By Rene Craig Proper mechanics and swing plane require strength, flexibility, and a strong core. All of this can be accomplished in 15 minutes a day with golf specific exercises. The purpose of most Pilates exercises is to strengthen and tone the body while gaining segmental control. Strengthening the glutes and core translates to an increase in distance with the swing. Strengthening the deep abdominals and back muscles can lead to lower scores while minimizing pain and injury. These 4 exercise which can be done at home in just 15 minutes, will increase lumbar mobility, strengthen your glutes and core as well as focusing shoulder strength and stability. Pelvic tilt to imprint increase the mobility of the pelvis, hips, and lumbar spine. Lying supine on your back with knees bent, lengthen the low back to the floor by drawing your ASIS, or hip bones toward your rib cage. Be sure you are using your obliques and not your glutes to perform the exercise. 10 Reps Bridges Strengthen the Glutes increasing strength and stability of your golf swing. It also strengthens your pelvis, low back, and core. Lying on your back, with knees bent, exhale through pursed lips and press your hips up, inhale to lower your hips down. To increase the challenge, try doing a single leg bridge keeping the pelvis level on the way up and down. 10 reps Side lying leg circles increase the mobility of your hips which will improve hip turn on the backswing and downswing and reduce lateral motion. Lying on one side of your body in a straight line, circle the top leg 10 times and then revers and go in the opposite direction. Focus on the back of the circle and keep the body quiet as the leg moves. 10 Reps Each Side The Pilates Push Up is a full body exercise mobility of the spine, lengthens the hamstrings while it strengthens your core and shoulder girdle. Stand at the back of a mat and roll down, placing your hands on the floor, bending at then knees if necessary. Walk your hands out to plant and do slow push up, going down for 3 counts and up for 1. Walk the hands back to the feet and roll up. This will increase power from your core to your club. 5 Reps
Do you ever wonder why you feel tired, weary, or just plain old some days? You may not have done too much, or over exerted yourself, but you just don’t feel right? The answer may just lie in that old cliché saying “The weight of the world is on your shoulders”. The way that our bodies are put together, the shoulder girdle plays a huge part in our posture, breathing, and therefore has a large effect on our overall feeling of comfort and wellness. Improper carriage of the shoulders can also lead to nerve pain throughout the limbs, neck and even to tension headaches/ migraines. Using Pilates to strengthen lesser known muscles such as the S.I.T.S. muscles ( supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and sub-scapularis) as well as the mid and lower traps can dramatically reduce and even eliminate many of these symptoms and ailments. Arm Work on the Reformer such as simply Abduction, External Rotation, and Backhand are good examples of how rounded/stooped shoulders(the most common postural issue of the shoulders) can be corrected. As Pilates instructors this is one of the many things that we work on with our clients on a daily basis. Come try a session today and see if we can help you take some of the weight of the world off of your shoulders!
The Muscles That Make Up Your Core Part I Everyone knows that Pilates is good for your core. But what exactly is your core? Most would say it is rectus abdominis or our six pack muscle. But this muscle ideally creates big movements without finesse. So, your core muscles are actually deeper muscles that stabilize and fine tune movement. We refer to these muscles as the inner unit. If you think of this inner unit as a canister, there is a top, bottom, front and a back. The top muscle is the diaphragm which can provide stability to the ribcage as well as being a primary muscle of respiration. The front muscle is our deepest abdominal muscle the Transverse abdominis. The back is a deep muscle called the multifidus. It is shaped like a Christmas tree, wide at the bottom and narrower at the top and is provides stabilization of the lumbar spine. The bottom of this canister is our pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor muscles are poorly understood and often overlooked when working our core. But this group of muscles when injured, tight or weak can wreak havoc on our quality of life and athletic performance. Multiple muscles make up the pelvic floor. Some are more superficial and run horizontally from sitz bone to sitz bone. These muscles provide support and draw our sitz bones together. When you squat down the sitz bones move apart and the pelvic floor muscles lengthen or stretch to accommodate this movement. When you return to standing these pelvic floor muscles draw your sitz bones back together. There is another group of muscles that run from tail bone to pubic bone and we refer to these as the pelvic diaphragm. Rolling up into a bridge activates these muscles. All of these muscles form a type of “hammock” that support the bladder, uterus and bowels in women, and the bladder, prostate and bowels in men. A well -functioning pelvic floor supports sexual function, assists in lumbo-pelvic stability and work synergistically with the transverse abdominis, glutes, and adductors during voluntary abdominal work. You may think that pelvic floor issues are just a woman’s issue, but a weak pelvic floor is one of the biggest causes of chronic prostatitis. 1) 1 in 11 women will require surgery to repair a pelvic floor disorder in their lifetime. 2) 1/3 of postpartum women 49% of women under 50 are affected by pelvic floor issues. 3) 1 in 4 women suffers from stress urinary incontinence. 4) 30-50% of childbearing women will experience a pelvic floor related issue by age 40. `5) 63%of stress-incontinent women report their problems began during or after pregnancy. 6) Pelvic floor dysfunction is one of the biggest causes of chronic prostatitis in men. 7) Diabetes can weaken pelvic floor muscles. Symptoms of a weak pelvic floor: 1) Leaking small amounts of urine when coughing, laughing or sneezing. 2) Failing to reach the toilet in time. 3) Uncontrollable breaking of wind from either the anus or the vagina. 4) The feeling that you need to have several bowel movements in a short period of time. 5) The feeling that you can’t complete a bowel movement. 6) A frequent need to urinate. 7) Painful urination in men. Exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor: 1) Kegals 2) Hiprolls 3) Single leg bridges 4) Hip Hikes 5) Side leg series
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!