Posts filed under Exercises and Techniques

Don’t Go Higher-Go Deeper!

The other day I was mentoring a wonderful teacher and she asked what she could do to add further intensity and challenge to her Mat programme to make sure her clients do not get bored. My answer was,

“You don’t need to go higher, you need to go deeper”

c33686553c74dfd8b1571643b5a12d48It struck me that this is the essence of Pilates which makes it so different from other forms of exercise. Understanding this is what differentiates a beginner from an intermediate practitioner

Let’s take the Roll Up. Initially we focus on the ability to flex through the spine sequentially as we roll up with control and fluidity. So any beginner with a fairly good level of spinal mobility can do this exercise, does that mean they fully understand the complexity of the move? For clients who have been attending our classes but are unable to perform this move, we may highlight restrictions in the lumbar spine or hip flexors and create a programme to enhance movement in these areas so that eventually they can Roll Up with success. But we shouldn’t leave it there! Now is the time to go deeper!

Understanding Points of Stability  

A fundamental element of all  Pilates exercises is the ability to anchor one area whilst moving another.

The greater the point of stability, the greater the potential for articulation.

In the Roll Up, the points of stability are the legs, giving us a large area to stabilise from to help create greater spinal articulation. So look deeper- does the client use the legs to create a strong base? Can the feet stay flexed with the little toe in line with the big toe? Can the legs stay together with the inner thighs connected? Do the hips open easily and the legs stay still?

Get The Two-Way Stretch

It’s all about oppositional pull

Now we are going into the intermediate realms! As the client rolls up can they reach with the fingertips and through the heels whilst drawing in the opposite direction with the navel to really create oppositional pull and space through the spine, further increasing the opening of the whole back line?

When these deeper elements are achieved in the client’s movement we see and feel the true magic! Now we are ready to higher or deeper still!!!

If you have enjoyed this please join us for The Moves workshop on 21st January where we will go deeper into the whole Mat Repertoire. For more information please click here.

How to teach a beginner class to an experienced exerciser

Recently I have been asked by several Pilates instructors how to teach beginner Pilates classes to experienced exercisers without boring them to death! Often these clients are used to training at high levels of intensity and it can be difficult to strike a balance between encouraging precision, integrity of movement and technique and maintain suitable intensity, focus and interest. First and foremost we need to understand and recognise the needs and goals of the client- why are they attending the class?

Since September I have been teaching at the beautiful, newly opened Reformer studio, Akasha Wellness. Almost all of the clients are new to Reformer and are attending in order to increase strength, flexibility and to be challenged!After ensuring that there are no injuries or conditions that may impact on their exercise programme, I teach fairly demanding classes, designed to enhance their strength, mobility and flexibility. Although I constantly embed and cue correct movement and technique, I see the achievement of precision as on-going task which can take weeks, months even years to attain. Perfect movement is not something that can be taught in the first few classes and in attempting to "over-correct" and "over-talk" we can restrict natural movement and reduce the sense of well-being. We need to allow clients to make mistakes without fear of failure. This is how we learn. Giving time to make mistakes and self correct teaches increased body awareness and self-responsibility for ones own practice.

Both instructors and clients should acknowledge that to achieve results, Pilates requires dedication and commitment. As Joe Pilates stated, “PATIENCE and PERSISTENCE are vital qualities in the ultimate accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavour” It is a long-term, lifestyle choice giving you time to strive for and achieve precision, control and flow.

For JPilates Associates, this month's Class Plan is a Matwork plan for the beginner but experienced exerciser. Contact info@jpilates.co.uk to request your copy.

Side note: We always need to have full understanding and knowledge of any injuries or conditions which may impact on exercise choice and intensity and seek medical consent if necessary.

Music- To Play or Not To Play!

images-4If you ask a Pilates instructor if they use music in their classes the answer is often an emphatic "Yes!" or a shocked "No!" The question of whether music enhances or distracts during Pilates is often a hotly debated one. Some may argue that it distracts from  the precision of the exercises and  the search for the mind-body connection especially for those new to the method, whereas others believe that music can immediately create the calm ambiance and focus which can be hard to achieve initially.

Music causes  incredibly powerful and profound effects  involving several response mechanisms. These include:

  • The psychosocial response- the spiritual and psychological response we have to music
  • The cortical response- creates visualisation and imagery
  • The limbic response-how we react emotionally
  • The thalamic response-automatic body response to the rhythm of the music
  • The corporeal response-our physical reaction to the different sound vibrations.

In the light of these responses surely music would help deepen and enhance our mind-body connection, breathing and awareness?

Music should always create and support smooth movement sequencing, integration of breath and enhance inward focus. It should never intrude, detract or dominate the class.

MFP Logo (For Jo)Lisa Horner, the co-founder of Music for Pilates, definitely believes in the importance of music in Pilates.

"I personally love using music in my Pilates classes. I find it creates a calm relaxed atmosphere so clients can really focus on the areas that we are working on, giving them that whole mind-body experience that Pilates requires. As a teacher I also find it calms my soul which reflects in my voice helping the clients to work in a more intensified, slow, controlled rhythm. This is why it is so important to me to find that right music, which was surprisingly difficult and frustrating. I would find a lovely piece and then right in the middle a random squawk or screech from an unrecognisable animal or a deep boom from a Didjeridoo, shaking you and the clients out of your serene place. There is also that "small" problem of paying for a PPL licence or finding music that is licence free. My husband Perry, is an international song writer and music producer, so it only seemed natural to create our own licence free music, forming "Music for Pilates". We set to work tweaking the bits I knew would not work and testing in my own classes, until we found the balance of rhythm and calmness just right for Pilates."

Music can also be used to choreograph the movements. This is definitely for the more advanced student where the movements seamlessly flow through a choreographed sequence adding more challenge and enhancing the movement dynamics. The Pilates Instructor Only Class on 22nd November will be a fully choreographed class set to some beautiful tracks from Music For Pilates. To book your class please contact info@jpilates.co.uk.
As always I would love to hear your thoughts!

Shoulders- please do not melt down!

shoulder tensionWhen I first trained in Pilates I remember being told to draw my shoulders back and down, to melt them down in a soft V and many other cues which were meant to encourage shoulder stability and correct alignment for those who carry their shoulders up by their ears. But does creating downward tension actually help elevate the upward tension in the upper back and neck? These cues also tend to encourage scapula depression which in turn tends to block thoracic mobility. Try this- begin to do The Spine Stretch, firstly draw your shoulders down in a V shape and then try to flex the spine. Can you feel how restricted you are? Does the movement feels very forced? You can also try this in Roll Down, Roll Up from seated and so on..

Then I attended a class with a wonderful instructor who cued "easy shoulders". Suddenly I could move so much more fluidly, with improved articulation and the movement felt completely different.

We can find so many other cues similar to this where the shoulders are encouraged to relax, to soften, to open outwards from the mid back. Even bringing the focus away from the shoulder and cue lengthening the neck, elongating the spine and having heavy elbows.

So now we are encouraging dynamic stability not rigidity of the scapula (this is the same for the pelvis-no fixing- but that is for another blog!) To explain further, as we lift our arms overhead the scapula should rotate upwards, the humerus should slightly depress and externally rotate (this is called scapulohumeral rhythm. If we try to fix or depress the scapula as we do this, we cause a huge amount of unnecessary tension and potential harm. Again try it- raise one arm up focusing on keeping the shoulders relaxed and feel the fluidity of movement then try it again with scapula depression-ouch!

Mark Leyland explains the biomechanics of motion in more detail in his fantastic article The Pilates Shoulder

So over the next few classes try some cues to relax your shoulders- stop drawing them down and let them go! Free your shoulders!

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback as always!

3 Steps To Correcting Forward Head Posture

forward-head-postureForward head posture is arguably the most common postural fault we see. Ideally the head should be in a well-balanced position maintained with minimal muscular effort where the ear lobe is directly in line with the middle of the shoulder joint.  Faulty alignment is where the ear is forwards of the shoulder and can be due to factors such as prolonged sitting at a desk, extended use of computers, incorrect sleeping positions and sedentary lifestyles. Every inch the head moves forward equates to an extra 4.5kg causing not only neck, shoulder and upper back tension and pain, due to the muscles of the neck and upper back are constantly contracted and strained, but it is also associated with headaches, nerve compression, fatigue, increased blood pressure and a reduced ability to breathe (click here to read more about Posture and Breath). Forward head posture can pull the entire spine out of alignment as when the head moves forwards the centre of gravity shifts causing the upper back to move backwards which in turn causes the hips to tilt forwards leading to not only head and neck pain but also mid and low back issues. In order to correct forward head posture we need to  mobilise the cervical vertebrae, releasing the tight neck extensors and strengthen the neck flexors.

Self myofascial release are very effective in reducing restrictions in this area.

Myofascial release1. Lying supine with knees bent. Place a tennis ball to the side of the spine in the upper back area. Use a block or cushion to support the head and keep the pressure from the tennis ball manageable. Find a sore spot and hold the position for 10-20 seconds until it releases. Then slowly move to find another sore spot. Two tennis balls can be used on either side of the spine.

To mobilise the cervical spine lie supine, knees bent with the head resting on a half inflated mini ball, 1. Slowly draw small circles with the nose in each direction 2. Slowly nod the head, imagine you are drawing an arc with your nose

To strength and re-balance the neck extensors and flexors, sit in a neutral position Isometric Neck Exercises 1

1. Place a loose fist under the chin and gently press upwards without letting the head move. Hold for 5-10 seconds then release.

Isometric neck exercises 2

2. Repeat with the palm of the hand against the side of the face.

References

Muscles Testing & Function with Posture and Pain. Kendall et al

Image from www.eziahp.com

Visualisations-Do Yours Work?

visualisation-secretThe success of a Pilates instructor is strongly linked to their ability to communicate with their clients. An integral part of teaching Pilates is in the use of visualisation to convey movement, positions and alignment. Visualisation is an incredibly powerful tool in helping to create the mindful movement required to reap fully the incredible benefits of Pilates. Visualisation can either be direct- anatomical or biomechanical cues or indirect- metaphysical cues. Both types of visualisation create a strong link between the mind and body but need careful consideration.

Some clients do not connect to cues such as the pelvis as a clock or bucket, it can cause them to disengage or alienate them. On the other hand , should our cues be scientific, anatomical terms such as transversus abdominus, glutes, thoracic spine? It is essential that as an instructor we need a thorough, in-depth understanding of anatomy but is it really necessary for our clients?

The importance of good cueing is especially evident in group sessions where many clients may not have the knowledge or indeed the interest in learning the anatomical language required to fully understand these visualisations.

As instructors we develop our own repertoire and style of visualisations which work for us and our clients but we should always be aware of the effectiveness of these cues.

Many exercises begin with the instructor cueing activation of the core, our postural muscles. But it it is important to consider the fact that we do not have conscious control of these muscles- they are controlled sub-consciously by our nervous system in anticipation of movement. Most of these postural muscles work at a sub-threshold state so actively cueing them can interfere with their function in organising the spinal segments and actually cause accessory muscles to contract. As you are reading this you are naturally holding your head up, you do not need to think about it. So how do we overcome this?

The answer lies in cueing the bony landmarks such as hip bones, sit bones, pelvis and so on. Often these landmarks are used to set up positions,  anchor the sit bones, hip bones in line with pubic bone, but take this a stage further and use them to cue the movement itself.

For example, let’s take the Roll Up at a low level.

Roll up1.Seated on the sit bones, with the ribcage directly above the pelvis and a sense of length through the spine
2.Keeping a stillness in the mid back, exhale and move the hip bones away from the thigh bones
3.Inhale to return, lengthening to the start position
Try it now...

Can you feel how the deep postural muscles activate naturally with the movement? Why not try to teach your next session without cueing muscle activation using bony landmarks only? I would love to hear if you found improved movement  and some new visualisations.

Image from www.67notout.com

Practise What You Preach!

I recently heard someone say,"Never trust a Pilates instructor who doesn't do Pilates" and this made me think of just how much time I allocate for my own training and personal movement. I thought to myself, " Well every time I teach I am focusing on my own posture, activation and breath and so I am constantly aware of integrating Pilates into my daily life and movement but in actually getting out a mat and performing the exercises well.....(blush!)"

As instructors we fully appreciate the immense benefits of practising Pilates, we see the vast improvements in our clients' movement, posture, strength, flexibility and sense of well-being. So surely we should make time to enhance our own movement and ability? We all have incredibly busy lives especially as many of us work full-time and/or teach Pilates in the evenings and weekends, have family commitments and so on. Also I find that in teaching so much Pilates, I tend to train different elements on free days to balance my exercise programme.

However Pilates is different from other training systems, its incredible success lies in its functional ability and relevance in every day movement. As Joseph Pilates said,

"Contrology is designed to give you suppleness, natural grace, and skill that will be unmistakeably reflected in the way you walk, the way you play, and in the way you work"

So for inspiration and assistance, last month I began to post on Facebook and in the JPilates forum video clips of 10 minute routines for you to do each day. The routines are intense as you will only perform a small number of repetitions and they are designed with instructors in mind so please modify if you need to. I will keep adding to the series and hopefully we can all reap the fantastic benefits of Pilates and practise what we preach! As Joseph Pilates said,

" Make up your mind that you will perform your Contrology exercise ten minutes without fail"

Below are the first two routines, to receive notification when new ones are posted please subscribe to The JPilates Youtube Channel here [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fEANylIcic] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoXCMo6UZE4]

(For all those dedicated instructors who do train each day-apologies!)

Shhhh! Don't Mention The Pelvic Floor!

shhhAs Pilates instructors we understand the importance of teaching correct activation of the pelvic floor muscles to our clients. We know that the pelvic floor musclesare an essential part of spinal stability, working interdependently with the other trunk stabilisers (Sapsford 2033). Yet in spite of its fundamental importance in spinal health, posture and every day functions there can be a tendency to be vague about how exactly to activate the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is shrouded in mystery, for some it can be embarrassing, for others non-existent and not only for our clients but for ourselves as well. Surrounded by women in a group session, does the one man really want to be told to "draw up his testicles?" Also if we can not feel or see the muscles working it seems to be a blind act of faith to just believe it's working whilst quietly questioning " Am I doing this right?" So how can we effectively activate and train the pelvic floor whilst sparing the blushes? The answer could be in changing our cueing from isometric contractions to dynamic training, by using myofascial tracks and the co-contraction with the diaphragm.Try these examples and see if you feel the pelvic floor activate.

  • When standing, lift up the inner arches of the feet.
  • Before lifting into the 100 imagine squeezing a small ball between the knees without reducing the space.
  • In the Shoulder Bridge hover the heels off the floor.
  • On exhalation sound gently sound "HHHHHHHH"

More ways of cueing the pelvic floor through dynamic movement will be explored on the Pilates-The Next Step workshop. For more information on our courses and workshops please visit www.jpilates.co.uk or contact us at info@jpilates.co.uk

References: The Female Pelvis Blandine Calais-Germain Pelvic Power Eric Franklin                                                                                                 Image form www.bostinno.com