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
A graded return to exercise after any illness is always a good idea and from what we do know about Covid-19 there is certainly not a one size fits all approach.
The severity of the illness, your recovery rate, other co-morbiditiesand any residual breathlessness all need to be taken into consideration.
So what should you do to get back to exercising safely and where should you start?
Although you might feel anxious about meeting others or getting back to classes there are lots of precautions now in place to help you make that transition with more confidence, talking to your trainer about their new safety measures will help get you going and have a better understanding of what to expect.
From the start it’s important to get a thorough health screen so your trainer knows where and how to help you begin exercising again safely. This will help decide whether it’s safe for you to start back and what sort of a graded return would be appropriate for you. It also gives a good opportunity to benchmark your current state so that you can get a measure of your progress in the weeks to come.
Exercise tests can be used to measure your flexibility, your aerobic fitness and your muscular strength and endurance. Similarly to the health screen these tests are really useful to both measure your current fitness and help decide how to implement your individualised training plan.
‘Ready for Exercise’ means:
Asymptomatic for at least 7 days
Adequately screened and risk stratified (no signs or symptoms of long covid)
Motivated and psychologically ready to participate in exercise (no PTSD for example)
Any other pre-existing co-morbidities are under control and stable
If you still find that you are experiencing breathlessness it’s important to be able to quantify this and your trainer can help you do this using the Rate of Perceived Exertion (R.P.E or The Borg Scale) or Talk Test, another is the Visual Analogue Scale to help you understand and develop a self awareness of breathlessness. Your trainer can also help you with breathing coping strategies for when you need to get your breath back in a session or during your day at home – this will build your confidence and help you feel more in control.
Other considerations you might want to include in your training are longer, slower warm ups and cool downs to prepare your body more thoroughly for exercise. You might also try interval sessions (sub-maximal!) so that your can have active recovery rather between bouts of aerobic work to help you manage your oxygen requirements.
Lastly doing a little bit everyday and keeping a diary is a really helpful way to quantify your progress. Managing fatigue with adequate sleep, nutrition and rest is vital.
I have had an enlightening few weeks studying Munira Hundani’s new course ‘Diastasis Rectus Abdominus and the Postpartum Core’ which for me, presented a fascinating new framework for both assessment and exercise prescription of the post partum core.
Diastasis Rectus Abdominus (DRA) is a widening of the linea alba (the midline of the abdominal wall) experienced by women during and after pregnancy. Whilst it is normal to experience some degree of separation it should generally resolve naturally postnatally however in approximately 1/3 of women the excessive and prolonged widening prevails adding to a sense of disconnection and dysfunctionality .
Commonly the protocol for fitness instructors, like myself, for dealing with DRA is to present a long list of things to avoid to prevent further widening of ‘the gap’. These might include lifting heavy weights (e.g children), sit-ups, plank, boat pose (Navasana) jack knives, russian twists etc for fear of causing too much Intra Abdominal Pressure (IAP) and worse still increasing the gap. The assessment of the DRA would usually be conducted primarily in supine using a head lift protocol and exercise prescription would typically be progressed dependant on the inter recti distance (or width of the gap)
Hudani’s work paints a much more positive picture for the treatment of DRA as well as a much bigger focus on the individualised journey that success should take accessed via the initial assessment. Crucially she demonstrates how clinical research shows that there is little to no correlation between the DRA itself and formally associated issues such as lower back pain or indeed the ‘type’ of exercise a woman should do. Rather than point the blame at ‘the gap’ she explains that the inter recti distance is just a another part of the abdominal wall that has widened as a whole, coupled with altered breathing and core connection strategies resulting in a mis-management of IAP. She goes on to emphasise the importance of IAP and how harnessing it using the diaphragm and the Transversus Abdominus (TVA) is the key to success.
So what does this mean for women with DRA? Well, by assessing the DRA in positions which prompt more IAP (i.e standing or sitting as opposed to supine – which, she explains, is particularly unproductive for those with increased circumferential laxity) it helps to illicit a better provocation of TVA’s true ability to activate and therefore a ‘way in’ to strategise a stepwise approach for that individual. The idea of using and creating IAP to strengthen the core automatically reduces the fear factor around creating too much IAP. Once the re-training of the diaphragm and TVA has successfully been achieved the list of formally avoided exercises are the very ones which need to be integrated in to optimise core and indeed whole body strength. This means your favourite yoga class, HIIT workouts or Pilates classes are once more back on the table.
If you have been affected by diastasis and are looking for ways to help progress do get in touch via the contacts page for more information.
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.
If you’re feeling a growing sense of stagnation with your exercise routine as well as lockdown this may help…the exercise side of things anyway. It generally takes 6 – 8 weeks of training in a specific modality to see the results of your labour so if you’ve been focussing on your fitness in your allocated exercise time from the start of lockdown it’s the right time to give your programme a shake up.
Regularly mixing up your exercise plan is crucial to achieving results. Periodisation is a method to plan phases of your training to optimise different aspects of your ‘fitness’ thereby maximising your gains whilst also reducing the risk of injury or overtraining….and getting bored!
4-6 week periodisation phases to typically cycle through include a stability phase focusing on consolidating your core connection, peripheral joint stability and proprioceptive awareness. Followed by a strength phase, prioritising load over stability to increase muscle strength and finally, if appropriate, a power phase.
Here’s some examples of how you might progress exercises from a stability phase (12-20 reps 1-3 sets) into a strength phase (8-12 reps 2-4 sets):
Single leg alternate dumbbell shoulder press –> Standing barbell push press
Scaption on a single leg –> Standing kettlebell overhead press
TRX fly on one leg –> Bodyweight press ups (or decline to increase load)
Single leg squat –> Kettlebell goblet squat
Single leg Romanian deadlift –> Romanian deadlift
TRX hanging bodyweight lunge –> Dumbbell lunges
For more info on tailored exercise training programs drop me a line via the contact page.
I read a PubMed article recently about grip strength as an indicator of health related quality of life in old age and it got me thinking about what we are lacking or sidestepping in our daily lives that means we don’t achieve meaningful grip strength via our normal everyday movements and habits.
The article looked at quality of life in men and women ages 60-94 years old and used the measurement of grip strength to determine overall muscle strength and function. High grip strength is strongly associated with preserved mobility, higher activities of daily living and decreased disability and although it was outlining grip strength as an indicator of ‘general’ health (as opposed to isolationist strength purely at the wrist) there are many habits and environmental factors that rob us of this type of daily movement that would otherwise improve this outcome.
Here’s a list of 5 examples that I came up with to demonstrate ways in which we deny ourselves of those daily ‘movement vitamins’:
Coffee grinder – admittedly this is quite hard work but you will be rewarded with not just coffee but a better quality of life….and some would even argue better coffee!
Washing machine – imagine all the wringing and squeezing that went on before washing machines, perhaps once or twice a week skip the spin cycle and try and wring out the excess water.
Wheelie suitcase – do you wheel your suitcase? Does it glide smoothly across the airport floor?! Think about all that grip work and corresponding arm and core effort if you were to carry it. Not quite as comfortable but perhaps more so than general physical decline!!
Car key automatic lock – this seems quite petty but just on principle the price of convenience is robbing us from basic wrist turning actions and even extra movement around the car to lock the doors in the name of convenience.
Automatic can opener – another wrist strength robbing device!
To conclude, even though the study just involved a small amount of participants and also incorporated the social aspect of ageing into the equation it makes a good example of how a few simple steps on a daily basis and a bit more awareness can contribute to a healthier outlook.
If you travel a lot for work it can be hard to prioritise your own movement let alone specific exercise. This post is an aid to those trapped in their hotel rooms (!) and in need of some body maintenance to cancel out all the sitting, screen watching, suit and work shoe wearing (that also ‘cast’ your body into unhelpful postures).
Chest stretch: Arm at 90 degrees (i.e. bent at the elbow) with your forearm against a wall or door frame the stretch the chest open, away from the wall. One arm at a time then switch.
Door frame: Reach up to a door frame and try to extend your arms whilst breathing deeply lengthening on the exhalations. Try to create space from your ears to your shoulders.
Back extensions: Lying prone, chin slightly tucked – on an exhale raise your chest of the floor a tiny bit whilst lengthening your arms/fingertips towards your feet. Also try to draw your shoulders back as if opening your chest.
Childs pose: Sit back on your heels stretch your arms forward onto the floor.
Hamstring stretch: lying supine stretch one leg up – use a belt or tie around the foot to get leverage (keep the other knee bent and try not to press/flatten your lower back) Switch legs.
Sit ups: support the head if necessary, deep exhale as you come up.
Plank: On your elbows – keep breathing, back of the neck long don’t drop your chin.
Childs pose: same as before but with the palms up.
Note: Written descriptions of exercises and movements can be lost in translation! So if these do not translate easily for you do get in touch via the contact form. Readers who have had been having sessions will recognise the cues!
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.
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.