Need motivation to make better health and fitness choices daily? We all do. Welcome to a site loaded with creative, practical tips geared to motivate. Here you'll find essential Pilates principles made fun and simple to enjoy applying everyday.

Do you need a magic circle?


Magic circle

Essential routine if you don’t have a magic circle

 

WHAT IS A MAGIC CIRCLE?

What the heck is a magic circle, or Pilates ring? Is it really essential for health? I’ve always tried to be a minimalist Pilates instructor. An instructor for the hard working masses, if you will. It’s essential for everyone to have good posture and balanced muscle groups and it shouldn’t take a lot of stuff or expense to achieve this! The magic circle, or Pilates ring is a useful, lightweight piece of resistance equipment that helps activate the muscles that draw your shoulders down when used for the upper body. For the lower body, it helps activate little used muscles around the hips. That’s all. I used to say it was non essential. I’ve really started to change my tune as I’m aging, though. This post is focusing on the essential lower body benefit.

WHY DO I NEED IT?

The muscles around the hips and glutes are in need of a serious wake-up call. We all only walk and sit far too much. These muscles are made to rotate, stabilizers are supposed to stabilize and adductors and abductors are much like unemployed willing workers in these areas. Many of us even rotate our hips too internally or externally while walking, creating spinal problems from simply everyday walking. We all need to become aware of healthy hip rotation.

IF YOU DON’T HAVE A MAGIC CIRCLE: MEDIUM CIRCLE ROUTINE

Above, Michelle is doing an essential routine that improves functionality and gives any athlete an edge! Focus on stabilizing the spine and hip bones by gently activating your pelvic floor muscles.

  •  Draw 8 slow motion basketball sized circles forward than backward, linger in each angle. I mean slowww!!!
  •  8 in neutral forward, 8 in neutral backward
  •  8 in external rotation forward, then backward
  •  8 in internal rotation forward, then backward
  •  take a break in between each set, do other leg

 

ESSENTIAL MAGIC CIRCLE ROUTINE

Jeff is improving his hip functionality in much less time by adding the Pilates ring resistance

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First, put Pilates ring on the outside above ankles and maintain a gentle press outward (pictured)

  • lift up and down 8 counts of 8 in all 3 rotations then…

 

Next, put Pilates ring on inside and maintain gentle press together

  •  lift up and down 8 counts of 8 in all 3 rotations

 

There really isn’t such a simple piece of equipment out there that can give us this result. When I started instructing, magic circles were about $30. Now the trend has died but the usefulness has not. I see them for $5 lately, and it is well worth the investment! I hope I don’t shatter my minimalist reputation over this, but if I do I believe it is worth it!

Pilates Home Workout Challenge


PILATES HOME WORKOUT CHALLENGE: STATIC AND SLOW

It always does us good to pause…think about where we are and where we’re going…then, move patiently and deliberately. This is the practical theme in this home workout.  I’m featuring a full class in this post upon request. I hope all enjoy trying this! I just want to briefly explain one reason why I deviate from classical Pilates for those wondering. I assure you, I have good reasons for every deviation you may observe in my method.

For me, the experience of teaching Pilates Mat for nearly 12 years has taught me much about the real needs and potential of people. Instructors are faced with the question, “What would Joseph Pilates do today?”. The fact is, there will always be a population of people who won’t prefer to do strength training with resistance equipment. There will always be people who want to workout without others standing over them and adjusting them while they workout. They have the right to feel that way and still get the education in movement they need. I’d hope Joseph Pilates wouldn’t ignore them. The simple skill of visualizing our spine, hips, ribs and shoulders in movements is a necessary skill for everyone.  For instructors to teach this effectively in a minimalist Pilates mat class, we have to rethink the concept of fluidity.

Many Pilates instructors think there should be no static poses as a rule in a Pilates class.  In an all levels Mat Class, which should be available for people, there is an impending need for people to stop and visualize. Most pilates practicers are not dancers.  Without static posing, many people in group classes will move before they know what they are doing. They will do things wrong or feel they are doing things wrong. The value of fluidity in movement is learning to practice a deliberate, thoughtful, and safe pace. We can still teach this valuable concept without constant movement. In this workout you (1) get in a position, (2) visualize and think, then (3) move at a thoughtful pace. We still teach fluidity without the emphasis on choreography, which really has little practical value…someone has to say it. There I did. The loftier goal is people of all levels are taught what to think about in class, at their desks and in their home workout. This home workout has an equal emphasis on functionality and aethetics. In other words, we balance muscle groups, but we cant ignore our clients are here for lifted glutes and flat abs. Everyone can try this home workout sample of what we do in a full class.

 

Home workout

C CURVE AND TEASER V CHALLENGE: INTENSE ABS

  • (1) Hold C Curve 3 slow counts of 10, gently engage abdominals, relax neck and shoulders, Breathing deeply and consciously
  • (2) Move arms out and leg up slowly, 8 counts each leg. Truly stabilizing spine, ribs and hips next…
  • (3) Hold the lowest C curve you can without touching the mat 3 slow counts of 10
  • (4) Lightly touch the bottom 5 vertabrae to the mat and slowly come up 4 times
  • (3) Hold low C for 3 counts of 10
  • Light touch 4 more times and hold low C for a count of 10

TRY TO DO ALL WITHOUT RESTING

  • (5) Hold teaser V for 3 counts of 10, Growing through the spine, engage inner thighs and deep abs
  • (6) Keep your feet in the same spot as you lightly touch the bottom 5 vertabrae to the mat and come back slowly 8 times
  • Roll like a ball 4 times

 

Home workout

ESSENTIAL SPINAL POSITIONS CHALLENGE

  • (7) Descend to Neutral spine, hold your best scissor pose for 10 breaths
  • René’s Tip: Bring your foot to the floor as often as you need to put an arching spine back to neutral
  • Bring the high leg to the low leg 8 times slowly up and down, maintaining neutral spine
  • Switch leg position and repeat pose and 8 reps
  • (8) Peel head neck and shoulders off mat. Use abs as “shock absorber”, relax neck
  • Repeat same neutral spine routine but with shoulders stabilized in space

 

PLANK CHALLENGE

  • (9) Hold push up position for a count of 10. Bring each leg up and down 8 slow reps each
  • DON’T REST. (10) Go right to low plank. Hold 10. Each leg up and down 8 reps
  • DON’T REST. (11)  Go right to side plank. Stabilize spine with leg lift 2 counts of 8
  • (12) Hip dips: lightly touch hip to mat and come up 8 reps, Do other side.
  • (13) Back plank dips 8 breaths 8 counts each = 64 dips

 

Home workout

BRIDGE CHALLENGE

  •  (14) In Bridge do 4 slow counts of 8 leg up and down
  • (15) 4  slow counts of 8 lightly touch spine to the mat

 

BACK WORK AND STANDING CHALLENGE

  • (16) Hold Superman 10 slow counts
  • Move legs up and down 10 counts
  • (17) Hold Plié 4 slow counts of ten, move up and down (stay low) for 4 counts of 10

 

This takes about 45 minutes if you hold long enough and move in a slow, thoughtful rewarding pace! Most of us still feel it EVERYWHERE the next day, no matter how long we’ve been doing these moves. If you don’t have 45 minutes. Check out my previous posts that feature many 15 minute sequences with a lot of bang for the time. I encourage any instructors reading to utilize the “static and slow” method and I would love to hear your feedback.

 

Lose those Love Handles: Ball workout


TIGHTEN YOUR “GIRDLE”

Possibly an over-adoring wife who later changed her mind, coined the name “love handles”.  Nothing to love here. Most of us just wish we could squeeze them to oblivion with anything but love! Many actually do try to do this by doing every kind of side crunch imaginable. Of course, just doing a move for a couple of muscles won’t melt it away in that exact spot. You probably have heard the famous saying “abs are made in the kitchen”. True. If you don’t feed it, it won’t store it. Another helpful truth, that makes me less hungry quite frankly, is “no oblique stands alone”.  Your sides are clearly connected to a front and a back, so learn to visualize this as a girdle, and work it as such. My following routine is a love handles melter that respects the obliques (located around the love handles) as part of a muscle girdle. It also not only uses internal and external obliques in flexion but also in challenging stabilization. Try this!

Lose love handles

Pike on the ball: works the whole “girdle”

  •  Roll out to push up position
  • Initiate the movement by engaging the deep abdominals gently
  • Pull glutes to the ceiling with straight legs
  • 3 SETS OF 8
  • This will work obliques along with deep abs (transverse) and outer abs (rectus), low back and shoulders, too
Lose love handles

Stabilization: Leg lift

  •  Place ball beneath ankles, turn feet out and keep them relaxed, body in check mark position.
  • Engage deep abdominals to stabilize the ribcage while you lift legs off the floor
  • 8 COUNTS OF 8 both sides
  • René’s Tip: Think of your abs as a shock absorber for the move. The better you stabilize, the deeper you work = more melting of love handles! Also relaxing your knees will give improved inner thigh work to the lower leg.
  • This will work obliques with glutes and thighs
Lose love handles

Flexion: Demand more than a side crunch

  •  In the same position, initiating the move in the center, bring the elbow to the thigh, thigh to elbow.
  • Lead through the center, not the neck
  • Flex the ribcage toward the hip and then extend it far away as you drop the legs. Keep the spine in the same plane all the while.
  • 4 COUNTS OF 8 both sides

 

This routine is really effective, as it includes many muscle groups outside the obliques. As I say often in class, I would never make you do this for nothing! This will get blood flow going around the hips and shoulders, strengthen thighs and glutes, as you work the whole “girdle”. So tighten your girdle, and hopefully those love handles won’t be feeling the love anymore!

 

Single Leg Exercises: Strength in Balance


A PARTY TRICK WITH A PURPOSE

Try this now. Close your eyes and try to stand on one foot without stumbling. I’m known to ask people to do this sometimes in social situations. People usually stumble. I’m not being mean, it just helps me respond to curious friends who ask “What’s a Pilates and what does it do?” Well, the reasons why many stumble matter to me. Most of us are unaware of how our bodies react to gravity throughout the day. Also, we have stabilizers in our hips that we don’t use as stabilizers enough. We wind up using stabilizers as movers, leading to undesirable rotations in the spine that cause damage. Improved consciousness of this and a few clever single leg exercises can prevent these circumstances, while also giving you a toned look and a strong core. When I close my eyes, stand on one foot and stumble, I know it’s time to put these single leg exercises back in my repertoire.

Single leg exercises

ONE LEGGED BALANCE

  •  Balance on one leg, keep knee soft, energy in the heel
  • Maintaining a gentle contraction in your pelvic floor muscles, lean forward as far as you can extending your back leg as parallel to the floor as possible for you, keeping the toes on the floor soft. 
  • The goal is to hold this with symmetry in your hips and shoulders, not how parallel you get to the floor. It’s ok to be holding onto something during this routine to achieve this
  • Try to HOLD FOR A MINUTE, René’s Tip: Keep your eyes fixed on one spot on the floor. Shoulders sliding down the back, relax neck and joints
  • Do other leg. If your good at that switch legs and do the…

 

ONE LEGGED SQUAT AND CURL COMBO

  •  In the described position aim for 4 SETS OF 8 SQUATS
  • Only bend the knee as much as you can without letting energy in those toes!
  • On the same leg, stabilize in that balance and curl the heel towards the glute 4 SETS OF 8 CURLS
  • Note: This is about how well you stabilize the hips not about how far you bring the foot, Judy and Kathy (above) are great examples of hip stabilization, not over reaching in these moves
  • Do the other leg. Try not to take a break. The hips should feel smoking.

 

Single leg exercises

WALL-SIT

  •  Get in chair position and keep energy out of the toes up against the wall (Lisa pictured above)
  • HOLD FOR GOAL OF TWO MINUTES
  • This may be your goal for a while, but if minutes ever get easy, instead of increasing time try the, you guessed it..

 

ONE LEGGED WALL SIT

  • If you can maintain good symmetry like Andrew, extend a leg parallel to the floor. Ouch. It’s serious.
  • HOLD EACH LEG FOR A GOAL OF A MINUTE EACH

 

These are lofty rep and time goals stated here. You’ll get there. The great thing about these single leg exercises, is every time you do them you feel you do them better than the last time. It only takes a little time and thought for healthier hips! Letting the stabilizers do their job will transform movements that may injure us into ones that make us stronger and more functionally sound everyday. So face this hip health challenge and I’ll try not to make you stumble around with your eyes closed at parties!

 

Basic Back Exercises Made Safe


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It seems the muscles that support the spine should be safe and easy to work out. I am driven to madness by the fact that it only takes about 5-10 minutes a week to keep these muscles strong and yet so few people invest this time. I get it, though. We look in the mirror and want to work on what is proofing and jiggling. The spinal column never seems that important…until it bites back. I am also saddened because those who do take strengthening postural muscles seriously are sometimes taught unsafe back exercises that over contract muscles that already tend to over contract. It seems to me people need knowledgable encouragement. I assure you, “the more you know, the less you need” for this issue. It’s really just laying on the floor and thinking about the right things. We have to learn and practice this concept: Growing Through The Spine. I hope to explain this simply…

GIVING THE VERTABRAE “BREATHING ROOM”

Try this now. Just sit up straight, start to float the crown of your head to the ceiling taking a deep breath. While doing this, engage your abs and pull your shoulder blades down your back.  Your chin should naturally tuck towards the chest. You’ll get the sensation of stretching the muscles between the vertabrae. It should feel so right. Take a few deep breaths and get acquainted with the idea of giving each vertabra breathing room, thus growing through the spine. Consciously do this Ten times a day until it becomes your unconscious healthy habit. It is important to treat your spine this way and a necessary practice in doing the following back exercises.

Back exercises

THE NOT-SO-SUPER SUPERMAN

  •  Grow through the spine first, then lift arms and thighs slightly off the floor for a mild contraction in the lower lumbar
  •  Just maintain growing through the spine in the position, softening the joints René’s Tip: Your gaze will be on the mat like your in love with the mat if your head is placed properly
  •  Emphasize how well your growing through the spine NOT HEIGHT OF THE CHEST AND THIGHS (the common mistake)
  •  HOLD FOR A MINUTE

 

THE ESSENTIAL: LEGS UP AND DOWN

  •  Maintain growing through the spine, bringing legs up and down slowly
  •  Try to use glutes and don’t bend at the knees, keep them soft
  •  3 SLOW, SMALL COUNTS OF 8
  •  Notice if one side of your lower back takes over. If so, practice lifting the other leg higher to help both sides work evenly, strengthening the weaker side of the low back. This will help you reclaim balance in the muscle group.

 

SWIMMING

  • Maintain growing through the spine while lifting opposite arm and leg simultaneously, hold for a breath and switch
  • Maintain symmetry and stabilization in the shoulders and hips. Focus on length, NOT HEIGHT
  • 2 SLOW COUNTS OF 8

 

Back exercises

ADVANCED TEST: ROCKING

I don’t view this move as essential, but it’s a great way to maintain a spine that is already flexible, strong and free of imbalances. Therefore, it is not for most people. But if those are your spinal circumstances…

  •  Push up with your hands to your best spine extension, grow through the spine in extension
  •  Maintain a determined ab engagement, stabilizing hips spine and shoulders
  •  Rock back and forth 8 TIMES
  •  Think of pulling your feet towards the wall then the ceiling
  •  Lead with your center, not the head
  •  Try to rock slower and bigger

 

These simple back exercises are as simple as lifting some limbs up intelligently from the floor. I told you the more you know, the less you need. I hope you have a floor, or your really in trouble. That’s all you really need. Most of my clients have no back pain at all. They maintain that situation by doing a routine like this just twice a week and increase their posture awareness everyday. I hope this gives you a well deserved, strong backbone.

 

Healthy Hips: Kneeling Side Kick


TIPS FOR HEALTHY HIPS

“Sitting is the new smoking” said someone in my class the other day. This sounds like an exaggeration, but microbiologists agree with her. Doctors say the difference between thin and fat people is how much they sit. Not how much they exercise or eat. Sobering. We know we will damage the mechanisms in a car if we keep it in a garage too long. Similarly, our bodies are organisms of glorious grace and mechanics designed for mobility. My heart goes out to people who have to prove their value at work by how long they sit at their desks, as this is most of my clientele. This circumstance slows our metabolism, tightens hips, and crunches our spines.

The good news is just a little thought can prevent the dreaded outcomes of this situation. One tip doctors give is to shift your body every 30 to 90 seconds. Using our postural muscles this way produces an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase in our muscles’ blood vessels that burns fat.  If sitting on a stability ball is an option for you at work, do it! Also, this kneeling side kick routine helps balance these muscle groups and become more aware of good posture. First try this…

HEALTHY HIP TEST

BENEFITS: Helps you to put energy in the abdominals while sitting; teaches you to picture the low back and the hip flexors and transfer the stress out them and absorb it with your transverse abdominals (deep abdominals). Reveals tight hip flexors.

Balance Test

Try this test

  •  Sit in the center of a stability ball in your best posture, feet flat on the floor in line with hips, shoulders sliding down back, arms out for balance
  • Gently engage your lower abdominals picturing your lower spine. Use it to keep it in place.
  • Keep that thought going as you try to lift a foot up off the floor WITHOUT SHIFTING YOUR HIPS AT ALL, hold for 10 seconds, trying to use your deep abdominals to keep the spine from moving. Do the other foot.

 

Try this test from time to time.  Monitor your improvement. You will improve! Especially if you practice this kneeling side kick.

KNEELING SIDE KICK ROUTINE

BENEFITS: Wakes up sleeping muscles, hip stretch for all around the joint, strengthens glutes and thighs, improves posture

Forward and back

Forward and back Hip Stretch-Stabilize Hips

  •  Keep shoulders in symmetry, engage abs, stabilize spine and hips (truly) as you slowly move leg forward and back
  • 8 REPS
  • Keep your leg in the same plane in space then…

 

Circle as large as you can

Circle as large as you can

  •  Slowly circle
  • 8 REPS EACH WAY
  • Notice where you want to rush the circle, and linger there
  • René’s Tip: Really picture the circle your drawing. Forcing yourself to keep the same pace all around will stretch where your tight and strengthen where your weak.
Up and Down

Up and Down

  •  8 REPS, try to keep the leg as high as you can

 

Done. Now do the other leg.

This is an uncomfortable position for most at first! If you can’t kneel yet doing these moves, practice lying on your side with the same principles of stabilization and symmetry. It will get easier. Balance takes time. Getting into this habit is much easier than quitting smoking or quitting sitting! Practicing the kneeling side kick, give yourself a little hip stretch and a little extra shifting during the day will do wonders for your health.

Isometric Abs: Strength in Stillness


Seek out a tree...

Seek out a tree…

 

ISOMETRICS: STRENGTH IN STILLNESS

“Seek out a tree and let it teach you stillness”. Useful advice, and not just for vacation. Visualize a strong, unmovable trunk and limber limbs that fluidly move in a breeze. This is useful to imitate in this effective isometric abs workout.  More importantly, thinking of this in our everyday movements will channel stress away from our necks and shoulders. By keeping the spine controlled while moving your limbs fluidly, the willing transverse abdominals (located deeper than the six pack) will do important work. This isometric abs challenge is for deep strength. Just be like that tree.

Beginners can hold light weights as a counterbalance. This technique also helps train the abdominals to achieve a smooth Pilates Roll-Up, if that’s your goal.

Isometric abs

Stabilize the spine in space

  • Start with a Spine Stretch, breathe deep and create space between the vertebrae. Reach forward in seated position.
  • Next, sit up straight with toes apart, activating the inner thighs, inhale deep trying to float ribcage far from the hips. Keep shoulders back and down
  • Exhaling, prepare the transverse abdominals, gently squeeze the lower belly as you descend to the above C curve
  • Go where it’s challenging for you. KEEP YOUR SPINE HERE FOR THIS WHOLE SEQUENCE
  • Picture the spinal column from the crown of the head to the tip of the tailbone.  Hold in place for 10 deep slow breaths
  • Move arms slowly OUT AND IN for a SLOW COUNT OF 8. Don’t let the ribcage push forward or spine float up.
  • Move arms UP AND DOWN for a SLOW COUNT OF 8, keeping joints soft.
  • Keeping shoulders down, CIRCLE arms for a SLOW COUNT OF 8 both directions

 

Isometric abs

Model Judy has strong transverse abdominals

 

  • Do another spine stretch and try to find your lowest C curve possible without letting the spine touch the mat, Judy is probably as low to the floor as anyone can be here.
  • Hold for a slow COUNT OF 10
  • lightly touch the lower spine to the mat René’s Tip: literally picture the 5 vertabrae in of your lumbar spine and lightly place them in the mat
  • come right back up to that low spot and hold again
  • DO 4 TIMES

 

This is one of my favorite signature sequences. It never gets too easy. You can always find a lower place for the spine, engage the transverse abdominals more, control better, or add more reps or hold the positions longer to make it more challenging. If you can engage your transverse, relax your neck, shoulders and limbs in these positions, you can do it anywhere in any position. That’s the goal. Make it a personal goal to visualize your transverse and engage it and relax your joints 10 times throughout the day. Stress will reside in less damaging places in your body. So just stay still and be strong!

 

Combat Knee Pain with TFL TLC


Make the gluteus medius work!

Make the gluteus medius work!

 

ALL IN THE FAMILY

“I have bad knees.” How many times have you heard someone say that about knee pain? Many times people get diagnosed with Iliotibial band syndrome, runner’s knee, or just feel knee pain or pulling in certain movements and blame the poor little knee.

However, most times the “bad knee” is really just a victim. It’s kind of like child in a family that is prone to dysfunction. Like a real child, its nature is to get out of line and it’s the parents’ job to discipline it. The gluteus medius muscle, the upper and outer part of the glute, has a job to keep the knee in line during movements, like a good father. Unfortunately, many of us have a gluteus medius that starts to act more like a couch potato. This muscle is weak even in many athletes. So mom kicks in to keep her child in line. The tensor fasciae latae, TFL muscle, is a small muscle located toward the top of your front jeans pocket, that starts to discipline her child. Mom can’t really handle the workload though, she gets totally stressed! As a result, the Iliotibial band or IT band, connecting the hip and knee on the outside of the thigh, tugs on knee like a perpetually annoyed big brother, and the poor little knee cries like a baby. The fact is, Dad (glute medius) needs to be strong and discipline everyday and Mom (TFL) needs a spa day…often.

MAKE “DAD” WORK: GLUTE MEDIUS STRENGTH

* Lie on your side, press your thumb firmly in the glute medius (pictured above, the part that wants to muffin out of jeans)

* Keeping your legs relaxed, point the top leg toe down and place it behind the heel, lift the leg behind the other while feeling for the glute med to fire up, linger up top for 2 counts and bring leg down for 5 slowww counts

* When you know you’ve activated the glute med, aim for 30 REPS

 

“MOM’S” SPA DAY: STRETCH AND RELAX HIP FLEXORS

Maintain Pelvic Tilt forward to stretch hip flexors

Maintain Pelvic Tilt forward to stretch hip flexors

* Kneel on padding if your knee is too sensitive, line up feet with knees

* Engage abs, tuck tailbone forward hold for 30 seconds

* Maintaining that engagement and posture, push hips forward and hold for 30 seconds

* Reach over lifting one side of the rib cage hold for 30 seconds, breathing deep all the while

Gently massage TFL muscle

Gently massage TFL muscle

* Place TFL right on a foam roller for gentle relaxation and linger here breathing deeply, you don’t have to roll

* For better targeting use a lacrosse ball, or tennis ball

These stretches will help the whole hip flexor area, and help give that stressed out mom a break. The glute med will become a more responsible dad, and result in happy kids and better family harmony.

The TFL muscle is really small and hard to target. So if knee pain is a problem for you, I recommend really getting acquainted with it. You can stretch the area more often by taking longer strides, while lying on your stomach in bed, watch videos and find what works best for you. If your tempted to foam roll the IT band to release pressure, René’s Tip: go slow and don’t aggravate what feels inflamed, don’t indiscriminately roll your leg out like punishing a bad piece of pizza dough. Rolling too hard and too much is dangerous, but a little TLC is fine. So to combat knee pain try to remember “Happy wife, happy life!”

Oblique Workout: Practice Healthy Shoulder Placement


Helen practicing healthy shoulder placement in corkscrew

Helen practicing healthy shoulder placement

 

HEALTHY SHOULDER PLACEMENT

“Come out with your hands up!.. um and shoulders down, of course)”, say the Shoulder Police. I know I’m the Shoulder Police in my classes, but I’m far from a scary authority figure at a whopping 5 feet tall, I hope. I have good reason for being this way. The shoulder girdle is an incredibly fine tuned, complex platform for hand and arm movement. When that stage is out of order there’s no show. In other words, unconscious abuse of the shoulder girdle has lead many to be in need of an operation that prevents people from even using a steering wheel for quite some time. In all workouts and in everyday life here’s a simple and essential way to think of healthy shoulder placement:

 “STABLE BUT NOT STIFF”. This tip is easy to remember because it’s just like life. We all want to be stable but don’t want to be viewed as stiffs, right?  This is a way to think of practicing dynamic stabilization in the shoulder girdle.

  •  STABLE in trying to prevent them from rising up to your ears, relaxing the top your shoulders and neck. Keep them there.
  •  NOT STIFF because forcing this too hard leads to very common compression injuries, inhibiting blood flow that heals.

 

Practicing healthy shoulder placement in this Pilates inspired oblique routine results in a strong, trim center and de-stressed necks and shoulders. These moves can be done WITH or WITHOUT THE BALL. The ball gives a great challenge in short time.

TICK TOCK 

Tick-Tock with the ball

Tick Tock with the ball

  • Keep a nice long neck, chin towards the chest.
  • Anchor the shoulder girdle: STABLE keep the shoulder blades sliding down the back. NOT STIFF: Use energy to do this, but feel it through the shoulders without pressing the blades too hard in the mat. Picture breathing in between the shoulder blades, and around the collarbone. Allow for minimal fluid movement in the area. René’s Tip: Think of having a nice, relaxed casual relationship between the shoulders and the collarbone, in contrast to the tight, close, romantic relationship between the deep abdominals and the spine.
  • Put the ball just under the ankles, feet turned out, light energy in the ball to get thighs involved, relax joints
  • Balance on the right hip, anchoring the left shoulder
  • Hold for 10 slowww counts each side
  • Do both sides 4 times

 

CORKSCREW

Stable but not stiff shoulder girdle during Corkscrew

Stable but not stiff shoulder girdle during Corkscrew

 

  •  Draw a slow, fluid circle
  •  Picture twisting using the center vertabrae, maintain hip symmetry
  •  Alternate directions after each circle, getting the biggest range of motion possible for you, while maintaining stable shoulders and a relaxed neck
  • 2 slow counts of 8
  • Do with legs together, heels glued. Or with the ball
Corkscrew with the Ball

Use the Ball for a bigger challenge

You will need to bring your legs down to adjust in this routine, from time to time. Stop. Take a breath. Adjust and carry on to get healthy shoulder placement throughout as often as you need to. Let the obliques do the work. In time, you will do this with relaxed neck and shoulders with almost no conscious effort.

So The Shoulder Police are really just here to protect and serve, I hope you see. Healthy shoulder placement is for in and out of the gym. So I also hope you maintain healthy shoulders and a strong center practicing this!

Back Spasm Stretch


Relief on the river

Relief on the river

 

ON THE ROCKS WITH A TWIST

If you’ve ever experienced back spasm, you know it is impossible to think of anything else but making the pain go away. I had this experience on a leisurely rafting trip, I decided was a little too leisurely. So, myself always wanting to make the most of my daily movements, reasoned I needed to add a little “twist” to my paddling technique. I know. I should know better. And there it was, shooting pain from an involuntary contraction in the center to my lower back. My angry back reminding me that “leisurely” was actually an awesome idea. This back spasm was excruciating and overwhelming. At the moment, I’m sure I was exclaiming dramatically that I was paralyzed.

Well at least it wasn’t a strain, and if I was ten years older it might have been. I was really twisting big and incorrectly, and it could’ve been more serious if my back wasn’t used to me taking care of it. We stopped for lunch on the rocks, and while the normal, leisurely people ate, I found a flat rock and did this stretch. Much to my husband’s embarrassment, I’m sure.

BOTTOMS UP:  UP AND OVER STRETCH

I strongly suggest people practice getting in this stretch in their life before experiencing back pain. It hugely preventative at the first sign of pain, but can be dangerous to try if you already have back or hip maladies. If you get a spasm without an injury, keep calm and do this great back spasm stretch.

Up-and-Over Stretch

Up-and-Over Stretch

Support if you need to

Support if you need to

  • On a mat, you can roll like a ball to use some momentum to get here. With no mat, you have to have enough ab and arm strength and back flexibility to get in this position. Just engage your abs and roll over
  • Spread shoulder blades on surface, lengthen neck, René’s Tip: Your voice should sound normal if you speak
  • It’s all about this: BREATHE TO INFLATE YOURSELF, fill up the entire rib cage, slow deep inhales until there is good pressure from the inside out. This will help “iron out” the muscles and lighten up your joints in the torso and hips.
  • Flex and relax feet for 30 second intervals
  • If you have good balance on your shoulder girdle, grab toes
Grab toes if you can

Grab toes if you can

 

This position harnesses gravity and uses it to spread those back muscles out. If you can’t get in this position, get a workout ball and lay on it like this with the same breathing. This works great, too.

Healing Combo: harnessing gravity and breathing

Healing Combo: harnessing gravity and breathing

 

Stay here until the pain goes away. Have faith that if it’s only a back spasm, it will go away and don’t panic. In my incident, and others in the past, my pain was gone in less than 8 minutes. Really.

In the meantime, the principles taught in Corkscrew in Pilates come into play for everyday movement. Don’t twist unless your hips are in good symmetry, shoulders relaxed and in symmetry, engage abs and focus on the twisting of the center vertabrae. So the moral of the story is use your Corkscrew and go bottoms up often, and you won’t wind up on the rocks with a twist!