Saturday, December 28, 2013

Health Advice: Pantry Must-Haves

Q: Grocery shopping can be overwhelming.  It's hard to choose what to cook each week and than what to do to spice up all the leftovers.  I want to ensure I have basic staple foods on hand to provide variety for our  weekday meals.  Any suggestions?

A:  Cooking can be a fun experience and also stressful.  We eat with our eyes so ensuring you have some basic staple foods in your pantry will help to spice up leftover chicken from Sunday's meal.  Here are some ways to eat healthy in a pinch:

  • Quinoa:  Is a gluten-free, cholesterol-free whole grain and complete protein (seed).  It takes about 10-15 minutes to cook and tastes great on its own or an added punch to any meal.  Also vegetarian/vegan friendly.
  • Avocado: good source of fiber, potassium and vitamins such as C and K.  Can buy them firm and wait till they ripen otherwise ensure they are soft to the touch if needing to use same day.
    • Add it on salads, sandwiches/wraps, burgers, Mexican dishes, guacamole/dips, bean soups, use in place of Mayonnaise
    • Shrimp and Avocado Salad

  • Nuts: almonds, cashews, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios
  • Dried fruits: such as cranberries, raisins, dates, apricots, plums, figs
    • Great for snacking on instead of dessert, add onto salads, sandwiches/wraps, tail mix, compotes, add into cottage cheese/yogurt
    • Dried Fruit Compote
  • Spices: cinnamon, garlic, curry powder, olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, oregano, parsley, nutmeg, cumin, mint, basil, cilantro, onion
    • Marinades, salad dressings, added flavor, cultural flair to meats, baking breads/muffins
Plan out your weekday meals and don't be afraid to get creative!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Peeling Back the Onion: The Power of a Private

"I cannot teach anybody anything.  
I can only make them think."

Back in the day Joseph Pilates taught just one person at a time.  He taught them the exercises they needed for their body.  He mentored them.  He made custom workouts to allow his clients more success through movement.  Some had special needs or injuries.  They were given a program design on the equipment to accommodate this and Matwork as their homework.

Sadly at this day in age most people experience Pilates in a group environment.  Why pay someone up to 10x the amount for a private compared to a group session?  For the exact same reason Joe would teach you one-on-one.

Learning Pilates is a way to discover how your body moves and learn to make it more efficient and balanced.  You may think you are doing a movement correctly.  You may be able to fudge your way into a Teaser but the real point of Pilates is to learn the best movement pattern for your body to be able to do that Teaser effortlessly.  That's where the beauty, grace and flow of the system come from.

Let me prove my point.  Right now I want you to get up from your computer or phone and stand up.

Cross one foot over the other and without using you hands descend to the floor with ease.  Now come back up the same way you went down.

How did that go?  Not easy is it?  If you had someone helping and coaching you through that basic movement of survival it would be easier and I argue you would find more success in your movement patterns.  

Privates are a way to dive in deeper.  To peel back a layer of your onion so to speak.  Something as little as how to breathe better or discovering a better alignment for a certain exercise can make all the difference for when you do jump back into classes.  It provides you with feedback and helpful cues to ensure more success to your regular sessions.

As Albert Einstein said, "Any fool can know.  The point is to understand."  Don't feel intimidated by a private.  Use it as a chance to learn and grow.  A time to have your questions addressed and to peel back a layer of your onion.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Pilates Hottie

"You are beautiful!  
You are strong!  
You are amazing!"

These are powerful words.  When is the last time your instructor told you this?  When was the last time you told yourself this?

In my early training Pilates was all about perfection.  You were to do an exercise on a certain spring weight, look graceful (even if it was your 3rd attempt at it), and cue just like your master instructor did.  It was like going to Bootcamp some days.  At times you felt lost or not good enough.  You would long for the day years from now when the cues would spill off your tongue and the anatomy would not seem like a nasty crossword puzzle.  Looking back I honestly feel that Joe would disapprove of this approach.

Yes, we need to learn the purpose of the exercises and be able to execute or modify them for our own bodies (let alone clients).  I would never teach an exercise to someone that I could not do myself.  It is important to know the good placement and alignment of the body.  Efficient words simplifly teaching.  However, when did it get so technical?    

I know in my personal practice I have off days.  I may start my Footwork and not get to the 100s till halfway through my routine.  Some personal workouts have a plan and other times I listen to my body and move accordingly.  At times I close my eyes to focus inward and other times I have to hurry to answer the phone mid ab series.  That's life.  

I've found this attitude translates to my clients.  The first month the client is curious and excited.  They start to see and feel changes in their body.  They are able to touch their toes or hold a plank.  It's like a new relationship...budding and romantic.  Than after months or 30 sessions later they reach a comfort level or slight frustration.  Where is my brand new body in 30?  Footwork is boring and I'm sick of the 100!  You want Pilates to be your soul mate.  

It can be...if your heart is open.

Pilates is a relationship and a personal journey.  It's a process.  It's a discipline.  There will be good and bad days.  One day the Roll Up will come easy and the next you are stuck again.  You must remember to always breath and use your core.  Movement is both physical and mental.  Trust in the process to unlock your best self. 

We as instructors and teachers need to remember to be loving toward each and every body that enters our studio.  Be accepting towards imperfect bodies.  Acknowledge the success of a class able to do a Teaser.  Build up body confidence and good self esteem.  Allow the body to move safety.  Come into each session with a simple mission.

Pilates Daily Goals:
  1. Move your body.
  2. Learn something new.
  3. Explore and expand your borders (challenge yourself).
It takes time like any relationship but after a decade of doing Pilates I can look back where I started and feel proud of where I am today.  Same goes for my teaching.  Each day has its challenges yet I focus on being my authentic self and have fun with my clients.  Its an hour in their day I want them to enjoy and look forward to coming back.  I personally feel that everyone who does Pilates is beautiful, they become stronger quickly and are amazing inside and out.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Break It Down: Single Straight Leg Stretch (Part 3 of Series of 5)

Otherwise known as Scissors or the Single Straight Leg Stretch.  Feel the inner thigh brush as your stabilize your pelvis for this core and hamstring challenge.

Purpose- teaches how to work in opposition, strengthens core, stretches hamstrings, improves alignment

Preps- 100sSingle Leg Stretch, Feet in straps, Double knee folds, Leg Springs (Frogs, Lower/Lifts), Tree 

Form- hollow out abs, hold by knee or ankle of single leg, scissor legs in air, pull into midline throughout, tips of shoulder blades on the mat

*May not be appropriate for those with low back or neck issues.  See modifications below.

Modifications- hands support head or keep head down, higher angle of limbs for more support, hands under bottom for more low back support

How to Advance- Magic circle/ball/weights in hands, perform on Reformer with hands holding straps, add in a Helicopter

Challenges- connect right from Double Leg Stretch without lowering head, add in more reps, legs hover 2 inches above floor, perform on Cadillac using roll back bar or arm springs

Monday, September 23, 2013

Health Advice: Eat Well When Out

Q: I often travel for work and have to eat at restaurants more than 5x/week.  It's hard to control what the chef puts onto your plate.  What are some tips to stay healthy during mealtime when dining out?

A: Great question!  This is one many people struggle with.  First off stay clear of fancy drinks which can add extra sugar and calories.  Opt for water, unsweetened tea, a glass of wine, vodka and tonic or a simple martini.  

If the location serves large portions, order an appetizer or side dishes instead.  Seafood options for proteins usually contain less sodium and are low-fat.  Search for key words such as "baked salmon", "grilled shrimp" or "sauteed scallops".  Ask for the salad dressing on the side.  A healthy looking salad can be killed by being soaking in a heavy dressing.  Also choose fruit options for dessert instead of sugary cakes or chocolate.
Simple changes can be made when picking ethnic food choices.  When dining out for Mexican food switch to black beans instead of re-fried.  Opt for a soft shell tortilla instead of hard.  A grilled chicken sandwich is a better option instead of a burger.  When ordering Chinese food pick steamed brown rice instead of white.  For your appetizer, Miso soup is much better compared to fried egg rolls.

Some healthy fast food restaurants include Panera Bread which serves organic chicken and half portions dishes.  Their food labels are posted on their menu and online.  Another good pick would be Noodles and Company which cooks with Soybean oil and uses fresh vegetables in a variety of ethnic dishes.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Break It Down: Double Leg Stretch (Part 2 of Series of 5)

Advancing into the ab series we have the Double Leg Stretch.  Imagine your legs move as one unit to execute this challenging exercise.

Purpose- teaches how to work in opposition, strengthens core, flushes out toxins

Preps- 100s, Single Leg Stretch, Feet in straps, Double knee folds, Leg Springs (Frogs, Lower/Lifts) 

Form- hollow out abs, press arms into thighs as legs extend out long/low, hug knees into tight ball shape, pull into midline throughout

*May not be appropriate for those with low back or neck issues.  See modifications below.

Modifications- hands support head or keep head down, do standing version with squat and pressing into body standing up, higher angle of limbs for more support, hands under bottom for more low back support

How to Advance- Magic circle/ball/band in hands or feet, add in arm circle with optional hand weights, arms circle first than legs than both move together, perform on Reformer with hands holding straps

Challenges- connect right from Single Leg Stretch without lowering head, add in more reps, legs hover 2 inches above floor, perform on Cadillac using roll back bar or arm springs

Thursday, August 15, 2013

360 Matwork with Benjamin Degenhardt

 I had the pleasure of meeting Benjamin Degenhardt when he traveled to Plymouth, MI teaching his 360° Pilates Mat Intensive (A nuts-and-bolts approach to Joe’s original Mat).  What an eye opening experience!  The best part?  Taking the time after 5 years of teaching to re-read Joe Pilates book and being able to appreciate his work on a whole new level.  

Sometimes we forget the basics.  We get caught up in the choreography.  Where do we point or flex?  When do I breathe?  Benjamin reminded us to move our bodies and trust it will come together along the way.  The body speaks one language and that is of movement.  Don't get caught up in the preparation of each exercise when the movement is more meaningful.       

Benjamin with an original copy of "Return to Life" signed by Joe himself.
Movement potential is different for everybody.  The Matwork should be your basis for assessing your clients.  Break down each exercise if needed to focus on the activation such as the tailbone curl to start your Roll Over.  If your client is struggling here think about how the different pieces of equipment could assist in creating building blocks to success.  The Mat is their homework and key to having progress in the next session.

Focus on how to create space and support in every exercise.  The image of a flat tire vs. one that is brand new and inflated are great examples of poor posture vs. ideal posture.  Have your clients do the "wrong" way first than have them feel the correct way.  

Prior to this workshop I had a whole process of talking through how when you sit tall your hips, shoulder and ears are stacked up.  You feel length reaching up through the crown of your head.  Blah, blah, blah.  Maybe 25% of them fully understood or could get their body to look tall while seated.  Now I simply say, "Deflate your body like a flat tire.  Now inflate your body."  Poof!  Magic.  Everyone can understand the universal difference and feel their body being lazy compared to fully active.    

Pilates was meant to arouse sluggish blood, work every cell in your body and not be all about having 6-pack abs.  There is a deeper meaning in the work.  It is truly a mind body experience.  One that will transform you from the inside out!  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Break It Down: Pelvic Press

Cool down the body from your intense Reformer session and help tone up your bottom half with the Pelvic Press.

Purpose- Opens up hips, strengthens back and thighs

Preps- Coccyx curls, Bridges, Footwork , Breathing on the Cadillac 

Form- lift hips up several inches so they hover at point where you feel your glutes/hamstrings the most, press shoulder/hands into carriage, feet wide on footbar, straighten legs, pelvis stays low and level

*May not be appropriate for those with low back problems where spinal extension is not well tolerated (disc injuries or stenosis).

Modifications- feet in V position for more support, don't straight legs fully, only bridge and no pressing out, Magic circle/ball in thighs as place holder for more stability

How to Advance- remove springs for less resistance, single leg version, change rhythm of the movement (faster/slower)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Health Advice: Spice It Up

Q: I recently planted an herb garden.  I also have an extensive spice rack at home but could use some help knowing when to add what to my cooking.  What do you suggest?

A: Looking to spice up your life?  No problem! 

Spices are great additions to food because they tend to be low in calories, high in antioxidants, and contain healthy minerals our bodies need to function.   
Cinnamon (helps lower blood pressure) goes well in yogurt, on oatmeal or in smoothies as an anti-inflammatory.  Basil goes well with lime when cooking Tilapia or layered in a sandwich.  You can add mint leaves and cucumber to your water distiller for fancy spa like H2O. Dried red pepper flakes goes well in Thai dishes, pizza or with pasta.  

Nutmeg is a wonderful addition to pies, rice pudding, pumpkin bread/muffins, or sprinkled on sweet potatoes.  Add some garlic into your tomato sauce, burgers or stir-fry.  Ginger is a good stand alone to eat with sushi and makes a light salad dressing.

For recipe ideas click here.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Road to Success

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken towards its achievement.” -Bo Bennett

Goals are powerful once written down.  That is their birth.  They start to come to life through action.  Creating and writing goals is your first step towards success.  Make sure it is a SMART Goal.

So, what is it you really want to accomplish?  Which race will you complete, how much weight will you lose, where does your cholesterol need to be, and what size pants will you be able to fit into?  This is the nitty, gritty part.  It is the ultimate outcome you care about.     

Next find your why.  Without knowing the purpose of your goal you most likely will not succeed.  This will get you out of bed to train at 5am or help you say no to dessert when out with friends.  It can be as simple as you want to be a better role model, regain your “me” time, improve your health, or check something off your bucket list.  It is personal and that’s what makes it so important.

Sometimes its best to have several goals.  A race goal might look something like this:

  1. Finish/complete half marathon (best for 1st time racers, when doing a new course, or having fun)
  2. Complete half marathon in under 3 hours (realistic time)
  3. Complete half marathon in top 10 of my age group (more challenging depending on fitness ability level or if going for an extra award)
This allows you to feel success from completing at least two of your top race goals.  The third would be "icing on the cake".  Life does happen though.  An injury may arise or weather conditions are a challenge.  Always set your top goal to show up and finish your race.      

Post your goal(s) somewhere you will see it daily such as beside your bed, on a mirror, inside your wallet, on a binder, or in your car.  The more you see it and read it the more it will be on your mind.  This daily reminder will help you put your thoughts into action.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Break It Down: Single Leg Stretch (Part 1 of Series of 5)

1st in the series of 5 the Single Leg Stretch is sure to challenge your clients and leave them with the oh so good sore feeling that Pilates is known for.  The possibilities of how to modify or add in a challenge are endless making this a staple mat exercise for any level.

Purpose- strengthens abs, builds endurance, leg tracking and proper body alignment

Preps- 100s, Toe Taps, Curl Ups, Roll Up, Ab preps

Form- sit bones remain level, low back is always flat on mat and supported with abs, elbows wide, head in C curve if able

*May not be appropriate for those with low back or neck problems (spinal flexing) such as disc injuries, fusions or osteoporosis.  

Modifications- keep straight leg higher off floor to 90 instead of 45 degree angle, spot at clients feet to track legs or guide to appropriate angle, prop upper body onto an arc to maintain C curve shape, both hands hold one knee at a time instead of fancy hand position, let head rest on floor, in a seated position practice leg/arm transitions before moving into full exercise

How to Advance- outside hand holds ankle/opp. hand holds knee that's into chest, keep head lifted throughout whole ab series without breaks, hold small hand weights in hands by waistline as you move legs only, prop yourself up on elbows than do legs movement

Challenges- hold Magic circle/ball in hands and add in pulses with upper body at each leg switch, increase reps to 10 each leg, hands in loops to translate onto the Reformer or Cadillac with arm springs 

Monday, June 10, 2013

DVD Review: Kick ABS Pilates Outside the Box

From the teaching training program Pilates Core Integration series comes the latest addition, Kick ABS Pilates DVD "Outside the Box".  All you need is a box, mat and small hand weights to benefit from this 38 minute program.  Created and written by Virginia Nicholas, owner and operator of the Moving Breath Pilates studio in Tempe, Arizona.

The workout starts with a dynamic, functional warm up than transitions into modified advanced Reformer exercises and new approaches to matwork.  Some personal favorite segments of mine include Swimming into Pulling Straps (wonderful cues and rhythm use here) and the Arm Series from  traditional Reformer with Serve the Brownies (Scoops) in a Teaser prep position.  It concludes with a gentle cool down and Eve's Lunge variations.

This DVD is great for creative at home add ins or for the Pilates instructor looking to progress clients to more intermediate Reformer exercises.  A worthy addition to any exercise library.

Click here for more Pilates DVDs to add to your collection.
For more DVDs from Virginia Nicholas click here

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Break It Down: Roll Over

As Joe demos in the picture below, the Roll Over in the Matwork is anything but simple.  This exercise is all about control and not necessary about "flopping" your legs overhead.  Master this one and you are ready for the more advanced exercises.  

Purpose- massage the spine, lubricate the joints, lengthens the spine/hamstrings, opens the chest, inversion

Preps- Rolling, Short Spine Massage, Roll Up, Bridge, Seal, Hamstring Stretches

Form- Hollow abs, peel off from tailbone, legs straight as you roll over as one piece, weight transfers into shoulder blades and not neck

*May not be appropriate for those with low back problems (disc issues, osteoporosis, fusions) or those with neck pain.

Modifications- Pads under the shoulders, hold onto wood rods with a raised mat, hands under hips and Hip Lift part only, spot clients at their feet to assist in overhead section 

How to Advance- Add in legs open/close and point/flex with feet, Magic circle/ball in ankles

Challenges- Mix in a Jackknife or advance to Boomerang

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Pilates for Scoliosis

We all live with some form of imbalances.  At times these may be more evident than others.  Pilates works wonders to make the body as symmetrical as possible.  To help explore this concept deeper, Brett Howard from the USPA came into town and hosted a Scoliosis workshop at Core Sport Pilates and Fitness Studio.  

Creating a strong core and good posture practice will help the client feel stable no matter their body type.  All good programs should include lateral flexion, rotation and flexion (as long as there isn't a rod or fusion of the spine).  Stretch and strengthen the weaker side to create more symmetry.  Below are some ways to enhance the current Pilates repertoire:

  • Lying Single Knee Sways: hands under bottom to ensure pelvis doesn't shift (great to add in prior to One Leg Circles)
  • Knee Stretch (Round/Flat): one arm comes to small of back or hugs waist to bring the focus to the center and more stability
  • Roll Back w/one arm on Cadillac
  • Chest Expansion w/one arm on Cadillac: other hand comes behind head or reaches up to the ceiling
  • Footwork/Running: balance a bar on hips for stability
  • Chair Seated/Kneeling Side Bends
  • Crossed Lateral Single Leg Springs on Cadillac: use the opposite spring for bend/press, lower/lifts, a combo of the two and scissors with only one leg
Read Curves, Twists and Bends to learn more about scoliosis and helpful exercises to correct muscle imbalances.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Learn to Ride Your Bike

I came to the realization the other week that when I teach and workout are the few moments in my life that I truly live in the present moment.  In these moments things might not be so perfect but I find simple comfort, creativity and sometimes joy in the process.  The rest of my life I am typically working through my past or daydreaming about my future.  

When I teach it is magical to me.  My words make the body before me move and perform.  I am able to let go and not be quite so serious about life.  I tell my clients they are essentially "learning to ride a bike" and each time the work will become gradually less "thinky" and more focused on the deeper details of the movement.  The more they do it the better they will become.  The breath will flow naturally and their transverse will grow stronger.  They will begin to feel and understand how the bike works and where it is they want to travel.

Pilates is a personal journey.  It can be familiar yet have its twists and internal struggles.  Just when we thought we were mastering the Snake we can loose our confidence and slip.  We must get back up and continue.  We stay in the pain free zone and accomplish what our body is capable of that day.  When in doubt, leave it out.  That is why there are so many exercises and variations.  No two bodies require the same workout.  However, they will feel each exercise where they need it most.  

We are all not meant to do the entire advanced series.  We may strive to, but actually the basic beginner exercises should always be just as challenging as the fancy "combo moves" of the advanced system.  Pilates is more of a practice than a workout system.  We are re-teaching the body to move efficiently.  Lately, functional training has been the craze and I would argue that Pilates is the most functional movement system for all.  Go to any teacher training program and you will probably find an instructor with exquisite posture demonstrating some crazy internal strength to boot.  Chances are they aren't in their 30's either. 

The method is meant to last a lifetime.  Pilates will be there for you when there is no gym.  Pilates will be there when you get a funky injury and nothing else seems to work.  It is the bike that functions when your car breaks down.  It will improve your memory and focus.  You will notice a lifestyle change just by taking better care of your joints, improving your balance and increasing your coordination.

You have your daily cup or coffee or mult-vitamin.  We brush our teeth, shave and shower.  Why not the same with fitness?  As Joe wrote, "This is the equivalent of an 'internal shower'".  It does the body, mind and spirit good.  Live in the moment during your personal practice and carpe diem!  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Posture 203: Scoliosis

Scoliosis is medical term for a curve in the spine (usually in a S or C shape).  Sometimes this is minimal and other times it is highly noticeable.  

How do I know if I have it?  In grade school or at the doctor's office they typically do the Adams forward bend test to check for a healthy spine.  Gait or postural analysis may be done also.  They are checking to see if your shoulders and hips are in alignment.  With scoliosis usually one is higher than the other.  If you take your pants to be hemmed and one side has a leg length difference this can also be an indicator.  Most people experience back problems or fatigue throughout the day causing an x-ray or MIR to be done.  Pregnancy may also make the curve worse. 

Everyone has some type of muscle imbalance.  Scoliosis makes this more noticeable.  Gravity is constantly decompressing the spine.  Make sure to do some activity such as ballet, yoga, Pilates or recreational sports to balance the body.   

Healthy spine                w/Scoliosis
Types of scoliosis:

  • Idiopathic (65%): may be genetic, mostly found in females or young girls, worse during growth spurts 
  • Congenital (15%): occurs in the womb and birth when the baby's ribs or spinal bones don't form properly
  • Neuromuscular (10%): brought on by nervous system problems such as Polio, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida or cerebral palsy
Learning how to stabilize well will teach your client what good posture should feel like.  This means trying to stay symmetrical while standing, seated and lying down.  Other good things to work on would be lateral flexion, rotation and flexion (as long as there isn't a rod or fusion of the spine).  Stretch and strengthen the weaker side to improve their quality of living.

Read Curves, Twists and Bends to learn more about scoliosis and helpful exercises to correct muscle imbalances.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Off the Equipment onto the Mat

Get creative!  Sometimes we have to take on new challenges and see how the body moves with less assistance.  Take some of the equipment exercises and translate them into you mat class.  Mix them in with the basics and you will see just how much the core can be tested!
  • Breathing (Teeter Totter)
    • Ribcage arms to warm up, move into chin nods or curl ups, add on hip escalator as your combo (ribcage arms with the bridge than lower into your curl up)
  • Footwork Series (add in after Roll Ups and before ab series)
    • Frogs, Parallel (pointed/flexed), Tendon Stretch (legs out to point of control while moving at ankles only)
  • Tree (advanced hamstring stretch on mat)
  • Tendon Stretch
    • Lift hips and swing behind bottom several times to find C curve
  • Stomach Massage (in place of Can-Can)
    • Flat/Arms Back, use more like a seated hamstring curl, heels press and drag along mat 
  • Backstroke
    • Add it into your ab series
  • Chest Expansion/Thigh Stretch
    • Add hand weights or use it it for posture work
  • Elephant
    • Walk ins/outs with feet or hands, prep for Push Up series
  • Knee Stretch (Knees Off)
    • Good building block for Planks
  • Pulling Straps/Breast stroke (add in with extension work)
    • One or both variations; can add small hand weights 
  • Short Box Series
    • Side-to-Side and Twist are good posture additions, use a band or pole
  • Rowing 1-4 
    • Use in place of posture work like Spine Stretch Forward or Twist; can add small hand weights for more challenge
    • Balanced Body Video 
  • Snake and Twist

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Posture 103: Walking

Your posture when you walk will translate into good running posture.  Many people over-stride which can lead to injury.  Improving your form can be very beneficial.  

Think of your Pilates principles as you move.  Gaze at the horizon so your chin is parallel to the ground.  Breathe deeply.  Abs in and up.  Focus on your body alignment keeping your shoulders broad and tailbone towards the floor.  All ten toes face forward and legs are parallel like train tracks.  Push off your heel to toe to propel you forward (glutes and hamstrings activate).          

The image below goes into greater detail:

Fast walkers use these proper body mechanics to work efficiently.  Pretend your hands are holding potato chips as they swing naturally with your stride.  As you master the basics you will be able to take more steps per minute for speed.  A strong core and glutes will provide you with more power.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

Exploring the Cadillac

The Cadillac or Trapeze Table is a piece of Pilates equipment with all the bells and whistles of a fancy car.  At first, this 6 foot tall bed frame seems like an intimidating medieval torture device.  However, modeled after a hospital bed with metal pipes to create a canopy over a mat, it is rather basic.  Individual springs help to quickly strengthen clients and enhance their Matwork practice.  Clients experience challenging exercises such as in Teasers with help of the Push Through bar or learn to articulate with the Roll Back using springs to gradually peel the spine along the mat.

This piece is normally used for private sessions.  Other versions of it have been made into Towers or Wall Units for group sessions or home use.  Specialty ones include a convertible Reformer for the best of both worlds.  Leaving out the four posts takes away advanced exercising such as Hanging Pull Ups.

You can isolate almost every muscle group and correct basic movement patterns with ease.  The taller height is an asset for elderly or obese clients.  The Cadillac is expensive yet versatile.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Self Myofascial Release 101

You brush your teeth and comb your hair.  Why not do the same for your muscles?  Foam rolling is a concept you may of heard before.  For about $30 you can purchase one and improve your performance.  Self myofascial release is for everybody, not just athletes.  It is also great to do in between massages.  

What is fascia?  The soft connective tissue that provides support and protection for the body, mostly muscles.  This can be effected by injury, stress, environment, nutrition, and dehydration.  It helps your kinetic chain work properly.  

  • Improve flexibility by correcting muscle imbalances
  • Reduce injury by improving joint range of motion
  • Increase performance/movement
  • Improve blood flow in body
  • Recover quicker and be less sore after workouts
  • Maintain better function with less joint stress
How do I roll? When rolling the slower the better.  Make sure to breathe deeply and keep good posture.  Do not roll over a joint.  If you find a knot or "speed bump" hold at that spot for 30 seconds-1 minute.  Use cross friction, ankle circles or mashing techniques to get deeper into the tissue.  Rolling one part of the body connects to another so choose wisely where you roll.  

Use this as part of your warm up or cool down when doing traditional workouts.  It is also a great recovery tool for athletes or racers.  Sessions can range from 15 minutes to an hour depending on what you are trying to accomplish.  Foam rollers can also be used for balance or core exercises.

Who should not foam roll?  People with osteoporosis (can break bones if too intense), varicose veins, pregnant or on certain medications.  Avoid areas where there is a sharp pain.  Be careful with clients whom have diabetes (can have a loss of sensations) or high blood pressure (important that they breathe properly).

Types of Foam Roll/Massage Tools:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Break It Down: Roll Back

Struggle with the Roll Up?  Use the Cadillac to strengthen your abs and improve spinal articulation.  The Roll Back is a great introductory exercise.  It also makes for an ideal warm up for clients with sciatic issues or tight low backs.  

Purpose- stretch the back, massage the spine, strengthen the low abs

Preps- Bridge, Pre-Roll Up, Short Box Round (Reformer and High Barrel), Curl Up, Chin Nods, Standing Roll Down off wall

Form- Press gently into the bar, peel your spine down/up the mat bringing the bar with you, arms stay long, feet flexed

*May not be appropriate for those with back issues where spinal flexion is a challenge such as disc injuries or osteoporosis.

Modifications- only roll part way up/down, change hand positions on bar, reduce range, change where springs are attached on Cadillac to assist more, roll over an arc barrel

How to Advance- different variation such as adding in rows at the bottom when flat, single arm version peeling down equally 

Challenges- add in arching up/down as you roll, add in side stretch at bottom

Monday, March 11, 2013

Exploring the Chair

 The Pilates Chair was created for at home practice and a smaller equipment footprint.  It is a simple model of a box with springs for resistance (2-4) and sometimes handles for assistance.  The original ones functioned as a piece of workout equipment and chair for furniture for New York clients.  They are typically made from wood with a padded seat and pedal (sometimes a split pedal).

The Chair is the most advanced piece of equipment.  Exercises are done seated such as Footwork, standing on the ground such as Standing Single Leg Pumps, on the seat as in Mountain Climbers, lying down such as Jackknife and pressing only the pedal like in Washerwoman.  There is a great amount of stability and strength involved when adding this piece into your workout.  Its a great piece for athletes or to rehab knee injuries.  Workouts include single arm or leg moves that create better symmetry.  There is less support which adds an extra challenge.  Maintaining proper posture is essential. 

Types of chairs:
  • High Chair (great for beginners or for more support like during pregnancy)
  • Wunda Chair (works wonders and is the original)
  • Peak Pilates MVE Chair (good for gyms and able to stack)
  • Malibu Pilates Chair 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Health Advice: Proper Hydration

Q: I am a long distance runner.  In the winter I will run indoors but when good weather hits I'm mostly outside.  How do you know you are hydrated enough?  Are there warning signs to watch for?

A: Yes, there are warning signs you can look out for.  Rule of thumb says you need to drink daily about half your weight in oz. of water.  If you workout this is much higher (about 8 oz. every 15 minutes depending on intensity).  This can be accomplished through water dense foods such as oranges or pure water.  Your cells and body all require H2O to live.  

Foods high in sugar, salt, and caffeine will dehydrate the body.  This is why beverages such as pop, coffee and some sports drinks can be more harm than good.  Opt for an electrolyte drink or gels when on long distance runs.  Carry extras in times of extreme cold or heat.  Water helps regulate body temperature and help your body sweat out toxins.  Without proper amounts your organs will work harder than necessary.  

The chart above shows how the color of your urine is a large indicator of proper hydration.  The color may change after taking supplements (your body will get rid of the excess it doesn't need typically turning your urine a deeper yellow) or certain foods such as beets.  The more clear your pee the better.  The darker the more dangerous.  Try to stay above the black line in the chart.

When you feel thirsty you are already behind on staying hydrated.  Drink up as soon as you're able.  Travel with a hydration pack or choose locations with access to drinking fountains or nearby stores to restock.  Other signs your body is lacking water is cramping muscles, feeling lightheaded or dizzy, constipation, and dry skin.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Break It Down: Short Spine Massage

One of the best spinal massages, Short Spine Massage is a favorite of most clients.  It helps to warm up the body and take pressure off the low back.  You strength and flexibility will improve quickly when you progress to this exercise.

Purpose- stretch the back, prep for more advanced moves such as the Roll Over, massage the spine, strengthen the low abs

Preps- Bridges, Frogs/Leg Circles, Leg Springs, Rolling like a Ball

Form- head rest is always down, no weight on the neck, begin and end in a Frog, sequence through spine on roll down of back at end, gaze at the ceiling, weight between shoulder blades, feet in short loops

*May not be appropriate for those with neck issues, hip replacements or low back injuries where flexion is not well tolerated.

Modifications- only roll part way up, break it down into smaller sections like Frog and hip lifts, spot client at feet to help them lift up easier

How to Advance- different variation such as lowering in a ball shape or keeping feet up while lowering spine only first, flow from one into the next

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pilates for Low Back Pain

Low back pain is a common ailment that leads many to discover Pilates and its many benefits.  But what really causes back pain?  Most of it is weak core muscles and poor posture habits.  Once these are corrected many of my clients notice half the amount of pain within a few months.

Much of Pilates is done lying down and low impact which is gentle to your spine.  This will help to decompress and elongate the vertebra.  The Method has many ways to modify each exercise if pain does occur.  Breathing deeply, as done in Pilates, will help to relieve stress, promote better circulation and relax tight muscles.

One factor to focus on with this client is their tight or weak hamstrings.  Clients with desk jobs will often have this problem.  Their quads and hip flexors are doing much of the work in daily habits such as walking.  To strengthen the hamstrings and inner thigh do exercises such as Leg Springs on the Cadillac, Leg Series on the small barrels, Standing Pumping on the chair or Breathing on the Cadillac.  Than add in more stretches such as Ballet stretches on the barrel, Hamstring stretch/leg circles with a band, Tree on reformer or ladder barrel, Roll Downs off the wall, and Washerwoman on the chair.

Articulation of the spine will help to decompress and create space in the spine.  Make sure to do some fundamentals such as Pelvic Clock (tailbone tucks and arch) or Knee Sways prior as a diagnosis of their range of movement.  Build in body awareness and pelvic stability for the client slowly each session.  Exercises such as Bridge, Roll Up, Roll Back on the Cadillac, Rolling like a Ball, and Short Spine Massage on the reformer will become smoother with practice.  Breathe deeply into the tight spots of the spine to help these movements flow better.

Lastly, posture work is essential to promote functional stability and strength.  It also makes great homework since they can do it anywhere and for several hours in between sessions.  Short Box Series or Standing work with the Magic Circle is best to teach body awareness.  Have your client show you their "normal" posture while seated and standing (let them be honest, you will be shocked at how daily posture has shaped their currently alignment issues).  Educate on the importance of correct alignment and the stress on the body when done wrong.  Good posture will allow your body to burn more calories, breathe better, strengthen your core muscles and protect your spine.  

*Check with your doctor that Pilates is safe and always work with a well certified instructor with experience.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Imagery Cues

 Sometimes we have to paint a picture for our clients to fully understand the Method.  An image is powerful and playful.  It makes the exercise come to life and demands a higher quality of precision.  Use these cues once your client has become more autonomous in their practice.  This will improve your class flow as well as promote creative minds in your students. 

  • Tall Spine/Flat Back:
    • Fit yourself into a toaster slot
    • Lengthen like a skinny pencil/banana
    • Sandwich yourself in between two sheets of glass
    • Fit yourself in a plaster cast
    • Wear a corset...lace your corset together
  • Pulling Straps/Extension/Long Stretch
    • Feel like a torpedo shooting through the water
    • Glide on the surfboard through the water
    • Feel like an archer's bow...rise up
    • Visualize a fountain of water starting at the sternum and shooting up the crown of the head
  • Side Bending/Mermaid
    • Paint a rainbow/arc with your bar/head
    • Trace a large barrel
    • Move like windshield wipers
  • Rolling
    • Rock like a wheel
    • Feel like someone is punching you in the gut
    • Massage the spine into the mat
  • Standing Roll Down
    • Try not to impale yourself on the picket fence/post
    • Peel off like wallpaper/tape
    • Pull yourself up by a golden cord through the crown of the head
  • C-curve/Spine Stretch Forward:
    • Round over the hot beach ball
    • Roll out the dough in the middle of your spine
    • Feel like someone is hugging you from behind
  • Articulation/Roll Up/Bridge:
    • Move like a strand of pearls/bike chain 
    • Place each bone of the mat like railroad tracks
    • Melt like warm chocolate into the mat

Friday, January 25, 2013

Health Advice: How to Cook for Kids

Q:  I have kids at home and some days it can be a challenge to cook healthy and please everyone.  They range in age from 8 years old to teenagers.  One is even a vegetarian.  Please send some helpful tips for dinner that can bring my life some sanity after a busy workday.

A:  You are not alone!  Cooking for a family can be simple and a challenge all at the same time.  Especially when it comes to food allergies or different nutrition needs.  The key is all in the planning.  Know what you need to shop for, what meal is set for eat day and make sure to do some prep beforehand so the week goes smoothly.

The best thing you can do is involve your kids in helping with meal prep.  Let them pick recipes out of the cookbook.  They can learn to cut up or mix ingredients together.  If you prep a dish they can toss it into the oven when they get home from school so its ready once you are home.  Once kids take part in making the meal they will enjoy eating it more too.  This teaches great life skills for once they go off to college or live on their own in the future.

Meal Ideas-