Improving Thoracic Mobility with Pilates Thoracic spine and ribcage position dictates the function of our shoulder girdle and torso. In today’s society rounded shoulder/forward head is a common postural fault. Driving, working on computers and texting on cell phones all contribute to this dysfunctional posture, sometimes referred to as office posture. Poor postural alignment and movement in the upper spine creates stress in the neck, shoulders and low back as well as a lack of mobility. In ideal alignment the head floats over the shoulders, the shoulders are open and in line with the ribcage, the ribcage is stacked over the pelvis, the pelvis is in line with the knees and the knees track over the second and third toes of your feet. The body is able to hold this ideal alignment with a minimal of energy expenditure and stress. When we don’t have this alignment the body must work hard to keep upright not to mention the daily activities we ask it to do. This lack alignment decreases mobility, inhibits sports performance and can cause neck and shoulder pain or injury. Ribcage Arms An easy way to test thoracic mobility is with a Pilates exercise called: Ribcage Arms Lay on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor. Reach your arms up to the ceiling and then overhead trying to bring your arms in line with your ears. Your low back should not arch and ribs should not pop toward the ceiling. If you are unable to do this, you have limited thoracic mobility. In the pilates studio, one of the first things you learn how to do is to breathe properly. By learning to breathe into the posterior and lateral aspects of the ribcage you improve oxygenation of the blood, relax neck and shoulder muscles and engage deep abdominal muscles responsible for stability of the pelvis and torso. This breathing pattern also stretches the intercostals, obliques, rectus abdominis, serratus anterior and the latissimus dorsi muscles. It is a stretch from the inside out. Adding spinal rotation with directed breathing will also help to improve thoracic mobility. Learning how to articulate through the thoracic spine into extension is vital. To get good thoracic extension, you must also have proper movement at the shoulder girdle which includes the clavical, scapula and humerus. Lateral flexion is another important part of thoracic mobility. By improving the alignment and mobility of the thoracic spine you will improve your posture, reduce the chance of injury to rotator cuff and neck muscles and be able to accomplish daily activities more easily such as putting groceries away. But you will also feel better because you are able to breathe more easily and provide oxygen to the muscles and organs of your body.
“Change Happens through Movement and Movement Heals.” J.P. The Hundreds in Pilates is a classic exercise that develops muscular strength and endurance for the abdominals while improving breathing and coordination. It is used as a warm up exercise that gets your whole body warm and possibly even sweating because of the pumping of the arms and the controlled breath. There are several modifications to the exercise and many people will need to start with a modified version to build up the abdominal strength and control needed to perform this exercise correctly. If you are new to pilates start with the upper body flexed up, arms extended by sides and feet on the floor. Start to pump your arms as you inhale 5 counts through the nose and exhale 5 counts through pursed lips. This is what makes Hundreds a great abdominal exercise. You must use transverse abdominus to stabilize the lumbar spine and keep the abdominals flat, obliques and rectus abdominus flex you into the starting position and then hold you there for 10 cycles of 5 inhales and 5 exhales while pumping the arms and keeping the body quiet. If you have never done this exercise it is hard to hold yourself in this position for 10 breath cycles. It is also hard to breathe without letting the abdominals “pop” up into your shirt which would mean you lost your core connection and lumbar stabilization. You have to learn to breathe into the posterior and lateral aspects of your ribcage to make this happen. Another key point is to keep the neck and shoulders tension free as you pump the arms. Once you master this level you can bring your legs to table top. Now you must stabilize the lumbar spine against the weight of the legs. This requires even more abdominal engagement and control. Be sure that the low back doesn’t arch away from the floor and that the ribs don’t “pop” to the ceiling. As you get stronger and need more challenge straighten the legs out to a 45 degree angle only if you can maintain lumbar stability. If the back arches you need to pull the legs back to table top and find your core connection to protect the back. As you continue to develop core strength and control you may be able to lower the legs a little closer to the floor. This exercise should always be performed with precision and control. It should be pain free but challenging. In the beginning you may find it difficult to inhale for 5 counts and exhale for 5 counts. You could try shortening the breath cycle such as inhale for 3 and exhale for 3. As that becomes manageable try inhaling for 4 and exhaling for 4. Then you could try to inhale for 4 and exhale for 5 or 6 counts. The emphasis on the exhale will empty the lungs more completely and engage the abdominals more deeply. With regular practice you can become proficient at this exercise and start to reap the benefits of Pilates.
Strong Booty, Strong Back With back issues at an all time high, people are looking more often to alternative solutions rather than the traditional route of surgeries and drugs. Finding and engaging the muscles of the core to help stabilize the spine is becoming common practice the world over. This awareness is a vital piece of the overall wellness and care of the spine, but it is only one part of the puzzle. The often overlooked piece or that many people don’t relate to both stabilizing and mobilizing the torso are the glutes or your “booty”. People were on the right track with the old saying “Lift with your legs, not your back”, however, the glutes are often disassociated from the leg. As Pilates instructors, our job is all about teaching movement, we’re often referred to as movement specialists. This means that it’s our responsibility to teach proper awareness, engagement and movement patterns. Many people have a disconnect relating to this area, it is an important area to focus on and understand. Activation Once a mind-muscle connection to the glutes has been established, we then begin to work on getting them to work properly and consistently. With some clients this is not an easy task as many people are now working in jobs that don’t require them to stand or move very much. This more sedentary lifestyle tends to lead to under use of the glutes and more quad dominance. To correct this we first educate the client on the proper firing pattern, then ingrain it into their mind and body with repetitions of various exercises. Sequencing A proper firing pattern is the sequence in which the muscles fire in order to achieve a specific motion. Having this correct order of operations in the glutes leads to more efficient recruitment when using them to either mobilize or stabilize, or both, in turn taking the strain off of the much smaller spinal extensors that are in many cases overused. This will dramatically reduce the risk of lumbar strains and injuries. Pilates teaches the body to do this along with returning or bringing the body to a more neutral state. Neutral Posture A large part of poor biomechanics and improper recruitment of the hip extensors can be directly attributed to improper posture and poor alignment of the pelvis. A common issue is excessive posterior tilt of the pelvis, or a “tucked under” stance. Correcting this allows more freedom of movement through the lumbo-sacral junction which in turn helps to facilitate better use of the glutes. It will also help to open up the sacro-illiac joint, which is very often a major trouble spot because of the nerve bundle running from the brain, all the way down the spine, through the S.I. joint and down to the legs. This one spot can be responsible for a variety of nerve related pain directly above and/or below it. What This Means For The Client As I’ve tried to explain here, it is critical to any client to have the ability to correctly use the glutes in their workouts, and in their day-to-day life. Although this can be a daunting task, it is also a very rewarding undertaking. This results in not only giving them ability to perform more difficult and complex exercises, but in all around better quality of life outside the studio, which is what we should all strive to do and the reason Pilates was conceived in the first place.
One out of two women and one out of four men age 50 and older will suffer an osteoporosis related fracture of the hip, spine or wrist. Of women over 50, one out of two have low bone density. Osteoporosis is not a normal age related process. It is a silent, gradual loss of bone which wasn’t recognized as a disease until 1994. Many don’t even know they have the disease, until they notice their height has decreased or they suffer a fracture. Most fractures are caused by everyday life. As the disease progresses bones can become so fragile they will break by simply bending over or trying to open heavy doors. Strong bone is developed mostly during childhood and adolescence peaking by our mid 20’s. Bone remodeling is the cycle of old bone being replaced by new bone. Bone formation and bone resorption (loss) happen throughout life, but it slows as we age and hormones decrease. We have two different types of bone, cortical bone (compact bone) and trabecular bone (spongy bone). Cortical bone is arranged in a long, parallel, compact line. It is found in the long bones of the body such as the femur and the humerus. It is able to endure large amounts of mechanical stress. Trabecular bone is a formation of rods and plates resembling a sponge. It has large amounts of red bone marrow and acts as a shock absorber. It is found at the end of long bones, in the vertebral bodies of the spine and in the neck of the femur. It has a high metabolic turnover rate, 80% faster than cortical bone. This makes it susceptible to density changes at an earlier age due to estrogen deficiencies. Luckily only 20% of our bones are trabecular bone. The other 80% is cortical bone. A DEXA (dual energy x ray absorptiometry) scan is the primary tool to measure bone density. It is recommended to have a baseline scan by the age of 40 and one every two years thereafter. The hip (neck of the femur), lumbar spine and the wrist are the most common sites scanned. But the majority of breaks occur at T6, T7 and T8. The thoracic spine is not scanned during a baseline screening. Risk factors for osteoporosis include: Premature or early menopause: Caucasian female- slight build, fair skinned and blonde Family History Heavy alcohol consumption Smoking Sedentary Lifestyle History of cortisone therapy In the Pilates studio we have clients with osteoporosis at younger and younger ages. I believe diet and a sedentary lifestyle are major components to this disease. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis in one area we must assume you have it throughout the body. Our goal with the osteoporotic client is to reduce the risk of falling and improve functional ability. We do this by improving posture and balance, working on gait and coordination and strengthening the hip and trunk musculature. Bones become stronger in response to increased stress (exercise). The amount of bone and its density are directly related to weight bearing forces and resistance placed on it. But some movements are no longer safe. Trunk flexion due to the increased compression of the anterior bodies of the vertebra as well as loaded spinal rotation and lateral flexion are contraindicated especially if someone has already experience a compression fracture. Focus will be shifted to hip and back extension, standing exercises that include impact, dynamic resistance and multidirectional movement. In conclusion, exercise is an important component of managing this disease along with diet and medical supervision. There is no cure, but you can slow the progress and in some cases stop the advancement of this silent disease.
What is COPD? COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a group of progressive diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing related diseases. Emphysema, chronic bronchitis and sometimes asthma are included in this group. 64 million people worldwide and 15.7 million people in the United States have COPD. There are 3 million new cases diagnosed each year with women being diagnosed with chronic bronchitis twice as often as men. The incidence of COPD in women is on the rise, but on the decline in men. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Tobacco smoke is the #1 cause of COPD but is also caused by air pollutants, especially chemical pollutants in the home and workplace. Genetics and respiratory infections can also contributing factors. Medical treatment can help manage symptoms, but there is no cure. Exercise can help improve physical strength and endurance but cannot reverse damage. Inactivity can actually exacerbate shortness of breath. COPD leads to activity limitations such as difficulty walking and climbing stairs. Of those affected by COPD 51% report limited ability to perform work related tasks as well as increased confusion and memory loss. Many report fair or poor health status and often have other chronic conditions such as arthritis, congestive heart failure or diabetes. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, wheezing and coughing producing mucus, phlegm and sometimes blood. Tightness in the chest is also a common complaint. A careful and thorough evaluation by physician for accurate diagnosis is needed. Effective treatment can alleviate severity, decrease frequency of symptoms and slow the progression of this disease. Pulmonary rehabilitation can be very beneficial. Learning breathing exercises and strategies for dealing with your symptoms can help you better control your symptoms. An exercise program focusing on strength and muscular endurance is beneficial as well. Pilates is a low impact exercise program that focuses on core strengthening, breathing and quality movement. The transverse abdominis is the deepest abdominal muscle. It is a local stabilizer for the lumbar spine but it is also a muscle of respiration. When we exhale through pursed lips it activates transverse abdominis which strengthens the core but it also forces us to exhale more completely. When we exhale more efficiently we can inhale more completely providing more oxygen to our heart, other muscles and organs. It also helps to strengthen our diaphragm and improve lung capacity. By focusing on the quality of each inhale and exhale, we learn to control our breath and can use this when we find our symptoms exacerbating enabling us to better control our breathing. There are multiple pieces of equipment in the Pilates studio that can be used to strengthen periphery muscles as well. For this reason Pilates can be an integral part of rehabilitation for someone suffering with COPD. Exercise will improve overall strength and endurance as well as strengthen the muscles you use to breath. Exercise improves circulation and helps the body better use oxygen. It builds energy levels so you can do more without becoming tired or short of breath. It strengthens your heart and cardio vascular system. It lowers blood pressure and increases your stamina. Talk to your health care provider about including Pilates in your rehabilitation program and start seeing the benefits of Pilates for yourself.
Pilates And The Student Athlete With participation in middle and high school athletics at an all time high, (52% of students participating in at least one sport) there has been an increasing demand for cross training programs for these young athletes. While there are many options available to fit this need, not all of them are necessarily a good fit with individuals whose bodies are still developing. While weight training, running etc. are certainly beneficial, Pilates is a critical component that is often overlooked and will dramatically help with every aspect of the athletes training and overall performance on game day. Mind-Body Connection Pilates is often referred to as mind-body exercise. This is the ability to visualize exactly the desired sequence and movement and effectively communicate this to the desired muscles, thus translating it into motion. What this means for developing athletes is a better mastery of their own bodies and recruitment of every piece involved in any particular facet of their sport. This is especially important for this age group as their bodies are still developing and they generally haven’t yet mastered this ability. Programming the mind to have this level of connection to, as well as control of the body at a young age will have a profound and lasting impact on the whole of their athletic career. Core Stability An often misunderstood part of athletic training of any sort is the foundation, what Pilates refers to as the core. The core is all of the deep stabilizer muscles of the trunk and torso: transverse abdominus, diaphragm, multifidus and the pelvic floor. One of the very first things that any Pilates client will learn is how to find and activate these muscles prior to movement of any sort. This puts the body in a more optimal alignment thereby minimizing the risk of injury. Having this foundation well engrained into the mind and body will lead to better bio-mechanics and all around performance. Improved Joint Mobility And Stability Once the mind-body connection and proper utilization of the core have been established or strengthened, we begin to improve biomechanics throughout the body, but especially in those areas most prone to activity-related injuries. Ankle, knee and back issues/injuries are the most common. The primary way we help to decrease these risks is to stabilize the pelvis, which translates to better stability through the hip and leg and a more protected lumbopelvic region. Athletes also have a high percentage of injury to shoulders, elbows and wrists. Working on better mechanics of the scapulae minimizes these risks as the scapulae dictate the positioning of these joints. Improving the mobility of the surrounding muscles decreases the risk of strains, sprains and tears. Overuse injuries are minimized by concentrating on proper sequencing and strengthening of all the muscles involved in a specific joint motion, as opposed to just the superficial muscles that traditional strength and conditioning programs are centered around. Proper Scapular Movement And Stabilization The scapulae (shoulder blades) are what enable the arm to move in the many directions and planes that they do. It is therefore very important to the young athlete to understand how to properly move, as well as stabilize them, especially since they do not connect directly to the ribs or spine. Improper mechanics here lead to a whole variety of discomfort and injuries. Rotator cuff, neck, elbows and wrists are all directly affected by scapular placement. This is one of the basic principles of Pilates and an integral part of getting young athletes to, and keeping them at their best. Better Posture As in all aspects of life, better posture is a crucial component of any athletic endeavor. Most athletic pursuits tend to lead to muscular imbalances and postural issues by their very nature. Unfortunately for the athlete, these discrepancies, gone unchecked, can actually shorten the length of the athletic career. Pilates is at its core all about moving the body back to a more neutral alignment. Regular participation in a Pilates conditioning program will over time correct many, if not all of the issues caused by the passion for their sport and just day to day life. Bringing It All Together While all of this sounds like a lot to process and a lot of individual pieces to master, it truly happens simultaneously with regular participation in a Pilates program structured for athletes. While there are many different athletic pursuits and thus different specific areas of concern related to the individuals sport of choice, all of these areas will be addressed in a lesson geared for athletes, and an athlete of any variety will greatly benefit from utilizing the tools and techniques provided in a Pilates program.
It all starts with your core! While there are many different exercise practices and disciplines, there is one thing that gets overlooked or under-emphasized in most of them; core strength. Having come from a weight room background, I personally have been guilty of this in the past, until I discovered Pilates and started practicing it myself. The difference that it has made in my life in general, and the new-found confidence it has given me in my other athletic pursuits, is nothing short of amazing. There are many aspects that contribute to a strong core, and they are all inter-related. Pulling all these pieces of the puzzle together is what Pilates was conceived to accomplish. Breathing The very deepest layer of your abdominal and core muscles are respiratory muscles and therefore contribute to a proper breath pattern. So learning to breathe properly will help you to engage and stabilize your core from the inside out. Breathing is the first of the Pilates principles, and the first thing new clients learn upon beginning a Pilates regimen. Pelvic Placement The next thing that will be addressed is pelvic placement. The position of the pelvis in turn dictates where the lumbar spine or low back go. Learning to properly engage and stabilize the pelvic floor muscles along with the deep abdominals has been shown to reduce pain in the lumbar spine, as well as give a much better base of support during strenuous activities. Rib Cage Placement Next in line is the position of the rib cage. The rib cage attaches to the thoracic or upper portion of the spine. So, as with the pelvis, the rib cage determines the positioning of the thoracic spine. The ability to control this portion of the spine using the deep abs and obliques leads to better posture, more openness and mobility through the chest and shoulders, and again a reduction in back pain, as well as contributing to better stability during activity. Scapular Movement And Stabilization Continuing up the chain, the next area is the scapula or shoulder blades. The position of the scapula is a large factor in the overall position of the shoulder as a whole. Proper positioning and mobility here contribute to better alignment through the neck and upper part of the spine. A large part of neck pain and other issues stem from poor mechanics of the scapula and the rotator cuff muscles. As a society that has moved to a more sedentary lifestyle and workplace, poor scapular alignment has become an increasingly large problem for many of us. The good news? It can be corrected with regular Pilates sessions and better awareness of this area! Head And Cervical Placement The last link in the chain is you head and neck, or cervical spine. As you’ve probably realized by now, all of these things are connected, with one part of the body directly effecting the position of another. It’s important to realize that the head and neck can operate as part of the whole chain, or independently as the situation requires. In Pilates, we focus on training the proper muscles to work to both stabilize and mobilize the cervical spine, while at the same time making sure that these muscles aren’t being overworked due to faulty bio-mechanics in the thoracic spine. What Does This Mean For You? As I hope I’ve illustrated here, a better body begins from the inside out. Once you have the core stability and mind-body connection, you too will be amazed at the things that your body can achieve!
90 Days To Your Best Stride Ever By Jerod Craig As running continues to grow in popularity as a sport, it’s important to keep in mind that effective cross-training will improve overall enjoyment of your experience, as well as allow you to continue running longer, faster, better and more fluidly. Pilates is one of the best forms of cross training available. Here are a few quick reasons why. Breathing Pilates starts with breathing more fully and three dimensionally into the whole of the lungs. This leads to increased oxygenation of the blood, which in turn helps to prolong muscular endurance during activity, especially when this better breath is utilized during a run or other strenuous form of training. Increased Core Strength Pilates enables you to not only better produce force during activities such as running, it also helps you to maintain better posture and control to maximize the forces you produce while you are active. Improved overall stability is another added benefit of having more core strength. This can mean less overall soreness after training; especially in the hips and back as well as helping to minimize your risk of injury to these areas. Corrects postural imbalances, which helps reduce the risk of injury Along with better breath patterns and core control/stability you will also notice that as you progress your body starts to bring itself to a more neutral and natural alignment. This leads to increased fluidity of movement through the all of the joints involved in your running, which in turn will help with stride length, improved gait and cadence, while decreasing wear and tear. The decrease in wear and tear minimizes the risk of over-use type injuries (sprains, strains, pulls, tears etc.) while prolonging your ability to train at a higher level and also lengthening your overall athletic career. Better posture will also lead to a more open sensation through the spine and shoulders, meaning better bio mechanics through the upper body and thus more efficient utilization of energy. Enhanced Mind Body Connection Another thing that you will notice is a far better ability to recognize what is going on with your body, correct things that could be fixed or improved on, and activate your muscles more efficiently. Once this ability is realized, you can begin to apply this to your running practice and figure out those “sticky” aspects of your stride. Obviously this is not an instant transformation, however given time and dedication, you WILL notice a dramatic difference. In Summary: As you can see Pilates doesn’t effect any single aspect of your running career, but instead helps with every individual facet, helping to achieve an all around more efficient, stronger, faster more well balanced stride. For those of you looking to take your running game to the next level, this could very well be that missing puzzle piece.
Diastasis Recti is a separation of the linea alba effectively weakening the rectus abdominis. It can be checked by placing two fingers above the navel and having the client raise their head and engage their abdominals, if there is a hollowness beneath the fingers that is diastasis recti. You must check below the navel as well. Diastasis recti is mistakenly thought of a woman’s issue but men and even babies can have this condition as well. It may appear as a ridge running down the midline from the xyphoid process to the navel. Signs of diastasis include incontinence that continues more than 8 weeks post- partum, pelvic floor dysfunction, constipation, pain during intercourse as well as lower back pain, SI joint issues and looking 4 months pregnant. Splinting or binding of the midsection can help with support and pain, but does not help resolve the condition. Contraindications include trunk flexion such as sit ups or crunches, open kinetic chain exercises with both legs at table top and unsupported, overhead movements with heavy load, oblique movements and planks. These movements may increase the separation of the linea alba and further weaken the rectus abdominis. Muscles to strengthen to resolve this condition include the transverse abdominis, diaphragm, multifidus and the pelvic floor muscles. These local stabilizers make up the inner unit or the “core muscles” which provide stabilization to the lumbo-pelvic region. Transverse abdominis is a respiration muscle so breathing exercises can start the healing process. It originates on the back body via the thoracolumbar fascia, the iliac crest and internal surface of the lower six ribs. It wraps around the trunk and inserts on the front body via the linea alba. By learning to effectively engage this muscle you will start to strengthen and restore the function of the TA which is to compress the abdominal contents. The pelvic floor muscles and the transverse abdominis are functionally inter-related. So as we strengthen the TA we will start the healing process for the pelvic floor muscles. And as we add targeted exercises for the pelvic floor we can progress towards more functional movement and more challenging abdominal exercises. A well trained instructor can help you identify diastasis recti and other muscular weaknesses and develop a program to restore strength and stability to your core. And remember a strong core makes every thing better!
80% of Americans do not meet the recommended daily levels for physical activity and 45% do not move enough to improve their health. Many of us are over booked between the demands of our jobs and family obligations with precious little time left for leisure activities and relaxation. When do have free time we want to spend that time doing activities we enjoy and for many exercise is perceived as work and another chore on our to-do list. When an activity becomes a chore our motivation to participate diminishes even when there are very real health issues involved. For many working out in a gym is pure drudgery. The work is too hard, the results too slow. Also working out in gyms with fitness enthusiasts intimidates people who are overweight and inactive. Even though they know the risks of being overweight, it isn’t enough of a motivation to overcome their fear of the weight room. So how do we overcome this lack of activity and make movement something we want to do instead of something we should do? By changing our motivation and making movement enjoyable. People stick with something when they feel successful right away. There isn’t one form of exercise that is right for everyone. Just as we are all unique individuals our paths to fitness will be varied as well. Some people truly enjoy the weight room culture and the competitive atmosphere. They thrive in this environment and like pushing themselves to be stronger and can channel stress and anxiety into a positive outcome. For others social interaction is an important part of physical activity. Dance classes such as Zumba have seen a surge in popularity over the past few years. People are drawn to dance because it is easily accessible and fun. And being a good dancer is not required. Pilates has a host of benefits including improved posture and a strong core. But it also can clear your mind and give you energy and inner serenity as you learn to move from the inside out. And Pilates is for everybody. Whether young or old, male or female, athletic or non-athletic, healthy or recovering from injury or illness, flexible or not so flexible, Pilates is adaptable and can be practiced through most stages of life. Everybody deserves to enjoy movement. By choosing the activities we enjoy whether they are solo endeavors such as running and swimming or group activities with family or friends making movement part of our daily lives improves our physical as well as our emotional health and that benefits everyone.