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

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

Principles of Pilates, Stott 1999

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

Pilates for Athletes

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 Gold

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.

Canadian Womens 2012 Olympic Basketball Team 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