A Tribute to Joseph Pilates
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PILATES HELPS LOW BACK PAIN MORE THAN OTHER EXERCISE
Those of us who teach and practice Pilates know for a fact what research is just starting to uncover. Pilates exercises help to ease both acute and chronic lower back pain. Since according to the NIH, back pain is the most common cause of work-related disability in the US, this finding is huge.
Researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario decided to look at a small group of 39 participants, all active adults (age 20-55) with chronic lower back pain. Each person was assigned to either a Pilates exercise group, or a control group that went through the standard intake and treatment protocols for lower back pain. The Pilates group exercised using Pilates apparatus, which uses springs for resistance. They did not just do the mat exercises. In post-study testing, the Pilates participants reported significantly less pain and dysfunction than the control group. In fact, they were able to maintain their results one year later. That’s right, less low back pain and better physical function with Pilates exercise.
Joseph Pilates (1880-1967) developed exercises to work on the stability and flexibility of the spine and every joint in the body. He saw early on the importance of the “Powerhouse” — the abdominal, back, shoulder, buttocks, and upper thigh muscles that help both stabilize and move us. This is more expansive than the “Core” we hear about today.
Functional Pilates exercise
Pilates exercises are also very functional, which means the movements you learn in the Pilates studio translate to daily life. For example, the Pilates footwork on the Universal Reformer is basically a series of squats done supine against spring resistance. This movement is then done seated against spring resistance on a High Chair or Wunda Chair, which makes it harder to stabilize the back and pelvis. And then the move is done standing, first against a wall for support, and later using weights or springs to challenge balance.
Squatting is a major life skill, and is a place where many people hurt their backs. We squat to sit down and stand up, as well as to pick things up, sometime heavy things. Pilates teaches how to do this properly against resistance so we don’t hurt our backs. Pilates is not just for models and celebrities who want to look great. Pilates is the perfect exercise method to help ease low back pain.
Reformer Pilates results and benefits
Miranda Kerr, Rosie Hungtington Whiteley and Alessandra Ambrosio are just some of the lean and toned celebrities who love Reformer Pilates, and with results like theirs, here’s why you should consider the exercise too.
To some, reformer equipment might resemble a torture apparatus, looking like a single bed frame but with a sliding carriage and adjustable springs to regulate tension and resistance. Cables, bars, straps and pulleys allow exercises to be done from a variety of positions, even standing.
Working against resistance is essential to the 500 classical Pilates exercises, which are designed to train the body’s “powerhouse” — the abdomen, lower back, hips and buttocks.
With its promise of core strength, flexibility and lean muscle tone, it’s no wonder pilates is favoured by many.
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The resistance created by the pulley and spring system can provide a more challenging strength and endurance workout than mat classes. Springs, leverage and body weight are used as resistance while performing movements targeting specific muscle groups. Workouts consist of controlled, flowing movements working your muscles through a full range of motion. The reformer adds increased resistance to the movement. By working to overcome this resistance, training results in increased fitness levels.
The reformer’s many attachments increase the range of modifications that can be made to the exercises, and allow additional exercises beyond what can be done on a mat. This capability, combined with the support afforded by the resistance the machine provides, allows people with limited range of movement or injuries to safely do modified exercises.
A reformer pilates routine is effective at providing a full-body workout because the constant resistance of spring tension keeps the whole body awake and working through full ranges of movement.
Pilates is synonymous with a long and lean physique, the design of the pilates reformer helps you to achieve long, lean and strong muscles because you’re in control of every movement.
Joseph Pilates himself apparently once said, “You will feel better in 10 sessions, look better in 20 sessions and have a completely new body in 30 sessions.”
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Regular Pilates practice will improve your overall strength and flexibility, it also helps to improve your posture and strengthen the muscles that help stabilize the spine and pelvis, helping to minimise back pain.
As you advance in your Pilates practice, the benefits just keep building and the results are lasting.
INCREASE MUSCULAR ENDURANCE
Muscles exert force to overcome resistance. Training results include increased muscle fibre endurance, size and strength along with increased connective tissue strength. Increased endurance enables you to perform everyday tasks without fatigue.
INCREASED CORE STRENGTH
Exercising on the Pilates Reformer requires proper form and technique. The focus of proper positioning is within the core, your abdomen and lower back muscles. A strong core will increase the effectiveness of all exercises due to your ability to maintain proper alignment.
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Workouts on a Pilates Reformer will improve your spinal alignment. With improved alignment, your muscles will strengthen to improve spinal support and stability. Awareness of proper posture during exercise will carry over to awareness of proper posture when performing everyday movements.
Workouts on a Pilates Reformer require your muscle groups to move through a full range of motion. Improved flexibility decreases strain and stress on your joints and muscles. Improved flexibility reduces stiffness, soreness and the chance of injury.
REDUCED BODY FAT
Exercise increases your metabolism, your body’s ability to burn calories. Increased muscle mass increases the number of calories burned. When the amount of calories burned is more than the amount of calories eaten, excess body fat is burned and used for energy to meet the increased demand.
3 causes & fixes for rounded shoulders
If you’re like me at one time or another, you’ve probably
…done too many push ups
…sat at your desk a little too long
…driven too many miles
…took that slightly too ambitious group fitness class
…pulled one too many weeds
And as a result experienced some of that creeping stiffness across your chest, upper back, neck and shoulders or noticed that your posture was starting to get a little…slumped.
So why does this happen?
I’ve talked about this before, but there are three major reasons why your neck and shoulders get cranky and prone to injury.
1. Lack of thoracic (mid back) mobility
Even if you’re fit, it’s not uncommon to have stiffness in the mid and upper back.
This happens partially because daily life requires sitting and looking forward (driving and typing for example) and partially because most exercise programs are built with the assumption that you already have good spinal mobility, so they focus more on things like strength and cardio and less on can you move that one stiff spot in your upper spine.
But this post is about shoulders, so why does mid back mobility even matter?
It’s because your rib cage is attached to your mid and upper back and if it’s out of alignment and can’t move, then your shoulder alignment (and therefore function) will suffer as well.
So if you have a shoulder thing, you probably want to start by addressing your spine.
2. Weak stabilizers (aka postural muscles)
For the reasons I just mentioned above, most of us don’t usually have the best shoulder alignment and because of this we don’t tend to use our arms in the most optimal way possible.
Poor shoulder position + poor usage = weakness in the shoulder stabilizers, particularly the rotator cuff, serratus anterior, low trap and mid trap.
To most people that just sounds like fancy names of small muscles that you can’t see, but here’s why it matters. Those muscles hold your arms in their sockets and keep your shoulder blades on your back.
When they can’t do their job, injuries happen and all the big muscles around the shoulders that should be responsible for big movement, but not so much the minutia of alignment have to take over.
…which brings me to my third point.
3. Tight/over-recruited global (big) muscles
Here’s the thing about human movement. Just because a muscle is weak or compromised doesn’t mean that you’ll stop moving. Your nervous system will just take a new path to help you complete the movement you are demanding of your body.
So, if you have some weakness in the postural muscles that should be holding your arms in good alignment, it doesn’t mean your arms will stop working. It means the bigger and more dominant muscles like the pecs, lats and rhomboids will take over, which will often feel like stiffness and tightness in the front of the chest, neck and around the shoulders.
So what can you do about it?
This can get waaaaa-aay complicated, but here’s the short of it.
You want to mobilize the restricted areas and strengthen the weak muscles. This will allow things to move easier, while improving alignment and encouraging stability around the joint.
When you turn on the weak muscles, the big muscles that have already been working too hard have a chance to turn off.
How? Magic! (Just kidding. Your nervous system is just really smart and can moderate the change).
Whatever you do, guys, DON’T do Pilates! #MenDoPilates #Pilates
From yoga to pilates: why men are ditching the dumbbells and bending it like a bloke
It is 7am in a school hall in Stockwell and I am performing the Pilates move known as ‘oysters’: lying on my side, legs elevated, top leg opening and closing like a grotesque mouth. It’s an embarrassing position to be in, made more so by the fact that I am the only bloke in a class of seven or eight females, from lissom twenty-somethings to stiff-kneed 60-year-olds. In any other situation I’d be condemned for ‘manspreading’.
This is my life now. Twice a week I drag my baggy, 14-stone, 49-year-old carcass on to my bike and cycle to my local secondary school to do an hour of Vinyasa yoga (Tuesdays) and an hour of Pilates (Thursdays) with what my wife refers to as ‘your ladies’. Not that I know their names. It would feel awkward to exchange anything more than a nod with a bunch of female strangers who will soon be staring at my middle-aged arse as we assume the downward dog position. They don’t seem to mind my presence; possibly they regard me as a sort of misfit mascot — a testosterone novelty in a bastion of oestrogen.
My position is more singular at Pilates, where I am absolutely the only man. At yoga there is sometimes another, a lithe chap half my age and weight. I don’t talk to him either, because I’m scorchingly jealous of the nonchalant ease with which he swings up into a headstand. I try to batten down such unworthy thoughts, since they run counter to the mental calm that should accompany yoga. But I do still take a certain Pyrrhic pride in the fact that I find it easier to touch my toes than he does.
I’m not the only bloke cottoning on to exercise forms that have, for whatever reason, been female-dominated. For too long, Sting and Russell Brand perpetuated the idea that yoga was for self-regarding tantric navel-gazers. But Colin Farrell and Robert Downey Jr are now yoga acolytes. Martin Amis, Ian McKellen and Andrew Flintoff swear by Pilates. Even the grandad of laddism, Keith Allen, has spoken of easing spinal problems with yoga and Pilates.
‘In India, yoga started with men and young boys practising,’ says Catherine Sykes, the 27-year-old teacher at my Tuesday sessions. ‘The westernised practice is very female-dominated. In yoga magazines everything is advertised with the image of a young, white woman in a leotard.’
Catherine trained at Yoga London on Portobello Road under Rahoul Masrani, 33, who believes it offers specific benefit to men: ‘Men suffer from a lot of stiffness in our bodies the older we get and yoga can remove that. Aside from the obvious physical benefit of becoming more supple, leaner and stronger, there are psychological benefits — it’s a tool that helps us to calm our minds, which a lot of us are looking for in the hectic, fast-paced world we live in.’
Personally, I love the fact that both practices suit people of all abilities. They’re not competitive and you work within your body’s limits. In Vinyasa yoga we flow between poses, there’s minimal equipment needed beyond a mat, little contemplation beyond an awareness of one’s own body and breathing, and none of the sweaty anxiety that I imagine attends Bikram.
So far, to my surprise, I’ve stuck with my classes for seven months. If anything I find the Pilates more physically challenging than the yoga, but both soothe the back pain and the clawing self-doubt that are the constant companions of a freelance journalist’s life. In conjunction with a boringly sensible diet (fish, chicken, veg, a couple of glasses of red wine), they’ve helped me lose almost a stone — without compromising my masculinity.
Because it seems there is still a germ of male competitiveness lurking in my breast. I ask Catherine the question I really want answered: Am I any good? ‘Yes, you are,’ she says. ‘A lot of younger men are less flexible than you are…’ Ha! I knew it. Team sport is for wimps: real men stretch. Even if it is in a class full of ladies.
To celebrate Pilates Day this Saturday 7th May 2016 we are giving away two 60 minute 1:1 Pilates sessions (worth £90). For a chance to win please like and share our Facebook page. The winner will be announced this Sunday 8th May 2016. Please refer to the Terms and Conditions below for more details.
One lucky person will receive two 1:1 Pilates apparatus sessions, each last 60 minutes. Good Luck!
Terms and Conditions
1. Each session will take place at Body Perfect Pilates, 35A Church Street, Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG21 7QQ.
2. The winner must be 18yrs or older.
3. The sessions will be scheduled at a mutually convenient time.
4. The sessions are valid until 01/07/16.
5. It is your sole responsibility to check with your doctor or health professional with any concerns regarding any health conditions you may have before starting Pilates classes. While we take every care to ensure safe practice, there are inherent risks in any exercise programme and we accept no liability whatsoever for any injury or illness you incur through taking our classes, or by your failure to notify us of any existing health problems or special needs.
Recovery From Chronic Low Back Pain
“Pilates is a vehicle” – Recovery from chronic low back pain. Inspiring story on how Pilates impact the life of its practitioner in the most amazing way..
Why you need a strong core, even if you can only dream of a six-pack
A strong core is important for many things, including sports performance, injury prevention and daily tasks. (iStockphoto)
In fact, dozens of muscle groups make up the core, including the pelvic floor muscles, the transverse abdominis (deep core), internal and external obliques (side of the trunk), multifidus (deep back muscles), erector spinae (vertical back muscles), the diaphragm, the gluteus maximus (butt) and the trapezius (top of the back).
And they’re all extremely important, not just for looks but for sports performance, injury prevention, daily tasks and keeping the spine safe and sound, says Anne Viser, a physical therapist at Sports + Spinal Physical Therapy/Orthology in the District.
“The idea is that these muscle groups work as a team and that we need to activate and coordinate them to move efficiently,” Viser says.
So it’s far from enough to do a million crunches and call it a day. In fact, that could be counterproductive, because when large (often referred to as “global”) muscles — such as the rectus abdominis — “override the deeper, smaller ones, it can lead to injuries,” Viser says.
“The big global muscles create big movement patterns, but you need smaller, deeper core muscles to connect vertebrae joint to joint,” she adds.
To help clients create a balanced core, she prescribes not only exercises for the back and front of the core, but also breathing exercises such as diaphragmatic breathing.
“Sometimes people are surprised and will say, ‘Why are you asking me to breathe?’ ” she says, explaining that it’s important to activate everything in the core from top (diaphragm) to bottom (pelvic floor) to create stability and prevent injury.
A host of aches and pains can come from a weak core.
“It can be low back pain. IT band and knee issues. It can be shoulder injuries,” says Pete McCall, spokesman for the American Council on Exercise and adjunct faculty in exercise science at San Diego State University. The basic principle behind these injuries, McCall says, is that when one link (in this case the core) is weak, other muscle groups try but fail to take over — leading to breaks or tears.
And yes, that extends throughout the body. “If you are playing catch with someone or fetch with your dog, it requires core strength,” says Gabe Free, a D.C.-based strength and conditioning specialist.
The energy in a throw is transferred from the ground up, Free says. That means the legs, hips, core, shoulder and arm are included in the whipping motion of a throw. If the core is weak, it can put undue strain on the back or shoulder, which can lead to — you guessed it — back and shoulder injuries.
“That can pull the humerus out of its socket,” Viser says.
Similar issues can occur from other everyday movements, such as picking up grocery bags from the floor or lifting things off high shelves.
“If you have strong legs and strong arms but your core is weak, it’s as if you have two cinder blocks with a balloon between them,” Free explains.
In other words, not a very stable structure.
McCall points out that in addition to strength, mobility is also important for core stability. Many people — office workers and athletes alike — have tight hip flexors, which can lead to lower back pain.
“If your hips are tight, then the back starts picking up the slack,” McCall says — and often not very well. For many people, it’s a matter of increasing the flexibility in the hips and increasing strength in the back.
A strong core is important in just about every sport. “Even distance running, where people don’t always think that core is important, it’s actually key for posture,” Free says. “If you don’t have a strong core at the half-marathon mark, you will feel it in your lower back.”
In contact sports, which Free knows something about, having played rugby at Penn State, it’s even more important.
“If you stiff-arm someone, you have to be able to sustain that force through the whole chain from legs through the torso through the arm,” he says, adding that if your core is weak, your back will bend backward. Ouch.
15-minute core workout
Anyone who has ever had a back injury knows it’s a pretty dreadful state of affairs.
“They can tell you that no movement is comfortable except if you’re lying down,” says Gabe Free, a D.C.-based strength and conditioning specialist. This is why, even if you have only 15 minutes a day to spare, Free suggests devoting those minutes to core drills.
Do three sets of 15 to 20 reps each:
(Amanda Soto/The Washington Post)
(Amanda Soto/The Washington Post)
(Amanda Soto/The Washington Post)
(Amanda Soto/The Washington Post)
(Amanda Soto/The Washington Post)
To help clients create a balanced core, physical therapist Anne Viser prescribes not only exercises for the back and front of the core, but also breathing exercises such as diaphragmatic breathing.
(Amanda Soto/The Washington Post)
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Place your hands across the lower half of your rib cage. Breath in and allow your ribs to expand into your hands. Breath out and allow your rib cage to sink inward and downward. Watch that you do not lift your breastbone as you breathe in. Instead imagine the back of your rib cage spreading wide into the mat underneath you. Repeat for six to eight breath cycles