Sunday, November 7, 2010

Field Trip: TRX (Suspension Training)

I had the opportunity to take a combination class at a Pilates studio that began with a half hour of TRX suspension training and finished up the rest of the hour using Gratz Towers.  Needless to say the TRX was a wonderful compliment by working the full body and lots of stability.  It was designed for the military and can be used in a variety of locations with its simple, adjustable straps.  I can honestly say that it fatigued my muscles to make the Pilates section more challenging.  My core was very sore the next day (which is hard to accomplish for someone who works out on a consistent basis).

The class began with simples squats, lunges, lying hamstring curls with bridging, chest presses, planks, and push ups.  Over time balance work was incorporated to provide an extra challenge.  Near the end some jumping worked to increase our heart rates.  We even did the whole Pilates ab series lying on the floor with our hands in the straps which left me dewy in sweat.  

This form of fitness is geared to any level, however I feel it is meant more for healthy, athletic individuals (without serious injuries).  The next week I took the same class again which made the coordination of the movements easier, yet I still achieved the same muscle fatigue.  This is a workout that will not let you plateau with its many variations.  Your body works against gravity adding mental focus to this form of functional training.  Unlike Pilates, this workout will leave you exhausted yet excited at its fast acting results.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Break It Down: Footwork

Let's begin with Footwork.  A common warm up for any Pilates session includes this exercise.  It is mainly done on the Reformer but can also be performed on the Chair, Trapeze table or standing at a ballet bar.  This staple exercise gets the blood flowing and uses reflexology points on the feet to stimulate the internal organs (I've even found it my go-to exercise for PMS symptoms).  Footwork prepares the body for the intensity of the workout ahead.  Let's break down this important exercise:

Purpose- maintain the pelvis/upper torso in a neutral position while getting full extension in the hip/knee/ankle while the core resists the springs (think standing squats)

Preps- Pregnant Cat (scooping on different planes), Building Blocks (finding good seated/standing posture)

Form: keep in alignment while pressing on the foot bar to extend in the hip joint, coordinate the movement with one single breath, sets of 8-12 (Heels, Arches, Birdfeet, Pilates V, Wide Heels, Tendon

Modifications- lighten weight if tucking in pelvis occurs, changing the foot bar position to release the spine or get more knee/hip extension, ball in between knees for better stability/alignment in legs

How to Advance- Single Leg Pumps, Side Leg work, hold Circle in hands to add in full body work, Running, Standing on half/full Foam Roll

Challenges- Heel lifts/Marching (alternate legs in shelf with heels on bar), Fancy Footwork (bicycle with one leg, single straight leg taps to bar on extensions, ect), Jump Board

Monday, October 18, 2010

Silver Pilates

Recently I did some Yoga Stretch training through a program called Silver Sneakers® put on at my local YMCA.  The program is meant to benefit active older adults by increasing flexibility, balance and range of motion.  The hour class is preformed standing or seated in a chair while using a small hand ball for stability work.  Just as with traditional yoga, the class starts and finishes with restorative breathing exercises to improve mental clarity and reduce stress.  These classes help to ensure proper modifications in a low impact setting while moving the whole body.
This training inspired me to take Pilates to a seated/standing platform for those who are unable to lie down for extended periods of time.  Other clients such as those with Parkinson's disease would also benefit from the ease of this program.  Below are examples of Pilates exercises that can be done at home or in a studio setting for older adults:

  • Thread the Needle (standing behind a chair instead of in a kneeling position on floor)
  • Seated Leg Circles (hugging behind the knee arms move leg)
  • Seated/Standing Twist (ball in both hands or only one, add in neck rotation for more advanced clients)
  • Seated/Standing Side Bend (ball in both hands or only one)
  • Standing One Leg Balance (ball in between thighs, squat than shift weight to one side to stand up) 
  • Standing/Seated Arm Circles (pass ball in hands, go around behind back for more advanced)
  • Hip Stretch (seated in chair cross ankle over knee and lean slightly forward)
  • Neck Stretch (ear to shoulder, press down with same side hand for added length in collarbone)
These exercises will make a nice half hour warm up or cool down to add to any traditional Pilates routine.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Break It Down: The Hundred (100)

Ready for the 100?  Say what?  If you are new to Pilates, the phrase "the hundred" is one exercise term you will hear in every session.  It is one of those staple warm up exercises that never goes away.  Yet it is also one of the most complex and varied.  No matter how long you have done Pilates, 100's is an exercise that will continue to progress as you get stronger.  Let's break down the exercise:  

Purpose- to coordinate breath with movement, stability in the core, increase your lung capacity

Preps- Curl Ups, Progressive Breathing, Knee Sways

Form: stabilizing in curled up position with legs at point of control, pump arms at sides like resisting through water, breathing inhales for 5 counts and exhales for 5 counts for 10 sets (100 breaths total)

Modifications- head/legs can stay on mat, increase the length of the inhale, knees in shelf (or can cross at ankles)  

How to Advance- lengthen  legs at point of control (ideally at eye level if strong enough in core), add in prop like circle/ball in ankles, perform on all pieces of equipment 

Challenges- breathe inhales of 3 and exhales of 7, add leg lower/lifts with breath pattern, slow down counting for more stability

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Poised Posture: Pilates for Horseback Riding

No matter if you ride for pleasure or are a jumper, Pilates will strengthen your core and provide you with better balance to stay on the horse.  Those who ride tend to have tight legs, rounded shoulders, and overall imbalances from weight distribution while riding.  Through the use of Pilates jump riders have better stability in the saddle, Western style riders open more in their chest, and dressage riders learn posture equals a beautifully posed presence for competitions.

Every year my family and I go to Wolf Lake Dude Ranch up north in Michigan and be cowboys for Labor Day weekend.  After over 17 years of riding horses I have had my share of sore muscles and aching core.  It is really a wonderful full body workout and a form of therapy to bond with both the animal and nature.  However, there are some ways Pilates can assist in relieving some of the pain and soreness that comes from long rides.

Balanced Body has a wonderful page dedicated to equestrian focused exercises.  An important one is Single-Leg Stretch to strength your core and lengthen your hips.  Any form of stretching you can do for your hips and thighs such as using a gold band or feet in the loops on the reformer is beneficial.  Mobility exercises such as sitting on a large balance ball doing hip circles, pelvic clock, twist, or side bends will assist with finding your center.  The exercise Horseback done on the box or barrel is a perfect addition to your weekly studio workout.  Exercises that focus on extension such as Reverse Push Through on the cadillac, Triceps dips on the chair, Pulling Straps on the box or Swan will open up those rounded shoulders by strengthening the upper back.  Lastly, any form of posture work is a must for all riders such as Short Box on the reformer, Stomach Massage, Rowing series, or Splits.

I've personally found over the years I have more stability in my pelvis as I switch from a walk to a canter.  Even holding the reins I have the awareness of my lats to keep my chest open.  My body recovers quicker after I ride as the soreness soon fades away.  So get on that horse and ride off into the sunset knowing Pilates can keep you happy in the saddle for a lifetime!  

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back to Basics: Body Awareness

Much of our days consist of a to-do list where we rush to make sure all our points are checked off.  Each check off the list is a way of tracking our success in the day.  Pilates also has a check list of key points to focus on for each exercise.  As instructors we help our clients learn these ways of enhancing their practice.  

Over time no matter the form of exercise or movement you choose you will notice you develop body awareness.  In Pilates this is most easily seen in your posture improving outside of working in the studio.  You may sit up taller in your car when you drive or scoop while walking your dog so he doesn't pull you along.  Increased body awareness also puts you more in touch with your environment.  That is why Pilates is a mind/body exercise.  You are able, over time to know where your body is on the equipment.  Almost as if you were outside your body taking a photograph of yourself for your mind to be able to adjust your position if out of alignment.

A simple exercise can be done at home standing or seated in a chair.  Keep in mind for those that do yoga this may seem more meditative but I want you to actively feel your surroundings.

At Home Exercise (can close eyes if advanced):
Standing or sit and begin by feeling your feet in contact with the floor or carpet.  Make sure there is equal weight distribution on each from your big toe, heel and little toe.  This is your tripod for balance; posture starts at the base which is your feet.  Now start tracking up your thighs.  Notice if your legs are parallel to each other.  Make sure your ankles are stacked in line with your knees and hips (depending on if seated).  Now draw a box with your torso from your hips to shoulders.  In-between the "box" think of lacing your rib cage and muscles together as if you were wearing a corset.  Shrug your shoulders up than release them down as you feel the openness through your chest.  Lastly, imagine being pulling up to the ceiling by the crown of your head allowing your neck to lengthen.        

This simple exercise takes only a few minutes to complete and done once daily is a great way to create more body awareness.  Over time your body will memorize good posture that can last a lifetime.   

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tension, Be Gone!

Over the 4th of July my family drove down to North Carolina to visit with some friends over the holiday and needless to say 15hrs in a car is enough to make anyone a little tense.  So whether you are traveling for summer vacation or working extra hours at the office this summer here are some suggestions to release that extra stiffness.

The foam roll is one of the first pieces that jumps out in my mind when it comes to the end of a stressful day or long car ride.  Lying your whole spine (from crown of the head to tail bone) onto the roll helps your muscles relax and open up through your chest.  Upper body openers include Puppet Arms, Scissors, large arm circles, or slow head tilts from side to side.  To massage your whole spine have your arms bent at your elbows pressing active into the mat by your sides and imagine peeling your bones off like a piece of wallpaper with a series of Coccyx Curls or Hip Escalator.

Sitting for extended periods of time results in tight hips and the foam roll works wonders.  Lie with you back on the mat and slide the foam roll perpendicular to your body so it rests below your low back (supporting your sacrum).  Your hands will press onto the ends of the roll sticking out to keep your shoulders wrapped back and down.  Gently draw both knees into your chest maintaining your scoop for a set of Scissors, Bicycle (both directions) and Helicopter similar to how your would do them on the Arc.  

A thera band or towel can provide another option to melt away tension.  Stand or sit with tall posture holding the band or towel taunt at shoulder distance overhead.  Do some Side Bends, Twists or Chest Expansion.  Than lie on your back with your feet in the band for some Frogs, Lower/Lifts and Single Leg Circles.

These simple exercises will keep you loose and limber in as little as a commercial break.  Keep active this summer, but remember to take time to give yourself a well deserved break once in awhile!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Field Trip: Gyrotonics

As part of my Pilates training in Santa Fe, New Mexico I had the wonderful chance to experience a private Gyrotonics lesson taught by Master Trainer Celia Hulton owner of Gyrotonic Santa Fe.

My lesson took place in an upstairs studio on a Pulley Tower combination machine (shown at left). A former gymnast guided me through an array of fluid movements with resistance much as you would experience in water. Compared to Pilates which focuses on two dimensional work, the exercises are more three dimensional circular movements. This helps to release your joints and work all the smaller muscles of the body. I found my Pilates background knowledge assisted me in progressing through the lesson at a more intermediate rate (scooping and breathing were the same).

Throughout, I felt relaxed yet mentally challenged by the stability required throughout. We started with more upper body rotation work steaming from moving in my hips and finished with lower body feet in straps. Many of the exercises felt more open than is allowed in Pilates which let me stretch and strengthen in a new way. My only issue was that the machine seemed bulky, however I learned all parts are adjustable to fit any client.

For those that already do Pilates I would recommend experiencing the world of Gyrotonics. Its a wonderful supplement to any workout no matter your age. The cost is equal to that of a Pilates lesson (group classes also available), however locations may be more of a challenge to locate. Perhaps one day I will pursue this training or Gyrokinesis (more stool/floor work based) to enhance my education.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Field Trip: Bikram Yoga

After a few months of researching and debating I finally made the time to try Bikram Yoga. A few clients of mine have taken classes and other friends have raved about the intense experience of this form of "hot yoga" so I decided to test it out as a personal experiment. First class is free so why not?

I have experienced a variety of yoga types before and was familiar with most of the poses, however it adds a whole new layer to the practice when you step into a 105 degree room. We were told from the start by the instructor, it is common, especially in your first session to feel dizzy or vomit at some point within the 90 minutes. Luckily for me I didn't experience the latter. The warmth is meant to help your muscles stretch and clear out toxins...and let me tell you I was drenched in "toxins" within the first breathing exercise.

Moving through the instructed sequence of 26 poses (shown at right) in a room with full length mirrors I was glad I chose to wear black to hide the sweat cascading down my appendages. I also now fully understood why the web site had told me to dress like I was going to the beach and arrive on an empty stomach. Once we moved through the standing sequence I was looking forward to the floor work, but I found the second half the the class almost more challenging.

Each pose is done twice in the series. I noticed that repeating the movement allowed me to get deeper into the position which made me feel accomplished. When it was all over it was refreshing to take in a breath of air outside. I even felt a little lighter (probably because I lost about 3lbs in water weight). Even my muscles were looser, almost as if I'd had a massage. I was mostly just glad to go home and take a much necessary shower.

Part of me feels this isn't a safe workout to do on a weekly let alone daily basis because of the heat making it difficult to breath, but maybe one day I'll go back again. For now I'm glad I have the experience and will take some insights I gained to my Pilates teaching.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sexy Swimsuit Legs

The side leg series is one of the best to tone your legs for the summer swimsuit season ahead. Typically during a class your instructor will teach you 3-4 different versions for each side (this prevents overworking the muscles for a more toned look).

You can do this series lying all the way down on your forearm, propped on your elbow or kneeling on your side for an extra challenge. Throughout make sure your hips stay stacked on one another in line with your shoulders. Focus on working your bottom oblique and lengthening through your top hip. Legs should be slightly in front of your hips in a banana like shape with your torso.

A traditional series would include Side Leg Kick, Lower/Lift and Circles. Other variations to try adding in are Bicycle, Ronde de Jambe, Scissors, Banana (double leg lifts), or Hot Potato. Use of a resistance band, ball or circle can be used for an extra challenge.

Click here to see a video to start getting the booty you deserve!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Baby and You

It's Spring and there are new mommies among us. Pilates is excellent for keeping you in shape before and after pregnancy. Movements can be modified as your body changes over time. Most importantly, stability workouts such as Pilates are important as your center of gravity changes.

Your low back will start to curve more as your belly increases in size which causes the low back to tighten up to support the extra weight. Your chest starts to close more in the front so extension work is essential to counter this. Your ribs, abs and pelvic floor stretch to make room for the baby as he/she grows. Pilates works to keep you strong and healthy before, during and after pregnancy.

Suggested Exercises:
  • Ped-a-pole standing arms (modified seated w/hand weights)
  • Magic Circle arm/leg work (standing or seated for posture)
  • 100's against wall standing
  • Standing balance work (calf raises, footwork on half foam roll, weight shifts)
  • Chair: Footwork, Seated/Kneeling Side Bends, Lunges
  • Reformer: Seated Box Arms, Short Box Series, Long/Down Stretch, Stomach Massage
  • Barrel: Ballet Stretches, Side Sit Ups
A great site to check out is Pilates for Mommies. This goes into greater detail for those trainers or future moms who want the details of how the female body changes over time.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Resolution Results

The at home workouts are at an end and my experiment has come to a close. The results are calculated and I hope you agree that my success in a few months is proof that Pilates can change your body in as little as half an hour a day.

Just as a reminder my stats as of 12/16/09:
  • Height- 5ft 4in
  • Weight- 140lbs.
  • BMI- 24.03
  • Waist- 31.5inches
  • Bust- 34.5inches
  • Hip- 39inches
  • Thigh- 22.5inches
  • Upper Arm- 11.5inches
Current Stats as of 3/22/10:
  • Height- 5ft 4in
  • Weight- 133lbs.
  • BMI- 22.8
  • Waist- 30inches
  • Bust- 32inches
  • Hip- 36inches
  • Thigh- 22inches
  • Upper Arm- 11.5inches
As you can see, I've become more narrow overall. I've actually dropped a dress size or two, especially in my jeans! I can't tell you how many compliments I've had over the past month with people noticing my slimmer figure. It feels great to have completed the program just in time for shorts season. Thanks for following my experiment and I hope you try Pilates if you haven't already to uncover a beautiful new you!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Feet First

Did you know our feet consist of 26 bones and 3 arches (lateral longitudinal, medial longitudinal and transverse)? Posture starts with the feet yet we often forget how important they are during our workout sessions.

When standing there should be equal weight distribution over your heel, big and little toe. This functions similar to a tripod. An easy way to tell where excess pressure is on our feet is by looking at the wear and tear on the souls of our shoes. Another indicator can be where your feet tend to get callouses. Try these simple exercises below to stretch and strengthen your base of support.

Feet Exercises:
  • Reformer/Chair/Tower Footwork
  • Foot Articulation (point foot than toes, flex foot than toes & reverse)
  • Franklin Method use of Balls
  • Balance Work (standing lifts onto toes in parallel or first position)
  • Ped-a-Pole Squats
  • Ankle Circles (before single leg circles on mat)
  • Towel Sliding
  • Foot Corrector

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Review: Curves, Twists and Bends

The book, Curves, Twists and Bends: A Practical Guide to Pilates for Scoliosis written by Annette Wellings with help from Alan Herdman is a quick read that will provide you with insight into the world of living with scoliosis.

The book starts by educating about the variety of types of spinal curves, then introduces exercises and finishes with lifestyle ways to cope when living with scoliosis. The drawings are mostly done by hand or stick figure like, yet still basic enough to understand. This book can be read through in one sitting and is easy to understand.

I've tested out a handful of the exercises and find them to be wonderful additions to mat classes as basic principles or stretches for people no matter if they have scoliosis or not. A good resource for the everyday person as well as the Pilates professional.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

At Home Plan Update: January

I'll be honest, January has not been kind to me and my living schedule has been thrown all over the place. From having free time to working double time for two weeks and even getting sick along the way my body and mind are ready for a vacation down south. My computer also managed to die forcing me to quickly back files up and purchase a new laptop a few months earlier than expected. I thank Pilates for keeping me sane through this month which is far too lengthy having five weeks even though it has the same amount of days as all the other months.

I will admit that my pants are feeling looser (especially in the thigh and hip area of my size 6 jeans) and I peaked at the scale to see to my amazement it was below 140 (yes!). I'd like to see more development in my core, however my obliques are getting stronger. Something is working with these moves getting easier. Stay tuned for more updates on my progress of the New Year's program!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tall Challenge: Ped-a-Pole

Imagine a skinny piece of equipment not found in many studios whose regular use of a few basic exercises is as effective as a full hour in Pilates terms. Want to look amazing in a strapless dress? Want to have a tall, lean figure? Look no further than the Ped-a-pull (also called Ped-o-Pul or Pedi-Pole depending on manufactuer).

Anyone can use this simplistic piece to focus on stability of their powerhouse muscles. The origional purpose of the Ped-a-pull was to increase lung capacity for opera singers. Today beginners and even pregnant women can experience the benefits. General exercises include standing with your whole spine from heels to crown of the head against a metal pole while holding arm springs. You than press the springs down, to the sides, or in circles. A more advanced version may include adding in leg work by lifting on your toes or squats.

So give the Ped-a-pole a try in your next private and see the amazing results it has to offer!