Month: July 2010

Pilates for Back Pain

Why is Pilates good for back pain? For anyone suffering from general backache to acute pain, Pilates can carry an important role in relieving pain in your back.

I think of Pilates as intelligent, corrective exercise. Pilates exercises your body as well as your mind. It can change the shape of your body. You may not even realize some of the ways you may be moving that are causing stress on your spine. Pilates specifically focuses on and addresses the intrinsic issues that can lead to back pain including poor posture resulting in asymmetry of the muscles, lack of core strength and inflexibility. Pilates teaches you to become more aware of your body and helps to break the bad habits that are contributing to back pain.

Proper alignment of the spine is crucial to back health; when alignment is off, uneven pressure on the spine results. Strengthening weak areas in the body is a major component to good posture. If you sit with your shoulders rounding forward, or tend to stand leaning into one hip, your posture is suffering and you are causing unnecessary strain to your spine and hips. A good Pilates instructor alerts you to these imbalances and then creates a program focused on creating symmetry in your body, allowing you to move more efficiently.

Another primary cause of low back pain is lack of strength in the inner abdominal muscles. This weakness causes the lower back to sway forward and tightens the muscles that cause pain. A good Pilates program focuses on strengthening the “core” muscles that support the spine. Strengthening the “core” goes beyond the outer abdominal muscles. The “core” consists of the inner abdominal muscles that create a flat stomach and hug and protect the spine. Creating this “inner” strength is crucial to back health.

Flexibility also contributes greatly to how your back feels. Your spine carries the ability to twist, move from side to side, and bend forward and backward. When you develop core strength you have the support to build flexibility in your torso, your hip flexors, and your hamstrings (back of legs) safely without putting strain on the spine.

One great aspect about Pilates is that you can work at your own pace with your instructor to increase strength, flexibility and alignment. Working towards these goals of symmetrical alignment, strengthening your core, and creating flexibility in your body can help you live a pain free life.

Stabilize Your Game – Exercises to Improve Your Golf Game

Golf is physically demanding game. Your body has to be fit to play your best. That means doing specific, yet simple, golf exercises to tone muscles, increase flexibility and boost endurance. If your body isn’t ready, your golf will suffer and getting out on the golf course can set your body up for injury.

The focus of the Golf Conditioning Stabilization program is to improve neuromuscular efficiency (brain muscle communication), increase postural control, improve muscle length-tension relationship (LTR) and improve intrinsic stabilization of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex to allow for the expression of functional strength. Trying to develop dynamic stability and/or power without developing static stability first would be detrimental to your performance. To improve your golf performance you must first develop static and dynamic stability.

Use the following exercises to develop your core stability and improve your golf game. Every golfers needs are different and not all bodies are alike. SAC Elite Golf is an individual program that can teach you additional methods for strength and power, which can add additional yards to your drive and ultimately lower your handicap. Remember, making sure you communicate your goals with your trainer is important to achieve better golf fitness.

Barbells for Everyone

What’s new? Try something old; we are talking the tried and true basic barbell lifts. Here’s a few basic barbell exercises you may have heard of before; Front squat, Back squat, Overhead squat, RDL’s, Shoulder Press, Bench Press, and Good Mornings. If you haven’t heard of these movements you should get to know them ASAP.

Why are these movements so great if they are “basic?” There are a few reasons to do these exercises:

  1. Increase your strength quickly, safely, and efficiently.
  2. Increase your core strength actively through a full range of motion.
  3. Increase your flexibility and joint/bone strength.
  4. Burn more calories by using your full body, targeting larger muscle groups and increasing body tension while moving through the motions.
  5. Using your new found strength and range of motion to apply to sports, general fitness, and overall health.

These basic lifts, when done correctly and to full range of motion, will make your workout feel like sprinting up a hill. The full range of motion, combined with a heavier load, pushes your body both in muscular strength and increased heart rate. Not only do these lifts make you sweat (buckets even) they push you to keep good form, good posture, and the concentration demands are much higher than sitting on a bench or using a leg press. You’ll test yourself physically and mentally to find more depth, increase your weight, and build core strength. Lifting with barbells will help you understand your body better and coordinate your muscles to fire harder, faster, and more efficiently. All these things add up to a intense workout, quicker strength gains and greater flexibility that will push you to continually work harder (increasing your heart rate and caloric burn).

Learning how to coordinate and move your body through space without weight first is pivotal in executing these more demanding exercises. Be smart, make small gains, be true to the movement, always aim for proficiency before increases in weight, and have fun!

If you want to learn more about these lifts and how to increase strength quickly, Personal Fitness Trainer Adriana Brown runs Men’s Power Training for Sport (barbell lifting) every Wednesday from 7:00-8:00am. To find out how you can become a barbell aficionado, call Adriana at 206-443-1111 or send her an email.

8 Simple Questions to Ask when Selecting a Pilates Instructor

It’s important to do your research when seeking out a Pilates instructor, but how do you know which Pilates instructor is best for you? Here are 8 simple questions to ask when searching for a Pilates instructor.

1. Are you a certified instructor?
Unfortunately for you, the consumer, an instructor can get “certified” by any variety of “Pilates” instruction. Therefore, you need to ask some follow-up questions.

2. What training program did you complete?
Your instructor should be certified through one of the Pilates master teachers (a person directly taught by Joseph Pilates). Some names you should listen for are: Romana Kryzanowska, Ron Fletcher, Lolita San Miguel, Mary Bowen, and Kathy Grant.

3. How many hours did your certification process require?
Your instructor should have at least 600 hours of apprenticeship, where he/she spent time observing, assisting, teaching student clients under supervision, and then instructing solo. Several written and practical exams are required for the trainees to become certified.

4. Are you current with your continuing education requirements?
Make sure he/she is current on their continuing education requirements, usually meeting a required number of hours in a workshop every year.

5. How many years have you been an instructor?
Look for an instructor who has at least 2 years of teaching experience.

6. What is your exercise philosophy or specialty?
This can vary greatly, so look for an instructor who meets your needs.

7. What is your experience with injuries?
A Pilates instructor should know about any condition that you may want to discuss and how to work with it, including musculo-skeletal conditions and auto-immune disorders.

8. Are you qualified to teach on all pieces of Pilates equipment?
Some certified Pilates instructors are trained only on certain pieces of equipment. However, an effective Pilates instructor should know how to safely use every piece of equipment so that he/she can assess and deliver the exercise that will benefit you the most.

Fortunately here at the Seattle Athletic Club, all of our Pilates Instructors meet or exceed those standards. However, we all have different styles, so please feel free to engage us in conversation about Pilates. We love to share our passion!

Yoga Pose of the Month: Eagle Pose

For athletes who spend a lot of the game balancing on one leg, like kicking a soccer ball, or pushing off a dominant foot for a jump shot- Eagle Pose is an excellent pose for you to strengthen the standing leg, while improving balance. Eagle also targets a tough muscle group between the shoulder blades, that include your Rhomboids and Trapezes, which need to remain flexible especially in sports like tennis, and basketball to take the stress off shoulders.

The benefits of Eagle include:

  1. strengthening ankles, calves and adductors (inner thighs)
  2. Stretches hips, shoulders and upper back
  3. Improves concentration and breath flow under stress

Let’s Play

  1. Start at the top of your mat with both feet together and find a point of focus about 5’ in front of you. Get in tune with your breath; slow rhythmic breathing through the nose.
  2. Bend your knees and cross your right thigh over the left, balancing on your left foot.
  3. Squeeze inner thighs firmly together, and get active in core to increase your balance.
  4. Reach your arms out in front of you and cross your right arm over left, bend elbows and bring palms together. If it’s difficult to wrap your arms, hug your shoulders instead.
  5. To increase the intensity, sit lower in chair till your thighs are parallel to the floor and reach your fingertips forward. A slight rounding in the back and you ‘ll really feel the stretch between your shoulder blades.

Have Fun! Remember to Breathe! It’s only yoga after all, and the more you can keep your sense of humor and come back to the pose if you fall out, the more relaxed and determined you’ll be under pressure; in sports or in life.

For more instruction on Eagle, or any pose, please come to my classes at the SAC or schedule a private yoga lesson, now offered at SACDT, by myself or any of our many wonderful yoga teachers.
Let’s raise a glass to Summer!!

What is the Healthy Steps Program?

Healthy Steps with The Lebed Method is a not just an exercise program, it is a celebration with pizzaz. Participants progress toward better health while having the best time imaginable. Fun, easy to follow steps coordinated with great music allow class members to work within their personal parameters, and have fun while striving for wellness.

Healthy Steps with The Lebed Method was designed by two physician/surgeons and a dance movement specialist in 1980. This experienced and dynamic team effectively integrated dance movements, and physical therapy based exercises with music to form a distinctive program that delivers. The musical component is a key factor as participants are shown to move more freely when awareness is directed away from discomfort and limitation through musical stimulation. Props such as top hats, canes, boas are often incorporated into a routine to further stimulate a sense of imagination and play.

Numerous studies validate the Healthy Steps Program’s effective benefits for persons with conditions that limit upper and lower body movement, range of motion, and balance. Individuals recovering from accident, injury, surgery, athletic performance, breast cancer, other cancers, or suffering with chronic disorders such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, arthritis, M. S., diabetes are shown to thrive. Seniors and those newly beginning an exercise regimen flourish. It is safe for pregnant women through the third trimester. Certainly this is a program for anyone. The class can be done standing or seated.

Since 1980 this program’s therapeutic benefits have proven beneficial to many of those struggling along the, oftentimes difficult, road toward wellness. This unique, sensitive, international program, validated by numerous studies and published in a medical journal, promotes well-being, and joy. Class members are often transformed from survivors to thrivers while gently being launched to higher levels of lifestyle wellness than they would have dreamed.

Join the Healthy Steps Class because your quality of life will be improved. If you, or someone you know, are staying away because of any of the following think again. Just remember the Healthy Steps class is the place for you even if you:

  • Have two left feet
  • Lack experience
  • Are not athletic
  • Are not in the best shape
  • Pregnant
  • Are recovering from a illness or accident
  • Are living with a chronic condition
  • Want a gentle full-body workout without beating yourself up

Post Exercise Fueling

Just finished a hard training session with Captain “I said 10 more!” and now you are dog tired and hungry as a wolf. What do you re-fuel your body with, there are so many choices! The best thing to do is pick food higher in protein and fat and lower in carbohydrates and sugars especially. The more protein the better chance your body (muscles in particular) have of re-pairing themselves. The protein combined with the fat will take long to metabolize and sustain your energy for longer. Stay away from simple carbohydrates such as bagels, muffins, scones, syrups, yogurt coated nuts, etc. Need something fast, a protein shake with real fruit and a small amount of milk/soy milk in it will really hit the spot! Want to keep it simple? Try a hand full of almonds, a hard boiled egg, and a small piece of fruit. Don’t forget to follow it all up with plenty of water!

Golf Tip: Reading Greens and Putting

It is important to take time to learn to read the greens in order to make the appropriate adjustments to your stroke. When judging a green, the latter half of a putt is much more important than the first half of the putt. This is due to the fact that the ball is losing speed as it travels across the green. When a putt loses speed, the characteristics of a green have a stronger influence on the path of the ball. To master distance control, you must learn to read the green and play your stroke accordingly so you place the ball close to the hole, or sink a putt in fewer strokes.

Pilates Mat Class Q&A

Have you ever taken a mat class, and wondered why we teach them the way we do? I’ve been teaching mat classes since 1999, and I hear these same questions over and over. Let’s address them!

Why use “Magic Circles”?
The magic circle is a tool that adds resistance to an exercise. It is a circle with cushions on the side comprised of a metal band (or several bands) inside that bends when you squeeze it. When you press into the cushions of the circle, you strengthen your body. Specifically, the circle can make your inner thighs work harder (like in double leg stretch), strengthen your arms (like in spine stretch forward), or engage your pelvic floor and lower abdominals (like the roll-down).

Teachers will choose to use the circle for various reasons; to strengthen specific body parts, to stretch your legs, to check for evenness (or demonstrate unevenness), to add variety to your mat routine, and to integrate or connect your legs, hips, back, and abdominals to each other. It’s tough (!) so if you are new to using the circle, make the movement smaller and focus on what the instructor is saying.

What should I wear?
Pilates Instructors like to see your form, so wear something fitted to your body. We want to see your back (to see if you are sitting up straight), your shoulders (to see if they are up to your ears) and your hips, your knees, even your ankles. Long pants need to be rolled up so we can watch your ankle and foot alignment when you stand. Don’t wear your shoes to class. We work the foot and the arch so wear socks or bare feet. Please wear your hair out of your face so we can see your neck. Also, leave your jewelry at home. It’s clunky, noisy, and you end up fussing with it.

What should I tell the instructor about me?
An instructor will want to know if you are brand new to Pilates, how many sessions or classes you’ve taken, and maybe what style of Pilates you’ve done. Let her know if you have had any recent or long-term injuries, esp. any surgeries, including childbirth. Most everyone can do Pilates, but there are some conditions that are contraindicated (not allowed) in Pilates, including pregnancy (unless you have been doing Pilates before you became pregnant), severe osteoporosis, and certain spinal conditions that do not allow for much flexion (bending forward).