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

 

 

Principles of Pilates #4

The principles of Pilates (part 4)

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 control.

Control:

“Ideally, our muscles should obey our will. Reasonably, our will should not be dominated by the reflex actions of our muscles” J Pilates

Once the first three principles have been mastered well enough, the next principle, control, can be applied more easily.

Control is important in preventing injury and avoiding overuse of dominant muscles at the expense of smaller, weaker muscles. Control is especially important when working against gravity in mat work exercises and ensures that limbs are moved in a smooth and controlled manner, activating the muscles we want to use.

Gaining and maintaining control of every movement takes a great deal of focus and effort along with awareness of what the rest of the body is doing at the same time. Although it takes time to develop this skill, we can gradually improve our control by repeatedly practising Pilates exercises over time.

The level of control and awareness required may be the same regardless of the size of a movement – ie. a small local movement is not necessarily an easier movement to control than a larger sweeping movement.

What is important is that we move with mindfulness, whether we are performing Pilates exercises or carrying out activities of daily living. By moving mindfully, we can seek to gain more control over weaker muscles in order to improve their strength and function and thereby improve our general posture and movement patterns. An improved posture will in itself also lead to even better recruitment of the structural muscles, which will then further enhance posture and movement.

Without control, any exercise that we do becomes ineffective and potentially harmful. The more often we repeat movements without focus and control, the more deeply ingrained our poor movement patterns becomes, leading to greater muscle imbalance and postural instability.

pilates

When practising Pilates try to stay aware of what your whole body is doing but with extra focus on controlling the moving limbs. For example:

  • when we are performing a leg slide (lying supine and extending one leg along the floor away from the bottom) try to notice how your lower back, pelvis and rib cage feel in relation to the mat – the aim is that the position of the torso will be maintained (as far as possible) while you are moving the leg in a smooth and controlled fashion
  • when you change to the other leg try to notice if the pelvis rocks from side-to-side – the aim being that you control movement in the pelvic girdle whilst shifting from one leg to the other
  • if you don’t apply any control during a leg slide, you might notice:
    • your lower back and/or your rib cage arching away from the floor
    • your tummy doming (rounding upwards)
    • your pelvis tilting

The challenge is to control your movements whilst also applying concentration (a strong mind/body connection), keeping a centre (core) and breathing to activate your deeper abdominal muscles… let me know how you get on

 

Jx

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

Principles of Pilates #3

The principles of Pilates (part 3)

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 breathing.

Breathing:

“To breathe correctly you must completely exhale & inhale, always trying very hard to ‘squeeze’ every atom of impure air from your lungs in much the same manner that you would wring every drop of water from a wet cloth” J Pilates

Breathing has 3 key functions:

  • to carry nutrients around the body, bringing energy to every part of the body
  • to carry waste products away from the body and back to the lungs where they can be exhaled
  • to increase stamina

Restricted breathing (which inhibits the removal of waste) can cause numerous problems such as muscle tightness, restricted joint movements, tiredness, headaches and pain. Whilst breathing alone cannot cure these problems, it will contribute to greater well-being when combined with other principles.

one conscious breath

The goal in Pilates is to breathe fully into the belly & rib-cage without unnecessarily using accessory muscles in the neck and shoulders. It is one of the key principles of Pilates but also one of the hardest to grasp to start with!

Why does breathing matter during exercise?

It is common for us to unintentionally hold our breath when we are exercising, but this places the body under tension, especially in the neck and shoulders.

Try this:

  • breathe in to raise your arms above your head & hold your breath as you lower your arms back down, imagining that you are squeezing oranges in your armpits. Can you feel tension in your neck and shoulders?
  • repeat this exercise but this time as you lower your arms gradually release your breath in a sigh. Could you feel that there was much less tension this time?

What is the best breathing pattern for Pilates?

  1. keep the neck and shoulders relaxed to reduce tension in these areas
  2. allow your breath to flow – don’t hold your breath at any point
  3. breathe in through the nose and breathe out through the mouth without holding in between
  4. breathe out with soft lips (not pursed) and try to make a sound as if you are sighing – think of the sound that waves make as they break on the beach

When practising Pilates we want to exhale with the movement which requires the most effort. In most cases you will aim to breathe out as you move away from your neutral/starting position, and breathe in as you return back to neutral but don’t get too hung up on your breathing!

Although there are good reasons behind the style of breathing we use in Pilates, you don’t want to get too hung up on it. If you’re struggling, simply focus on keeping a steady, rhythmic breathing pattern so that your breath is flowing as you move – gradually as you get more confident you will find the breathing becomes a more natural part of your practice.

 

Jx

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

Principles of Pilates #2

The principles of Pilates (part 2)

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

Last time we looked at concentration; now 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 emanate. 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.

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, the pelvic floor muscles and the diaphragm. Together these muscles surround your abdominal cavity and form a central cylinder – your ‘core’.

core musculature Burrell Education

(image credit: Burrell Education)

When you activate your core you increase stability of the spine which is why it is important to activate the core before each movement.

Once the core/centre has been ‘set’, we can add arm & leg movements to challenge your stability further and develop muscle tone.

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 strength – if you try to progress too soon, or push ahead without maintaining your centre, you will not develop a stronger core and overuse the muscles in your lower back causing aches & pains and less stability than your started with.

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, we think of a belt tightening lightly around the pelvis, we think of drawing upwards and inwards with the pelvic floor; all of these are designed to help with core activation. It is important to keep thinking of them during the class so that you are always aware of your centre.

Outside of Pilates, 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.

 

Jx

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

Principles of Pilates #1

The principles of Pilates (part 1)

It is important to understand the principles behind the Pilates technique in order to get the best results from your classes.

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

Although each one may be easy to grasp, trying to combine all of them into each exercise can be tricky so I suggest that you focus on 1 or 2 to start with and gradually introduce aspects of the others as you progress. Over time, a simple movement can become more challenging simply by focusing on several of the key principles at once.

Start with what you can do, be patient and allow your mind to learn how to focus on the things which may initially be more challenging.

Let’s start by looking at concentration.

Concentration:

‘Concentrate on the correct movements each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value’ J Pilates

With some forms of exercise the mind can switch off but in Pilates it must remain focused to ensure that the body stays in alignment and that the breathing is controlled. This ‘mind/body’ connection not only enhances the physical execution of the exercises but also promotes relaxation and a feeling of well-being.

The first part of concentration is becoming aware that the position of every part of the body is important and that all movements and positions are interconnected. In order to walk, many different interactions take place in the joints and muscles of the body so that for example, the position of your foot influences the position of your knee, hip, spine, shoulder & head. In order to achieve optimal alignment throughout the body (and thus an efficient movement pattern) we need to first become aware of these interactions through concentrating on how we are moving.

Obviously it is hard to concentrate on every part of the body at once, but the more you practice the more you will be able to ‘tune in’ to what is happening in different places at the same time.

wherever you are, be all there

Improved concentration not only leads to an improved physical performance but also offers wide-ranging mental benefits:

  • clarity of thought
  • increased mental energy
  • mental calmness in stressful situations
  • enhanced ability to tackle problems in a fresh way

Think of your Pilates sessions as time for yourself, time to leave behind what you have come from and where you are going to. Focus on each exercise in turn and pay attention to how your body feels as you move.

 

Jx

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

 

What is SpineSafe™ Pilates

What is SpineSafe ™ Pilates?

Pilates focuses on strengthening weak muscles and stretching areas of the body that are restricted with a view to reducing postural issues in the body.

The SpineSafe™ approach is based on the 8 principles of Pilates, alongside the latest research from the world of physiotherapy, and the class caters for clients with specific spinal conditions such as low back pain, disc prolapse, spinal stenosis, osteoporosis, scoliosis, surgery, etc

spinesafe pilates The aim of this class is to help you to develop postural balance through your body and build a strong, stable, supportive base for everyday movement patterns. The exercises we do will complement and support the work you are doing/have done with other health care professionals such as your GP or physiotherapist.

Class numbers are limited to ensure that you have the support and attention that you need, as well as sufficient time in class to practice each exercise.

You will be guided through each exercise safely for your body with the specific goals of

  • managing & reducing your pain symptoms
  • improving your posture
  • developing functional core strength
  • creating stability in the pelvis and shoulder girdle
  • increasing mobility and range of movement
  • supporting activities of daily life (ie. walking, sitting, standing, lying down, getting up, carrying shopping, reaching up to a shelf, picking up the kids, getting into the car, etc, etc)

I have been teaching Pilates for 8 years and decided it was time to go deeper with this training to further develop my teaching practice and offer this new class. I am also an Advanced Clinical Massage Therapist and it may be very useful for you to incorporate some soft-tissue work alongside your SpineSafe™ Pilates class to create a really effective back care routine.

For further details and SpineSafe™ Pilates class information please click here

Please let me know if you have any questions at all about my classes

 

Jx