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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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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Take a Breath

After suffering a voice injury that made it painful to talk, aerobics instructor Aliesa George “was afraid of losing her livelihood as well as the ability to share her passion with others.” Remarkably, she turned to Pilates and discovered “a whole new way to breathe as well as exercise.” Her injury healed.

“Breathing was one of the things I realized I didn’t know how to do right,” George said. “I was a competitive dancer and gymnast. I breathed shallowly through the top of my chest and not into the whole lung. … I always hated running and cardio because I could never take a deep enough breath for it to be fun.”

George’s experience is not uncommon and, in fact, such benefits are well-documented in medical research. According to WebMD, “deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body.

“Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax,” the website goes on to say.   “The way you breathe affects your whole body. Breathing exercises are a good way to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress.”

images In her book Jumpstart Your Metabolism, Pam Grout notes that proper breathing can even be a key to losing weight. “You literally work at one-fifth of your potential when you don’t get enough oxygen,” she explains. “Your body slows down, gains weight, and becomes even more stubborn about changing.”

Deep breathing exercises have also been useful in treating illnesses such as ADD. In his book Healing ADD, Dr. Daniel Amen describes a simple technique that can benefit not only ADD patients, but everyone:

“One simple, commonly recommended way to start breathing deeply is to lie down and place a small book on your stomach. When you breathe in, make the book go up. When you breathe out, make the book go down. Or while sitting, place your hand on your stomach and do the same thing until you get the hang of it.”

Drawing on her Pilates experience, Aliesa George recommends this simple technique to increase awareness of how you breathe:

“Place a long scarf across your back with the ends in front, the bottom edge of the scarf sitting at the bottom of your rib cage in back. Cross the ends in front and take hold of them in your hands, drop your shoulders, and breathe. The scarf helps you to feel where your breath is in your lungs so that you can focus on breathing fully in both lungs. Most people breathe more deeply in one lung than the other…. You can work on breathing in one lung and then the other, and then on fully breathing in a balanced way in both lungs.”

“Breathing is going to make a difference for a healthy life,” George concludes. That’s advice worth taking – with every breath.

 

To read more on the benefits of breathing and Pilates, check out these recent articles:

“Use Full Lung Capacity for Better Health and Fitness” – http://www.kansas.com/living/health-fitness/article3952620.html#storylink=cpy

“Learn Lateral Breathing” – http://pilates.about.com/od/pilatesmat/a/LateralBreath.htm

 

 

RUN FOR YOUR LIFE: Pilates & Running

Whether you are a serious marathoner or simply a “run-for-fun” type, Pilates provides the optimal runner’s workout. Health and fitness experts agree that Pilates exercises are ideal, both as a preparation for all forms of running, and also as a way to repair any damage that running might cause.

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Marathon runner Aline Raywood “recalls the time when she was having a groin pull almost every 2 months, which started to interfere with her training. She was also plateauing in her training as she was feeling that she was lacking oxygen for sustained high level of endurance.”  The answer for Raywood:  Pilates.

For more about the benefits of Pilates for runners, check out these articles.  Then, mark your calendar with one or more of the upcoming, local running events listed below.

Awesome 80s Run SF (Date/Place: 11/23/14/San Francisco).

run2Highlights: All finishers receive a “Totally Awesome ’80s Finishers Medal, Circa 1980s Style T-shirt, and Free Race Photo Downloads at this Rad 5k Run / Walk. Join the Team Challenge and Costume Contest for Gnarly Prizes and Way Cool Entertainment at Crissy Field – Presidio of San Francisco.”  Discount Code: NEON.  Website: http://awesome80srun.com/san-francisco-awesome-80s-run-5k/

Mustache Dache 5k (Date/Place: 11/16/2014/San Francisco).

Highlights: All participants receive “the very truly official 2014 Mustache Dache t-shirt.” Website: http://mustachedache.com/san-francisco/

North Face Endurance Challenge (Date/Place: 12/06/2014/San Francisco).

Highlights: Marathon relay & “kids run.” Website: http://www.thenorthface.com/en_US/endurance-challenge/san-francisco-championship/?stop_mobi=yes

Santa Skivvies Run (Date/Place: 12/06/2014/San Francisco).run5

Highlights: The Santa Skivvies Run is “a festive romp through San Francisco benefiting San Francisco AIDS Foundation. The route begins at UN Plaza and follows Market Street to the Castro. In just four short years, Santa Skivvies Run has become one of the city’s most beloved holiday events.”  Website: http://dev.santaskivviesrun.org/

Holiday Hustle (Date/Place: 12/07/2014/Morgan Hill).

Highlights: Runners that register before November 24th. will receive a tech tee. All runners “will be able to enjoy a post race beer as well as the food you come to expect from a trail race. There will be finishers medals given for all distances.” Website: https://ultrasignup.com/register.aspx?did=28585

Coyote Hills Half Marathon & 10k/5k (Date/Place: 01/24/2015/Fremont).

Highlights: “Half the fun will be experiencing all the different kinds of trails, including dirt, paved and even wood bridges.  Hikers/walkers are always welcome!” Website: http://www.brazenracing.com/coyotehills.html

Bay Breeze Half Marathon 10k & 5k (Date/Place: 02/14/15/San Leandro).

Highlights: All runners will receive “custom finisher medals and custom shirts.” Website: http://www.brazenracing.com/baybreeze.htm

Pilates for Mommies

We hold our selves to such high standards, thanks to the media splashing pictures of bikini-clad, svelte supermodels 4 week postpartum. It doesn’t work like that…If you are newly pregnant, I hate to be the bearer of this news. Your post baby body is likely to take a bit of work to reshape. It’s ok. There are two things you need: One is a profound LOVE AND RESPECT for your body, it has grown and given birth to a tiny human being! The other is PILATES. If you do both, I promise you will be amazed at the results.

Pilates is a fantastic way to keep up with the rapid changes in the pregnant body and prepare for birth. Postural changes, ligament laxity (due to hormonal changes), muscle tightness, a general sense that your derriere will never be the same…

Pilates addresses these changes by helping the client to maintain core strength, flexibility, and alignment during this dynamic time. All exercises are modified to support proper body mechanics and are approved by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

In addition, Pilates aids in the recovery postpartum by training muscles to support you in proper postural alignment, re-introducing the use of the pelvic floor and intrinsic abdominal musculature, and toning those places that shifted around during pregnancy. Every woman varies in her experience of pregnancy and childbirth. The Pilates method can provide the specific attention needed. Take some well deserved “me time” to rejuvenate your body. It will make you a a happier person, and therefore a better mother and partner, when you feel good in your body.

To make 2014 your year to reclaim your body and mind, the remedy is simple:
Love Yourself + Do Pilates = look and feel like a supermodel.

Shanta De Lacrose, Ph.D is an Instructor at Fit First Pilates of Marin, mother of two home birthed babies and has a passion for empowering women in all stages of life, especially motherhood.