Pilates in your everyday life (part four)

How do you spend your days? Do you tend to be in one position for prolonged periods of time? Have you noticed that this affects how your body feels?

When we stay in one position for some time it will have an impact on how our body feels but we might not always be aware of it. If we then repeat that same pattern every day, the impact is likely to become much more noticeable.

For example:

  • If you spend a few hours in the car driving to visit a friend, when you get out of the car you might notice some tightness in the hips, or stiffness in the low back, or maybe some tension in the neck and shoulders. As soon as you stand up and move about, most of those issues will ease-off and you will carry on as usual.
  • If you drive every day for work, you might start to experience more of the same issues more of the time, and you might find that they don’t ease-off quite so quickly/at all. Over time, some of the on-going tightness or tension might then begin to affect your posture, which in turn would cause more tightness or tension in the body.

By changing our posture throughout the day we can try to break the postural patterns we are creating and help to reduce repetitive strain, overuse injuries and fatigue. In part three I talked about ways to break up your day with some movement, and today we are looking specifically at changes you might need to consider for your working environment if you are largely desk-based.

Your working environment:

The goal is to set up your work space so that you can minimise any negative impact on your posture. Here are a few things you might like to consider:

  1. find a supportive chair to reduce muscle fatigue in your lower back – make sure that it is adjustable so that you can get the best fit for your body. Personally I don’t like traditional office chairs but I use a saddle stool on a wheeled base, which enables me to maintain a neutral alignment for my spine without any tension. Find what works for you.
  2. check that you have room under your desk to place your feet flat on the floor – use a footrest if necessary. Aim to have your knees slightly lower than your hips and your feet slightly forward of your knees.
  3. have your keyboard and screen directly in front of you rather than off to one side or at an angle. This allows your shoulders to be square and face the screen fully. Arms are best supported – forearms on the desk and upper arms comfortably by your sides.
  4. set yourself up so that everything you need to access most often is within easy reach to avoid repeated stretching and leaning to one side.
  5. look after your eyes by having your screen about arms length away from you with the top of your screen level with your eyes. Reduce glare from nearby windows by using blinds or curtains. Use appropriate lighting levels to further reduce eye strain.
  6. try to keep your wrists straight while typing, with hands and wrists hovering just above the keyboard. Choose a mouse that fits your hand and move it with your arm instead of bending your wrist into weird positions.
  7. this last one is still on my to-do list, and I know it would make a huge difference – learn to touch-type so that you can keep your head in a neutral position rather than always looking down at your keyboard (as I am doing right now!)

In your car:

Maybe you are not desk-based but spend considerable amounts of time driving each day?

You can apply the same approach to your car:

  1. check your seat position, tilt and height and adjust it again if someone else has been driving your car
  2. position your mirrors so that you are not straining to look at them
  3. consider what shoes you are wearing – heels will change the position of your foot and ankle in relation to the pedals
  4. keep your hands, wrists and arms relaxed

Alignment cues:

Making small changes to your posture will help to reduce neck & shoulder tension, ease back pain and support your body throughout the day. You might also like to think of the alignment cues we use in Pilates and apply these to your working day:

  • lengthen your spine from your tailbone to the crown of your head
  • soften your shoulders
  • gently lengthen the back of your neck by dropping the chin slightly
  • maintain soft, relaxed breathing into your ribcage
  • plant your feet in the earth so that you are grounded (this applies whether you’re seated or standing)
  • find an even weight through your sit-bones when seated

I hope some of these suggestions help you to make some positive postural changes. Keep checking-in with your body as you go through your day until you naturally start adjusting your posture as required.

Let me know if you have any questions at all?

Pilates in your everyday life (part three)

For most of us, a large part of our day can be spent in a seated position. Think about all the time that you spend driving, at your desk, on the sofa, eating, having a coffee – it all adds up to a lot of hours on your bum!

If we lead this sedentary type of lifestyle, the chances are that we will experience some postural issues at some point. Over time you may start to notice an increase in neck or shoulder pain, tension headaches, low back pain or issues with your hips. Lots of these will occur because we tend to have a more relaxed (slouching?!) posture while sitting down but also because we are not using our core muscles to stabilise us, as we do when standing.

Stand up!

A simple way to change your posture and movement patterns, and introduce some elements of Pilates into your everyday life, is to stand more often. Over the next week why not try some of these ideas and see what differences you start to notice:

  • if you are at your desk for long periods during the day, get up and stretch (see below) or have a quick walk around your work-space every 15 minutes; if you’re really short on time, just stand up and sit down again every 15 minutes
  • look for more active ways to socialise with friends – eg.
    • grab a coffee-to-go and take it for a walk rather than sitting at a café
    • visit places which will involve some walking (eg. wander around a NT trust property rather than going to the cinema)
    • encourage friends to join a Pilates class/running club/dance class with you
  • if you’re travelling on public transport alternate between sitting and standing every 10 minutes – don’t try this while driving!
  • when you’re watching television, stand up / change position every 15 minutes (or when the adverts come on) – also try limiting TV time.
  • notice if you always sit on the same section of your sofa and/or in the same position (eg. legs crossed the same way every time) – if you do, making some changes to those habits will make a huge difference to how you feel in your body. It will feel weird to start with but only because your body has become accustomed to being in a certain position – mix it up a bit and your body will quickly adapt
  • finally, if there’s anything that you do which keeps you in one position for prolonged periods, try to change your posture at regular intervals – eg.
    • if you’re reading, keep changing your position and be aware of your head posture (as the head starts to move forward, the neck muscles will have a whole load of extra work to do, so think of stacking your head above your rib cage or using cushions behind your head for support)
    • craft activities often involve looking down at our hands; if you notice that this is an issue for you, take regular breaks to bring your head and neck back into a neutral position and add in some gentle stretches
    • gardening can often involve long periods spent in a bent-forward position – try kneeling down to avoid this and take regular breaks so that you can stand tall again

Standing rotations:

Click here for a short video with some ideas for rotational stretches for your upper back.

These are great to do when you have been sat down for any length of time. You don’t need to do them all – find one or two moves that feel useful and add those to your day whenever you can.

As you start to notice the amount of time you spend sitting down, you can also start to make some small changes which will have a positive impact on your body. Give it a try and let me know how you get on…

step away from your desk & go out to play!

If you missed the earlier posts in this series, you can find them here & here

Pilates in your everyday life (part 2)

Starting Pilates as a new activity can sometimes be frustrating because we tend to naturally want to push ourselves and feel that we are working hard, but the best results come when we work more gently.

Maybe you have been in a class and have found yourself rushing through progressions of exercises, believing that the ‘harder’ options are more beneficial? Or maybe you sometimes engage the muscles really strongly, without noticing that you have created tension somewhere else in the body?

Pilates works more effectively when we take time to build stable foundations. Focusing on the more basic versions of the exercises, paying attention to our breathing and being mindful of our alignment might not seem challenging enough, but they enable us to do the harder work later. This is particularly important if you have/have had chronic pain.

Coping with chronic pain:

If you have experienced pain in the past, it can be hard to come back to exercise without worrying that the pain may recur. It may lead to an avoidance of exercise altogether or it may result in you over-doing things when you’re having a good day, causing an increase in your pain symptoms.

In an ideal world we want to take a more consistent approach by setting some realistic, sustainable activity goals with sensible gradual increases over time.

If you are recovering from a previous injury or a pain condition, start by establishing your baseline for activity – ie. the amount you can do without causing any flare up of your symptoms. It might be a small amount to start with but it will form the foundation for your future progressions. Once you are moving without pain, you can gradually start to increase your activity levels, always staying within your pain-free volume and type of exercise.

Although chronic pain may still cause you flare-ups or setbacks from time-to-time, taking a more structured approach to exercise will help to off-set these issues and be of long-term benefit.

Ideas for daily Pilates practice:

Here are some ideas of how to bring Pilates into your everyday life as part of your daily baseline activity:

  • start with becoming more aware of your posture & alignment (see previous post)
  • practice engaging your core muscles in different positions – eg. when lying down on your side, your back or your front (you could try these before you get out of bed in the morning); or when standing (maybe waiting for the kettle to boil)
    • start by finding a neutral position for your pelvis
    • begin to notice how your body feels as you breathe in and out
    • on an exhale, add a gentle contraction of the deep abdominal muscles – imagine that you are wearing a corset – whilst gently lifting your pelvic floor muscles
    • on an inhale, let the abdominal muscles gently relax again
    • repeat for a few breaths
  • add some gentle stretching to your daily routine, keeping within a comfortable range of motion – try this or this for some seated upper body stretches

I hope that gives you a few ideas about how to bring the benefits of Pilates into your everyday life. It was never intended as something you only do in class – the magic happens when you fully embrace Pilates as a daily practice…

which class is right for me?

Sometimes it is hard knowing where to begin so here is a quick overview of my online fitness classes. Hopefully it will help you to make up your mind if you are undecided which one is best for you.

At present, all classes are live-streamed to your home via Zoom so that you can stay fit and stay home at the same time. If you miss the live-streaming, you can access a recording of your class at a time to suit you.

Here is my latest timetable:

online timetable

Classes can be booked in one of two ways:

  • one-off bookings can be made here
    • from £6 per class
    • book and pay individually for each class
    • after your class has ended, you will receive a copy of the Zoom recording which is available for 7 days
  • a monthly class pass subscription can be purchased here
    • £38 per month
    • unlimited live-streamed classes each week
    • a copy of the Zoom recording for any classes that you book (available for 7 days)
    • your own membership area where you can access recordings of all classes longer term

If you have any questions at all about classes or booking options, please email me for advice.

I look forward to seeing you in the virtual studio very soon Jx

#togetherapart

New online class timetable

We have a shiny, new online class timetable which comes into effect from Monday 6th April!

pilates mat

It may evolve over the coming weeks (I have a couple of extra sessions up my sleeve!) but your new online sessions are currently scheduled as follows:

  • Mondays
    • Fitness Pilates 8pm
  • Tuesdays
    • Kettlebell Express 7am
  • Wednesdays
    • Metabolic Effect Bootcamp 7am
    • Fitness Pilates 7pm
  • Fridays
    • Kettlebell Express 7am
    • Hi-LI Fitness Circuit 9am
    • Fitness Pilates 10am

All classes are booked online.

When you book a class, you will also receive a link to access the live recording afterwards so that you can ‘attend’ at a later time if your prefer. Live recordings will be available for 7 days after the class.

kettlebell upright row

Payment can be made as a one-off booking or via a monthly class pass subscription which gives unlimited access to all sessions.

  • subscription details can be found here
  • classes can be booked here

I look forward to seeing you in the taylor-made fitness virtual studio very soon.

Let me know if you have any questions at all Jx

If you need to set yourself up for home exercise, read my guide about what you might need here

The principles of Pilates – centering

With Pilates the way in which the exercises are executed is of more importance than the number of repetitions completed or the exertion used. Mastering a simple exercise is often far more complicated than forcing the body to create a larger movement. Pilates teaches us to bring subconscious control into habitual movement patterns so that we can move with more ease and efficiency.

mat-work pilates

Following the eight principles of Pilates helps us to get the most from our practice. Last time we looked at concentration.

This time we’re going to look at centering.

Centering:

In Pilates the ‘centre’ refers to the neutral position of the lumbar spine (lower back) & pelvis. Joseph Pilates describes ‘the centre’ as the area between the ribs & the hips, at the front & back of the body. Nowadays we have extended that definition to include the sides of the torso.

Your centre is the pivotal point of the body from which all movements start. Movement, balance, force & strength all come from the centre – a weakness in the core will affect the body’s ability to perform any of these functions.

Your core:

It is important to understand that core control is more important than core strength. Abdominal control provides fluidity of movement which is crucial; abdominal strength provides support which is beneficial but secondary.

Your centre is controlled by use of the abdominal muscles, the muscles in the lower back and the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles surround your abdominal cavity and form a central cylinder (see diagram below)

When you activate your core (ie. all the muscles surrounding your central cylinder) you are better able to manage the intra-abdominal pressure which gives stability to each movement.

Once the core/centre has been activated, we add arm & leg movements to challenge your stability and develop better muscle tone.

Finding your centre:

One of the keys to success is being aware of when you have ‘lost’ your centre, and making sure that you work within the capabilities of your core control – if you try to progress too soon, or push ahead without maintaining your centre, you will not develop a stronger core. Instead, you will risk overusing the muscles in your lower back or adding downward pressure into the pelvic floor or adding outward pressure into the abdominal wall (or perhaps all three!) potentially leading to less stability than you started with (& maybe some pain too).

There are many ways to find and activate your centre/core and we spend time doing this each time we move into a new position. We find a neutral pelvis, where the core muscles are in the optimum position to ‘fire’, and then we think of drawing gently upwards and inwards with the pelvic floor and deeper core muscles as we exhale (we’ll look at breathing as a separate principle).

Ideally you will keep an awareness of your centre during the class, but if you find you have forgotten about it, simply take a breath and come back to it on the next movement. Outside of your Pilates class, it is useful to keep an awareness of your centre to improve your posture in everyday life.

Finally, remember that we are looking to achieve a light connection with the core muscles – you don’t want to activate them to 100% otherwise movements will not flow and your posture will become unnatural – aim for 30% contraction so that you are just aware of a gentle feeling in the tummy wall.

Next time we’ll look at breathing as the third principle of Pilates – breathing.

Principles of Pilates #8

The principles of Pilates (part 8)

With Pilates the way in which the exercises are executed is of more importance than the number of repetitions completed or the exertion used. Mastering a simple exercise is often far more complicated than producing a larger movement!

Joseph Pilates created 6 principles of Pilates, but over time these have been added to and there are now deemed to be 8 key principles:

  1. concentration
  2. centering
  3. breathing
  4. control
  5. precision
  6. flowing movement
  7. isolation
  8. routine

Today we’re going to look at routine.

Routine:

“Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavour” J Pilates

As with anything, repetition and practice lead to greater skill and greater benefits. Obviously the value of the repetition relies on it being of a good quality but that aside, it stands to reason that a regular routine of practice will be of more benefit than exercising sporadically.

An established routine of Pilates exercise will improve physical and mental well-being and the more you practice the more improvement you can expect to see. It is the same with learning to play a musical instrument or a sport – if you practice once a week it will take you far longer to master it and become proficient than if you practice for several hours a day.

The amount of time you have to practice will obviously depend on your personal circumstances but practising a pilates routine twice a week would be a good place to start. If you are short on time try shorter sessions whenever you can. However much time you have, try to develop a routine which works for you.

As you master the exercises and see improvements, your confidence in your abilities will grow and you may notice changes about your body, in terms of how it feels and looks, but try not to bring about these changes by putting too much forced effort into your movements. Don’t panic if visible results take time – you are working from the inside out, developing a stronger foundation on which to carry the more superficial muscles, and this will inevitably take time.

Remember to try to incorporate the different principles of Pilates so that your movements are controlled and flowing whilst coordinated with your breathing. Think of your Pilates exercises as being natural, like walking in the park.

Remember too that it has taken a great deal of time to bring your body to where it is now – if you have poor posture or dysfunctional movement patterns they cannot be unlearned in a hurry, so be kind and give your body the space to learn new habits.

Imagine your Pilates exercises as everyday movements rather than something you do in class! Try to incorporate an increased awareness into everyday life – feel your gluteal muscles engage as you walk up an incline; visualise your abdominal muscles supporting your back when lifting a load; feel yourself supported from the inside whilst sitting or standing.

taylor-made fitness

Ultimately Pilates is about improved quality of movement which can lead to an improved quality of life. Grasp it with both hands and enjoy the process.

 

Jx

Please click here to find out more about of my current Pilates classes

 

Principles of Pilates #7

The principles of Pilates (part 7)

With Pilates the way in which the exercises are executed is of more importance than the number of repetitions completed or the exertion used. Mastering a simple exercise is often far more complicated than producing a larger movement!

Joseph Pilates created 6 principles of Pilates, but over time these have been added to and there are now deemed to be 8 key principles:

  1. concentration
  2. centering
  3. breathing
  4. control
  5. precision
  6. flowing movement
  7. isolation
  8. routine

Today we’re going to look at isolation.

Isolation:

“Each muscle may cooperatively and loyally aid in the uniform development of all our muscles” J Pilates

Isolating a muscle means that you are specifically targeting the muscle you are supposed to be working, rather than using other more dominant muscles near-by.

Concentration alone is not always enough to fire up the receptors to engage a faulty/weak muscle. You may first need to spend time identifying the muscle you are trying to work. If you cannot visualise where you should feel a movement, try this tip from Allan Menezes (founder of the Pilates Institute of Australia):

Press your fingers into the relaxed muscle to create a mental connection.

For example, when performing single leg circles [lying on your back with one leg extended vertically], press your fingers into the inner thigh, close to the groin so that you identify your inner thigh (adductor) muscles. Keep pressing the fingers into the inner thigh as you take your leg out to the side and then press the muscle against your fingers when bringing your leg back to the centre.

This will give your mind a better connection to the muscle you want to activate (the adductors) rather than the muscles you want to relax (the quadriceps), which might otherwise control the movement.

When trying this technique, an increased pressure can be more effective in provoking the correct response.

Don’t worry if it takes several attempts before you master this technique – just keep trying until you get the muscle to respond. Routine and repetition will gradually help you to recognise and feel incorrect movement patterns/muscle recruitment so that you can gradually learn to isolate and recruit the correct muscles in the correct order.

spinesafe pilates

It’s worth mentioning that a muscle does not need to feel sore the next day for you to know that it is working. If the muscle you are targeting feels firm to the touch when you are doing the exercise that is a good indication that it is working well. Conversely the muscle you are trying to relax should feel soft to the touch and this is an indication that it is not taking over the workload.

Over time, once you have gained control of the weaker muscles you may not need to rely on this type of kinaesthetic feedback to ‘feel’ that the muscle is working, but it is always a good way to check-in with what is happening in your body.

Successful isolation of working muscles will lead to greater flexibility in the muscles and joints. If you can isolate a part of the body and allow it to move independently you will also be better able to coordinate movements using different muscle groups.

 

Jx

Please click here to find out more about of my current Pilates classes

Principles of Pilates #6

The principles of Pilates (part 6)

With Pilates the way in which the exercises are executed is of more importance than the number of repetitions completed or the exertion used. Mastering a simple exercise is often far more complicated than producing a larger movement!

Joseph Pilates created 6 principles of Pilates, but over time these have been added to and there are now deemed to be 8 key principles:

  1. concentration
  2. centering
  3. breathing
  4. control
  5. precision
  6. flowing movement
  7. isolation
  8. routine

Today we’re going to look at flowing movement.

Flowing movement:

“Contrology [the original name for Pilates] is designed to give you suppleness, natural grace and skill that will be unmistakably reflected in [all you do].” J Pilates

In Pilates, exercises are performed as smooth flowing movements so that muscles are continually being toned. When there is no control of the movement muscles are being under-utilised and there will not be the same toning result.

Fluidity of movement when exercising (practising) will also create fluidity of movement in everyday life so that the muscles are being actively toned for much more of your waking time.

In addition, by moving with conscious muscular control and flow, you will eliminate stiff/jerky movements which may over time create faulty movement patterns and contribute to injury.

matwork pilates

When we extend limbs to their end-range, we are more likely to lose control over the associated muscles and joints. For example, if you extend your leg to kick something without consciously controlling the muscles, the fast movement can create a ‘snapping’ or ‘locking out’ of the joint. If this movement is repeated frequently it can lead to joint pain caused by wear & tear and weakness in the supporting soft tissues. Allowing the movement to flow with control will reduce the possibility of damaging the joint.

In particular, people who are hypermobile (double-jointed) need to avoid over-extending their joints – they should extend only to the point where the joint remains ‘unlocked’. Initially they will feel that they have not fully straightened the limb but to anyone else it will look quite normal. Over time they may be able to reduce their hypermobility by consciously limiting the range of movement at the susceptible joints and by increasing the fluidity of their movements to avoid snapping or locking out.

Stiff movements can also occur when there is relative muscle tightness in certain areas of the body. For example if the hamstrings (back of thighs) are tight/shortened the gluteal (buttock) muscles will usually be lengthened and weak which will have an impact on postural alignment and movement patterns. Over time, increased fluidity of movement will help to establish a better balance between the opposing muscle groups and restore improved function and posture.

When practising Pilates (and in everyday life) try to keep your movements flowing & continuous. Think of ten repetitions as one continuous movement rather than one separate movement repeated 10 times. Think of moving in a relaxed manner with graceful transitions between exercises.

 

Jx

Please click here to find out more about of my current Pilates classes

Principles of Pilates #5

The principles of Pilates (part 5)

With Pilates the way in which the exercises are executed is of more importance than the number of repetitions completed or the exertion used. Mastering a simple exercise is often far more complicated than producing a larger movement!

Joseph Pilates created 6 principles of Pilates, but over time these have been added to and there are now deemed to be 8 key principles:

  1. concentration
  2. centering
  3. breathing
  4. control
  5. precision
  6. flowing movement
  7. isolation
  8. routine

Today we’re going to look at precision.

Precision:

“Correctly executed and mastered to the point of subconscious reaction, these exercises will reflect grace and balance in your routine activities” J Pilates

When he talked about ‘precision’ Joseph Pilates was referring to a precision, or exactness, in movement. Through repeatedly practising the same movements with the same precision each time, our movements will become graceful and seemingly effortless – think of a classical ballet dancer or a gymnast practising over and over again until they can perform a move with exact precision each time.

To move with precision requires concentration and mental feedback from visualising and understanding how the movement will look & feel when it is correct. Without feedback we will not know whether or not we are moving precisely but it is often difficult to receive feedback from our bodies when stronger muscles groups take over from the weaker ones we are trying to target.

In order to improve the feedback, movements need to be controlled. We must first start with our body in neutral alignment and we can then slow exercises down so that movements become synchronised – ie the movement speed in one part of the body (eg an arm) matches the speed of movement in another part of the body (eg a leg) and also co-ordinates with the pace of your breathing. When movements become out of time with another part of the body or out of time with the breathing, the exercise ceases to flow and becomes stressful to the body instead.

pilates precision

Initially when you perform an exercise, your body may not want to move in the way you are asking it to – it will tend to move in the way that it usually moves, as it will have a well-established pattern of movement already. It is said that it takes 1000 repetitions for the body to accept a new movement pattern. Obviously this takes time but can be achieved with regular repetition and practice.

The more accurate your movements when you practice, the sooner your body will adapt to the new movement patterns. Next time you are practising try to stay focused on:

  • the position your body is in at the start of an exercise
  • how the movement looks and feels as you perform it
  • whether your movements are co-ordinated with each other and with your breath

 

Jx

Please click here to find out more about of my current Pilates classes