Tag Archives: Exercise

Fun toys to get you outside this summer

Summer is officially here. It’s time for pedicures, beefing-up on barbecue skills, and generally doing anything that calls us out into the fresh air and sun. It is the best time to take fitness outdoors too, and I don’t mean lugging the treadmill out of the backroom to the porch. In case you forgot, there’s no age limit on playing outside.  Bikes, roller skates, skateboards, and jump ropes are great go-to summer toys, but here are a few other fun outdoor ideas you might have forgotten:

Trampolines

My parents claimed this was the best investment they ever bought our family. We used it regularly, every summer, for 15 years, with lots of giggling, lots of exercise, and luckily, no broken bones.

Kites

Kites are beautiful, artistic, and fun to run around with in the hopes of setting aloft. Make it a DIY party and gather some friends, craft your own, and have a kite-flying contest. Here’s a cool do-it-yourself kite from Popular Mechanics.

Water Guns – or better yet, Water Balloons!

Personal politics about warfare and guns aside, this is a great way to cool down and laugh when it’s hot. Play capture the flag with teams of friends. Or have a little one-on-one couples therapy. Loser makes dinner.

Unicycle

Not only a mode of transportation, it’s a great way to work on balance skills and impress friends. When starting out, a good spot goes a long way. Be patient and you’ll soon be speed cycling with the best single wheelers out there.

Pedalo

A wooden German toy that’s been around for decades, it’s a slightly safer variation on the unicycle. The pedalo builds balance and body awareness. Preparing you to be a natural on the…

Tight rope

Go to the local hardware store and get a strong, thick rope. Tether it, securely to 2 points, starting at just a few inches to a foot off of the ground.  Have tight rope walking competitions. See who can balance the longest, walk forward and backward, maybe even jump up and down. If you’re an adult at a barbecue with friends, watch out for “beer confidence”. No sprained ankles, please.

Retro Toys – Pogo Sticks, hula hoops, and Slip n’ Slide?

These were all popular for good reasons…except maybe slip n slide, with personal memories of grass stains and elbows burns. A lot of the flash back toys are silly mayhem for adults and kids alike. As a parent, you might be able to show off your impressive muscle memory skills to the young ones.

What are your favorite outdoor toys? Send us your ideas!

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Look Up – New Pilates and Movement Classes in Los Angeles

Here it is – My new class schedule! At the top of this page are several new links  to find out more about me and the Pilates and movement classes I’m currently teaching throughout Los Angeles. It’s also where to find upcoming workshops or special events. Check back often because classes are growing and changing.

For questions about Pilates, this blog, and inquiries into private lessons, tailored workshops and corporate programs, email me at: pilates@stephanieellison.com

Radio Taiso + Reebok

You may remember the essay I wrote on Japan’s historic morning workout program. Here’s a cheeky viral by Reebok, spoofing the classic television workout-along. I believe it’s safe to say, Grandma, please don’t try this at home.

Your 5 minute workout at work starts NOW

Let’s get straight to the point:

You sit too much. You are supposed to get up regularly. You are supposed to move around. You’ve just stumbled upon your chance. It takes 5 minutes. Considering how much time gets sucked into computer zombieland, it’s a small amount to ask. Here we go…

#1. Knee lifts while sitting

Knee lifts and holds, while sitting up straight

Sit up as tall as you can, arms by your sides. Scoop the abdominals in towards the spine to help you gain supported lift. Lift the right knee, pushing the left foot firmly into the floor. Balance and hold 10 seconds and switch. Do 3 sets. Pay particular attention to your hips and pelvis. No shifting your weight from one hip to the other. Keep them evenly weighted. If the right knee is up make sure the right hip is firmly planted and vice versa. No slumping or rounding the back. Sit up tall! Trying this on a balance ball later gives you more feedback.

DON'T DO THIS! No slumping or rounding of the upper or lower back.

#2. Chair dips

Chair dips, option 1. Bend and straighten the arms, keeping shoulders broad and away from your ears. Draw belly into spine.

2 options: hands on your chair handles (easier) or hand on the seat (harder). 10 dips, bending the elbows as far as you can and then straighten the arms. Your body weight is supported by your legs and feet as you move. Keep the spine straight, belly scooped and neck stretching long. Most important, keep the shoulders down away from your ears. This provides more arm work and a chest stretch.

Chair dips, option 2. This one is more challenging. Squeeze legs together, belly in, and shoulders broad.

#3. Balance on one foot

Stand up. If you have heels on, slip them off. (What’s one minute? Your feet will thank you). Standing on one foot with abdominals scooped and posture lifted, hold for 30 seconds. Switch.

Balance on one foot while standing as tall as you can. Opposite knee is high off the ground. Try for 30 seconds to one minute.

#4. Knee bend/Arm swings

Bend the knees and swing the arms across the body, exhale.

Straighten back up, stretching the body back up towards the sky. Swing the arms out and up. Deep inhale.

This one is akin to Radio Taiso, the Japanese morning workout. It should be invigorating and full of movement. Separate the feet shoulder width apart. Bend the knees and swing the arms across the body. Straighten the legs, lifting up through the spine and swing the arms up and out to the sides in a big stretch. This exercises needs a swinging rhythm and momentum. Take deep breaths as you move. 10 times.

#5. Elbow circles

Elbow circles

Sit back down. Gently touch fingertips to shoulders. Reach outward to opposite walls through your elbows. Draw large smooth circles in space with the elbows. Take Deep Breaths. Keep you head floating up towards the ceiling. Keep your head lifted and smile.

A clearer visual of elbow circles

That’s it!  5 minutes (maybe less). Now back to work. …Or, maybe it’s time for lunch.

Juggling for fitness

Yup. It counts. And it’s much more fun than juggling your to do list. Contact juggling, in particular requires physical demand and overall muscle control. What is contact juggling you ask? Think David Bowie in the Labyrinth.

Or watch this guy.

Get some exercise. Have fun. And be the life of every party. It’s a triple win!

If you live in Saint Louis, contact juggler extrordinaire Peter Schroeder is offering an 8 week contact juggling workshop beginning in January on Saturdays from 12:00 – 1:30pm. Registration is required at Bumbershoot Aerial Arts.

(Psst. If you were looking for a unique holiday gift, this could be it!)

Scooping the abdominals in sit ups

Last week we delved into what it means to  “scoop” the abdominals in Pilates. If you haven’t, I recommend starting with the previous post here.

Continuing the abdominal scoop adventure, today’s saga crosses paths with the #1 exercise culprit which, when done incorrectly, can lead to back pain and neck and shoulder tension…it’s the sit-up.

Don't do this

Try one, looking for these foreboding signs: Does your back tense? Do your legs pop up? Do your neck and shoulders round forward into your ears? Do you hold your breath? These are all signs your core is skipping out on the work. You may feel some ab muscles working, but, as mentioned in the last post, there are many muscles that make up the trunk.

Up. Up and away…

Try these deconstructed versions of sit ups for a few weeks. You may notice your core pulling in better, supporting your back and lengthening your posture.  The key is to scoop the abs and stretch and breathe while moving. Phew, that’s a tall order! Small and slow movements win this race, no matter your athletic ability.

The chest curl

The Chest Curl

How high can you curl your chest up while keeping the low back and belly down?

Lie on the back. Stretch and curl your chest up off the floor, keeping the low back on the ground and the abs scooped in. Push the back of your thighs into the floor.  Hold this lift for two breaths and then stretch back down.  Do not let the belly push out. (If the belly pushes out, you’ve gone to far and chances are your legs have popped up a bit and the shoulders are tensing forward.)

Keep it small! Focus on stretching the back and neck muscles alone the spine. If your neck is tensing, support your head with your hands. Try 10 of these.

The modified roll down

The Modified Roll Down

Sit up as tall as possible, As though your spine is lifting up by a string from the top of the head. (This alone should be work). If your back is strong the legs are straight out in front and together. If your back is tight and you feel leg strain, bend your knees and squeeze them together. Holding a tennis ball or pillow between the knees helps.

More challenging Roll down

From this lift, begin rolling back by curling the tailbone towards the back of the knees. Roll back one bone at a time to stretch the spine. Only go back as far as you can keeping the feet firmly planted on the floor, the legs from moving, and the shoulders relaxed. Hold this position and take two breaths. Curl back up into the upright position.  Again, it is important to keep belly scooped in towards the spine. If the belly is pushing out it is an indicator your spinal posture is crunched and not staying long and lifted. Try 10 of theses.

In either of the above moves, if you feel pain or pinching, STOP. It might be time for professional help.

Remember, the best way to get the most work from the trunk muscles is twofold: (1)  simultaneously lengthen while in motion. (2) Coordinate your breath with any movement.  The combination of stretch and strength with diaphram work produces a flowing, smooth, safer movement.

I didn’t say it was going to be easy…

What it means to scoop the abdominals

Wrong kind of scoop

You are in a Pilates class and the instructor says. “scoop your belly!”, do you:

A. Think, “What the heck does that mean?! I can’t scoop anything.

B. Suck in your gut, and hold your breath.

C. Give up on this weird Pilates stuff and take kickboxing next week instead.

This “scoop” is not only an essential part of traditional Pilates, but a fundamental muscular awareness for all types of sports and activities, including sitting at your desk.

To scoop the abdominals one must engage their transverse abdominal muscle, often referred to by movement therapists as the TVA. This is the deepest abdominal muscle. When engaged the TVA muscle contracts like a corset around the waist. It supports the pelvis and spine creating the “pulled-in” look.

The Transverse is like a corset, pulling the waist in

Too often I meet people who exercise, but still complain of belly bulge and back pain. While chasing the perfect “6-pack”, we focus on building the top abdominal layer – the rectus abdominal muscle. Although feeling the burn of this outer layer of muscle, if you are unable to engage deeper muscle support the back moves unsupported, and the belly pushes out…and you are actually a few steps further from a 6-pack, than when you started.

A 6-pack cannot exist on one muscle alone, it takes the whole body. The TVA  is just one of many muscles that makes up the core, however it is the muscle that creates the scoop.

Here are a few suggestions to help you master your scoop:

Belly in/Belly Out Quadruped

Step 1. Allow belly and organs to drape towards the floor. Keep the spine straight and still. No arching

Step 2. Draw the belly and organs in and up towards the spine. Again, don't move the spine. It remains planked.

On all fours (if it bothers your wrist, a forearm position is fine) Plank the spine. Do not allow the back to sag or round. Holding this table position, allow the belly muscles to relax towards the floor. AGAIN,  no spine movement, only the belly. Exhale and draw the belly muscles in and up towards the chest – like you are scooping your guts up and into the back of the ribcage. Hold this scoop for 3 breaths and then allow the belly to release down towards the floor again, maintaining a flat spine. Try this 5 – 10 times.

Leg extension Quadruped for Core

Add a leg extension for a more difficult core challenge

Once you feel the scoop,  try maintaining it while sliding one leg back and stretching it out. Hold this position for three breaths, while keeping the spine planked (no sagging back). Hold 5-10 seconds. Switch legs. Press into all the finger joints to help lift out of the wrists. Can also be done on fists or the forarms. Try doing 5 sets.

Deep belly sitting

Practice scooping while sitting at your desk

This one can be done sitting at home, at your desk, or at the opera. No one will know you are working out, but they might comment on your good posture.

Sit up tall, and imagine vacuuming in the abdominal wall. Hold while taking 3 gentle breaths. Release.

The vacuuming feeling is akin to a pair of tight pants as you pull up the last bit of the tight zipper. That is your TVA. Another image is if someone were to give you an upper cut to the belly button, punching in and hooking up…not a pleasant thought, but it works.

Scooping pulls in and up - like an upper cut to the belly. ewww

You never want to overwork just one muscle. It takes a coordinated effort from all muscles to keep the body balanced and strong. There is some debate over what the TVA does and how important it is to work. No matter, the awareness of the muscle is extremely valuable to a better understanding of yourself and how you move.

Practice!