Key to the Core II: Core is more about just the Abdominal Muscles

core-strengthThe other day we googled “Pilates and lower back pain”, expecting to find a myriad of articles about how Pilates helps alleviate lower back pain.  To our surprise, the article which really captured attention was titled, “Is Pilates Bad for your Back?” (click here for the entire article with comments.) Most of us know that if Pilates is done incorrectly, then it may exacerbate lower back pain, but this article delved further, into Pilates’ emphasis on the role of the Transversus Abdominis and Multifidus.

When we first read the article, our initial reaction was a bit of incredulousness, as we thought that surely Pilates instructors both realize the importance of the full gamut of core muscles and cue accordingly, but the writers of this article seem convinced that Pilates instructors ONLY cue the transversus abdominis.  NOT SO, we say!!  Let’s face it, can you do ANYTHING just by engaging your transversus abdominis and deep pelvic floor muscles?  Aside from “drawing in” your abs and drawing up your pelvic floor muscles (as in Kegel exercises), the answer is unequivocally “no!”, as neither the Transversus Abdominis nor Pelvic Floor Muscles have any directional pull on bones.  They are muscles of endurance and contract tonically.

Now, as Pilates instructors, we all get in the habit of cueing the Transversus Abdominis, Obliques and Pelvic Floor Muscles in lieu of the Rectus Abdominis, Gluteus Maximus and other musculature because oftentimes our clients are often overusing those muscles anyway.  They simply don’t need to be cued…. that doesn’t mean they are not needed to perform the exercise!  Take the core challenge test, which we featured in our first, Key to the Core Blog (9/14/2008), and try to use ONLY your Transversus Abdominis and Pelvic Floor Muscles…. IMPOSSIBLE!!

There are quite a few AMAZING articles about core strength on the internet, so we could not possibly highlight all of them at once.  So, we’ll start with one of the more popular sites, about.com.  They feature a GREAT article on core strength, entitled, “Core Training -Good Core Training Takes More Than Ab Exercise” (click here to read article.) Once again, we encourage you to read the whole article, but, in summary, this article supports the concept that pure core stability consists of not only strengthening the core abdominal muscles, but also strengthening the muscles that improve the functional coordination of the spine, the pelvis and the hips.  Specifically, in addition to the abdominal muscles, multifidus and erector spinae, the writer mentions the hip flexors (yes, all of them), the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus,  the hip adductors, the hamstrings, and piriformis.  The article states “In other words,

“the goal of core stability is to maintain a solid, foundation and transfer energy from the center of the body out to the limbs.”  Fiona Troup, a physiotherapist and qualified Pilates instructor at the Sports & Spinal Clinic, Harley Street, quoted in the first article, concurs, stating, “a strong back means a combination of strong muscles in the buttocks, spinal area and shoulders not just a well-developed core area”.

So, with this new knowledge, as you’re doing your Pilates workouts, think not only of the muscles of the abdomen, but also all the surrounding musculature, working on balancing the muscle groups and creating a well-functioning body with a strong core as well as strong hips, shoulders, arms and legs!!  We recommend “Power and Precision Mat Workouts 30 or 45 minutes,” “Challenge Your Core Reformer Workout,” and “Power Chair Workout” on Ultimate Pilates Workouts (www.ultimatepilatesworkouts.com)!

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April 3, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

Pilates and breathing, part 2

rolling_like_a_ball_small1Yesterday we looked at the muscles responsible for breathing.  Today we will discuss how the Pilates technique encourages one to breathe.

We learned that the diaphragm moves up and down — down for the inhale to suction the air into the lungs and up for the exhale to expel the air from the lungs.  Since air goes into the lungs, the only part of the body that needs to expand on the inhalation is the lungs.

Thus, the Pilates technique encourages keeping the abdominal muscles contracted throughout the exercises for both inhales and exhales.  Instead of allowing the abdominal cavity to expand — as you might in “belly breathing” as often encouraged in yoga — imagine the air filling the lower lobes of the lungs.  Breathing in this way expands the side and back of the ribs.

To help understand this, place your hands on the sides of your ribs with the fingers wrapped toward the back, thumbs down.  Now inhale and feel your ribs expand sideways, without letting your ribs pop out to the front or your abdominals inflate with air.  Also, don’t let your shoulders rise!  If this does not come naturally at first (as it did not with me at all) don’t despair.  With practice, this becomes easier and more natural.  Then exhale, and feel your ribs close again, like an accordian being compressed from each side to push the music (air).

As you work on breathing, please remember first and foremost that oxygen is necessary for exercise!  If you find the breathing confusing and find it creating stress and tension, then breathe comfortably.  Give yourself time to implement this breathing style naturally so that you continue to enjoy your Pilates workouts.

Our Ultimate Pilates Workouts site has a free technique video just on breathing, so if you would like more information, we suggest you watch this video!  Also, start with simple Pilates exercises such as the Half Curl and the Half Swan to perfect your breathing technique before moving on to more challenging exercises.  Rolling Like a Ball is another great exercise for practicing “side and back of the rib” breathing as the shape of the body makes it easier to visualize.

April 1, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

Pilates and breathing, part 1

diaphragm-upwIn Pilates, breath is integrated into the movement to bring the mind into focus, aid in relaxation, facilitate proper execution of the exercise and of course, oxygenate the body.  Before we delve into the role of the breath in Pilates, we will discuss the muscles involved in respiration.

The chief muscle of respiration is the diaphragm.  The diaphragm looks like a giant shiitake mushroom and originates on the xiphoid process and the inner surface of the lower six ribs, and its central tendon and smaller tendons (known as “crura”) attach to the vertebral column at the lumbar spine.  On an inhale, the diaphragm contracts and moves down, acting as a suction to pull air into the lungs.  On the exhale, the diaphragm moves up to expel the air.

Between the ribs lie the intercostal muscles, comprised of internal intercostal muscles and external intercostal muscles.  The external intercostals assist the inhale, and the internal intercostal muscles assist the exhale.

external_intercostals

internal_intercostals

The intercostals:  for picture credit, click here.

At the end of a forced exhale, the abdominal muscles engage to help expire all the air — just think of blowing out many candles on a birthday cake.  On the other hand, at the end range of a forced inhale, the scalenes — muscles that originate on both sides of the vertebrae of the neck and insert on the first two ribs on each side — help “pick up” the ribs to allow greater capacity for air.

Check back for more articles this week on the role of the breath in Pilates!  In the meantime, please enjoy our podcasts and lots of great FREE workouts on UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com!

March 31, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings. Leave a comment.

CARDIOLATES®: A smart way to add cardiovascular exercise to your workout regime

reboundingWe all know cardiovascular exercise is essential for both the health of our hearts and the maintenance of lean body mass. But most of us hate it!  Over the years, we have gone back and forth with a love/hate relationship to cardio exercise, sometimes forcing ourselves to do it.  Not surprisingly, many of our clients at Pilates on Fifth expressed the same sentiment. Clients say they feel they need to do cardio to lose the “layer of softness” (a nice way of saying fat!) that conceals the beautiful muscles they have toned and sculpted with Pilates, and yet finding a cardio regime that they are motivated to do has proven difficult.

In 2007, a paper by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association stated that “to promote and maintain health, all healthy adults aged 18 to 65 yr need moderate-intensity aerobic (endurance) physical activity for a minimum of 30 min on five days each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 20 min on three days each week.” To read the full article, click here. While this can seem a bit daunting at first, the article subsequently states that the exercise can be broken up throughout the day.  And many of our clients were doing sufficient amounts of cardio to meet the guidelines set forth by ACSM and AHA, but as we looked over at their figures on the treadmill or on the elliptical machines, we lamented at the fact that all the work we were doing in their Pilates sessions was absolutely being derailed during their cardio sessions.

Searching for a form of cardio we could recommend to our clients, we developed CARDIOLATES®. We knew we needed to find a method of cardio that reinforces Pilates’ alignment principles and optimal posture, and then we discovered rebounding!  Rebounding has been derived from trampolining (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trampolining) like you’d see at the Olympics, but is quite different in the sense that rebounding is meant for sustained bouncing.  It is very powerful exercise, but the intent is NOT to get a lot of height.  Rebounding combines the forces of acceleration, deceleration and gravity, and as a result strengthens every cell in your body. So, we thought, by rebounding with careful attention to alignment and posture, every cell of the body can be strengthened in the body’s optimal alignment! The CARDIOLATES® rebounding technique focuses on maintaining the body’s vertical axis and thus strengthens the deep postural muscles in the body’s ideal upright alignment.  And this ideal alignment is reinforced with every bounce!

Below we’ve listed a whole myriad of benefits of rebounding in general.  These benefits are NOT limited to CARDIOLATES® rebounding, but we would like to add that with the CARDIOLATES® rebounding technique, you can add the benefits of strengthening the core, the postural muscles and body symmetry as well!  To find the source of this information, click here.  Dr. Albert E. Carter and Dr. Morton Walker collaborated to create this list.

Exercising correctly and regularly has great benefits for our health.

1.     Rebounding provides an increased G-force (gravitational load), which strengthens the musculoskeletal systems.

2.     Rebounding protects the joints from the chronic fatigue and impact delivered by exercising on hard surfaces.

3.     Rebounding helps manage body composition and improves muscle-to-fat ratio.

4.     Rebounding aids lymphatic circulation by stimulating the millions of one-way valves in the lymphatic system.

5.     Rebounding circulates more oxygen to the tissues.

6.     Rebounding establishes a better equilibrium between the oxygen required by the tissues and the oxygen made available.

7.     Rebounding increases capacity for respiration.

8.     Rebounding tends to reduce the height to which the arterial pressures rise during exertion.

9.     Rebounding lessens the time during which blood pressure remains abnormal after severe activity.

10.  Rebounding assists in the rehabilitation of a heart problem.

11.  Rebounding increases the functional activity of the red bone marrow in the production of red blood cells.

12.  Rebounding improves resting metabolic rate so that more calories are burned for hours after exercise.

13.  Rebounding causes muscles to perform work in moving fluids through the body to lighten the heart’s load.

14.  Rebounding decreases the volume of blood pooling in the veins of the cardiovascular system preventing chronic edema .

15.  Rebounding encourages collateral circulation by increasing the capillary count in the muscles and decreasing the distance between the capillaries and the target cells.

16.  Rebounding strengthens the heart and other muscles in the body so that they work more efficiently.

17.  Rebounding allows the resting heart to beat less often.

18.  Rebounding lowers circulating cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

19.  Rebounding lowers low-density lipoprotein (bad) in the blood and increases high-density lipoprotein (good) holding off the incidence of coronary artery disease

20.  Rebounding promotes tissue repair.

21.  Rebounding for longer than 20 minutes at a moderate intensity increases the mitochondria count within the muscle cells, essential for endurance.

22.  Rebounding adds to the alkaline reserve of the body, which may be of significance in an emergency requiring prolonged effort.

23.  Rebounding improves coordination between the proprioceptors in the joints, the transmission of nerve impulses to and from the brain, transmission of nerve impulses and responsiveness of the muscle fibers.

24.  Rebounding improves the brain’s responsiveness to the vestibular apparatus within the inner ear, thus improving balance.

25.  Rebounding offers relief from neck and back pains, headaches and other pain caused by lack of exercise.

26.  Rebounding enhances digestion and elimination processes.

27.  Rebounding allows for deeper and easier relaxation and sleep.

28.  Rebounding results in better mental performance, with keener learning processes.

29.  Rebounding curtails fatigue and menstrual discomfort for women.

30.  Rebounding minimizes the number of colds, allergies, digestive disturbances, and abdominal problems.

31.  Rebounding tends to slow down atrophy in the aging process.

32.  Rebounding is an effective modality by which the user gains a sense of control and an improved self image.

33.  Rebounding is enjoyable!

So there you have it!  Why endure a cardiovascular regime that you hate, when you could rebound and have a blast???  For more information about CARDIOLATES® classes in NYC, click here, and to find CARDIOLATES® near you, click here.  If you are interested in the CARDIOLATES® DVD, click here!

March 30, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

“Dance as though no one is watching you”…. but do Pilates like everyone is!!

single-leg-stretchYes, we know that Souza did not end his famous poem as such, but if we’ve learned one thing from the filming of our Pilates workouts, it’s how to increase the intensity of your . If you don’t think Pilates is hard enough, then imagine that you are doing Pilates in an Olympic arena, equipped with a full panel of judges who score you based on proper execution…. WOW!! Take it from us, it’s grueling. You can take a “beginner’s” workout and turn it into one of the best workout sessions just by focusing on all the little details and fine tuning. We like to think of it this way: as long as you’re investing the time to work out, then why not get the most that you can out of your session? Here are some few helpful hints based on what we’ve gleaned from filming our Pilates videos for the site:

1) Pull your abs in!! …And when you think they’re in, pull in a little more! Then, with every new exercises and every other repetition, repeat!

2) Straighten your knees fully! We know that we’ve written about the knees before, but it really is a way to kick up the intensity and get the whole body involved.

3) Open the shoulders! Involve the muscles of the upper backto keep the shoulders from rounding forward and create that beautiful, trademark Pilates posture.

4) Don’t forget your glutes! When doing side lying or prone exercises, your glutes (the muscles in your buttocks) are key to stabilizing your torso and upholding Pilates as a total body workout.

So there you have it! Just a few simple tips to help you get the most out of your Pilates workouts. Also, in addition to the four points above, proper form and technique will make the Pilates exercises even more effective. If you need help with an exercise or just want to know if you’re doing a Pilates exercise correctly, simply check out any of our podcasts. (link to podcasts)

March 26, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings. Leave a comment.

Pilates for two: Spice up your workout! part 2

couples-outer-thigh-tonerEarlier this week, we showed you a great exercise to tone and strengthen your abdominal muscles.  Today we’ll show you an exercise for toning the outer thighs.  Even though the men might not be as eager to tone the outer thighs as women, this exercise also challenges and improves balance.

Here’s how to execute the outer thigh toner exercise:

Start Position:  Stand next to each other with a stretch band tied around the outside ankle.  Stand far enough away so that the band is not too loose to start (but not too tight!)  Pull in the abs, lengthen through your spine and inhale to prepare.

Exhale and maintain your balance as you lift the outside leg to the side.

couples-outer-thigh-toner-2Inhale, lower the leg back to the start position (but no need to transfer full weight to the leg as you will be repeating the movement!)

Exhale, repeat, trying not to maintian perfect balance for 8-10 repetitions.  Repeat with the other leg.

Remember, exercises with the stretch band require cooperation and teamwork!  By working on control and focusing on precision, you can both tone your muscles….without knocking each other over!

Want to do more workouts together?  Log onto UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com for lots of FREE full-length Pilates videos online.

March 25, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

Pilates for two: Spice up your workout!

couples-obliques-12Working out with a partner can be motivating, challenging and FUN!

Our first exercise is an abdominal exercise for the obliques.  You will need a stretch band, which can be purchased online, or exercise tubing can work well too.

Start Position:  Sit up as tall as possible facing your partner with your knees bent and feet braced against each other’s.  Pull in your abs and try to lengthen your spine.  We suggest that the man hold the middle of the band, approximately shoulder distance apart, and the woman hold the ends of the band so that she can adjust the tension.*

Inhale, pull in the abdominal muscles and lengthen up through the spine.

Exhale, roll back off the sit bones, simultaneously rotating the rib cage to the right and bending the right arm.

couples-obliques-2

couples-obliques-3

Inhale, pass through the start position, keeping the abdominal muscles engaged.

Exhale, roll back of the sit bones, simultaneously rotating the rib cage to the left and bending the left arm.

couples-obliques-4

Repeat this exercise 8-10 times, 4-5 times each side.

*The greater the tension, the more support there is for the abdominal muscles, but the harder the exercise will be on the muscles of the arm.  If the woman holds the band, she can reach further up the band for more tension (more support) or more towards the edges of the band for less tension, less support.

For more great stretch band workouts, log onto www.ultimatepilatesworkouts.com and try the “Tighten and Tone” workout or try our “Pilates in Ten” podcasts for Arms and Legs, which also use the stretch band.

March 23, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

Pilates and weight loss, part 3

obliques-roll-downThis week we have been discussing Pilates, weight loss and the factors that contribute to weight loss.  Stress is often cited as a cause of weight gain — or weight loss — and Pilates is often cited as a stress-reducing exercise system.  So today we will explore the effects stress has on the body and how Pilates can help.

After sifting through all the information available on the internet regarding stress and weight fluctuations, we came to one conclusion:  doctors and researchers disagree on the exact hormonal changes stress induces in the body that could lead to changes in weight.  In short, some believe stress increases cortisol levels which causes weight gain.  But according to the Mayo Clinic, “…there is no evidence that the amount of cortisol produced by a healthy individual under stress is enough to cause weight gain.”  In fact, popular diet pills which claimed to be “cortisol blockers” were recently banned by the FDA for unsubstantiated claims of weight loss, and the companies were forced to pay millions in consumer refunds.  For a review of other diet pills by the Mayo Clinic, click here.

Other sites discuss stress-induced insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome as additional causes of weight gain.  Undoubtedly, stress is damaging to the body, but each individual has his/her own unique health concerns and his/her own predispositions to certain health issues.  Thus, we have included links to the additional information, but would prefer to focus on that which the experts DO agree!

scissorsMost researchers, physicians and nutritionists agree that “emotional eating” or “nervous eating” remains the true reason stress leads to weight gain.  While some respond to stress by NOT eating, many of us reach for the chocolate chip cookie or the entire bag of chips in times of stress.  Because eating healthily — like choosing the carrot sticks over the candy bar — can feel like punishment to the overworked, exhausted, frazzled body, we seek to “take care of ourselves” with food that instantly gratifies us and makes us say “life is good after all!”  The desire to take care of one’s self is a positive act, yet the choices made usually are not the best for the body in the long run.

The good news:  Pilates can help keep stress in check!  It can be hard to shift your thinking to viewing exercise as a reward and a gift you give to yourself, but our suggestion is simple — give it a try!  Wouldn’t it be worth it if you slept better or felt better about yourself after your workout?  Try the Renew and Revitalize Workout from UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com for an energizing, core strengthening workout, or the Strength and Challenge Workout for a more challenging routine that will surely release excess stress!

If you’re struggling with cravings, unfortunately, there is no easy solution.  Try a Hershey’s Kiss instead of the entire candy bar, or buy a smaller bag of chips if you fear you’ll devour a large bag before you know it.  Satisfying a craving is not the problem…the degree to which one satisfies a craving usually is!  You just have to decide “will eating this make me more or less happy in the long run…..”

March 20, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

The potpourri of Pilates in New York City

treeDo you remember your favorite teacher from high school? If you’re like most people, your favorite teacher significantly influenced your interest in the subject she taught. Well, it’s no surprise that your first Pilates teacher will most likely shape your preferences for one type of Pilates over another — for better or worse!

As for the two of us, we don’t have “Pilates bodies” — and some Pilates teachers we’ve had through the years made us abundantly aware of that fact! I wanted to feel GOOD leaving a session, but instead felt like Quasimodo and wished I’d had a potato sack to hide my deformed, twisted, imperfect body. Of course we both ended up embracing the type of Pilates that was taught to us by a teacher who was open, fun, inspiring, life-affirming, attentive to imbalances but full of compassion and had us feeling really GREAT about our bodies and our potential after the lesson.

If you have tried Pilates and hated it, then by all means, give it another try. Maybe you and the teacher just didn’t “click.” To make this easier for you, we have included some links to some great Pilates studios in the city, all of which teach slightly different styles of Pilates. Of course we’d love to see you at our studio, Pilates on Fifth, but we also know that location and style can be everything, and there are many great Pilates studios here in NYC! Here’s the list….and we know all of these owners and can state confidently that they are exceptionally qualified AND kind individuals who are dedicated to their craft.

LindaFit by Linda Farrell: www.lindafit.com. Linda is a beautiful lady both inside and out and teaches fabulous body-sculpting mat classes throughout the city (just check out her legs if you don’t believe us!) She teaches at Steps, Broadway Dance Center and Equinox among other locations.

Rolates, run by Roberta Kirschenbaum: www.rolates.com. Roberta is kind and wise — a perfect combination for a great Pilates instructor and studio owner. Rolates often conducts innovative, educational workshops and has the added bonus of inhabiting Joseph Pilates’ original studio space!

Pilates Reforming New York, run by husband and wife team Ann Toran and Errol Toran: www.pilatesreformingny.com. Ann delivers challenging core-strengthening, elongating workouts conveniently scheduled throughout the day. Pilates Reforming New York specializes in energizing group reformer classes.

Power Pilates, presided over by Dr. Howard Sichel: www.powerpilates.com. Dr. Sichel and Power Pilates has an amazing team of leaders in the Pilates industry providing high quality instruction at 6 locations throughout New York City and more throughout the country.

So remember….if you tried Pilates once and didn’t like it, please give it another chance! Maybe it isn’t for you, but if you’re reading this, then you’re interested enough to give it another try!

March 19, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings. Leave a comment.

Jump into heart health with CARDIOLATES®!

cardiolates-1Love Pilates but hate cardio?  CARDIOLATES® offers all the cardiovascular benefits of rebounding with the alignment benefits of Pilates — and it’s fun too!

Forget your fabulous triceps or your six pack abs, your HEART is the most important muscle in your body.  Pilates flattens your abs, strengthens your core and tones all the muscles of the body, but it was never designed to elevate your heart rate to the levels required for cardiovascular conditioning.  To keep your heart healthy, you must engage in regular cardiovascular activity.

CARDIOLATES®, offered at Pilates on Fifth in New York City, combines heart-pumping rebounding with ab-sculpting Pilates to deliver the cardiovascular activity necessary for heart health.  Clients who reach a weight loss plateau in their regular Pilates classes see their final pounds melt away with CARDIOLATES®.

cardiolates-2And here’s the best news:  because CARDIOLATES® is gentle on the joints, those who find high impact activities too taxing on the body can enjoy CARDIOLATES® pain free!  The mat of the rebounder absorbs 87% of the shock to the joints (according to a NASA study) so you can burn calories without your joints paying the price.

CARDIOLATES® has been featured on The Martha Stewart Show, Good Day New York and the CW11 Morning News.

March 17, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings. 1 comment.

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