Tips for Tackling the Teaser

teaserThose of you Pilates enthusiasts who know us or who have watched our Pilates workouts also know that the Teaser, given the fact that we have such tight lower backs, was a real zinger for us to master.  While it was possible to accomplish something that looks “Teaser-esque” using sheer momentum, that is hardly Pilates’ version of the Teaser.  A “perfect” Teaser should be executed with control, finesse, methodical in nature every time.  After all, the real secret to the Teaser, besides abdominal strength, is SEQUENCING!!  Getting sequencing correct in the Teaser can be your Golden Ticket to better success with not only this Pilates exercise, but also more enjoyable Pilates workouts from here on end.

Try these ten tips for tackling the Teaser step by step:

1. Rome was not built in a day!!  Spare yourself frustration and don’t try to conquer the Teaser on your first try.

2.  Don’t compare yourself to others…  As we always say, the gods of Pilates are fair!!  Sometimes people with very little experience can just do the teaser because of a very flexible spine, forgiving ratio of torso to leg length, or whatever.  Simply focus on you and your needs!!

3. Work on the Pilates exercises that will help you execute the Teaser a little bit every day.  Even 5 minutes a day will do the trick.  Actually this will be much more effective than working for 20 -25 minutes on the same muscle group, which will simply cause a lot of fatigue.

4. Make sure that you can do the following Pilates exercises to strengthen the upper fibers of the abdominals:  Half Curl, Hundreds, Half Roll Down, Roll Up, Rolling Like a Ball, Open Leg Rocker Balance, Open Leg Rocker

5. Make sure that you can do the following Pilates exercises to strengthen the lower fibers of the abdominals and hip flexors:  Scisorss, Double Leg Stretch, Hip Twist, Roll Over, Open Leg Rocker

6. Go through the progressions of the Teaser.  Start with Teaser 1, not Teaser 3 or 4!!  Make sure that you can do each Tier relatively well before challenging yourself with a more difficult progression.

7. For Teaser 1, really work on rolling through the spine and finding the proper place to arrive for the “V” sit.  Remember, you are not directly up on your sits bones!!   For those of you who have difficulty lifting the torso off the mat, using a stretch band around the feet or holding a weighted medicine ball or mini body bar (3-5 pounds is usually more than enough!) will assist you by carrying your weight forward for you.

8. For Teaser 2, try the modifications with only one leg lifted at a time.  Perfect these, and then move on to the both legs lifted version.  Even when you progress to both legs lifted, you can always bend your knees slightly to start just to make the lever a little bit shorter.

9. For Teaser 3, and all teasers really, make sure that you are directing your energy forward to the level of your own knees and not up to the ceiling, for example.  Lifting your chest too high and too soon will typically pull the lower thoracic spine into slight extension, making it very difficult to complete the exercise.

10. Take a private lesson if you can!  Despite the best efforts of Pilates videos and tips, there is no substitute for excellent one on one instruction!!  A skilled Pilates instructor will be able to discern exactly where the weak spots may lie and help you immensely with the Teaser and other Pilates exercises.

Many of our Pilates mat workouts feature The Teaser in all sorts of variations, so enjoy!!

June 4, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

Tired of your Exercise Routine?? TRY SOMETHING NEW!!!!

stretchAt our Pilates Studio, we hear people complain often about being sick and tired of their workout regime.  There is actually a really easy remedy to this problem:  quit your typical workout regime for  a week or two, and try new things!!  With the beautiful weather comes the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, so why not take a walk, ride a bike, etc?  Better yet, why not try something you’ve never tried before?

Trying new things not only refreshes your mind, but also gives your overworked muscles a break, while introducing movement and stimuli to often dormant muscles.  Moving the body in planes of motion different than what you typically do can reap lots of benefits, including balancing out muscle groups as well as exposing you to a weakness that you may have not known that you had.  With that knowledge, you’ll have something new to target when you return to your regular fitness routine.

You will be amazed with the outcome if you give your mind and body a necessary break.  You’ll come back to your usual Pilates routine refreshed, revived, and invigorated!!

May 28, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com 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.

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.

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.

Pilates for two: Spice up your workout! part 3

air-pushup-couples1So far in our Valentine’s special “Pilates for two” series, we have toned the abdominal muscles with the “Oblique” exercise and sculpted the outer thigh muscles with the “Outer Thigh Toner.”  Now, the “Air Push Up” strengthens and tones the arms.

Start position:  stand facing away from your partner, back to back.  The closer you are together, the easier it may be to balance, but if you want to challenge core strength, step away from one another!  The man holds the middle of the band shoulder distance apart and the woman holds the ends of the band.  Elbows are bent close to the sides with the fists in front of the shoulders.

Inhale, pull in the abdominal muscles and lengthen through the spine.  Make sure the neck and shoulders are relaxed.

Exhale, without elevating the shoulders, extend the elbows to simulate a “push up” in the air.

air-pushup-couples-2Inhale, return to the start positon with control, trying not to rock back and forth on the feet.

Exhale, repeat, adjusting the tension as necessary by either changing the hand position on the band or stepping away (or closer to) one another.  Repeat 10-12 times.

For you men out there, if you find this exercise too easy, don’t fret!  Working with lighter tension can strengthen the smaller muscles of the rotator cuff which always work to stabilize the head of the humerus in the glenohumeral joint.

For more great arm workouts, try “Pilates in Ten Arms” from the Pilates on Fifth Video Podcast or “Strong, Shapely Arms” from the Strong, Svelte and Savvy series of workouts on UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pilates and weight loss, part 4

runningAs the last article in our series about Pilates and weight loss, we will explore cardiovascular conditioning, the most important element in any fitness regime.

Cardiovascular conditioning not only helps maintain a healthy weight, but also strengthens the most important muscle in the body:  the heart!  If the heart is not strong and conditioned, the flattest abs, the most flexible spine and the tightest buns in the world will not make a difference.  Physicians administer a “stress test” to determine one’s fitness level and will not care about a perfect “Teaser” or “Roll Up“!

The American Heart Association recommends adults ages 18-65 engage in 30 minutes of moderate activity five times a week to maintain heart health.  Moderate activity means the heart rate is noticeably higher than it is at rest, but a conversation can still be maintained.  Also, the 30 minutes of exercise do not have to be performed consecutively.  Incremental exercise such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking the dog, vacuuming or raking leaves can all add up to your 30 minutes. For more guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services, click here.

cardiolates-11Our favorite cardiovascular activity is CARDIOLATES, which we developed to integrate the alignment principles of Pilates with the physiological and cardiovascular benefits of rebounding.  We had noticed in our own bodies that as the years rolled by, we were getting “softer” with the same workout regime (“softer” is a nice way of saying fat was increasing and lean body mass was decreasing), and we needed to add in more cardio to avoid what many consider inevitable weight gain over the years.  Yet our bodies were no longer able to endure the impact of running, aerobics and other common cardio activities.  Because the mat of the rebounder absorbs 87% of the shock to the joints, we could rebound without knee, hip and low back pain.  The CARDIOLATES technique encourages rebounding in as close to ideal or “neutral” alignment as possible, so you can apply these principles to a brisk walk as well.

When starting out with cardiovascular activity, be sure to take it slow and work up to 30 minutes if necessary.  Walking is absolutely free, so a great way to start is walking around your neighborhood so you have an exit strategy!  Shopping malls can be great places to walk too, but resist the temptation to walk into every store!

For CARDIOLATES classes near you, check out www.cardiolates.com for studios in your area that offer official CARDIOLATES classes.  If you are in New York, come by Pilates on Fifth for some fun-filled, heart pumping, fat burning CARDIOLATES classes.  For home exercisers out there, check out our CARDIOLATES DVD which was featured on the Martha Stewart Show!

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

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