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.

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.

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.

“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 for two: Spice up your workout! part 2

couples-outer-thigh-tonerEarlier this week, we showed you a great exercise to tone and strengthen your abdominal muscles.  Today we’ll show you an exercise for toning the outer thighs.  Even though the men might not be as eager to tone the outer thighs as women, this exercise also challenges and improves balance.

Here’s how to execute the outer thigh toner exercise:

Start Position:  Stand next to each other with a stretch band tied around the outside ankle.  Stand far enough away so that the band is not too loose to start (but not too tight!)  Pull in the abs, lengthen through your spine and inhale to prepare.

Exhale and maintain your balance as you lift the outside leg to the side.

couples-outer-thigh-toner-2Inhale, lower the leg back to the start position (but no need to transfer full weight to the leg as you will be repeating the movement!)

Exhale, repeat, trying not to maintian perfect balance for 8-10 repetitions.  Repeat with the other leg.

Remember, exercises with the stretch band require cooperation and teamwork!  By working on control and focusing on precision, you can both tone your muscles….without knocking each other over!

Want to do more workouts together?  Log onto UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com for lots of FREE full-length Pilates videos online.

March 25, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com 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.

Pilates for two: Spice up your workout!

couples-obliques-12Working out with a partner can be motivating, challenging and FUN!

Our first exercise is an abdominal exercise for the obliques.  You will need a stretch band, which can be purchased online, or exercise tubing can work well too.

Start Position:  Sit up as tall as possible facing your partner with your knees bent and feet braced against each other’s.  Pull in your abs and try to lengthen your spine.  We suggest that the man hold the middle of the band, approximately shoulder distance apart, and the woman hold the ends of the band so that she can adjust the tension.*

Inhale, pull in the abdominal muscles and lengthen up through the spine.

Exhale, roll back off the sit bones, simultaneously rotating the rib cage to the right and bending the right arm.

couples-obliques-2

couples-obliques-3

Inhale, pass through the start position, keeping the abdominal muscles engaged.

Exhale, roll back of the sit bones, simultaneously rotating the rib cage to the left and bending the left arm.

couples-obliques-4

Repeat this exercise 8-10 times, 4-5 times each side.

*The greater the tension, the more support there is for the abdominal muscles, but the harder the exercise will be on the muscles of the arm.  If the woman holds the band, she can reach further up the band for more tension (more support) or more towards the edges of the band for less tension, less support.

For more great stretch band workouts, log onto www.ultimatepilatesworkouts.com and try the “Tighten and Tone” workout or try our “Pilates in Ten” podcasts for Arms and Legs, which also use the stretch band.

March 23, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

Pilates and weight loss, part 3

obliques-roll-downThis week we have been discussing Pilates, weight loss and the factors that contribute to weight loss.  Stress is often cited as a cause of weight gain — or weight loss — and Pilates is often cited as a stress-reducing exercise system.  So today we will explore the effects stress has on the body and how Pilates can help.

After sifting through all the information available on the internet regarding stress and weight fluctuations, we came to one conclusion:  doctors and researchers disagree on the exact hormonal changes stress induces in the body that could lead to changes in weight.  In short, some believe stress increases cortisol levels which causes weight gain.  But according to the Mayo Clinic, “…there is no evidence that the amount of cortisol produced by a healthy individual under stress is enough to cause weight gain.”  In fact, popular diet pills which claimed to be “cortisol blockers” were recently banned by the FDA for unsubstantiated claims of weight loss, and the companies were forced to pay millions in consumer refunds.  For a review of other diet pills by the Mayo Clinic, click here.

Other sites discuss stress-induced insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome as additional causes of weight gain.  Undoubtedly, stress is damaging to the body, but each individual has his/her own unique health concerns and his/her own predispositions to certain health issues.  Thus, we have included links to the additional information, but would prefer to focus on that which the experts DO agree!

scissorsMost researchers, physicians and nutritionists agree that “emotional eating” or “nervous eating” remains the true reason stress leads to weight gain.  While some respond to stress by NOT eating, many of us reach for the chocolate chip cookie or the entire bag of chips in times of stress.  Because eating healthily — like choosing the carrot sticks over the candy bar — can feel like punishment to the overworked, exhausted, frazzled body, we seek to “take care of ourselves” with food that instantly gratifies us and makes us say “life is good after all!”  The desire to take care of one’s self is a positive act, yet the choices made usually are not the best for the body in the long run.

The good news:  Pilates can help keep stress in check!  It can be hard to shift your thinking to viewing exercise as a reward and a gift you give to yourself, but our suggestion is simple — give it a try!  Wouldn’t it be worth it if you slept better or felt better about yourself after your workout?  Try the Renew and Revitalize Workout from UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com for an energizing, core strengthening workout, or the Strength and Challenge Workout for a more challenging routine that will surely release excess stress!

If you’re struggling with cravings, unfortunately, there is no easy solution.  Try a Hershey’s Kiss instead of the entire candy bar, or buy a smaller bag of chips if you fear you’ll devour a large bag before you know it.  Satisfying a craving is not the problem…the degree to which one satisfies a craving usually is!  You just have to decide “will eating this make me more or less happy in the long run…..”

March 20, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

The potpourri of Pilates in New York City

treeDo you remember your favorite teacher from high school? If you’re like most people, your favorite teacher significantly influenced your interest in the subject she taught. Well, it’s no surprise that your first Pilates teacher will most likely shape your preferences for one type of Pilates over another — for better or worse!

As for the two of us, we don’t have “Pilates bodies” — and some Pilates teachers we’ve had through the years made us abundantly aware of that fact! I wanted to feel GOOD leaving a session, but instead felt like Quasimodo and wished I’d had a potato sack to hide my deformed, twisted, imperfect body. Of course we both ended up embracing the type of Pilates that was taught to us by a teacher who was open, fun, inspiring, life-affirming, attentive to imbalances but full of compassion and had us feeling really GREAT about our bodies and our potential after the lesson.

If you have tried Pilates and hated it, then by all means, give it another try. Maybe you and the teacher just didn’t “click.” To make this easier for you, we have included some links to some great Pilates studios in the city, all of which teach slightly different styles of Pilates. Of course we’d love to see you at our studio, Pilates on Fifth, but we also know that location and style can be everything, and there are many great Pilates studios here in NYC! Here’s the list….and we know all of these owners and can state confidently that they are exceptionally qualified AND kind individuals who are dedicated to their craft.

LindaFit by Linda Farrell: www.lindafit.com. Linda is a beautiful lady both inside and out and teaches fabulous body-sculpting mat classes throughout the city (just check out her legs if you don’t believe us!) She teaches at Steps, Broadway Dance Center and Equinox among other locations.

Rolates, run by Roberta Kirschenbaum: www.rolates.com. Roberta is kind and wise — a perfect combination for a great Pilates instructor and studio owner. Rolates often conducts innovative, educational workshops and has the added bonus of inhabiting Joseph Pilates’ original studio space!

Pilates Reforming New York, run by husband and wife team Ann Toran and Errol Toran: www.pilatesreformingny.com. Ann delivers challenging core-strengthening, elongating workouts conveniently scheduled throughout the day. Pilates Reforming New York specializes in energizing group reformer classes.

Power Pilates, presided over by Dr. Howard Sichel: www.powerpilates.com. Dr. Sichel and Power Pilates has an amazing team of leaders in the Pilates industry providing high quality instruction at 6 locations throughout New York City and more throughout the country.

So remember….if you tried Pilates once and didn’t like it, please give it another chance! Maybe it isn’t for you, but if you’re reading this, then you’re interested enough to give it another try!

March 19, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings. Leave a comment.

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