The backbone’s connected to the hamstrings…

In the 26 years I have owned a Pilates studio, one of the most common injuries my clients present with is low back pain. By the time I see them, they have tried so many different treatments some work for a while but many don’t.

The one thing 99.8 percent of these clients have in common…tight a$$ hamstrings! Believe it or not, tight hamstrings are the root of most low back pain. When the Hamstrings get tight, they pull your pelvis out of alignment. This is never a good thing. If you can gain just 20-30 degrees more flexibility in your hamstrings, your low back pain will likely get better if not completely disappear. Of course, stretching your hamstrings alone does not replace a good, strong core but that’s a blog post for another day.

Your goal if you can’t already, is to be able to touch your toes. (without bending your knees cheater!)

Here are 3 great Hamstring stretches. In order to get results, it is best to hold these stretches for at least 2 minutes. Have you ever seen how flexible yoga people are? That’s because they hold their stretches for long periods of time. Remember…never bounce in your stretches.

This first one you can do anywhere and you don’t need anything too high. Bend forward at the waist with a straight back trying not to round your mid back and shoulders. Hold for two minutes. After two minutes press your heel into the chair or bench and push down with your leg still straight for 10 seconds. After you release, try and go just a bit more forward in your stretch. You should have gained a wee bit more flex than you had before. Now just rinse and repeat!

The second one is my fav because you get to relax everything else and just focus on your tight Hamstrings. Lie in a doorway with one knee bent and the other leg straight up the door jam (pictured). Slowly try to straighten your bent knee leg until it is resting straight on the floor. If this is too easy, just move farther into the doorway. You should feel a good stretch, not be writhing in pain. This one you can hold for 2-5 minutes. Then again, push the straight leg heel against the door jam like you are trying to push the door down. Hold this for 10 seconds. Release and immediately move farther into the door jam. Did you go any further?

Last but certainly not less painful, the foam roller Hamstring stretch. If you don’t have one you can pick them up at Target or most sporting goods stores. Just sit with the foam roller under both thighs (as pictured) and roll from the top of your thigh to the back of your knee supporting your weight with your hands. Make the movements smaller and slower if you feel too much pain. Otherwise…just suck it up. You’ll thank me later.

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Pilates for Any Sport -Ashley Lauretta

“When you think of cross-training, Pilates may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Often put in the same category as barre workouts, most don’t think of Pilates as a way to build power and strength, as much as lengthen and tone. It turns out, however, that is a huge misconception.”

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When you think of cross-training, Pilates may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Often put in the same category as barre workouts, most don’t think of Pilates as a way to build power and strength, as much as lengthen and tone. It turns out, however, that is a huge misconception.

“Pilates is an excellent cross-training technique to help you up your game while training for any sport,” explains Jennifer McCamish, the owner of Dancers Shape, a Pilates and barre fitness studio in Austin. “I have a wide variety of professional athletes who benefit from Pilates—from professional golfers to NFL football players to Olympic gold medalist runners like Natasha Hastings.”

In order to understand how runners—and other athletes—can benefit from Pilates, McCamish (a former NYC Radio City Rockette) has rounded up four reasons why Pilates is the perfect cross-training.

Build Core Strength

“Pilates stabilizes and strengthens the core (the shoulder to pelvic girdle; not just the abs),” she explains. “A good Pilates instructor will help train the breath correlation to support movement, as well train the deep intrinsic stabilizing muscles to work in conjunction with the major muscle groups—creating efficient movement patterns and better biomechanics for sports performance. Runners can capture better speed by supporting the weight of their trunk with stronger posture.”

Fix Imbalance

“When training for a specific sport it can create imbalances in the body due to repetitious movement,” notes McCamish. “Pilates focuses on creating equal length and strength in opposing muscle groups so that the athlete is counteracting aches and pain or minor injuries from repetitious training.”

Correct Posture

“Pilates helps to reestablish proper strong posture and clear biomechanics,” she shares. “This is so that the body can begin to rehabilitate old injuries and it will help prevent future ones.”

Alleviate Knee Pain

“Pilates can help treat a common syndrome called “runner’s knee,” a sharp pain felt in the side of the knee during impact due to instability in the hip joint,” adds McCamish. “By strengthening the muscles that surround the hips with standard Pilates exercises like side leg lift, clam shell and bridge, you begin to establish better tracking for your running gait, alleviating the pain.”

Tell A Vision

Exercise videos have been popular for decades now (Thanks, Jane Fonda!).  What’s new, however, is that more and more titles are now available online – and at no cost.FITtv2

PIlates videos, in particular, are a great way to supplement your workout when you can’t make it to the studio.  The link below offers a useful overview of the top 10 FREE Pilates videos, as reviewed by the folks at Expertrain.  This list includes a “Pilates Full 30 Minute Class,”  “POP Pilates for Beginners – Total Body Workout,” and a “Pilates Butt Burner Full 30-Minute Workout.”  Other titles reviewed include 10 minute sculpting exercises, cardio routines, core floor workouts, and a beach-body pilates video.

For detailed descriptions and links to each video: http://www.expertrain.com/blog/fitness/top-10-free-pilates-videos.htm

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Appy Days are Here Again!

As the familiar ad slogan puts it:  “There’s an app for that!”  This seems especially true in the world of health and fitness, where more people than ever are turning to their iPhones and laptops for information and support.  There are now apps to help to help us exercise, count calories, track our progress and even offer supportive “motivators” to keep us going.  There are so many, in fact, that navigating this expanding universe of apps can be a bit daunting.

Fortunately, as 2014 comes to a close, a number of digital and fitness experts are offering lists of the best apps out there.  Even more fortunate, we have “reviewed the reviewers” for you, and offer some highlights here.Fitness-Apps

The free app “Fooducate” comes up on a number of this year’s “best” lists.  In its review of “Best iPhone Fitness Apps,” Digital Trends recommends this app as “the perfect shopping buddy when you are trying to make healthy choices, but need a little help along the way….  Even better, the app gives you an actual grade (A, B+, D, etc.) for each food item, shown with alerts as to what the pros and cons are of that particular food.”  Fooducate combines notational information with user reviews to all sorts of food in various user-friendly categories, and food items can be scanned using the bar code on any package.  Pop-Tarts-Fruit-Fusion-on-Fooducate1 (1)Among the things you could learn:  Pop Tarts claim to have no trans fat, but that’s apparently a lie (though they still taste great, of course!).

As a companion to Fooducate, Digital Trends also recommends “Restaurant Nutrition.”  Also free, this app is “simple, but it has a comprehensive list of fast-food and chain restaurants, including the nutritional information for almost any menu item that you can think of.  This can help you make better choices when you’re eating out, but is also helpful when used in conjunction with another calorie counting app.”

In the fitness category, Digital Trends includes the free apps “Fitness Pro” and “Nexercise” on its list.  According to their review:  “Whether you’re an exercise junkie or a newbie at your local gym, Fitness Pro will teach you new exercises and how to properly utilize gym equipment…. The app also offers helpful photos of real people doing the exercises and users can combine different exercises into saved and personalized workout routines. It doesn’t help with at-home workouts, but it’s a perfect companion for making the most of your gym time.”

fitnessUnlike the instructional Fitness Pro app, Nexercise is one of many new “motivational” offerings.  “If virtual badges and trophies aren’t enough of an incentive to get you off the couch, then perhaps a chance to win actual, tangible prizes will do the trick,” Digital Trends explains.  “Nexercise is an exercise gamification app that awards you with points for just about any type of physical activity and allows you to use those points to claim prizes like gift cards and discounts from various retailers. No matter if you’re running a marathon or running the vacuum cleaner, Nexercize will track your fitness progress and reward you for your efforts.”

Another “best of the best” review was recently published by Men’s Fitness magazine. The free app “Nutrition Tips” tops their list.  “Did you know that cut melon must be thrown out after two hours? Or that the leanest beef cuts include round steaks and roasts? Or that oysters contain protein, calcium, phosphorus and iron?,” the magazine asks.  “This colorful app has fun factoids like these and more than 500 others to help you have a safe and healthy diet.”  Men’s Fitness also praises “GoodFoodNearYou,” a free app that “recommends healthy food options based on your location, which is tracked by GPS.”gitness2

Finally, the venerable PC Magazine has put together it’s own online slide show of “The 25 Best Fitness Apps.”   Among the highlights is the free app “Argus.”  According to the magazine:  “If you’re not ready to spend upward of a hundred bucks on a Fitbit One, Jawbone UP24, or other activity tracker, you might try the Argus (by Azumio) as a gateway app. As long as you carry your phone all day long, Argus will watch your movements. You can also log workouts, keep an eye on how much water you drink, and take photos of your food to inspire yourself to stick to a healthy lifestyle.”  However, PC Magazine also warns:  “Be aware that Argus can drain your battery quickly.”

Another free app recommended by PC Magazine is “Digifit iCardio.”  “If you want real hard stats about your workouts, accelerometers and GPS aren’t enough,” says PCM.  “You need a heart rate monitor…and an app that can access the information it collects. One option is the Digifit iCardio app for iPhone and Android (it’s called simply iCardio in Google Play).”

You can read more about these and other apps at any of the links below.  Just remember:  as you make your New Year’s fitness resolutions for 2015, “appy days” are indeed ahead!

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And a Little Child Shall Lead Them…

“The action of hip disassociation/differentiation happens when you reach your ischial tuberosities or sits bones as you descend to sit in a chair. The pelvis stabilizes and the femur heads scoop out your pelvis creating a deep crease at the front of the hip, as the photo at right demonstrates.”

Say what?

Unfortunately, some key Pilates concepts – such as “disassociation” – can be couched in overly-scientific jargon.  The quotation above, from the pilates-pro.com web site, is but one example.

legolatesFortunately, however, there are plenty of “plain English” explanations out there.  One particularly inventive (and instructive) approach to understanding hip disassociation is offered by Francis Cahill, of the Pilates Fitness Institute.

In her article, “A Lesson from the Lego Man,” Cahill writes:

“We Pilates folk are always searching for ways that we can most effectively describe hard to imagine technical info as part of our education. One of these Pilates technical concepts is hip disassociation.  Whilst this terminology sounds very ‘science nerd’, don’t run screaming for the hills just yet, all it really means is that we are trying to teach our bodies how to move lego-aour legs in isolation to our pelvis. Why would we want to do this, you ask? It is a crucial part of having a strong and stable core….  If you are someone whose hip flexors are often screaming at you during your exercise, this is a sure sign that your muscle balance around your hips is out of whack and this article will help you enormously.”

Importantly, she goes on to say:  “To imagine this concept more easily, we will draw inspiration from our trusty little Lego Man (Our model is a James Bond Lego Man courtesy of Hilary who has these cuff links!!). Check out the picture (above) and notice how he has a hinge at the hip joint where he is able to move his legs without affecting the rest of his torso. Now that is impressive hip disassociation!”

Cahill then offers practical advice for applying what the Lego is showing.  Her step-by-step guide can be found at:  http://www.pfiwa.com.au/a-lesson-from-the-lego-man.

So, the next time you’re picking up your child’s toys (or maybe your own?), don’t forget:  Inspiration – AND instruction – can be found in the least expected places.

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