Tag Archives: pilates

An ideal 20 minute workout for the mind and body

Only have 20 minutes for a quick workout? Keep it interesting and effective by incorporating several types of movements done with a focus on precision . Below is one suggested program. (Psst. Always consult a professional trainer, or your doctor before embarking on a new workout regime.)

5 MINUTES An intense cardio boost ( jump rope (my favorite), sprints, jumping jacks, burpees, etc)

8 MINUTES Pilates/Yoga – or a combination of moves that stretch and strengthen the body ( Good selective Pilates moves include: “Roll Ups” “The 5’s series”,  “Swan” or back extensions, lying side legs, and “Teasers”).

5 MINUTES Traditional strength training (pull ups, chin ups, push ups, dips, and/or planks – forearm planks for weak core and wrists) Builds much needed strength for neck, shoulder, and back tension.

2 MINUTES Deep breathing to bring you back to a calm, relaxed and refreshed center.

It’s always good to mix it up. Extend one part of the routine for another after a few weeks to keep your muscles from settling into movement habits. And work with a professional instructor every now and then to get the most out of those 20 minutes. Every body is unique and has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Enjoy every minute!

 

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Tips for improving brainpower and preventing dementia

There’s is no cure for dementia or alzheimer’s, but in the quest for one, researchers are now able to offer evidence-based suggestions to help prevent early onset. Most of the tips are easy to implement. And the sooner you start, the better your chances of prevention.

1. Eat nuts, olive oil, flax seed, and fishAccording to research, it’s all in the omega-3 fatty acids, which might help prevent certain memory and mood problems.

2. Be bilingual –  Bilingual people tend to postpone dementia by several years compared to those who are monolingual, according to researchers in Toronto. If you don’t speak two languages, now is a good time to pick another one up. The challenge can help stimulate reserve parts of the brain. I hear Polish is fun. And who knows, perhaps mastering the tones of Chinese might even improve your pitch and singing skills.

3. Use the computer – It’s still not a good idea to sit at the computer all day long. Learning to use the computer can stimulate the brain, but the research specifically states it’s finding based on computer learning coupled with physical activity, which happens to be #4…

4. Exercise – Moderate activity is always a good thing! Some researchers say resistance training, like Pilates, is best for dementia prevention. Also high on the list is social exercise, like dancing, since studies suggest music also helps in preventing dementia, depression, and enhancing memory recall.

5. Drink – This is the fun one, but it’s also tricky. Certain studies link alcoholism to increased risk of dementia, yet others find moderate drinking, like a glass of wine with dinner, may actually help prevent it. Just another reason why “everything in moderation”, is a pretty darn good maxim to live by.

How to get skinnier right now.

From SF Chronicle/ photo by Kate Wade

Did you know you could lose inches just by standing and sitting up taller?

Practicing better posture not only lends to a leaner more confident looking you, but it also works and stretches the muscles into longer habits. Look at the way a dancer walks. They constantly train their muscles to lift and project outwards – stretching away from themselves, rather than curling inward.

I have personally seen Pilates clients who “looked” as though they lost as much as five to ten pounds after just a few sessions, because they were able to support better posture.

Apart from being visually slimming and confidence improving, good posture lends to overall better health. According to the Mayo clinic website, your Mother was right all along to nag about sitting up straight :  Your spine is strong and stable when you practice healthy posture. But when you stoop or slouch, your muscles and ligaments struggle to keep you balanced — which can lead to fatigue, back pain, headaches and other problems.

To trim your waist, neckline, and entire body right now, imagine a huge helium balloon attached by a string to the top of your head, gently but constantly lifting your spine away from the ground, or your seat.

Why turning out the legs builds core strength

Joseph Pilates in "Pilates Position" working on strong, balanced posture.

Pilates position, Pilates stance, Pilates “V”,  – all these refer to the positioning of the legs in Pilates exercise –  a 30 degree turnout of the legs from the hip socket with the heels pinched together and feet turned out – roughly 3-4 fingers apart.

Often student look down, turnout their feet, and move on without understanding why. The common assumption is that it’s a “dance thing”. And if only the feet are twisting at the ankle without incorporating the knees and hips, it could lead to knee and leg strain, tightness in the hips, and even low back and neck pain.

It is important to feel that the top of the leg – the femur bone – is rotating outward and stretching away from the trunk to create the turnout in the feet. No movement is forced in the knees or ankles. We extend out from the hip joints without gripping in the buttocks, but wrapping and using the muscles underneath the buttocks and at the top of the thighs.

But why?

This turnout position allows the pelvis to stay neutral, helping us engage and lengthen the “zipping up” sensation of the core muscles – from the pelvic floor through the deep belly and psoas, all the way up to the diaphram and neck muscles.

Remember, Pilates is not just abs, but requires control and understanding of all the muscles and how each affects the other to create overall balance and postural health.

Pilates V position is not so much an extreme ballet turnout, as it is more like a military stance – standing upright with an assertive and famous “chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in”, keeping the heels together, toes apart, with weight balanced forward over the balls of the feet – stable and centered,  the body is standing active and ready for action.

A good time to practice your Pilates position is waiting in line at the grocery store, using the cart handle for balance. Draw your thigh bone outward, heels together and weight over the balls of the feet (but keep your heels on the ground). At the same time lift up through the crown of the head and draw your core in towards the spine (like you are putting on a pair of tight jeans). Your entire body should be in lengthening and working at the same time. Now try to take your hands off the cart handle…just don’t fall into the candy and magazine racks.

Stretching and Flexibility. Things to consider before you begin.

Sitting all day – day after day – our bodies become stiff and sore quickly. Suddenly, we feel old beyond our years. It’s no wonder stretching and flexibility practices like yoga and Pilates are so popular, by opening up our bodies and releasing tension we move better and breathe easier.

But is too much of a good thing no good at all? Stretching and flexibility benefits are hotly debated in the physio world. Some say do it, others say don’t and with scientific backing in both camps, it’s hard to know which way to go.

According to some studies, including this one from The Stanford School of Medicine,  dynamic stretching regimens seem the most effective way to stretch – if you feel you need to. Dynamic stretching involves movements while lengthening muscles and connective tissues and could be more effective than static stretching at reducing injuries and soreness. Static stretching is what is most commonly thought of as stretching – holding a position for 30+ seconds.

But if you are looking to do the splits, backbends, or become an extreme yogi, watch out. Dr. Shirley Sahrmann, a professor of physical therapy at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis once said in an NYTimes article, ”In my business, I have more problems with people who have excessive mobility than limited mobility.”

Being overly flexible without the strength to hold up the body structure is a huge problem. If you are already a highly flexible person, perhaps it’s time to add a little strength training.  If you are overly tight, a little dynamic stretching couldn’t hurt. Ultimately, a balance of the two is better than one extreme or the other.

Here are a few recommendations for stretching and building flexibility safely:

1. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY Don’t compare yourself to Joe-schmoe in the front of class and copy what he is doing. He could be doing it wrong. If something feels painful, awkward or just not right, ask the teacher, modify or stop. Know what you need.

2. KNOW YOUR INSTRUCTOR Make sure your yoga/pilates/tai chi/circus/etc instructor is familiar with the concept or idea of dynamic stretching. They should also know your weaknesses, injuries and at least, how to keep you safe. Beware the new class that has you immediately trying extreme flexibility tricks that aren’t supported with complimentary strength.

2. WARM UP Do light cardio – jumping jacks, jump rope, jog, whatever, for at least 5 – 10 minutes before doing any kind of muscle stretching.

3. FIND THE WORKING MUSCLES Pay equal attention to the supporting muscles that are contracted and fighting to keep you in the stretch.

4. BREATHE It releases tension and muscles strain. Stretching should not equal pain.

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!

New Pilates Classes/Core Conditioning in St Louis

Bumbershoot Aerial Arts (2200 Gravois Avenue, 63104) is an aerial and circus arts school close to downtown St. Louis where people can discover their inner monkey. There are few places like it.

Core conditioning and awareness of movement are important building blocks to gaining strength and staying safe in the air. It’s one thing to climb a rope, and another to know how you got there.

To aid in your circus skills, or to just gain strength for everyday life on the ground, Pilates mat classes, private training on Pilates equipment, and aerial conditioning classes are now offered at Bumbershoot.

It’s the only classical Pilates classes near downtown and the only colorful studio space like it around!

Bumbershoot Pilates Classes – Fall 2010

INTERMEDIATE PILATES MAT Tuesdays  and Thursdays  at 6pm

A faster paced, classical Pilates mat class, with emphasis on flowing movements outward from a strong core.  Advanced exercises are explored. Previous Pilates experience or instructor approval required. Knowledge of proper modification for your body is required. 55 minutes

BEGINNER MAT Saturdays 10 am

Kick off your Saturday morning with a stronger core! This Pilates mat class is open to all and focuses on fundamentals and beginner classical mat. Learn how to simultaneously stretch and strengthen your muscles. Gardening, sports, and even trapeze become much easier with a stronger center. 55 minutes

Joseph Pilates partaking in fitness fun

Private and small group instruction by appointment. For information on these classes and instructor Stephanie Ellison, please click on the classes and instruction page here.