain, Pilates, Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips.

Pilates Training Questions: How Advanced Should I Be?

Advanced Pilates Exercise - Control BalanceEvery student wants an answer to their Pilates training questions, and this curious question  was asked by a client of mine recently.

“How advanced should I be after one year of Pilates training?”

I love Pilates training questions!  The answer to this one hinges on many factors:

1. What your health status was when you started?  Are you 100% healthy with no injuries, chronic aches and pains, or medical limitations?

2. How many days a week are you doing Pilates either privately, or in a group, and working with a well-qualified Pilates teacher?

3. How much you are working on your own in addition to participating in lessons and classes?  Are you able to take what you’re learning about your body and how to improve posture, breathing, and functional movement, and take it out the door with you to practice and apply throughout the day, at work, at home, while you walk, play sports, etc…  Is putting your Pilates principles to work making your life easier and you’re discovering ways to apply what you know with everything you do?

Posted by Aliesa George in Pilates, Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips.

Pilates Exercise Progressions: Use Handstands To Develop Strong Arms & Shoulders

handstandThe upper body strength benefits of incorporating handstands into your weekly workouts are huge.  In daily life we don’t typically spend much time upside down on our hands.  But, being upside-down is great for developing balance, body awareness and control, and improving arm and shoulder strength.  Plus being in a handstand position has some great benefits for a healthy spine.  In a handstand, you’re countering the effects of gravity to lengthening the spine in a completely different way!

Posted by Aliesa George in Exercise and Fitness, Pilates, Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips, Strength Training.

Low Back Pain: The Sexy Cat Exercise for Healthy Hips and a Happy Back

catHave you ever experienced hip pain or low back pain?  Most people at some point in their lives have dealt with one or both of these debilitating problems.  Our sedentary lifestyle and poor movement habits have led to grippy overworked hip flexors, weak abs, and generally speaking imbalances with the strength and flexibility of the lumbo-pelvic complex (our hips, legs, pelvis, and low back.)

Posted by Aliesa George in Back Pain, Exercise and Fitness, Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips.

Pilates Teaching Tips: How to Handle Obstinate Pilates Clients Who Say “NO” to Exercises that Are Beneficial To Their Progress and Health Improvement

signI was asked the question below from a friend and fellow Pilates Teacher this week and thought it would make an excellent topic for a blog post.  Whether you’re a newer Pilates Teacher or well-seasoned expert, we’ve all been faced with difficult clients.  Learning how to handle and confront the issue in a kind and gentle way can help you turn obstinate Pilates clients into allies who will stick with you for life, and refer all their friends to come work with you too!

“Aliesa, I recently subbed for another teacher and had a client who said “NO” and wouldn’t do many of the exercises I had planned for the workout.  This had never happened to me before!  How do you handle clients like this who are uncooperative during a training session?  Thanks for your insights! “      — Mary

What a great question!  I think at some point every Pilates teacher will face a difficult, uncooperative client or two.  Honestly, in my experience over the past 20 years of teaching,  I only remember having ONE client who really pushed me on this issue and said NO to dang near every exercise that I demonstrated we’d be doing next.

Just thinking about this has gotten me to pondering WHY I’ve had so little push-back from clients and here are a few reasons why I believe this hasn’t been a big problem for me.  Hopefully, these Pilates Teaching Tips will help you handle the next challenging client that comes to you.

Posted by Aliesa George in Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips.

What Are You Looking At? The Importance of Eye Focus and Pilates Exercise

Using Eye Focus and Pilates Exercise to Improve Form & Function for Healthy Movement Habits

bI know I’ve written about this topic in the past, but recently have been cueing my clients and drawing their attention to where they’re looking during different exercises.  It doesn’t matter WHAT the exercise is, where the eyes focus can have an effect on how well you will be able to find and use the right muscles for the movement.

The eyes can help or hinder movement initiation, stabilization, and articulation of the spine.

  • Look up – and the neck extensor muscles kick in.
  • Look down – and the neck flexors start working.
  • Look straight ahead – and the front and back of the neck should be doing just enough work to balance and hold the neck position.

For good posture our head needs to be perched right up on top of the neck.  In Pilates we do exercises standing up, lying down, kneeling, face up, face down, and upside down.  So what happens to the head when we change where the eyes are looking?  Well, quite a lot actually.  Our eyes help us orient the body in space.  Regardless of what position the rest of the body is in, the eyes strive to find the horizon line, since this is the perspective we use to orient the body in space.   Let’s look at a few Pilates exercises to see how they’re affected by where you’re eyes are focused.

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