Pilates is a great form of exercise to help our bodies as we get older. There are a number of ways that Pilates helps facilitate an active, independent lifestyle. Pilates provides a great framework for focussing on function by servicing all of our moving parts as a foundation from which to move for life and sport. From the fundamentals of joint stabilisation and control through an optimum range of movement we can use the Pilates repertoire to help in several key areas that affect us in later life.
Posture and Alignment – It’s not so much ageing that creates bad posture or alignment as much as time spent in sub optimum positions. Pilates helps to restore movement and balance to areas in need of attention and helps us reconnect with and find our alignment.
Osteoporosis – An estimated 3 million people have Osteoporosis in the UK with over 300,000 fractures per year due to the condition. After the age of 40 peak bone mass diminishes and so it’s an important consideration to add to your fitness goals. The reason why Pilates is so helpful is that in order for our bones to increase in density they need load, if your skeleton is not aligned then it becomes hard to load your bones optimally. So whilst there are a number of factors which will help improve an osteoporosis prognosis if you want to improve your bone density with weight bearing exercise you need to first check in on your alignment.
Pelvic Health – A key element of Pilates is the integration of the breath in conjunction with a core and pelvic floor connection. This helps exercise our pelvic floor muscles and helps prevent incontinence issues. So often we accept the odd leak when coughing or laughing but there is much we can do to help prevent and improve on the problem by retraining the pelvic floor muscles. This engagement of the deep abdominals, deep spinal muscles, and diaphragm is also very helpful to help strengthen the prostrate in men.
Falls Prevention – Having good balance and confidence in your ability to balance well is hugely important as we get older. Working on creating healthy joints and a sense of where you are in space is key to not having a fall. It also feeds into the Osteoporosis care to help prevent fractures and bone breaks by not falling in the first place.
Heart Disease – Research has shown that Pilates improves heart health through enhanced respiration, decreasing physical and emotional stress, and through improved metabolic function.
If you’re interested in Dynamic Ageing classes do get in touch with CYC:D to find out more and book a class held on Wednesdays 13:15.
An update on our Men’s Pilates! Every Tuesdays 13:45 – 14:45 at Healthflex, The Edge, Woolmer Hill.
The Men’s Pilates classes at Healthflex are open to all men who are keen to work on their flexibility and core strength. Typically we will start the class with some flexibility and mobility drills reviewing the Pilates Principles which we will layer through all the exercises in the class.
We’ll be working on all the key core muscles involved in improving your balance, alignment and peripheral joint stability and whilst there will be a range of exercises, the Pilates ruleset will remain constant throughout all the classes. This means you’ll be able to transition the same ideas we use in class to align our bodies with your daily activities. For example aligning your spine, breathing out on effort and integrating your core muscles with movement throughout your day. It’s about understanding how to move optimally and creating habits and a practice that facilitate a positive change in the way you move and feel.
Pilates creates a great foundation from which to move and play sports, to rehab, maintain and progress.
For more information do get in contact and for class bring along a mat, water, and ask at the Healthflex Clinic reception about small equipment which we use in class.
This week I’ve been incorporating lots of ankle mobility drills into my classes. Ankle mobility refers to the flexibility of the ankle joint and its surrounding muscles and tendons. When your ankle is flexible, you have a greater range of motion during your activities.
Having optimum range at the ankle joint allows for better movement higher up the chain at the knees and hips and will prevent them from weakening. All of which will improve your walking and running movement patterns.
Poor ankle mobility is caused by a general lack of flexibility in the muscles in the calf and back of the lower leg, ankle joint issues (or stiffness) from prior injury or surgery, or inflexible footwear and footwear with any sort of (high or low) heel.
As well as stretching your calves (think heel drops off a step) The Foot Series is a great way to condition the ankle complex by building strength through your range of movement and improving your endurance.
In standing (near a wall for balance if you need it) engaging your ‘Pilates posture’ – lengthened tall, shoulders relaxed, eyes front and weight evenly distributed across the soles of your feet –
Heel raises x10 (control the descent)
Knee bends x10 (keep knees in parallel don’t let them converge)
Combination: Heel raise – knee bend – heels lower – stand tall x10
Reverse combination: Knee bend – heel raise – stand tall with heel still raised – lower heels back down x10
As we return to work and our usual routines it can feel a lot like a ‘return to life’, which is also the title of Joseph Pilates’s book on his exercise system ‘Contrology’ now commonly known today as Pilates.
So what do we get from a Pilates workout and what should we expect? If you’re looking at starting Pilates or evaluating your existing routines here’s a quick summary of what his original body of work was intended to promote:
Improve Body Mechanics
Optimise Spinal Flexibility
Blood circulation – in the words of JP, Pilates “is the equivalent to an internal shower” !
It’s worth noting that Pilates today is often used as a vehicle to facilitate different goals rather than a pure interpretation of JP’s original work (known to many as The Classical Repertoire). As with anything there has been an evolution of Pilates via the Pilates elders and different teachers down the line since his death in 1967. As our lifestyles have changed they have cast our modern day posture so that perhaps our requirements from Pilates have facilitated a different expression of the original work too?
Joseph Pilates prescribed his exercises in a certain way and order to elicit as specific corrective result. This means just because we’re doing Pilates exercises doesn’t mean it matches up with JP’s intended format – which is fine but it’s important to understand the difference. Too many reps and sets takes us toward a more traditional fitness/gym model, too many exercises done in isolation can become closer to a more medicalised approach.
To be most effective (and authentic) Pilates must be performed regularly (3x per week), accurately and with mental focus and, as Joseph Pilates stresses, along with good sleeping habits, diet and fresh air. In fact the chapters on health entitled ‘Your Health’ were first published in 1934 and start with JP berating the amount of conflicting information broadcast on the radio, newspapers and magazines to the world about how to maintain their health. Not much has changed today particularly with the winning combination of the internet and New Year’s Resolutions!
I’ve just spent the last couple of months updating my Pilates for orthopaedic conditions knowledge with FutureFit and wanted to focus a bit on exactly why Pilates is so helpful in the treatment of common orthopaedic conditions. Whilst I don’t solely use Pilates in my movement sessions but instead use a range of functional movement protocol the traditional Pilates principles certainly embody and underpin the main focus of exercise prescription for rehab thereby providing a safe and effective recovery.
Common Orthopaedic Conditions –
Back pain (non specific, specific, root nerve pain, disc herniation and piriformis syndrome)
Arthritis (osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis)
Osteoporosis and osteopenia
The Pilates mat repertoire gives a great range of exercises which allow for enough regression or progression to take participants with very limited movement capabilities and progress them in a sustainable way. The incorporation of the Pilates principles which are taught alongside each exercise help to integrate the breath with core co-contraction, increase body awareness (and therefore autonomy) and focus on the quality of movement.
A tailored programme can offer you many things – principally better alignment and mobility of the spine but also increased muscle strength and endurance, reduced stiffness and improved flexibility, reduced pain, better balance along with improved well-being.
If you are affected by any of these conditions it’s important to seek out an effective exercise programme which meets your needs and minimises your symptoms. Due to covid-19 I am not currently able to offer sessions but feel free to contact me for further advice.
In sessions we are often trying to ‘undo’ or improve on aches & pains (limitations) we have, whether it be through bad alignment or injury. Both of these are usually caused by having poor alignment resulting in our inability to maintain a sustainable functioning muscle balance.
If much of your day is spent sitting or sedentary your body will be cast into that shape, there will be adaptations which define your body as ‘a sitter’ – even if you did a ‘workout’ (whatever that may be). What you do for the majority of your day will dictate how your muscles are conditioned. There will be specific movement pathways that your lifestyle does not expose you to due to ‘modern living’ & in particular the time saving devices we now have at our disposal e.g shopping online instead of walking to the shops & carrying it home, buggies, washing machines, cars etc.
In order to counteract this we need to look at steps we can take to change our environments to afford more movement time, different working postures or movement breaks spread out across the day.
3 steps to improving your ‘sitters body’.
Work on corrective exercises to help counter the effects of sitting.
Try to sit & do the movement we’re already doing with better alignment. See the picture on the left for ideal sitting alignment.
Look at ways we can change our environments & lifestyles to incorporate more activity where possible.
In Pilates classes we give a lot of emphasis to using the pelvic floor muscles throughout all the exercises but I wanted to use this post to look a bit more specifically at some of the precursors to pelvic floor problems & signs you may be at risk or already have issues.
There are specific signs to look out for which can indicate that you may have a pelvic floor problem – these are all suboptimal issues that you do not have to live with, a trip to the women’s health physio (or men’s) will help get you on the road to recovery just like any other muscle injury. I’ll stress again, these are not just conditions of age or things that ‘just happen’ – you can do something about it, just because something is common does not mean it’s normal.
Peeing when you exercise, laugh, cough or sneeze
Needing to get to the toilet in a hurry or not making it there in time
Loss of control over your bladder or bowel
Accidentally passing wind
A prolapse – in women, this may be felt as a bulge in the vagina or a feeling of heaviness, discomfort, pulling, dragging or dropping. In men, this may be felt as a bulge in the rectum or a feeling of needing to use their bowels but not actually needing to go
Pain in your pelvic area, or painful sex
Being pregnant & childbirth
The pelvic floor is just like any other muscle so if it’s too tight or too weak or a combination problems can occur but there are certain events in life & lifestyle factors that can contribute to creating imbalances or dysfunction. Some people have pelvic floor muscles that are too tight (hypertonic) & cannot relax. This can be made worse by doing squeezing exercises & overworking the muscles without learning how to relax – this is why I always try to give time in the class to focus on actually relaxing & releasing the abdominals & pelvic floor.
The main precursors for pelvic floor problems will involve any type of unmanaged pressure within the abdominal canister or where there is poor load transfer .
History of back pain
Ongoing constipation & straining on the loo
Being overweight with a BMI over 25
Incorrect heavy lifting e.g using the Valsava maneover
Chronic cough or sneeze
Previous pelvic injury
Wearing high heels
With the right technique & exercise selection, Pilates is a great choice to help strengthen the pelvic floor – at any age, whether you’ve just had a baby or your babies are having babies!
Modern living tends to cast our bodies into a forward flexion bias stiffening & restricting movement of the upper back, neck & shoulders. It seems to be one of the main complaints & one of the things most class participants would like to relieve.
The thoracic spine (upper, mid back) provides much of the rotation & extension of the spine but thanks to lifestyle factors such as looking (down & forward) at phones or computers, driving, leaning down over children or poor posture it tends to get very restricted. Anyone that plays sport is likely to find their performance limited by stiffness in this part of the spine & it’s common to get compensation injuries in other parts of the body as a result.
Typically a stiff thoracic can cause pain between the shoulder blades but also transfer excess loads onto the lumbar spine, neck & shoulders, which in turn can lead to pain in these areas as well as headaches. A stiff thoracic spine will also result in the Old Hunchback of Notre Dame look (!) & lead to a Dowager’s (or Bison’s) Hump – a thickening of the soft tissues at the base of the neck. So, some good reasons there to keep up with some basic maintenance to keep it supple!
In the classes we work through a few different exercises both in side lying & on all 4’s to help mobilise the thoracic spine & then follow up with some strengthening work to help keep the spine aligned. Here’s one of those exercises that’s really effective as the ground ‘fixes’ the hips which will give you a better chance at rotating correctly through your thoracic instead of cheating with another joint deformation.
Thread the needle
Make sure you have your knees hip width apart & hands, shoulder width apart. Don’t collapse your supporting shoulder / shoulder blade as you bring the other arm under & as you reach up try to really extend through the arm (….mine is bent, probably from too much baby holding!). Try 10 on each side, exhaling as you extend the arm up.
As a continuation of the post I did on testing your balance part 1 I wanted to add a simple continuum of exercises from easy to hard that you can practice & use to challenge your stability.
So as aforementioned in part 1 the goal of these balances is to test your proprioceptive balance system – that does’t mean using strategies such as bending your knees or holding your arms out high wire style…or fixing your eyes on something, it’s about testing your own internal balance system with your body in the correct (or as close to correct) standing alignment.
Your body uses your proprioception system to create an image of what is internal or inside the skin – in much the same way as a dolphin uses sonar or an animal uses it’s whiskers. Proprioception literally means ‘ones own perception’ & that information about change of skeletal position travels by our neurones to the brain to act on. The more muscle fibres you have firing & the more supple (not tight) the tissue, the better the proprioception.
When you practice these consider your alignment: stand with your feet hip width apart & the outside edges of your feet straight. Back your pelvis up over your heels keeping your ribs aligned over your pelvis. Then draw your head back over your spinal column. When you come on to single leg balance make sure you push down into the floor with the standing leg as opposed to hiking the low back/hip up on the non-weight bearing leg.
1. 2 foot balance eyes open
2. 2 foot balance eyes closed
3. 1 foot balance eyes open
4. 1 foot balance eyes closed
5. 1 foot balance eyes open with head turns
6. 1 foot balance eyes closed with head turns
From time to time in class we focus on standing balance – it’s a good way to test all the principles we practice throughout the classes & as an indication of general muscle balance health. So I wanted to use this post to look at what goes on when we try to balance, how to test it & how to improve your ‘true’ balance.
So our body’s stabilise by using the relationship between the proprioceptive system (that’s information coming from the muscles, joints & tendons) & the processing of that sensory input (i.e. what the brain tells the body to do with that information). Tight or shortened muscles send ‘fixed’ information from your proprioceptors and this data/sensory input gives incorrect information to the decision centre (the brain) which in turn acts on this mis-information. The outcome is an overcorrection, a wobble or lurching movement in an attempt to stabilise you. Any restrictions or sub optimal muscle length tension will alter the correct information given to the brain.
Testing your ‘true’ balance – See how well you’re balancing with these simple tests.
Stand with your feet pelvis width apart & check your feet are straight (as in the outside edges, see pic) – how does this feel? Any wobbles? Now close your eyes & see if there’s any difference with them open or closed. Maybe you felt you moved about more with your eyes closed – this is the ‘true’ part of the balance test – your eyes are not part of the sensory input we speak about when we mean whole-body balance, they are not part of the proprioceptive system they are part of the vestibular system (eyes & inner ears) but the poorer your proprioceptive system is the more you rely on your eyes to make corrections. So in order to stop the eyes doing all the work (& incurring eye muscle fatigue, dizziness & age-related changes in vision) you need to fix your body’s internal sensory input or proprioceptive system.
The progression to the 2 foot balance with eyes shut is to come onto a single leg with eyes shut. Whilst we may have some muscle tension issues within the body it’s also our inability to process information through our feet & inform our bodies of correct posture, due to footwear that down trains our proprioceptive system. Think any type of heel, thick inflexible soles & too narrow toe boxes.
So hopefully this will give you a clearer idea of what you are aiming for when you consider/assess your balance – test yours & practice some ‘eyes shut’ standing to monitor your progress.