Away with Diet Soda!!! Why we love METROMINT!

metromintAfter we opened Pilates on Fifth in 2000, we were surprised to learn how many people think the owners of a Pilates studio should be paragons of healthy lifestyles at all times.  For the most part, we are!  We eat sensibly, avoid alcohol and have never smoked (or even just inhaled for that matter!!)

But until recently, our day wasn’t complete without a Super Size diet soda.  Before we lived in NYC, the obscenely large “Big Gulp” or its cousin “the Biggie” filled to the brim with diet soda was the highlight of our day.  And to be honest, sometimes, we would not stop at one.  If these establishments offered free refills, then I shudder to think how much we imbibed.

Neither of us will ever forget the looks on our clients’ faces when we’d walk in with our enormous diet soda, grinning from ear to ear as we slurped on our favorite little vice.  Many clients lectured us on the deleterious effects of diet soda, and while we knew they were right, we really found it YUMMY and immensely satisfying!  Some of you may be cringing – others may identify with the sweet pleasure one can derive from the artificial sweeteners and the fizzies.   Regardless, many of our clients were appalled.

Did this stop us?  NO!  We tried to find an alternative that we actually enjoyed, but to no avail.  Truth be told, neither of us can survive on water alone!  We need flavor and pizzazz!  Thus, we became masterful at sneaking in to our own studio with 32 oz extra-large diet sodas concealed on our person.  Yes, that’s right.  We would furtively drink our diet soda like naughty little kids in our office, then gracefully sip our bottled water in front of clients.  This behavior persisted for years.

UNTIL NOW!!!  We discovered Metromint this past summer, and instantly fell in love.  We really don’t want to sound like a commercial, but Metromint water is refreshing, fun and satisfying and contains all the pizzazz we need to brighten our day.  We love having SIX different flavors to choose from, so we can select the flavor that goes best with our respective moods.  Let’s face it:  we don’t only drink to quench our thirst, we drink to be satisfied on an emotional level as well.  SO, having a means of enjoying different tastes without calories or all the chemicals in diet soda is a real thrill.

Metromint gets its delicious, refreshing taste from a dash of mint oils (peppermint and spearmint) and essences of cherry, lemon, orange and chocolate.  We’ve started selling it at our studio and clients can’t get enough!

And the best part?  We’re truly not craving diet soda!  Metromint has effectively conquered our cravings, which is nearly miraculous.  We love it and we are now better role models to our clients too (just don’t open our chocolate drawer!)

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April 30, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, The Pilates Center of New York Postings. Leave a comment.

The Q Angle and Pilates, part two

q-angleOn Friday, we discussed the Q Angle and how it affects womens fitness. The Q Angle can be the culprit of many knee injuries for active women. However, infusing a regime of conditioning exercises that target to strengthen the muscles around the knee can reduce the chance of injury. Pilates offers an array of such exercises that are not only low impact, but increase knee muscular strength and stability. We have incoporated a list of these preventative exercises below. Before we go into the list, there are a couple of things we would like to note!

1) You’re not going to change your bones, but you can strengthen the muscles around the knee and in the upper thigh to reinforce proper biomechanics.

2) Pilates is an excellent form of cross-training, but to really prepare your knee for the stresses placed on it with your favorite sport, exercises that do involve gravity, plyometrics and controlled instability will be absolutely necessary. There is a great article on ACL injury prevention exercises at about.com.

3) If you know your knees are vulnerable, then running may never be for you. But there is always the elliptical, the stair master, spinning, and our favorite, rebounding. Even though rebounding does involve more weight going through the joint, it is more gentle than running because the mat absorbs over 87% of the shock. Our clients and instructors who are not able to run because of knee pain can typically rebound without any pain at all.

4) With all exercises, standing or supine, make sure that your knee is tracking over the center of your foot… between the 2nd & 3rd toe. For more information, click here.

5) It is also wise to check if your femur (thigh bone) in rotating internally or externally as you bend or straighten your knees.

Some exercises that specifically target the musculature around the knee which may enhance overall knee stability. All of these exercises are either featured in one of our podcasts, our Pilates on the Go! DVD, or one of our specialty leg workouts at UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com. This list is certainly not all inclusive; it’s simply some of the exercises that popped into mind first.

Mat

Shoulder Bridge

One Leg Kick

Single Leg Stretch

Short Plank 3

Side Leg Lift Series

Standing Balance Exercises

Ball

Footwork

Bend & Stretch

Standing Squats with ball against wall (reduce range if necessary)

Stretch Band

Footwork with Band

Side Lying Series

Side Lying Bend & Stretch

Kick Back

Reformer

Footwork

Bend & Stretch

Knee Stretches (not for knees in their vulnerable state)

Chair

Foot Press on Long Box

Standing Leg Press

Forward Step Up (harder)

Forward Step Down (even harder)

Cadillac

Bend & Stretch

Supine Bend & Stretch

Side Lying Side Kick Series

Squats

As we mentioned in our previous blog about the Q angle & Pilates, your Q angle will not decrease regardless of how diligent you are with your exercises. However, as an increased Q angle increases the chance of injury, these exercises, done with proper biomechanics and alignment will strengthen the muscle around the knee, creating a much more stable joint. For a visual of the Q Angle, click here. To better understand the Q Angle and how it can affect your fitness regime, click here to read on with Elizabeth Quinn’s article.

April 27, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

The Q-angle and Pilates

child_knee_jumpers_causes021Have you ever wondered why some people can run marathon after marathon without knee pain, while others attempt to begin an exercise fitness program of running which inevitably sidelines them for weeks, even months with a knee injury? Well, the culprit may very well be a large Q angle, or, very simply, the angle at which the femur (the thigh bone) meets the tibia (the shin bone). If you’re having a hard time visualizing these concepts, stand in front of a mirror and notice where your hip bone is in relation to your knee cap. Most marathon runners, even females, have VERY narrow hips. Their hip bones and knee caps are close to vertical alignment. This would be a Q angle of no more than 5-6 degrees.

Most of us women have hips that are wider than that. Dr. Elizabeth Quinn wrote about the Q-angle for about.com: “On average this [the Q] angle is degrees greater in women than in men. It is thought that this increased angle places more stress on the knee joint, as well as leading to increased foot pronation in women. While there may be other factors that lead to increase risk of injury in women athletes (strength, skill, hormones, etc..), an increased Q-angle has been linked to: patellofemoral pain syndrome, chondromalaycia, and ACL injuries.” While we HIGHLY recommend that you read the whole article (it’s fantastic), we would like to share how to incorporate the knowledge of the Q angle into your Pilates exercise and fitness routine.

Pilates, even mat Pilates is EXCELLENT for strengthening the muscles around the knee, which will help prevent injury. On top of that, Pilates exercises are impact-free: your knee is not overloaded with extra weight, surging through your joint at an oblique (non-vertical) angle. BUT, to get the most out of Pilates you must focus on the star muscle of the knee, the vastus medialis. We wrote alot about the vastus medialis in our “Straighten your Knees, Please!“, blog, but it really cannot be stressed enough. As we know the main question will be which exercises you should do, we’ve composed a list of exercises involving mat exercises with small equipment, as well as Pilates equipment exercises, to follow on Monday. Stay tuned!

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

Pilates lovers: challenge your core with this core strength test

core_challenge_small2If you’re a Pilates instructor or an avid Pilates practitioner, you most likely think you have a really strong core.  We certainly did!  So we searched the internet for a “core strength test” to prove our power.  What an eye-opener!  The test explained below and the video link provided shows you what we found.

Joseph Pilates did not invent this test, nor did we.  This three minute test was designed by Brian Mackenzie, a British sports conditioning coach.  We have videotaped it so that you don’t have to stare at a clock or a watch the whole time (although watching the second hand slowly make its way around the clock three times does add enhance the enjoyment facor as you can imagine!)  Hopefully our cues for proper positioning will help you out as well.  If you’re at work and can’t watch the video, the “test” proceeds as follows:

Elbow Plank (as pictured) for 1 minute
Lift one arm for 15 seconds
Lift opposite arm for 15 seconds
Lift one leg for 15 seconds
Lift opposite leg for 15 seconds
Lift arm and opposite leg for 15 seconds
Reverse, lifting other arm and opposite leg for 15 seconds
Return to the elbow plank for the final 30 seconds

That’s it!  If you feel your back starting to arch (which those of you who are slightly anteriorly tilted in the pelvs — like us — may find happens), you must bend your knees and rest for a few seconds before continuing.  And for that matter, if you experience any other discomfort, REST!  You have plenty of time to work up to the full three minutes.

One final but very important note:  WE’RE NOT PERFECT!  In fact, given our body types (anteriorly tilted pelvis), this test was extremely challenging, and we could not do the whole thing the first time we tried it.  For instance, in the video, I say “keep your shoulders level” and lamentably, mine are not level, though I am trying!

A strong core has been shown to benefit people in all activities from golfers to runners, from new moms to senior citizens.  Take your time with this test and remember:  core strength is a journey!  Enjoy the journey!

April 22, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . 1, 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 3

golf-pilates-posture-311Adding on to our week long investigation of the set-up of the golf swing and common problems to avoid, we’ll highlight another common problem and show you how Pilates can help.

PGA certified golf instructor and certified Pilates instructor Rick Nielsen cites “sitting in the set-up” as another habit that essentially kills all hope for a good swing!

As stated in Part 1 of our Golf and Pilates series, in the set-up position, “the knees should be slightly bent…”  So don’t squat!  Sitting in the set-up position displaces the body’s weight backwards, thus the relationship of your body to the ball is altered, as the picture below shows.

golf-pilates-posture-321The exercises we described last time – the Spine Twist, the Spine Stretch Forward and the Saw – are excellent choices here as well, as all three exercises bring awareness to spinal movement and proper posture.  To conquer the sitting habit, try this:

1.    Stand with your back against a stability ball against a wall, so the ball is between you and the wall.  The ball should be placed roughly at your lower back.  Take a step forward with each foot so that your feet are not directly under you.

2.    Inhale, pull in your abdominal muscles and bend your knees to no more than 90 degrees of flexion, keeping the spine perfectly straight.

3.    Exhale, extend your knees to return to the starting position.

You may be thinking, “how will this teach me NOT to sit?”  This exercise helps build awareness of squatting, as most golfers who have the habit of squatting don’t even realize they are doing it!

Did you feel your core muscles engage doing this ball exercise?  Most likely, the answer is yes!  Well, that is because the ball helps you remain vertical when you bend your knees so that your core muscles engage naturally.  When you perform a typical squat, you have no choice but to stick your backside out and lean forward so that you don’t lose your balance.

Interested in longer workouts?  Try the “Get on the Ball” Workout for more great ball exercises or “Meet Your Core” for great core strengthening workouts using the BOSU from UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com!  And if you’re interested in a golf lesson, don’t call us!  Contact Rick Nielsen at PowerGolfPilates.net.

April 15, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York 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.

Simplifying the Saw

saw“The Saw” is one of those Pilates exercises that a lot of people “just don’t get.”  At first glance, it might just look like a hamstring stretch, but it’s actually more complex.  The Saw is a classical Pilates exercise that increases flexibility of the spine and strengthens the core.  The goal of the exercise is to use the abdominal muscles to rotate the spine, then flex the spine over the leg, scooping in the abdominals.  You can also think of it as combining the classical Pilates exercises of Spine Twist and Spine Stretch Forward.  Now, because some flexibility in the hamstrings as well as freedom of movement through the hip flexors is required, you might find it necessary to sit on a small cushion or even in a chair so that it is easier to keep the focus on the spine and the core.  It’s very important to start the exercise with your pelvis in neutral (think vertical) alignment.  First, rotate your ribcage to one direction, feeling like you are growing taller as you rotate.  Then, imagine that you’re trying to round your spine over a beach ball….  You have to lengthen first, then round to try to go over the ball.  The opposite hand reaches to the outside of your foot, as if you were planning to saw off your baby toe.  The other arm naturally rotates so that the thumb faces the floor…. It’s simply more comfortable!!  For a detailed video of how to get the most out of the Saw, visit our Pilates on Fifth podcast at http://pilatesonfifth.com/video/2007/10/03/saw/.  We also feature the Saw in many of our Mat Pilates Workouts at www.ultimatepilatesworkouts.com.

April 10, 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! 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…

pilates-for-two-part-43

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.

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.

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