Biomechanics of keeping your feet under you – the key to staying vertical.

May 01 2015

Keep your Feet on the Ground: The Key to staying Vertical.

Yesterday, a client came flying in to her session brimming with jubilation‎ as she declared “It’s amazing, I didn’t fall!”

She regaled me with her tale of potential disaster ‎with a smile from ear to ear. It started with her standing on a slippery slope with a hose in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. As she watered her newly planted garden high atop the Oakland Hills, she lost her footing on loose gravel and fallen leaves. In that split second, she miraculously was able to reorient her back foot and catch herself mid-lunge without spilling a single drop of wine. Without a second thought, she stood herself right back up, and realized what had just happened…she had just escaped disaster with her very own strength, balance and agility!

Why, you ask, was this such a momentous occasion? Just one year ago, she had come to me with a similar story that ended in a shattered knee, and subsequent joint replacement. Since that time, and likely even leading up to that point, she had struggled with an intense fear of falling, and a lack of confidence in her own balance and support due to lack of strength. Just one year later, and with an unrelenting dedication to her movement practice, she is able to prove to herself that she has the strength and coordination to maintain control of her own body when faced with these obstacles that inevitably will challenge our ability to remain vertical.

This story inspired me to reflect on what aspects of movement are necessary to keep us upright as we age. Here are just a few of my favorite functional movements that can be accomplished by anyone at home:

1)    The Weight Shift
This movement helps with sit to stand, stair climbing, and side to side balance.
Stand in front of a full length mirror with your feet hip width apart, about 6-8 inches. With hands on your level hips,

Stand_Skeleton_hips

shift all of your weight over your right leg without losing the horizontal level of your pelvis. At this point, your left foot should still be on the ground but you should be able to tap your foot without having to shift your weight further to the right.
Shift back to center, and then shift all of your weight over your left leg in the same manner.
As you perfect this movement, try sliding your unweighted foot towards your weighted leg, and hover the foot just an inch off the floor for 5 seconds.

2)   The Direction Change

These movements increase agility for changing direction quickly, or to catch oneself from falling.
Standing tall with feet hip width apart, step one foot forward and shift some weight into that foot like you are squishing a bug, then step that same foot backward while you squish a bug behind you.  Repeat forward and back several times. Next, step that foot out to the side and shift your weight slightly, step that foot back to standing tall.

Now, putting it all together, squish a bug in front of you then behind you, then to the side and back to standing tall. Repeat this pattern several times.  Start from the beginning on the other foot.  To progress this movement, add a small lunge in each direction.

3)    The Squat
This functional movement is integral in everyday life, and assists in building leg strength for an effective sit to stand from a chair or from the floor.
Stand tall with feet slightly wider than hip width, and arms hanging down by your sides. Keeping your weight evenly distributed on both feet throughout, bend at the knees and hips and sit back as if you are attempting to sit in a chair. As you squat, arc your arms forward to shoulder height as counterbalance. Keep your spine straight, and avoid rounding forward as you squat. Return to standing and lower the arms.
As this movement becomes comfortable, speed it up to a quick tempo to increase blood flow and muscle activity. Repeat to fatigue.

Working with a Movement Practitioner with a strong knowledge of biomechanics can help improve your balance, avoid falls, and provide you with the tools for good functional movement throughout life.

 

Want to integrate proper biomechanics and functional movement into your Pilates practice? Register for ReActive’s upcoming BODY HARMONICS® Certification and Continuing Education courses in Oakland, CA. Visit www.reactivemovement.com/Teacher-Training for more information.

Written by Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist
ReActive, LLC    www.reactivemovement.com     510-990-1364

© All rights reserved.

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What’s the difference between Level 1 and 2 Pilate’s class?

They say knowledge is power.

The more knowledge you have about how your body works and the Pilates method the more effective your training will be.

Level 1 Pilates covers not only the fundamental exercises it reviews anatomy, alignment and breathing techniques.  If you don’t understand how to identify and maintain neutral of the lumbar spine and pelvis then you definately should be in Level 1.  If you haven’t taken a Pilates class before then Level 1 is recommended.

There are several principles which takes a little time to sink in:

  • Connecting with your breath to activate the core, each exercise has an exhale and inhale phase, often beginners fail to breath effectively, even hold their breath;
  • Knowing what navel to spine means – it doesn’t mean draw navel toward your back as this triggars a spinal imprint, it means meet your navel and anterior aspect of your spine opposite the navel (L3-4) in the middle of your body – this encourages neutral alignment and activates the transverse abdominus;
  • How to move sequentially through the vertebrae – it’s surprising how most of us have chunks of spine that are stuck together, each vertebrae should move freely from it’s neighbour like a string of pearls;
  • With the above point, most of us have very stiff necks, learning how to initiate an ab prep with a head nod – moving chin to chest, lifting the head first then the shoulder blades off the mat – is often really complicated;
  • How to keep the ribcage and thoracic spine from ‘popping’ with arm/shoulder movements;
  • Keeping the thoracic spine and ribcage quiet or not moving it to achieve neutral of the lumbar;
  • Most of our shoulder blades or scapula are stuck from habitual posture and/or repetitive movements – getting the scapula to move, as well as, knowing how to anchor them so that the shoulder girdle is strong, properly aligned and stable takes a bit of time before attempting the advanced full body weight exercises;
  • How to achieve the proper range of motion of the limbs for your body during the dynamic Pilate’s exercises – if you push beyond your body’s limit, alignement is compromised and the exercise is lost one doesn’t feel the proper stretch or muscle engagement – it’s all about method – not aimlessly following your neighbour or instructor – you gotta feel it;
  • all of the above assists the body into achieving better agility (range of motion / flexibility) while holding and developing a rock solid core – we now know how and begin to move from a strong, stable center – flowing from one exercise to the other.

Once you understand the above and begin to move from a strong centered core then Level 2 is a snap!   Even those with injuries or medical conditions can eventually progress in the Pilates repetoire – keeping the movements within their body’s ability.  The point is if you’re not feeling it and Pilate’s is stressing your body instead of making it feel energized, just step it back and learn the fundamentals.  It shouldn’t hurt – it should be challenging, gentle and mindful exercise for profound results.

For further explaination of the above principles (if you are one of those cognitive learners versus a kinesthetic one) read the Stott Pilates five basic principles attached pdf document:

Pilates5-Basic-principles

To your health and wellness – Do Pilates – You will feel the difference.

Anatomically aligned posture - standing

Anatomically aligned posture – standing

Pilate’s for Athletes

After playing hockey, golf or coming off the mountain do you ever feel like your body’s been through the ringer?  Like most athlete’s you just push yourself through the pain, test your limits and not worry too much about the after affects.  You’re tough and just accept some sore muscles and achy joints.  No pain no gain right?

You don’t have to feel like that – always in need of a good massage or hot tub.  Did you know Pilate’s training can help you move more efficiently so that whatever your sport you expend less energy, put less wear and tear on your spine and joints, so that  you have better endurance and focus.  WHAT?  Yeah.  Stop exercising to feel exhausted and beat up – exercise, play sport and feel energized.

Pilates is a revolutionary full body conditioning program, which focuses on training the mind and body to work together more effectively and efficiently. Pilates dramatically transforms the way the body looks, feels, and performs. It incorporates modern exercise science and rehabilitation principles, eliminating contraindicated movements while emphasizing neutral alignment, core stability and peripheral mobility. It builds strength without excess bulk. It teaches body awareness and good posture. Pilates improves flexibility, agility and economy of motion, and is a safe form of movement.  These factors are what also make it optimal for clients that need to rehabilitate injuries, thus why most good Physiotherapists are now trained in it.

Pilates exercises train several muscle groups at once in smooth, continuous movements. By developing proper technique, you can actually re-train your body to move in safer, more efficient patterns of motion – invaluable for optimal sport performance  and optimal health.  In fact, all other forms of current exercise training now borrows from the Pilates principles and system.

Leg_Pull_Front

I have been an avid athlete for most of my life.  Growing up on a farm definitely contributed to the development of a natural athleticism – from building tree forts, picking rocks out of the fields, bringing in hay,  to chasing escaped cattle, fixing fences and tractors.  Attending a small school in this farming community, enabled me to participate in all of the sports offered. I eventually found my niche with Basketball.  After being offered a scholarship to a college in New York city and recruited by several Canadian universities, I chose to attend University of Toronto – mainly because they had the most number of players on our women’s national team and was one of the strongest teams in Canada.  And so I played competitive Basketball for the next 5 years of my life which truly was my job along with studies.

Of course playing within a varsity system with a demanding coach and trainer we competed, pushed ourselves to our limits, got our share of injuries and continued on thinking it was all good.  Not until graduate studies did I find the Pilates system and it rocked my world.

I thought I was a fit athlete – a basketball player, snowboarder and Ultimate player by that time – yet after training in the Pilate’s system I was humbled.  It changed my body.  My alignment morphed – my bones actually shifted and I was able to maintain neutral of the low back and pelvis in my sports and daily activities.   I developed incredible core strength, while my superficial muscles relaxed, lengthen and got leaner.  The years of holding a ready stance (i.e. defensive or athletic stance) took a toll creating a pattern of tight hip flexors and hamstrings with compensating low back muscles.  My shoulders and neck improved mobility and lost chronic tension.  It was a different world I was experiencing.

Now when I played sports I felt incredible.  I had seemingly boundless energy; could run faster, play longer, experienced less injury and no longer felt exhausted or sore afterwards. Not only could I  move better, I could focus more on the task at hand and that, to any athlete, is golden.

What I couldn’t at first grasp about the Pilates training is how subtle the exercises were.  It wasn’t pumping out push ups or burpees, running, cycling or cardio-ing to exhaustion.  Each exercise is seemingly gentle, yet when done correctly, creates a deep connection to the target muscle where a mere 8 reps are sufficient to make those muscles tremble. (1) (2)(3)(4) If you’re not feeling that muscle shake a slight readjustment in alignment and cueing will produce results.  As they say; it’s all about method!

Ab_Prep

That’s what I found so powerful about the Pilate’s method.  It makes you focus on your own body and how it’s suppose to work.  One is not just aimlessly imitating an instructor.  It focusses you on proper muscle sequencing, breath, contraction and relaxtion – producing a re-newed, re-organized body.  Try it I guarantee you will feel the difference.

Pilate’s classes now being offered at Revelution

Schedule a class for your sports team
& feel the difference!

 

1) Functional adaptability of muscle fibers to long-term resistance exercise  Shoep,e T.C., Stelzer, J.E., Garner, D.P., et al. Department of Exercise and Sport Science, Oregon State University, Corvallis, USA. Medicine and  Science in Sports Exercise. 2003 Jun;35(6):944-51.

2) Muscle fatigue: what, why and how it influences muscle function. Enoka, R.M., Duchateau, J. Department of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO. Journal of Physiology. 2008 Jan 1;586(1):11-23.

3) Measurement of voluntary activation of fresh and fatigued human muscles using transcranial magnetic stimulation  Todd G., Taylor JL., Gandevia SC. Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute and the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia. Journal of Physiology. 2003 Sep 1;551(Pt 2):661-71. Epub 2003 Aug 8.

4) The neurobiology of muscle fatigue: 15 years later. Barry, B.K, Enoka, R.M. Department of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado at Boulder, CO. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 2007 Oct;47(4):465-73. Epub 2007 Jun 6.

Pilate Revelution – Revelstoke’s new studio

Revelution_Logo

 

I just wanted to let you know about the new Pilates studio – Revelution.

Grand opening this Saturday.  Final finishing construction details are in the works.  Saturday at 1 pm is a free 1/2 hour Pilates demonstration with yours truly.  I hear it is already full with newbies.  You are welcome to drop by anytime and see the new place.

The stationary bicycles, TRX suspension systems, mats, foam rollers, thera-bands and all the other equipment are in place for a class of 15.  I trust the Pilates classes won’t have that many but there is enough equipment for that many bodies.
Go to: http://revelution.ca/classes/prices/ 
to see pricing details, classes offered, to schedule yourself into a class and even pay on line.

This is going to be the best location in Revelstoke for Pilates mat training.  See you there.

Best regards;

Samantha 

Pilates levels 1,2,3 how do we define them?

Pilates Level 1, 2, 3 Easy as A, B, C

I am writing this blog article with hopes of helping Pilates instructors come to a consensus on how to determine which level a client is at. Usually classes are rated as level 1, 2 or 3, 1 being a beginner level and 3 being advanced. Clients as well are often labeled 1 through 3. Pilates instructors go through 800 plus hours of training, focused mainly on the classical repertoire or the original exercises developed by Joseph Pilates himself. Some studios offer modifications or preparatory exercises along with the classical ones to assist people to develop the adequate strength to achieve the classical routine.

Now a days Pilates has established itself as one the best core strengthening programs. Many people are jumping on the Pilates band wagon; personal trainers, physiotherapists, kinesiologists or movement therapists, yoga instructors, chiropractors and I’m sure the list goes on.

The problem with various professions borrowing from the work is that it often gets watered down and mixed together with other exercises and for good reason. The basic Pilates exercises especially the basic mat exercises are excellent for developing the necessary core strength to stabilize the pelvis, spine, and shoulder blades. Thus, why Pilates is now readily integrated into physical therapy, personal training and fitness class programs.

Not only does Pilates develop core strength it’s many of exercises helps take people through a range of different exercises helping them explore movement patterns which they may have never experienced before. This opens peoples minds to new possibilities giving them a sense of feeling more comfortable and confident in their bodies. In a way it’s like playing music. You must learn the notes and how to play them then you can combine them into a multitude of different songs. You must learn and master the various exercises to be able to move with freedom or limitless motion. It is movement specialists job to help each client safely explore all of the Pilates exercises to understand movement possibilities.

Pilates exercises focus on spinal mobility with the limbs following the shape of the spine. The exercises can be grouped into shapes and what action the spine is doing. For example flexion, extension, rotation and lateral flexion are the main spinal actions. The body shapes include rolling or ball, pike, plank, standing and roll over or shoulder stand. The positions include quadruped or cat, lying supine with knees bent, lying prone, and side lying.

Pilates instructors have a knowledge base of over 260 different exercises from the classical repertoire. The exercises range from simple one limb movements such as the single leg lift, to complex actions involving a combination of spinal flexion, rotation and extension, such as snake. There is a basic exercise series that is demonstrated in the mat routine which works the entire body going through the various spinal actions, body shapes and positions. The same exercise routine is repeated on the various pieces of equipment; the reformer, the trapeze table or cadillac, the wunda chair, spine corrector and ladder barrel.

The equipment can make the routine more challenging by adding more resistance by working not only with your own body weight but also resistance from springs. The equipment can also make the routine easier by providing spring resistance to assist the client achieve the exercise. For example the push through bar can help the client lift their head and shoulders while performing the abdominal series, taking strain off of the neck flexors. Thus by applying the equipment in the right way the routine can become more challenging for advanced clients or modified for beginners.

The client should be able to experience all of the Pilates repertoire however, when it is safe and appropriate for each client. Thus the need to know how to identify when a client is a level 1 or level 2 or level 3 etc. I believe there is a dearth of knowledge in the Pilates industry to help instructors know how to identify level 1 through 3 clients. As to my knowledge this is not outlined in any Pilates manual but is eventually figured out by experienced instructors.

If the levels are not respected or if the client does not ‘get’ the lesson of each level then they are just going through the motions and potentially wasting their time. They must connect with their bodies and begin to understand how it is suppose to feel. The mind must become integrated with the body’s movement. One must become more consciously aware of how they can personally enhance each exercise by relaxing and realigning, breathing through it, exhaling or inhaling at the right time, consciously relax the hip flexors, engage the abdominals, etc. It takes time to get genuine change in the body however there are basic principles of the method which each session should strive to work towards.

Newbies or people new to Pilates and are easy to identified. They usually display the following;

  • unable to identify neutral spine with poor body awareness
  • decreased pelvic and lumbar spine stability
  • unable to connect breath with movement
  • poor positioning of shoulder, elbow and wrists
  • poor alignment of the leg with external rotation and misalignment of the ankle/foot

These clients need to develop body awareness and integrate their breath with movement. They need to be aware of how to glide the shoulder blades around the rib cage, open the front of the shoulder and know the correct placement of the feet, knees and hips. They need to understand what neutral spine is, be able to identify it and become aware of how to maintain it during essential and some level 1 Pilates exercises i.e. ab preps and footwork series. Often exhalation with exertion is recommended to relax the ribcage connecting he abdominals with the pelvis to assist the maintenance of neutral spine and pelvic stability. Once clients achieve this then they can safely begin Level 1 programming. Thus why often Pilates studios insist on private sessions prior to joining group classes.

Level 1 clients are working on developing greater core strength to be able to achieve stability of the pelvis, lumbar spine, and shoulder girdle during level one exercises. The level 1 repertoire develops strength of the transverse abdominals, back extensors, and shoulder blade stabilizers. It develops flexibility of the hamstrings and hip flexors. It connects the rib cage to the pelvis. It begins to help clients understand how to move from the core and hamstrings (footwork on reformer and single leg reach) instead of from the hip flexors and biceps. The level 1 client is also working on being able to hold neutral spine not only during a Pilates session but in daily activities such as driving, sitting, standing and walking.

Once the client has mastered level one exercises such as the roll up and keeping pelvic and lumbar spine stability during leg circles and rolling like a ball, and they have demonstrated that they are moving from the core and breath or the deeper intrinsic muscles instead of from external muscles; the hip flexors and biceps. If a client enters a level 2 or 3 class and cannot demonstrate a roll up or stable roll like a ball further work on the level 1 deep core strengthening exercises is recommended before advancing them. Any underlying medical conditions my limit how fast the client advances through the repertoire and my limit how far they progress with the work.Time restrictions may limit how far clients get through the repertoire.  It takes time any where from 3-8 months depending on the level of fitness and coordination of your client .

Level 2: Once clients have achieved shoulder blade, pelvis and lumbar spine stabilization during level 1 excises it is time to challenge then with level 2. Often once level 1 is solidly mastered clients can zip through levels 2 and 3 quite efficiently. Level 2 programming now challenges the other abdominal layers the obliques and rectus abdominus (i.e. roll over, double leg stretch, scissors and criss-cross), along with more challenging back extension work (i.e .backstroke) and rotational spinal movements such as mermaid. The hamstring flexibility continues and improving hip mobility begins to be focused on (i.e. side kick series develop and envelope). More hip mobility exercises including yoga is recommended by this author to improve hip flexibility.

At this stage the client should have broken old movement patterns of over recruiting the hip flexors and can now move from the core abdominal muscles maintaining a neutral spine. If not, level 2 and 3 work could compound the hip flexor gripping pattern.

Level 3 : Now body weight begins to be lifted and mobilized increasing the resistance and balance demands and complexity of the work (i.e. double leg lowers, corkscrew, jackknife and bicycle). By this stage shoulder girdle and pelvic and lower back stability should be well established. Now the body weight is being lifted or added to the programming and the complexity of the actions are increased developing balance between front and back and upper and lower bodies. Such as with the teaser or V-sit the even climb a tree, the client must find balance between the upper and lower bodies integrating the two halves. The psoas becomes a focal muscle. The client learns how to safely hold the shoulder girdle in a centrated position with more of the body weight acting through it such as with side lifts, kneeling side kick, leg pull facing down and up, up stretch, semi-circle, and snake. If shoulder blade placement has not been mastered shoulder strain and injury could result. Level 3 also works on more balancing exercises such as with all of the advanced roll over exercises already mentioned along with standing front splits.

If the client cannot demonstrate adequate balance during the Level 3 exercises nor lift their own body weight or have difficulties holding the centration of the shoulder then they should not continue into Level 4 programming until they can.

Another factor which should be considered on behalf of the instructor is that if a client is participating in a level 3 class it would be expected that the client would be fairly familiar with level 1 and level 2 exercises.  This may not always be the case, however, if the client has been attending Pilates for over 8 months it could be assumed that they have had the opportunity to do level 1 and 2 exercises several times.  Every exercise requires adequate cuing from the instructor in order for the client to perform it properly.  Yet often instructors teaching a level 3 class think that the client is familiar with the equipment and the lower level exercises exercises and may change the cuing for a level 1 exercise to focus on increasing the challenge demands of the exercise which may compromise the normal safety cuing.  Again all the more reason why if a client is put in a level 3 class they have the background necessary for it.

Level 4 work brings more balance and coordination challenges along with more full body weight lifting demands, such as push ups, control balance. The stages have been building layers of strength from inside out and integrating breath with movement. This stage now requires pulling it all together with more full body exercises (such as star, semi-circle) and introduces more complex triplanar exercises like star with rotation and twist. Eve’s twist, horseback, up/down combo, hawk, tendon stretch, parakeet, magician and chair exercises such as step downs, one arm push from plank all challenge the client to now lift most of their own body weight with some assistance from the equipment. This stage also introduces greater balance demands such as with arabesque, single arm kneeling series, standing side splits, back splits and kneeling kick forward.

Granite it is important to move clients through the repertoire to experience it and to try the different exercises even if they may not demonstrate the adequate strength or control. Often well trained Pilates instructors who have all of the repertoire under their belt want to share and demonstrate the advanced exercises and hurry their clients through the process. Yet, base core strength should not be compromised and it should be established prior to or while advancing people through the repertoire. With a strong core clients then can safely move through the exercises with a solid foundation.  Recently I have been seeing clients who have been doing Pilates for quite some time, over 8 months, yet they still are unable to do basic exercises such as roll like a ball, ab prep, the roll up and hold neutral spine during footwork. Which tells me they have not developed adequate transverse abdominal (TA) strength and the client will continue to use the hip flexor recruitment pattern – meaning that the Pilates instructor, has not done their  job yet.

To test this, see if they can stay stabilized during roll like a ball, have them do a simple ab prep and see if they can hold neutral, do half roll backs and see if they can stay out of the hip flexors and work just the lower abdominals and see if they can do a roll up without spring assistance.

It is our job to train the client to understand how to avoid over-using to the quadriceps and hip flexors and recruit the abdominal and psoas muscles instead. The person who taught me how to frame homes (god rest his soul he has passed away) always said to me over the simplest of things: “If you can’t do this (referring to a basic skill) then take up knitting!”

To me these are basic principals of the Pilates work. They are like building blocks to a house, without them the house looses it’s stability and eventually breaks down. It is all fine to point the toes, and straighten the wrists, however if the basic core concepts are not developed the pointiest of toes and straightest of wrists will not help engage the core and maintain neutral spine.

At a certain stage of programming perhaps level 2 or 3 the client should start to stand taller with better posture. Instead of hanging out on the skeleton in a slouched posture gripping through the hip flexors the client now stands or sits upright, engaging the deepest, intrinsic muscles to lengthen and hold the spine erect. With the activation of more intrinsic muscles, even while sitting, it takes more energy.  The more muscles firing and working and the larger the cross section of the muscle the more energy is used.   Thus metabolism increases and more calories are burned.  A proper diet in conjunction with Pilates training  weight loss can be expected in your client.

While feeling better and stronger, along with feelings of looking better (i.e. postural changes) it is expected that this ‘feeling good state’ motivates the client to respect and care for their body more with improved diet and even more activity – wanting to get out there and enjoy life. May that be a simple walk or bicycle ride to the park or store. The result of feeling stronger and better hopefully results in more overall activity, boosting metabolism even more. Thus weight loss can be an expected with the secondary effects of a well designed Pilates program.

Note: If you see any typos or corrections please email your findings or comments to samanthatreed@hotmail.com

“There’s too much confusion,
I can’t get no relief.
. . .
None will level on the line, nobody offered his word, hey”
. . .
“There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”

From the Musical Legend Jimmy Hendrix, All Along The Watchtower Jan 21, 1968
Original music of Bob Dylan Dec 1967

Integrated Medicine ?

herbal-remedies-for-colds-flu I was bicycling home, I noticed a gentleman coming out of an office building, the sign above the door. It read “Integrated Medicine”. As I understand some physicians tend to be more progressive with the prescription of herbal remedies, than other doctors. Oil of oregano may be prescribed for a cold or mild respiratory infection. Having a natural health persuasion myself I think it great for a medical doctor to use natural remedies.  Thus the name “integrated medicine” mixing pharmaceutical and herbal medicines.  But the practice name “Integrated Medicine” made me ponder, as I cycled by, the broader sense of the phrase integrated medicine and how the word integrated is used and applied quite frequently with the Pilates method.

The way I think of integrated is when explaining how the body is pretty well held together with fascia, an envelope or sheath that wraps every organ and muscle in the body. This sheath is continuous, wrapping it’s way around every item in us – the matrix of the body. When an adhesion occurs in the fascia it causes a strain or stress on the envelop pulling it – like having a knot tied in your shirt – it doesn’t wear properly. This knot or stress/strain in the fascia can be caused from trauma, poor posture, vertebral subluxations, repetitive activities, even psychosocial factors. Resulting in reduced range of motion, stiffness, it may even make us feel nauseous or sick as the facial strain can affect the organs.

Often everything you do to help relieve this problem is ineffective. For example you think your hamstring or shoulder muscles are just tight and you do all the proper hamstring or rotator cuff stretches yet with little change or relief. The integrated medical practice mentioned above most likely will not be able to specifically treat such issues either, yet a referral to a Pilates instructor using an integrated approach will.  Pilates will stretch and relax held tensions and strengthen weak or lax muscles and train our muscles and other structures to work in a more balanced, integrated way.

Osteopathy, craniosacral therapy and some chiropractic practitioners have an integrated holistic approach to treating such issues.  Osteopathy and craniosacral therapy works mainly on the fascia of the body. Gentle minimal forces mobilizations of the spine and joints of the arms and legs encourages release of the fascia improving energy flow. Often the area of complaint is not what is treated as the body is looked at as a whole. You may complain of neck pain yet addressing an area somewhere else in the body like the knee may treat the neck.Chiropractic treatments adjusts the spinal column and limbs to help correct alignment of the joints, improves fascia and muscle balance or function.

Pilates has an accumulative preventative affect on the body.  It too takes an holistic approach working the body in an integrated way. Pilates does not look at the body in sections. Pilates doesn’t exercise the body in separate muscle groups, like in a weight room where we do bicep curls then leg extensions for the quadriceps, etc. Instead it makes the body work as an integrated whole – Pilates is a whole body exercise. Pilates training done with an instructor who has a good eye can help you develop better alignment, body awareness and fine tune the body bringing more strength or flexibility to where it is required.

Pilates instructors look at the body not as a bunch of individual muscles and angles of pull, but rather in facial or muscles lines. Julian Littleford Master Pilates instructor and part of the Passing the Torch Mentor program with Balanced Body University, describes it as starting with the inside arch of the foot, the line of action wraps around the calf to behind the knee to the lower glutes where the top of the hamstrings insert,  then connects to the mid-back and abdominals. After which it zig-zags through the body. When awareness is brought to this idea of the muscles wrapping through the body, muscles become integrated and act together pulling the body into better alignment moving from a central powerhouse.

Muscle actions are described in a cross from right to left, for example drawing the right shoulder blade to the left hip and vise-versa forming a cross connection from side to side. Similarly on the front the ribcage, diaphragm and psoas, muscle help connect the segments so that we move from a stable, connected foundation enabling force to be efficiently transferred from the upper body to the lower body and from one side of the body to the other.

Pilates training uses relatively light weights (springs) plus the individuals body weight with specific exercise sequences or repertoire which gets the muscles in the body to fire appropriately, resulting in efficiency of movement. The idea is to have correct muscle firing patterns – the right muscles working for the task at hand.

Other examples of whole body activities which integrate the muscles of the body are crawling, walking, running (when done properly), swimming, climbing, bicycling, surfing and skiing/snowboarding. Where the right and left sides of the body are reciprocal as one side of the body moves the other side is stabilizing and balancing the action of the other. “This is called reciprocal locomotion or coactivation of contralateral upper and lower quarter system throughout the body. For example the swing phase of gait or walking the lower body extremity and the right upper extremity are in tonic (flexion, internal rotation, adduction and pronation) pattern. During stance phase the leg is in extension with the opposite arm and they are coactivating in the phasic system (extension, external rotation, abduction and supination.)” S. Sahrmann, Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes 2002. 

When the body is in harmony; muscles are balanced. Muscle balance keeps the interaction of the tonic and phasic patterns optimal for posture and movement. This interaction provides centration of the joints during movement, creating a balance of muscular forces to maintain joint congruency through movement. When the fascia is not caught up there is flow of energy from side to side and throughout the body. When the body’s matrix or fascia is flowing smoothly and body awareness has been trained, integration is easy as can be readily seen. For example when you observe a ballet dancer’s graceful routine they are moving from a strong connected foundation the lines of muscle force are balanced and strength flows. The muscles are firing properly not one more than the other and there is freedom of movement throughout there are no spots of tension or adhesion.

Often running, swimming, bicycling and other such repetitive activities can result in repetitive strain injuries. Runners with knee are foot injuries, swimmers with shoulder injuries and the list can go on. Muscular imbalances can cause facial problems and vise versa . Also there is a neurological link between the upper and lower body systems. Imbalances in one system can lead to postural compensation and adaptive changes in the opposing system leading to problems with co-activation and muscle imbalances.

What I believe is so powerful about Pilates training and it’s advantage over other fitness modalities is that you are under the keen eye of an instructor. Even small adjustments can make huge affects on overall strength and power. Instructor feedback helps you achieve better mechanics and body awareness which not only helps you avoid injury but helps you prevent and heal injuries. A good instructor can suggest the appropriate exercises to help clients change their body’s overall posture, muscle patterning, strength and flexibility. Along with your Pilates practice metabolism changes occur facilitating changes in body content; increasing muscle and lowering fat percentages.

Pilates training often involves some muscle re-patterning as some muscles are over used while others are under used and do not fire or work when they are suppose to. With injury this becomes even more evident as the local stabilizers, the intrinsic muscle tend to become inhibited, while the global stabilizers, muscles which generate forces to control the segmental tend to become overactive at a low threshold or go into spasm Dawson, A., Injury and Special Populations Manual, Merrithew Corp., 2010.

The Pilates method is a healing process taking people deeper into their body awareness and most of this is done through connecting movement with breath. Breath integrated with movement facilitates better strength connection. On the simplest level exhalation with exertion helps increase intra-abdominal pressure, lowers the rib-cage and scapula towards the pelvis activating the abdominal, intercostal and shoulder blade muscles. Often people in pain, aerobic athletes and stressed individuals have high chest breath with their shoulders and ribcage are stuck in and elevated position. The mechanical effects of achieving a full exhalation allows the ribcage to lower, the thoracic spine to relax and lengthen, the scapula to achieve full range of motion which all facilitates the maintenance of neutral spine. When a neutral position of he spine is achieved the spine becomes decompressed, the vertebrae are in the best mechanically efficient position to transfer forces through them. In this position with the breath alone you can invite more space between the vertebrae and lengthen the crown of the head away from the tailbone. Once all of the above is established by being able to perform the essential or level 1 Pilates repertoire then the breath focus can become the inhale.

Inhalation brings awareness to the deeper layers of abdomen activates the diaphragm. The diaphragm is responsible for inhalation as its fibers contract and pull downwards, causing more room in the lungs for air to be drawn in. The insertion of the diaphragm is right next to the iliopsoas. The iliopsoas is the strongest hip flexor and acts alike a mediator between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor. It and the illiacus muscles are muscles responsible for the posture of lumbar spine and pelvis as the iliopsoas inserts directly on to the lumbar vertebrae and the illacus on the ilium or the “bowl” of the pelvis. The psoas is an essential muscle to establish true balance of the body. Balance from front to back and side to side, like a guy wire aligning legs, hips and spine and the only muscle that attaches the spine to the leg as it crosses the hip attaching the head of the femur. It ties the legs to the lumbar spine and the diaphragm. I have heard runners express how the legs are truly your lungs. The iliopsoas and illacus are located in the root charkra, represented by the lotus flower and that is what these muscles are shaped like. The root charkra is for grounding and security, exactly what these muscle do for the body, Staugaard-Jones, J., The Vital Psoas Muscle, Connecting Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Well-being, , Lotus Publishing, 2012.

The diaphragm is active on the inhalation. But the activation of the diaphragm is complex, causing more intrinsic things to happen than the exhalation which causes more changes nearer the outside of the body in the rectus abdominus, external obliques, thoracic spine, and rib cage. The diaphragm is a mushroom shaped muscle that distends towards the pelvis responsible for increasing the lung volume creating a vacuum into which more air is drawn the lungs. The diaphragm insertion is close to the psoas and T12 thoracic lumbar junction. This point in anatomy is relevant as many muscles insert here the quadratus lumborum, the obliques, and the transverse abdominus. In the spine it is here the curvature changes from convex to concave or from thoracic to lumbar vertebrae important part in the spine for energy transfer. In movement analysis this point is significant as the facial lines intersect here crossing the body from left to right and top to bottom. A significant power point of the body Nichols, V., Body Matrix Pilates teacher training course, 1999.

During inhalation the diaphragm pulls downward pushing the organs into the stomach muscle hammock and also into the pelvic floor which accommodates by widening. The stomach muscles and the pelvic floor work together to support and balance activity of the diaphragm. When we inhale the lungs and ribs widen, the stomach and pelvic floor muscles stretch. During exhalation stomach muscles and pelvic floor contract to push the organs upwards again.

This system functions so well that is has permitted mammals to get into a position of domination on this planet. Mammals can even breathe with a minimal thorax movement, with just the diaphragm and the stomach and pelvic floor muscle (E. Franklin, 2003, p 61 Pelvic Power, Princeton book company Publishers).

” The diaphragm is also important for helping stimulate the organs, as it is connected to the organs via a facial sheath called the falciform ligament and the median umbilical ligament which passes into the round ligament of the liver. The round ligament of the liver changes at the lower edge of the liver into the falciform ligament of the liver. This runs between the two lobes of the liver to the diaphragm The diaphragm is hung from the heart, and the heart itself is hung from the cervical spine via ligaments. Following the line along the umbilical ligament is the bladder, so really the whole length of this ligament the bladder hangs from the neck.” Franklin, E.2003 p 90 Pelvic Power, Princeton book company Publishers, 2003

” When inhaling the kidneys lower with the diaphragm, when exhaling they move up. Often the kidneys lower too much which heightens the pressure on the urethra and the bladder, producing incontinence. The kidneys are not held in place by ligaments but are supported by the sucking effects of the diaphragm and held by neighboring organs. The kidneys and the bladder are central importance to the strength of the pelvic floor, as well as problems of the knees, the sacrum and the hips. The state of these organs also strongly influences the balance and posture of the pelvis as well as sexual energy. The kidneys are partially covered by the two lowest ribs and lie behind the transverse abdominal muscle, the psoas and the quadratus lumborum. Every 45 minutes they filter all our blood, distribute hormones and modulate the chemical composition of blood. The adrenal glands are small endocrine glands that lie atop of the kidneys. They consist of cortex and medulla. The medulla produces the well-known hormone adrenaline, which can put our body into a state of great readiness, efficiency and fitness. Movement of the diaphragm or breath work can stimulate the kidneys, bladder and the adrenal glands” (Franklin, E, 2003 p 84 Pelvic Power, Princeton book company Publishers).

“The back extensors multifididus is the antagonists of the pelvic floor muscles. Multifididus meaning split many times muscle. Without a strong active pelvic floor the back extensors do not benefit from the pelvic floor movement. When we activate the pelvic floor tighten the pelvic floor and pull together the tuberosities through a moving forward of the coccyx the lower spine flexes which stretches its muscles. If the floor weak then the back doesn’t enjoy this active stretching or flowing and gliding apart. The consequences is lack of blood supply and therefore tension in the back muscles. Inhalation pushes the organs down into the pelvic floor while exhalation lifts the organs and contracts the pelvic floor.” (Franklin, E., 2003 p 66 Pelvic Power, Princeton book company Publishers, 200).

Blocking breath raises the stress levels which in turn has a negative effect on muscles, organs and continence. ” Stress lowers the tension in the muscles of the organs through the effect it has on the autonomous nervous system thus this is one reason why people have a paunch tummy in spite of rigorous muscle training” (Franklin, E., 2003, Pelvic Power, Princeton book company Publishers). Stress takes its toll on our body. We must breath fully inhaling and exhaling to release stress and have properly working organs. We must integrate our movement with breath to release fascia, stimulate organs, improve posture, reconnect with our muscles and deepen strength all of which will help us move from our core.

Note: If you see any typos or corrections please email your findings or comments to samanthatreed@hotmail.com

Constructive use of the Body

Destructive use of the self versus constructive use of the self.  Neutral alignment affects not only the lumbar vertebrae but the entire spine.  Reformer exercises help us create equal balance between the head, neck and back so we can unlock the centre of power in the movement of the body.  This adds efficiency and grace in our motion, while maintaining minimal muscular tension.   This is how Alexander & Pilates techniques improves overall body strength.