The New Year and Resolutions

Happy New Year!!!

Now is the time of year that everyone flocks back to the gym, the personal trainer, the Pilates class, or the yoga studio after weeks, or even months of abandoning the regular “routine”.  At our Pilates studio, we too are jumping on the Resolution bandwagon with the implementation & promotion of “Fit & Fabulous in 50 Days!”, assuming, of course that 50 days would be about the time it takes to make a lifestyle change.  Actually, it’s very easy to resolve to make a change, either by deleting or adding something to our lifestyle, but how easy is it to MAKE the change?

Well, we decided to do a little poking around, and we found a number of sources that stated, and with a great deal of “authority” at that, that it takes 21 to 28 days to change a habit.  By this logic, if all of us can just stick with our new routines, whatever they may be, until January 31 or so, then we’ll have no problem keeping our resolutions until the end of the year.   …Yeah, right!  We all know that it’s not so easy!!

So, we continued to search for other articles about habits, and habit forming, and we came across this one (click here!) We highly suggest that you read it, but this article sites a study in which it took some participants UP TO 245 DAYS to change their habits!!!!  The average was around 66 days.  Well, if 66 is the average, then maybe we’re not too far off with our 50 day plan!

At our studio, because we offer not only Pilates (Pilates mat classes and Pilates Reformer classes, yay!), but also XTEND™, CARDIOLATES®, GYROTONIC®, and ActivCore, we figure we have enough in one location to keep even the most ardent sufferers of ADD satisfied and entertained!  Couple that with the whole idea of muscle confusion that has become popular, and our New Year’s Resolution plan should really kick off the New Year right!!

We’re actually looking for 10-12 people who want to be case studies at our Manhattan Pilates studio!  If you are interested, please send an email to projects@pilatesonfifth.com and please put PILATES NYC in the subject line!!

THANK YOU!!

Katherine & Kimberly

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January 6, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . ACTIVCORE®, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

How to work your abs WITHOUT FLEXING YOUR SPINE!

short plank pilatesAs we wrote in our last blog, when a client asks to “work their abs,” it is very easy to fall into the trap of delivering an hour of flexion exercises.  Hearing our clients squeal “oh I feel my abs” is most gratifying, and as we all know, this result is most quickly achieved when many flexion exercises are performed in succession.

But for the spine’s long term health AND balance of the muscles in the torso, varying spinal movement is absolutely essential.  Additionally, exercises requiring stabilization in neutral add a new dimension of body awareness and abdominal work to a client’s routine.  Not only do such exercise help teach a client where neutral is in their own body, but also trains the muscles in the body to support the body there.

For starters, simple exercise like sitting upright, right on top of the sit bones, on the stability ball can start to bring awareness to the abdominal muscles’ role in holding the spine and pelvis in neutral.  Once this is mastered, practicing alternating lifting and lowering the legs (we call this “marching”) further challenges core strength.

Every piece of equipment, including the mat, includes exercises in neutral, so don’t forget to include them in your clients’ sessions.  The Reformer and Cadillac provide many exercises in which the spine is stabilized in neutral against the movement of the arms and legs.  These exercises can be modified for all levels, so beginning and advanced clients alike can benefit.  The Chair, on the other hand, offers many “neutral” exercises, but given the balance and core strength required for many of them, these exercises may not be the most suitable for the first session (depending on your client’s strength and ability, of course.)

Personally, we LOVE the prone exercises on the chair!  One of our biggest problems to this day is popping ribs, and the prone chair exercises help bring awareness to the muscles we need to use ALWAYS to prevent this from happening.  Because the weight of the legs is unsupported in this series, you can try backing the chair up to the Cadillac (providing your Chair and Cadillac bed are the same height) so that the client’s lower body is fully supported if necessary.  Likewise, side lying exercises on the Cadillac and Barrels are excellent ways to work all four layers of the abdominal muscles while working the legs or arms, depending on the exercise.

In fact, we encourage all readers to challenge themselves to incorporate at least 10 “stabilization in neutral” exercises into all of their sessions this week.  If you have a client with a disc injury (a herniation, etc.), you are surely an old pro at this!  If you have not yet HAD to program this way, staring now when it is “fun” is an excellent way to prepare for the client you will have – one day – who can not flex his/her spine.

June 24, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . 1, Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

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.

An Off-Topic Pilates Blog: THE GUY IN THE GLASS

Once in a while we come across something that really resonates with us! This poem was first introduced to us when we were children… we memorized it then, have never forgotten it, and now it is displayed in a frame in our office. We both love this poem so much and hope you all like it too!

When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf*

And the world makes you king for a day,

Then go to the mirror and look at yourself

And see what the guy has to say,

For it isn’t your father, your mother, or wife

Who, judgment upon you must pass,

For the fellow whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest

For he’s with you clear up to the end,

And you’ve passed the most dangerous, difficult test

If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like little Jack Horner and chisel a plum

And think you’re a wonderful guy,

But the guy in the glass thinks you’re only a bum

If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years

And get pats on the back as you pass,

But your final reward will be heartache and tears

If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

Author: Dale Wimbrow (1895-1954)

Pelf–noun: money or wealth, esp. when regarded with contempt or acquired by reprehensible means. (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pelf)

May 7, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , . ACTIVCORE®, Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com 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.

Can Pilates help reduce cellulite?

small-ball-toning-workoutThough Pilates was designed to re-align the body and re-balance muscle groups, many people — namely women — use Pilates for vanity!  From sculpted arms to toned abs to tighter hips and buttocks, Pilates definitely helps prepare the body for bikini weather!

But many people seek to “spot tone” and accomplish cellulite reduction in specific areas.  At our New York studio, second only to questions about weight loss, women ask “will my cellulite go away?”  Unfortunately, spot toning is not possible with Pilates or any other exercise system.  Cellulite reduction occurs only with fat loss.

Factors that contribute to one’s susceptibility to cellulite development are gender, race, age and body composition.  Women are more prone to cellulite development than men.  This is due to structural differences in the connective tissue that lie below the skin in men and women.  If you think of connective tissue as fish net stockings lying under the top layer of skin, men have smaller squares per inch in their fish net stockings, and the “netting” is thicker and lies more horizontal to the skin’s surface.  On the other hand, in women, the squares are larger, the netting is thinner and the strands of the netting lie vertical to the skin’s surface.  Thus, more fat breaks through the squares and produces the dimpling effect on the skin’s surface.

Moreover, studies have shown that caucasian women are more susceptible to cellulite development, whereas African American and Asian women are less susceptible.  Just as darker skin tones — those with more melanin — display a stronger resistance to UV rays, so to do darker skin tones show more resistance to cellulite development.  As the levels of melanin, and thus skin tones, can vary greatly among caucasians, an individual’s susceptibility to cellulite development will depend on genetic make-up.  The more an individual tans naturally, the more melanin in their body, and the more resistant to cellulite development they naturally are.  Redheads with blue eyes have the least amount of melanin in their bodies, while African American women with dark eyes have the most.

Next, the natural process of aging causes a decrease in firmness of the skin.  The older one is, the more susceptible they are to cellulite development.  Research indicates that most women start noticing cellulite most after the age of thirty.  This should not be new information to anyone, as wrinkles start to appear “suddenly” after age 30 as well.

Finally, body composition plays a part in cellulite development.  Bodies with a lower body fat percentage will be less susceptible to cellulite because the fat simply is not there!  Increasing your body’s lean mass (or increasing muscle tone) will not only help that percentage, but also increase the body’s metabolism, or capacity to burn more calories, even when the body is at rest.

Pilates helps increase muscle tone, so in a very indirect way, yes, Pilates can help.  But if your goal is to rid yourself of unsightly cellulite, you must do more than Pilates.  Both engaging in cardiovascular activity and consuming a sensible diet are key components that can not be overlooked.  As you know, we recommend CARDIOLATES, but any physical activity that elevates the heart rate is effective.

Losing overall body fat and increasing overall muscle tone will help you lose the unwanted cellulite!  So keep up with your Pilates, take a brisk walk a day and watch what you eat!

April 7, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

Distinguishing good pain from bad pain in Pilates

spine-twistAs Pilates instructors, addressing a client’s questions regarding a sensation they are feeling in their body presents a challenge — and a dilemma. Sometimes, a muscle is working, which is “good pain,” but other times, pain is not at all good. So how do we answer?

We would love to be able to enter our clients’ bodies for that instant to evaluate whether the pain is good or bad, but alas, we can not! Thus it is important for Pilates practitioners to learn to distinguish good pain from bad pain.

If you are sitting down reading this, contract your gluteus maximus muscles (the ones you are sitting on) and hold the contraction until you start to feel the muscles tiring. (If you have an injury in your low back, sacrum or hips, please do not do this.) This is typically considered “good pain,” as it is the sensation you get from a muscle working. It is often referred to as “muscle burn.”

For a relatively safe example of bad pain, take your ring finger and gently pull it back towards your wrist until you experience discomfort. In most cases, because this joint does not have a lot of flexibility, you quickly feel discomfort and know instinctively that you should stop.

The difficulty in discerning the good pain from the bad pain in Pilates arises from practitioners experiencing bad pain and thinking it is good pain. They don’t want to give up or complain, so they continue exercising. One of the most common examples of this is neck pain in a Pilates session. Because many Pilates exercises require you to lift your head off the mat, the muscles in your neck must engage as well as the abdominal muscles. Many clients experience muscle fatigue in their necks quickly, and if they do not rest, this can turn into muscle strain.

Learning for yourself what is good pain and bad pain in your body is very important. Feeling your muscles working is normal, but feeling discomfort is not! If you have trouble distinguishing between the two, please discuss this with your Pilates instructor. Also, following a workout, delayed onsent muscle soreness is normal, so feeling sore the next day is not a cause for alarm.

Those of you at home doing workout videos, be careful about turning your head to watch the television while exercising! This is a recipe for neck pain!

April 6, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

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)!

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.

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