Sometimes we have to unlearn a way of doing something to learn how to do it right in the first place. Try Pilates!
1. BREATHING Breathing well will oxygenate the blood and improve circulation. Incorporating the breath during exercise helps relax the muscles and avoid unnecessary tension. A relaxed and full breath pattern also focuses the mind and allows concentration on the task at hand.
Our approach emulates a natural breath pattern. Normally the ribs roll slightly forward and down and the spine slightly flexes during exhalation. Hence, in most cases, an exhale is suggested during spinal flexion. Normally the ribs roll backward and down and the spine slightly extends during inhalation. Hence,in most cases, an inhale is suggested during spinal extension.
An awareness should be cultivated of the diaphram moving downward during inhalation and allowing the rib cage to expand to the back and sides as much as the front. An “active”exhalation is recommended to engage the abdominal muscles in compressing the abdominal cavity thereby forcing the breath up and out of the lungs.
2. PELVIC PLACEMENT “Neutral” position of the pelvis means that the natural lordotic curve of the lumbar spine is present. Lying supine, the triangle formed by the ASIS andsymphysis pubis should lie parallel to the floor, as if a cup of teacould balance there. If the pubic bone is higher than the ASIS aposterior pelvic tilt is created. If the pubic bone is lower that the ASIS and anterior tilt is created.
“Imprinted” spine refers to the normal lordotic curve being “lengthened” toward flexion of the lumbar spine. Lying supine the pubic bone will be slightly higher than the ASIS,creating a slight posterior tilt of the pelvis. But not so tilted that the tailbone curls off or loses contact with the mat.
Exercises with one or both feet on the mat are usually performed with neutral pelvis. Exercises where both feet on the mat are usually performed with an imprinted spine. Individuals can eventually maintain neutral pelvis when both feet are off the mat, but only if neutral can bestabilized. Usually whenever the spine is long i.e. not flexed or extended, the pelvis is neutral and the lumbar spine has its natural lordosis
3. RIB CAGE PLACEMENT The abdominal wall attaches to the lower ribs. To keep the rib cage in good alignment andto keep the abdominals engaged there should be an awarenessof not allowing the lower ribs to “pop off” the mat when lyingsupine, or “pop forward” when sitting with neutral spine.Paticular attention should be paid during inhalation or while elevating the arms. As well during spinal flexion there should be a sense of allowing the ribs to slide down the front of the body.
The breath can aid in keeping the rib cage relaxed. Allow it to depress with each exhale and keep the sense of the spine between the scapulae dropping down gently onto the mat while lying supine.
4. SCAPULAR MOVEMENT Because the scapulae have no direct bony connection to the back of the ribcage, they have a great deal of mobility available and canglide upward (elevation), downward (depression), inward(adduction), outward (abduction), and rotate (upward ordownward).
MUSCLES OF SCAPULAR STABILIZATION: Lower and upper fibers of the Trapezius, Rhomboid Major, Rhomboid Minor, Levator Scapulae, Serratus Anterior, Pectorialis Minor.
We will collectively refer to the scapula stabilizers, together with the latissimus dorsi, teres major and the pectorialis major as shoulder girdle stabilizers in the muscular emphasis section following each exercise.
An awareness should be cultivated of stabilizing the scapulae on the back especially during arm movement. There should be a feeling of gentle sliding the scapulae down the back, without forcing them down so much they round forward or squeezing them together towards the spine. The scapulae should lie close to the rib cage and glide across it without “winging” away.
5. HEAD & CERVICAL SPINE PLACEMENT Particular care should taken when lifting the head off the mat from a supine position. In order to avoid excessive neck strain do not leave the head and cervical spine in a perfectly neutral position while flexing the upper body off the mat. Conversely, do not over flex the cervical spine (jam chin towards chest).
Before flexing the upper body off mat gently lengthen the back of the neck creating a slight flexion of the cervical spine and a slight nod of the head (cranio-vertebral flexion). Keeping this strong position the spine can be brought into flexion by contracting the abdominals to slide the ribs down towards the pelvis.
In general the cervical spine should continue whatever line is established by the thoracic spine. Gently continuing the spinal curves in flexion or extension. The skull should sit with no undo tension in the neck or shoulders atop the spine in neutral.
Copyright Stott 1999, All rights reserved
Having worked in many different occupations I have come to believe the only way to maintain a healthy body weight is through diet. I have worked and played every sport pretty well. I have have been a desk jockey, then finally decided to get out of the office to the great outdoors and worked 8 years in construction – mainly as a framer and carpenter. I like to think of the type of work I do or have done entitles me of saying I ran a multi-athon everyday, 5 days a week sometimes 6 . Yes you can consider me lazy, but I like time for other things. The weekend can be an incredibly fun two day vacation. Next venture I would like to try is rock climbing.
Alas , we must have a scientifically credible account of activity and diet. I think one of the the best examples of people expending lots of energy yet living on a ‘normal’ calorie diet is the experience of triathletes. Even triathlon participants and their trainers have figured it out. We do not need high calorie intake to keep our bodies going. Sure there are pre-training carbo-loading recommendations to get ready for race day so you have the calories available for a long competition. Yet this isn’t done all the time. Physical activity actually decreases ones appetite. So while one is exercises or moving you do not feel hungry. In fact once a body becomes fit it can sustain itself on the same amount of calories no matter what the demands of the day are. If we listen to our body; drink when thirsty, eat when hungry and stop eating when we are full, the body develops a state of equilibrium – balance or harmony. We no longer look at food as an escape or an activity. e no longer have cravings. We breath every day naturally, when we need to, eating can become that way as well – natural, enjoyable and not in excess.
When you really begin to understand just how much one has to work, or lift, or run or climb or swim or walk to burn 500 calories, you begin to understand that calorie burning for the sake of eating the cheese cake becomes ridiculous like a rat stuck on a wheel we run run run to consume consume consume. Stand back look at history or nature. We developed as hunters and gatherers we cooked simple wholesome meals which came from the earth – not highly processed foods with unpronounceable additives. Animals do not overeat, do you see an over weight deer, or fox or squirrel? Well maybe those racoons and city squirrels get pretty hefty. But that is my point, the urban, city dweller may well have lost touch with nature and food has become entertainment or psychological comfort. It no longer is a source of nurture.
Scientific study has shown that those people who have a low calorie diet live longer, have better mental clarity and better memory. There truly may be something about the large pasta plate which leaves you foggy minded. And then the physical advantages of having a low calorie diet is a light body, less stress on the joints, less risk of cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes, the list goes on. Basically less dis-ease and more ease, agility and health. Obesity is such a current global problem that a simple, fail safe weight lose system is not a bad thing to consider. There are many protein powder supplements on the market and they make scientific sense. They provide a balanced nutrient rich low calorie meal, when combined with other vitamins and cleansing products can help people lose weight, cleanse toxins from the body and build lean muscle. The Isagenix 30 day cleanse system is one program I am familiar with and I can state that it works well. A great way to kick start and maintain weight loss.
Of course many have sold product after product riding on the back of human vanity and desire to be thin and youthful. There is no trick to it. You must exercise regularly, do not over eat and eat nutrient rich food.
The exercise part of the equation can vary as everyone has different levels of activities. The construction worker argues that he works all day long lifting drywall or 2x8s and equipment. So he/she must eat more – a big breakfast, lunch and diner. Yet, I have worked construction, I have been an athlete playing in a tournament all day all weekend. I cannot perform well with a big breakfast, lunch and dinner – I lose energy with a big meal. It takes energy to digest food. The triathlete can attest to this fact as well. The construction people I came to admire, worked quickly and efficiently all day long on coffee or juice breaks and one good meal a day.
As a personal trainer and Pilates instructor I have given up convincing my clients to run or swim or cycle or have an extreme cardio component to their routine. I think they are great activities and I personally love all of them. However, compliance and routine is the key to weight loss and maintenance of a healthy lifestyle. If you want to run, swim and bicycle everyday for the rest of your life then so be it, but many normal, employed individuals cannot fit this into their everyday routines. So what is the answer? I call it a proactive lifestyle. The more active we are the better inactivity kills our motivation and can kill our heart. I’m sure you have heard it all before; walk or bicycle to the store don’t drive, take the stairs not the elevator, cook your meal don’t order out, clean your house, wash the dishes, wash your car in the driveway, change your own motor oil, cut your grass, do the laundry, take the garbage out, weed the garden, trim the trees, take your dog for a walk, play with the kids. The list goes on, but I think you get the idea there is always a proactive choice for almost every activity. Perhaps some of you see this as manual labour, something to be contracted out. I think this is one of the problems with our world today. Many of us have lost connection with the earth, to see it under your feet as you walk and understand what it takes to really maintain it.
Use a hand held can opener vs and electric one! Simple activities of daily living can not only burn calories but make you feel alive – be proactive. So even the construction worker or any worker for that matter who is active all day long – what happens when they are not working? Do they stop and sit on the couch or do they continue on with the rest of the world. No matter what your job is there is a pro-active approach to how you can choose to live.
Then I believe the easiest most beneficial form of exercise that everyone can do is walk. Young or old, sick or healthy – just walk. Walk fast, walk slow but keep walking. Try to refrain from stopping and talking with the postman just keep moving step after step, day after day and before you know it you are getting fit. Your legs get stronger, you can walk faster and walk longer distances. Walking is rhythmical after a while you develop a natural flow, the muscles become balanced; you strengthen where you are weak and lengthen where you are tight. It is called reciprocal activity as the left arm swings the right side of the trunk and leg counter-balances the action and vice versa. The joints of the body work better with balanced muscles, as they have better alignment with less likelihood of wearing out. The continuous walking action increases blood flow in the muscles and synovial fluid in the joints delivering nutrients and releases endorphins – the body’s natural pain killer. Walking to the body can be like oil to a squeaky hinge it is therapeutic. If your job or activities or an injury has left you with repetitive strain or a chronic musculo-skeletal condition (i.e. a bad back, knee or shoulder) walking can help relieve strain. Continuous walking also stimulates the organs and improves digestion. We don’t have to jump or run around to get this benefit. Walking is simple.
So find your natural strut and walk on!
When asked to write an article on Pilates for athletes I wasn’t at first sure what to focus on with the upcoming Olympics. After watching the London games the article became clear. Pilates can provide many things; better flexibility, core strength, deeper muscle endurance, spinal mobility, and alignment. It can deepen your awareness, mental clarity and focus. Beach volleyball has been dominated over the last decade by Walsh-Jennings and Misty-May Treanor, yet in 2009 they fell in their rankings mainly due to injury and motherhood. Treanor missed most of the 2009 season due to an achilles tendon injury and Jennings went through two pregnancies. The pair took hourlong Pilates sessions two to three days per week and Walsh-Jennings stated that not only did it improve her body, but also her performance – “It’s really given me an extra 20% in my performance on the sand”. The team went on to win their third, yes third, gold Olympic medal.
Misty May Treanor & Kerry Walsh win 3rd Olympic Gold medal.
In a pain client Pilates helps to release held muscles when, if not released, will continue the cycle of pain. When in pain people have a pain response to hold themselves and guard against it. This often just makes things worse, making it harder and harder to get over the injury. Similarly in a client who is highly stressed from external factors such as work or family factors. The external stress causes their body to respond with certain muscle tensions, shoulder, upper back and chest tension being common.
In explaining how Pilates works for athletes I’d like to focus on basketball players. Firstly, big kudos to our woman’s national basketball team in winning a spot at the Olympics. They did well considering it was their first appearance in 12 years. Beating Brazil was no small feat. Brazil has a highly competitive program with their top players being national sport celebrities.
Canadian basketball has been slugging away for a decade developing players only to have them scooped up by US colleges and club teams. Without scholarship programs and competitive club teams instilled in our Canadian system, it is unlikely we will field a truly ‘Canadian’ Olympic team. The 2012 national team roster was made up of players who compete and train in the States. Only the coaching staff takes permanent residency in Canada.
Looking at the consistently dominant US team, you see pure experience with the WMBA, strong US colleges and club teams abound and of course the sheer number of youth playing the game. Yet, in Canada we develop hardy athletes. The game of hoops is not an easy ride, taking athleticism, skill and development of experience to know how to react under pressure, close games, adapt to changes in defense, how to cover a high scorer, and running various offenses. The athlete must be mentally focused, motivated, able to communicate with and listen to teammates, be calm yet quick thinking and reacting to responding to a plethora of variables. A training program which develops all aspects of body, mind and spirit is important if not necessary.
I played competitive basketball from junior high school through university, also playing with the junior nation team and a club team, travelling to Portugal and Brazil, just missing a trip to Japan due to a knee injury. After graduating and specializing in biomechanics at U of T, I became a Pilate’s instructor. I am now the owner and operator of Pilate Body Mechanics, providing therapeutic Pilates in Toronto at Pro Care Rehabilitation and in my home town of Erin.
The position of playing defence and good offence, being a triple threat, requires one to hold a squat with shoulders over hips (as best as possible) with thighs close to if not parallel to the ground, pretty well throughout the entire game, other than the times you are running or jumping. The better you can get into this position the quicker you can react on defense or fake and beat your check, jump and rebound. Many sports share this same mechanic such as volleyball, tennis, hockey, squash, and skiing. Some occupations emphasize this mechanic like carpentry especially framing, insulation and drywall installation, electricians, mechanics and anything else where one must hold or perform a repetitive squat.
Try holding a squat; bend your ankles and knees till your thighs are parallel to the ground. Now check what your back is doing can you look up the court and see your check approaching? Where are your shoulders in relation to your hips? Try to keep shoulders over hips and your back straight, try not to round the lower back and stick your glutes out. If this is difficult, try putting your back against a wall and slide down keeping your hips and shoulders to the wall. Hold the squat for a while and you begin to get the picture, these athletes work. However, without adequate flexibility and muscle balancing this sport can leave players exhausted, with little energy as they are constantly fighting their own bodies to hold the position and chronic overuse injuries can prevail. Like any repetitive and prolonged activity, overuse injuries can occur, similar to tennis or golfer’s elbow or carpel tunnel syndrome.
I recall a tryout for the national team we had 2-3 practices a day. Between practices we would be exhausted. You would think that eventually a body would adapt, develop better endurance and be able to cope. Most of us went to our rooms to rest. However, I remember one player in particularly, Cynthia Johnston, who would go play tennis with the coach! I was envious of her natural grace, tall, lean, agile, and fierce, yet such a nice and calm individual. She seemed at peace with herself, didn’t seem fazed by the training sessions with boundless energy. If only I knew her secret then, but now I do – a balanced body. Pilates can help people achieve just that – equilibrium.
Basketball players can’t help but use and develop the quadriceps muscles, which happen to be one of the largest most powerful muscles in the body. It makes sense to use this muscle along with the glute max and medius muscles. No problem, the athlete has strong jumping and running muscles. As we play on over the years we continue to go to our strongest muscles and overly tight hip flexors result, causing the shutdown of the psoas, lower abdominals, and deep hip rotators. The player develops strong quads, legs and glutes, yet weak abs, deep hip rotators and core. This changes the mechanics of the hips, pelvis and lower back which can lead to back problems. Then mix in mal-alignment of the ankle and/or knee and the condition becomes compounded with possible patella-tendonitis, shin splints and taped ankles.
Ankle sprains, the number one injury in basketball so much so, that coaches and trainers in their wisdom decided to take a preventative step and have players taped for every game and practice. Tapping almost immobilizes the ankle changing the squat mechanics. It was intended to help the athlete, maybe even help them squat better by relying on the tape, but ultimately weakens the ankle and can translate injuries up the kinetic chain to the knee and hip even the back.
“The body is an intricate, dynamic, integrated system not a collection of parts that fail independently of the whole. Often conventional medicine attempts to repair or immobilize the injury without addressing the cause” Irwin Hoenig, Holistic Health and Wellness, 2012. Which would you prefer for your entrance; a door battered and dented, with squeaky hinges, where you must wiggle the handle just the right way, lift up and push as it grinds a groove in the floor opening partially or a perfectly installed door, plumb and level with hinges that glide, a handle which unlatches with a gentle turn, enabling the door to swing open with a simple touch of a finger tip? Installing a door properly takes having several factors correct; a level and square door and frame, the hinges at the right depth and way up, a level floor or a trimmed bottom door edge, the screws attaching the hinges must be drilled in the right spot, an accurately installed door handle, the point in the frame accepting the latch must be precisely lined up to make the whole thing work properly. Many factors must be addressed and done right for quality results.
Is there a source for blame? There really is no blame for a chronic repetitive injury. The coaches perhaps could do a better job of being better educated in the biomechanics of the game and how to include well rounded training into the program. Coaches, however, already have so much to pack into their practices; conditioning, learning and running an offense, defense, and special plays that often the individual conditioning of each player is overlooked or left to the sports med staff. Individual is an important word here, as players are different with various biomechanical nuances making their bodies respond differently to the same training. They must be looked at individually, yet coaches tend to treat each player the same, just placing them into their specific position on the court practicing drills for that position.
With the pride of the Olympics, national competition and pure athleticism players drive themselves on to work hard, continuing to push on to please the coach, most likely being unaware that damage is being done. Youth and being naturally gifted helps them overcome and develop as an athlete. Yet as athletes grow older it becomes harder to adapt and the game can take its toll. Accumulated stresses become more prevalent and we may seek alternative training and treatments. A though flexibility and core strengthening program never used to be the norm, nowadays almost every athlete has some core training and a yoga or flexibility program, which also develops better body awareness.
Near the end of my basketball career I decided to learn Pilates, mainly because it jived so well with my biomechanical studies. I was lucky enough to take my full Pilates training with a very talented, independent, group of instructors at Body Matrix. The name speaks for itself. Some of the trainers had worked for Stott Pilates, the more established corporate training facility, they brought the knowledge of Stott and classic Pilates training methods of Pilates elder Alan Herdman of London England. There is now a school of Pilate’s instructors who have the classical training with a gentle touch.
What amazed me once I began the training was that I realized I had little connection with my core and the deep abdominals were weak. I had very strong legs and arms and exterior abs, yet a very weak core. So it goes with most athletes I now see. We have to learn new muscle patterning, release tight and overused muscles and learn how to recruit alternative ones in harmony with those large, external, stronger muscles. Once this is achieved you have a new body. Let’s just say it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes practice, attention and good instruction.
It’s the core that protects the back, holds it in proper alignment, reducing wear and tear on the spine and discs. The core also translates the power from the lower body to the upper body to the basketball, the tennis racquet, . If your pelvis and lower back are pulled out of alignment that translation is not as effective, energy is dissipated, we struggle, we are not efficient. Pilates helps us use the proper amount of force for the activity, with less stress on the spinal segments and joints, increasing the overall power output. Now I know this sounds car-like but it is true. We drive more like a Mercedes and less like a muscle car.
Coming back to the Olympic volleyball team, May- Treanor commented that, “Pilates helped us to know how to take the foot off the gas when in park”. Instead of always being on overdrive or in a state of over recruitment, Pilates teaches us how to take a breath, calm the body and increase our ability to focus and respond appropriately. Furthermore, tight muscles become relaxed, weak muscles become stronger and the alignment of the ankles, knees and hips, as well as, the shoulder girdle change. In my case, my hips released, my femurs were no longer externally rotated and the forces acting through the ankle, knee and hip joints improved. My shoulders relaxed, my neck lengthened and I truly felt taller and more agile. Along the Pilates training path you will also increase flexibility, balance, precision, spinal and joint mobility, muscular strength and endurance, and develop better breathing mechanics.
After my Pilates training I truly did feel amazing, I had greater energy and vitality. My body was no longer struggling for alignment. To be free to move through full range of motion was absolutely liberating, empowering, leaving a sense of freedom and play. Many people never find this freedom in their body and remain bound in their habitual patterns. I went on to play competitive Ultimate for a few years, snowboarded for another 10, and took up beach volleyball. I chose to also work in construction, mainly because I was tired of sitting at a desk, but also I wanted to test my theory that we were essentially mechanically the same. With proper alignment, core strength and awareness we can do just about anything without injury.
Pilates can make you stronger, smarter and probably faster, appropriate training for competitive basketball and I’d like to think all Olympians. Now, I help others find their inner balance. A lack of connection is a common trait of a fast paced world, we sometimes find ourselves eating without tasting, listening without being truly present and exercising without experiencing the feeling that arises within us. We can come to our senses – and Pilateon!
Samantha T. Reed B.PHE. Specialist in Biomechanics
Certified Pilates Instructor
Pilates Body Mechanics
End of Summer Salutation Classes 8:15 am & 6:30 pm Tuesdays
Starts Sept 25 in Erin 8:00 pm Yin Yoga Wednesdays
. Private Pilates sessions . Yin Yoga . Aerial Yoga
. Therapeutic & Post Rehab Training . Pilates and Yoga for Athletes
Sometimes you have to unlearn the wrong way of doing something in order to learn the way it should have been done all along. Try Pilates!
If exercise leaves you sore but you don’t see results it’s not working – Try Pilates – soreness is not necessary and results guaranteed.