ACTIVCORE® cured my neck and shoulder pain

ActivCoreFEX 007When we first started doing ActivCore ® , we couldn’t wait to try every exercise that we could get my hands on.  As dancers, we’re also always first enticed by the exercises for the legs and the core… the upper body exercises have always been a secondary focus.  However, as we began the training and learned more about ActivCore’s amazing ability to get the right muscle to fire in the right amount at the right time, we started wondering if there was any hope for the nagging neck and shoulder pain that we had been silently suffering with off and on for years.  Katherine had lost hope that anything would make her pain go away.  It had actually become so bad that I couldn’t finish the last sip in a tall glass of water without being forced to support the weight of my head in my free hand!!

To our amazement, the secret recipe for completely “fixing” shoulder and neck pain was ActivCore ® … particularly the pull ups and the push ups.  Who knew?!  The first time we tried the pull ups (not being able to do a single pull up on my own), we knew we were using our legs more than our arms, but we LOVED the way it opened my shoulders and how we were so connected through our backs.  Because ActivCore ® allows you to set the difficulty appropriate to your own personal strength level, you really can’t go wrong.  We have all our clients doing their own personal pull ups with the ActivCore Activation Station ® because of its incredible adjustability.

With the push ups, because the ropes are unstable every direction except straight down, we were total wrecks…. both of us on the left side  (for different reasons, we promise!!!  We’re not clones!!!)  Neither of us could really complete one push up without our left arms freaking out and shaking like gangbusters.  We couldn’t keep the rope still!!  ….And that’s when it hit us.  None of the local stabilizers in the left shoulder were firing.  It was like they were on vacation on another planet.  The solution?  Find the setting on the ActivCore Activation Station n® that would allow us to complete four push ups without collapsing or shaking uncontrollably.  Then I repeated three more sets of four, adjusting the height of the ropes or where I was standing so that I could alter the level of support.

In the first week, we probably did the pull up and push up sequence 2 times….. that’s a total of about 32 pull ups and push ups, and both our shoulders and necks felt better after that one week, not to mention that we felt like our posture improved immensely.  (…And we’re not the only ones who’ve said this!  One of our best friends and workout buddies said to us the day after doing one set of pull ups:  “Could it really be possible that my posture is better after only one session????”  The answer:  yes!)

Pull Ups 003Now, we’re completely addicted to the pull ups and push ups!!  Katherine’s neck pain is gone, and I no longer have to hold the back of my head when I’m enjoying my last sip of my favorite beverage.  Kimberly’s rotator cuff pain is gone, too!  We make both push ups and pull ups a mandatory part of our ActivCore ® workout sessions, and as a result we have happier necks and shoulders!!

June 10, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . ACTIVCORE®, Pilates on Fifth Postings, The Pilates Center of New York Postings. Leave a comment.

Better Posture in One Week with ACTIVCORE!

Pull Ups 003We have been pleasantly surprised with another benefit of ActivCore:  not only does it improve posture, but ActivCore improves posture fast!!!  ActivCore features many exercises for better posture that are fun, challenging, and, of course, core strengthening as well!  We noticed better posture on ourselves after one week, but we largely dismissed it because as Pilates instructors, we work out all the time.  However, after working with our own clients and talking to dozens and dozens of clients at our Pilates studio, (www.pilatesonfifth.com), the results are unanimous:  with ActivCore, posture improves after just one session!!!!

When we were kids and our mother constantly said, “stand up straight!” and “don’t slouch!”, we grew accustomed to thinking that good posture had everything to do with the degree of one’s laziness and very little to do with muscle weakness.  How wrong were we!  (Well, we were kids after all!)  For optimal posture, the muscles surrounding the shoulder girdle need to be strong enough to maintain that great posture without your conscious brain having to think about it all the time.  And for us, and dozens of others at the studio, the pull ups in the ActivCore repertoire have been our secret weapon to better posture INSTANTANEOUSLY!!  Who knew??

With ActivCore Pull Ups, you can perform different varieties, and the most striking feature is that you can completely adjust the level of difficulty to your own ability.  Thus, we have eighteen year olds to 70 year olds doing Pull Ups at our ActivCore activation stations, and they all love it!  One of our clients told us yesterday that she is “obsessed” with the ActivCore machines because she’s never been able to work her upper body so effectively.  Another client came to us after her first session and said, “Could one session have made my posture better?”  And the answer is, yes!!!  And with ActivCore, all of us, Pilates instructors and clients alike keep coming back for more because with all the exercises you see results so incredibly quickly.

And for those of you who may not like Pilates because of the coordination required, look no further!!!  ActivCore does all of this without requiring its practitioners to learn any fancy choreography.  The ropes do the trick for you.  Once you start to work with ActivCore, you will see for yourself…. and watch your posture get better and better in the process.

May 14, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . ACTIVCORE®, Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings. Leave a comment.

Pilates and posture, part one

posture“Stand up straight!”  “Pull your shoulders back!”  “Don’t slouch!”  How many of us heard this as kids?

Good posture conveys self confidence, poise, leadership and many other positive attributes.  But posture is important not only for aesthetics, but also — and most importantly — for proper biomechanics, alignment and weight distribution throughout the body.

This week we will dissect the various aspects of good posture and the most common obstacles to achieving it.  As the spine is the center of the body, we will begin with a description of the spine and a definition of “neutral spine,” which is important for achieving proper posture.

First of all, the spine is comprised of 24 vertebrae that articulate with one another and another nine vertebrae in the sacrum — the bony triangle at the base of the spine with five fused vertebrae — and the tailbone consisting of four fused vertebrae.  The 24 vertebrae which articulate with one another are flexible enough to give us the movement we require to complete our daily functions.

The neck — or cervical spine — contains seven vertebrae and has the most flexibility of any part of the spine.  The rib cage area — or thoracic spine — contains twelve vertebrae and has the least amount of flexibility because of the limitation (and thus the protection) imposed by the ribs.  Finally, the lower back — or lumbar spine — contains five vertebrae with a fairly large degree of flexibility naturally, though many find limitation as they age due to muscle tightness.

Contrary to the common command, “stand up straight!” the spine is not naturally straight!  The spine has three curves which should be maintained for proper biomechanics.  The cervical spine (neck) curves slightly forward, the thoracic spine (rib cage) curves slightly backwards and the lumbar spine (lower back) curves slightly forward again.  These curves give the spine resiliency and aid in the absorption of impact and stress to the body.

Pilates seeks to preserve the natural curves of the spine, which is why you may have heard the terms “neutral spine” and “neutral pelvis” in your Pilates class.  The spine in its neutral alignment facilitates proper breathing, proper functioning of the bodily organs (as nothing is compressed) and as mentioned, proper transfer of weight through the joints.

Want to learn more about good posture?  Check back the rest of the week for more on head placement, pelvic placement and more!

April 17, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

Golfers find better posture through Pilates, part 4

golf-pilates-pics-41To complete our series of articles outlining the ideal set-up for the golf swing, we will discuss the importance of shoulder placement.  As with all aspects of alignment, Pilates can help build body awareness and bring attention to bad habits!

Our first article discussed ideal alignment in the set-up, which stated that the shoulder of the dominant hand should be slightly lower than the other, as the dominant hand should be slightly lower than the other, as the dominant hand holds lower on the club.  Because the dominant hand is lower (the right hand in the photo), this sets the spine on a slight tilt to the right, which should be maintained during the back swing.  Thus, from the side, a forward lean, and from the front, a sideways lean, is present.

“One of the most common faults is to have the right shoulder too low at address,” explains Rick.  (See picture below left.)  “This creates a position that forces the arms to dominate the backswing instead of the core muscles, which should be in control.  Also, when the right shoulder is excessively low, the body is not centered, which prevents a sound pivot as the shoulders are unable to turn at 90 degrees to the spine.  The result is a powerless swing which could lead to injury.”

golf-pilates-pics-42 golf-pilates-pics-43

Rick continues, “Less common is a tilt to the left, or to the side of the non-dominant arm.  (See picture above right.)  The elbows of both arms should be loosely bent — not locked — so that the arms have energy in them without being rigid.”  The picture below shows the side view again, from the side of the dominant arm, which you can use to improve your positioning further.

golf-pilates-pics-44To continue improving your body awareness and to strengthen your abs and back more, try Obliques Roll Back, Swimming and “the Banana” from the Side Leg Lift SeriesObliques Roll Back strengthens the spine in rotation and flexion, Swimming targets the muscles of the back and “the Banana” strengthens the obliques and improves lateral flexion.  For simple arm exercises that will help rid the body of excess shoulder tension, try Pilates in Ten — Arms!

“Tis the season for golfing again, so brush up on your golf game and blow the competition away when you hit the green again!  Contact Rick Nielsen at Power Golf Pilates, powergolfpilates.net!

April 16, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

Golfers find better posture through Pilates, part 2

power-golf-pilates-1Yesterday we showed you “ideal” alignment in the set-up of the golf swing.  Today, we’ll discuss one of the most common errors that negatively impact the success of the swing:  rounding the shoulders and the spine.

“Most golfers bend from the waist instead of the hip sockets due to lack of body awareness and the inability to physically do it,” says our favorite Golf and Pilates expert Rick Nielsen.  “The hip girdle and spine should be tilted forward about 25 degrees to allow the arms to hang freely and the club to move around the spine in a predictable manner.”

Rick suggests holding a golf club at your back to keep the spine straight before and then leaning forward from the hip socket.  “Of course your entire spine will not stay in contact with the club due to the spine’s natural curves,” says Rick, “but doing this can tell you if you are rounding your spine.”

The below picture shows proper set-up:

power-golf-pilates-2Not only does setting up with rounded shoulders and a rounded spine take the body out of the optimal alignment needed for a good swing, it could also lead to injury.  Rotating the spine abruptly with the spine flexed (rounded) instead of straight is more damaging to the discs and the surrounding musculature.

To build body awareness and strengthen appropriate muscle groups, try the following exercises:

1.    The Spine Twist:  This original Pilates exercise will teach you to keep your hips completely still and just rotate the spine. This will strengthen the deep muscles that stabilize the spine and build awareness of the ribcage and the hips as independently moving parts.

2.    The Spine Stretch Forward:  This original Pilates exercise takes you from a straight spine to a flexed spine and then back to a straight spine again…all using the abdominal muscles instead of gravity!  This is a great choice for those of you who may not know your spine is rounded to begin with!

3.    The Saw:  This original Pilates exercise combines flexion (rounding) of the spine with rotation, building abdominal strength and body awareness.

For all of the above exercises, it may be necessary to sit up on a cushion or pad if the hamstrings or hip flexors are tight.  The most important part of these exercises is to perform them from an optimal starting position, which means the spine should be as straight as possible.  It is ok to perform these exercises sitting in a chair as well!  (Hint….you could probably sneak some of these in at work!)

Interested in longer workouts?  Try the “My First Pilates Workout” or “Technique and Fundamentals” workout from UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com!  And if you’re interested in a golf lesson, don’t call us!  Contact Rick Nielsen at PowerGolfPilates.net.

April 13, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . 1. Leave a comment.

Pilates for two: Spice up your workout! part 4

pilates-for-two-part-41Now it’s time to work the abs more and stretch at the same time! Today’s exercise is the original Pilates exercise “the Roll Up.” Here, using a stretch band with a partner, you’ll get support from your partner and the band to help you articulate through the spine, and you’ll get a fabulous stretch while providing the support for your partner!

So here’s how you do it: To start, sit up as tall as possible facing each other with the abs pulling in and the spine straight. Ideally, the legs will be straight and together as well, BUT if the hamstrings are tight making it impossible to straighten the spine and the legs simultaneously, then bend the knees and focus on straightening the spine as much as you can in the start position! Hold the band, one holding the middle of the band shoulder distance apart, the other holding the edges.

Inhale, one partners starts to roll back one vertebrae at a time while the other reaches forward. Then exhale and continue rolling back (while the other reaches forward) until the individual rolling back is lying on the mat with the arms reaching overhead. At this point, the other partner is indulging in a forward bend stretch.

pilates-for-two-part-42Inhale, start to reverse, the partner on the floor lifts the head and shoulders and starts to roll up while the stretching partner starts to roll back.  Exhale, continue rolling up and back respectively until the reverse is happening…

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Repeat 4-6 times according to both partners’ strength and flexibility.

April 8, 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.

Helpful Hints for the Half Swan

instructors-167This gem of a Pilates exercise never quite gets the props we think it deserves, and yet no Pilates mat class is complete without it.  Sometimes called the Breast Stroke Prep (Stott Pilates(r)), or Cobra (yoga), or Sphinx (GYROTONIC(r)), the Half Swan targets the muscles of the upper back to create better posture and create a counterbalance to the usually over-dominant muscles of the front of the body, namely the pectoralis major and anterior deltoids.

When performing the Half Swan, try not to rely too much on your arms — make it about your back!  A good way to test this is to lift your hands off the mat slightly once you’ve reached your maximum thoracic extension.  Notice we said YOUR maximum…. this is certainly no exercise to try to compare yourself to the person next to you, or on your Pilates video!  ….And this includes the two of us!  We naturally have a good range of extension available to us.  Those of you who’ve been following our podcasts and free online Pilates videos for a while know that the flipside of our wide range of extension is our very limited range of flexion.  Don’t compare!

Also, be careful of your neck!  It is VERY tempting to lift your chin up and/or lift your eyes to the ceiling…DON’T!  This will put alot of strain on your neck.  If you’re unsure if your neck is in the right place, please view our free online Pilates technique video.

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Finally, Half Swan is an EXCELLENT exercise for those suffering from osteoporosis or poor posture in general.  If you fall in this category, doing Half Swan as shown in the podcast or picture may be challenging.  A rule of instructors-169thumb for all Pilates exercises:  if you can’t get into the start position comfortably, then don’t do it!  Instead, lie on your bed (firmer mattress preferred), or something at least 1-2 feet off the ground, with your ribcage at the edge, allowing our head and shoulders to fall toward the floor.  (as pictured)  This will be your start position.  Inhale to prepare, then, exhale to lift… even if you only lift a little bit, you are still working the right muscles.  The goal would be to get your full torso parallel to the floor.  Be patient with yourself, as this may take some time!  If you feel any strain or discomfort in your lower back, reduce the range of motion or hang less of your body off the bed or bench.  The muscles of the upper back, not the lower back, are the ones we want to target.

Do the Half Swan (or Breast Stroke prep, or Cobra, or Sphinx) consistently, and the muscles of your upper back will strengthen and your posture will improve!

January 19, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.