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!!

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

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.

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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