Are you in need of a fresh challenge for September? Then you might want to join my FREE 30 Day Pilates Plank Challenge!
Be aware that this is NOT a traditional plank challenge where you’re asked to plank for an extended period of time!
This is a much smarter plank challenge, which focuses on teaching you good alignment, correct form and understanding the connections that are required to support your body in a truly intelligent way.
The Pilates Way!
If you struggle to find the time to build strength efficiently in your body then this is the challenge for you.
Strength is the number one way to protect your body from injury including things like back, neck and shoulder pain, and the pilates plank is one of the most efficient ways to build functional, full body strength.
Done correctly, did you know that you’ll see results quickly?
You can sign up below to be sent your challenge resources, which include:
Your FREE 30 day challenge calendar (printable PDF)
Access to a short ‘How to Plank (the pilates way) video’ (including modifications and tips to avoid wrist and toe discomfort when planking)
Access to a super quick ‘Pilates Plank Variations’ video (giving you planking options from beginners to advanced, so you can take part no matter what level you’re at)
PLUS I’ll be dropping in with regular motivation and teaching points to keep you inspired along the way!
Our challenge starts on 1 September (tomorrow!) but you can jump in at any point.
Work your body smarter not harder – SIGN UP BELOW to join us!
FREE 30 Day Pilates Plank Challenge
JOIN TODAY AND LEARN TO BUILD STRENGTH THE PILATES WAY!
Whether it’s 10 minutes or 60 minutes, the best thing about pilates is that you can get everything you need from a session without any pilates equipment, making it super accessible and easy to get started.
BUT what happens when you’re looking to take things up a notch?!
Enter pilates props (think small equipment); things like the overball (small ball), therabands, light hand weights, the pilates magic circle, a yoga block can all add variety to your matwork, helping to keep them fresh and exciting.
Pilates props also help to isolate or engage specific muscles, and can foster “a-ha” moments even during the most familiar exercises. Like the springs on a Reformer, props can provide support and stability or offer more challenge, depending upon the movement being performed and how they are used – they are also just really good fun, which is what workouts should be!
Here are some of the most commonly used pilates props and how to use them.
1. Foam Roller
The best friend of a lot of sporting professionals and physios, the foam roaller is widely known as a rehab tool designed to smooth out your fascia. As it has a wobbly surface, it’s brilliant for challenging balance. In a vertical position, you can lie on it and try Arm Circles, Single Knee Fold, Toe Taps, or Dead Bug to get those core stability muscles firing. Or turn it horizontally and rest your pelvis on the Roller while spine curling, working up to Bridge. Placed beneath the shoulder blades, it’s fantastic for supporting curl ups and oblique twists and facilitates spinal extension – amazing after being a desk all day!
2. Light hand weights
In Pilates, we use light hand weights to keep the emphasis on the entire body. One- or two-pound weights add challenge to the Standing Arm Series and just about any of the mat repertoire – yes even single leg stretch! Many Reformer exercises, from Coordination to Rowing to Backstroke, can be done on the Mat using Hand Weights.
You’ll find these being used in my Foundational and Core mat classes, Total Barre and also my HIP Pilates class. Brilliant for toning the upper body and building strength in the core (and in the case of single leg stretch, co-ordination too!)
Probably the most versatile of all the pilates props, it is a long, stretchy band that’s available in varying levels of resistance, and is great for stretching the hamstrings and lower back while lying on the Mat – it was in deed a life saver for me when I suffered with my chronic low back pain. I’d use mine to stretch my hamstrings twice a day. The band can add resistance and challenge in so many of the mat exercises including the Side-Lying Leg Series, and it provides support and stability in exercises such as the Roll Up, Roll Back, and One Leg Circle.
Again you’ll find the theraband in my mat classes and also my Barre class.
Probably my favourite pilates prop, the overall is a dream piece of kit for wakening up the surrounding muscles of the inner thighs, ankles, or palms when it’s placed between any one of these parts. It’s also a great for challenging stability and getting those deep core muscles to fire when placed under the pelvis (love doing toe taps this way) and provides a great modification tool when placed under the thoracic spine to help with curl ups.
I also use it in prenatal behind the mid-back to avoid my ladies lying supine (flat on the back) for an extended period of time.
I run a specific pilates with the small ball classes – check my schedule for more information and to book. This is the piece of kit to give you serious shakes and wobbles!
5. Tennis ball
Joseph Pilates invented several small pieces of Pilates equipment specifically to engage and work the feet, most famously the Foot Corrector. The small size and firmness of a tennis ball makes it ideal for waking up the feet. Try rolling the sole of your foot over a tennis ball while standing or seated (try it whilst you’re working at your desk to keep your feet mobile!).
Tennis balls can also be placed under tender areas such as the hips or shoulders for a static stretch or gentle rolling massage.
You will have seen the tennis ball in use during tennis ball rising in my mat classes (we also use spikey balls, which we’ll talk about next).
6. Franklin ball (spikey ball)
These small, inflatable balls are used to massage and wake up the muscles and fascia. Placed beneath the pelvis, lower back, shoulders, or other tight or sore spots, spikey balls work with the body’s own weight to release tension. These balls can be used for static holds or you can slide them back and forth across the fasciae for a self-massage.
Again I’ve used these quite a lot in my matwork classes and last year attended an Art of Motion teacher training course on the slings system with the wonderful Katherine Pentecost. This training class was focused on using these little pieces of wonder to help you find glide and release through your fascia system.
I’ve only ever used the pole in Reformer sessions, but they are so effective when added to exercises like the classic Roll Up as it adds resistance and a challenge on the way up from the floor and contributes to a great stretch in the forward rounding position.
8. Magic Circle
I would have said that this is the most well known of all the pilates props, but I think in recent years there has definitely been a shift more towards the overball in its place. Still, this deceptively simple tool has endless uses and is a firm favourite of mine – you cannot get a better inner thigh workout!
It’s a resistance based circle that you can hold between the ankles, thighs, or palms for finding the mid-line or your ‘centre;’ an important pilates principle (think of the phrase “naval to spine”). The Magic Circle can also create instability (the same way an overball does) when balanced on the floor beneath an outstretched hand in the Side-Lying, or Side Kick Kneeling, or under the ankle of the stationary leg in the One Leg Circle. There’s also an entire standing series performed with the Circle placed above and between the ankle bones — a major balance challenge.
Did you know that many pilates exercises can be modified so that they can be done in a seated position? Sitting upright is especially beneficial for beginners, as it encourages length in the spine (the same effect can be achieved by sitting on a Foam Roller or a Yoga Block). Try Spine Stretch Forward, Spine Twist, or the Saw, for starters. Bonus: you can do these on an airplane or at your desk.
10. Yoga block
In yoga classes, blocks are commonly used to bring the floor closer to you in Forward Folds. In pilates, these firm but not rigid foam blocks can take the place of a magic Circle or an Overball. They can prop up the sacrum in a Bridge and provide a useful perch in any of the seated exercises. Lightly hugging a block between the hands in Single Leg Kick engages the back muscles and upper arms. And can also be used in place of a cushion for the Big Squeeze.
Try adding props to your Mat work and see if it doesn’t challenge you in interesting ways and reveal new information about the exercises and your body.
Hope to see you on the mat!
P.S. Have you grabbed your FREE 20 minute Strength & Stretch pilates workout yet? It’s perfect for beginner level right through to advanced and will give you just the release you need in your body if it’s feeling tight and out of balance. Grab it by clicking here now.
Recently in my membership, I was asked a question around how to keep consistent and motivated with your at home pilates workouts. I know from teaching hundreds of clients over the years that it can be hard to stay on track when we’re so busy and when life is so up and down.
So today on the blog I’m sharing the 5 simple steps I encourage my clients to use to get their fitness mojo back and to stay on track with your home workouts:
1. Change your perspective
One of THE most important things you can do is to think about how you want to feel and let that be your driving force. For example you might want to feel happier, more energetic, less stressed, less achy in your body etc.
This puts more of a focus on the intrinsic factors of motivation, i.e. doing something because you enjoy it and enjoy the way it makes you feel
the external factors of motivation ie. doing something for reward, praise, or a sense of obligation. For example thinking that a workout has to be 60 minutes and a sweatfeast to be effective. Or you have to crunch X amount of calories to earn that bacon roll for breakfast (you don’t by the way). This sort of thinking can easily lead to
2. Set a goal
If you’re out of the habit of exercising, it can seem like climbing a mountain in flipflops to get back into it right?!
I’ve found from experience that the easiest thing to do in is to focus on one thing that will support your wellbeing each week.
It could be something as simple as drinking more water each day or having the cupboards stacked with healthy snacks – just make sure it seems do-able for you and the season you’re in. For me writing it down and putting it somewhere I can see it helps me stay on track. I encourage you to do the same.
3. Schedule a regular time
Find a time that works best for you. Ask for help or support from partner if you have kids. Schedule it in your calendar and set a digital reminder. Focus on how the action you’re taking is going to support you to feel the way you want to feel. Try and stick to the same time each week to build the habit in your brain (neurons that fire together, wire together). Eventually you’ll just start to roll out your mat, fill your water bottle or reach for the healthy snacks on auto pilot.
For me, it’s always been about finding super simple ways to get my workouts in, without having to move heaven and earth in the process (how much kit do you need to get to the gym!).
Ibecame a big fan of doing just 15 minutes of pilates when myDad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I had zero time to myself – this just fitted easily into my day and I was amazed at how quickly and easily I built strength and was able to calm myself.
It was a real game changer for me and an easy way to take care of myself during a really stressful time.
4. Think fun and variety
You need variety to stay motivated plus a workout should be fun and enjoyable; something you look forward! That’s why I add fresh new content every month to the membership library with different themes and fun ways to enjoy pilates and look after your body and mind.
5. Get a work out buddy
It can help to have an accountability buddy if you’re working towards a goal. Time to phone your bestie! In my membership community, we encourage and motivate each other though our private Facebook group.
There is no end of support, encouragement and good vibes. I am always so humbled to check in to the group and see just what a safe, supportive and uplifting space it is. It’s the first place I go when I feel my fitness mojo waning!
When you make the time to invest in your health everyone you come into contact with benefits but most of all, you benefit yourself and you are SO deserving of that.
So, set yourself a goal right now and give my 20 minute Strength and Stretch Pilates workout a go over the weekend – why not challenge yourself to do it 3 times over the next week and feel the benefit of what a quick workout can really do for you. Just select the link and it’s yours!
Will you let me know your thoughts if you try it?
I know you can do it but if you need an accountability buddy let me know!
Am cheering you on.
Love Julie x
I’d like to thank the very wonderful Mr. Kevin R. Wembridge , Consultant Hip and Knee Surgeon with our beloved NHS for this month’s guest blog post all about the importance of looking after your hips proactively. This is an amazing blog post that will really help you understand not only how the hip works but why it’s so important to look after your body now for later life. It also includes some handy tips on how to test out your hip strength and mobility and how pilates is helping his patients regain muscle balance and strength.
Pilates is the perfect method for stretching and strengthening all of the key muscle groups Mr. Wembridge mentions here, so why not try it for FREE now with my 20 minute Strength & Stretch Pilates Workout I created to help keep your whole body hip and healthy! (Bad joke!). Select the link above or click here and it’s all yours.
Have fun with it!
Biomechanics, is a big word which is bandied around a lot in exercise circles, but what does it actually mean? In its simplest form it is the science of movement of a living body. So, why is it so important and why are there 28,700,000 items related to it on a simple Google search?
Essentially, people are not usually interested in biomechanics until something goes wrong with their own and they have a problem.
They seek help from physios, doctors, alternative therapists and are introduced to the term, seldom understanding what it means or why it is important to them.
There may be a recent injury, a chronic injury or long-term joint wear underlying their problem: however, it may simply be that their muscles are not balanced and working in harmony to allow normal motion.
If we focus on the hip, it being the joint which connects the leg to the torso, the issues should become apparent. Essentially it is a ball and socket joint, which whilst being very stable, allows a large range of movement and has very strong forces which act upon it to help propel us when walking or running.
There are over 20 muscles which move this largest of joints, including the biggest muscle in the body (gluteus maximus).
Fun fact – the acetabulum (socket) is derived from ancient Latin and means ‘little vinegar cup’, as it was used to store and serve vinegar.
Concentrating on three of the hip movement groups (flexion, extension and abduction) should help simplify this further. For each of these, we will focus on the more important muscles only.
Movements of the hip
Let’s start with hip flexion. The main hip flexor is the iliopsoas muscle, which is formed from two muscles – the psoas (fillet steak for the carnivores amongst you) and the iliacus. The psoas arises from the inside of the lumbar vertebrae (lower spine) and is joined by the iliacus (from inside the pelvic wing) in the pelvis. It forms a combined tendon which passes over the front of the hip joint, before attaching to the top of the femur (thigh bone). It is the most powerful flexor of the hip, but also externally rotates the hip (imagine placing your left ankle on your right knee for instance).
If this muscle is tight it will pull the spine and pelvis forward, rotating them around the hip often leading to back pain and imbalance. Conversely if it is weak, stair climbing, hill walking and getting on a bus become tricky.
Whilst hip extension is driven by gluteus maximus, the hamstrings play a significant part with it too. The hamstrings come from your ischium (sit bones) and cross both the hip and the knee to attach on to your tibia (shin). Once you understand that this large muscle group crosses both of these joints, it isn’t a large step to understand that tight hamstrings will not only bend the knee, but also tilt the pelvis backwards.
If you wish to test this yourself, sit on the floor with your back up against a wall, put your legs out straight in front of you and lean forward, tilting your pelvis. The chances are this will feel tight down the back of your legs and behind your knee, unless you are very supple!
This indicates hamstring tightness, which is extremely common, especially amongst cyclists and people who sit for long periods of time.
What is the purpose of abduction? If you have ever been to a gym and seen or used the abduction machine (pushing your legs out to the side), you may think it is just another muscle group to train. It is vital for walking normally. The gluteus medius starts on the outer wall of your pelvis and attaches to the greater trochanter (the bony bit on the outside of your hip) and pulls your pelvis down towards your femur. It is this that allows you to walk easily.
To feel what I mean, place your hands on the outside of your sides between your pelvis and the greater trochanter. As you walk you will feel two things happen. When your right foot is on the ground, you should feel the muscles on your right hand side tensing and the left hand side of your body lifting up a little. This allows your foot to clear the ground, so you may walk normally.
A weak abductor leads to a very abnormal and challenging walk!
These are just some of the muscles around the hip and to coordinate the simplest of tasks, walking normally, means they all need to function properly and together.
Training them as groups, stretching them off and ensuring they are balanced will help you prevent future problems with walking.
Whilst it is impossible to ‘future-proof’ your body completely, everything which you may do to help yourself now, will help your future self more.
One of the issues we have when we undertake hip surgery, is to try and restore the biomechanics of the hip as much as possible. Whilst we can do that to some extent mechanically, it then relies on our patients retraining their hip muscles around this through exercises and physiotherapy.
I have a number of patients who have found significant benefit using pilates to help balance their hip and knee muscles, lower back and core, both before and after surgery.
People often spend a great deal of time and effort in planning their future finances and retirement, only to be too unhealthy to enjoy them fully.
Spending some time now investing in ourselves and our bodies, is surely as, if not, more important? Looking after your body is a hugely rewarding thing to do both now and for your future self.
Wouldn’t it be good in years to come if everyone could look back and say to themselves, I’m really glad I looked after myself when I was younger? Above all, do not get old weak, you won’t regret it.
Don’t forget to leave a comment and let me know if you loved this blog post as much as me!
Love Julie x
P.S. Sign up to my YouTube channel to be notified when new pilates videos go live.
*This blog first appeared on the Ostara Pilates blog in September 2020 and to date has had over 133 views, making it the second most read blog post this year.
Did you know that your pilates practice is underpinned by a set of principles? The pilates principles are worth taking time to know about because they will help you gain the basic philosophy behind the method, which in turn will help you improve in your practice.
Over the years, different training schools have attributed a variety of principles to the method. Below I’m talking you through the 8 that I work to.
Also known as precision of movement and is probably one of the most important ones to understand in a good pilates practice. In pilates, you look for good alignment at the start, and throughout each movement. By correctly aligning the body and bringing the joints and soft tissue into their natural neutral zones (which means the muscles are at the right position to move the joints in the right way), the right recruitment patterns are encouraged and the joints remain healthy.
Synchronisng the breath to movements is a key part of pilates and probably one of the hardest to master. The breathing patterns in pilates help with stability and encourage fluid movements. Learning how to breathe well also helps both the mind and body to relax, recharge and focus. You can read my post on Pilates Breathing, and how it supports stability here. It also includes some tips for getting started with it.
Centring (Core Stability)
This is the term we give to training your core stability. Pilates focuses on maintaining control and support of the body as movement takes place. It does this by encouraging the recruitment of the deep core muscles that help to control and stabilise whatever it is you are doing. The main muscles involved in core stability are your pelvic floor, your deep abdominals (the secret one being the transverse abs), your diaphragm and the multifidus which is a set of spinal extensors that run up your back.
Alignment, breathing and centring together are knows as the ABCs of pilates.
Coordination – a challenge for the brain over the body! Co-ordination helps focus the mind and allows for the movement to be performed purposefully and with control. By focusing on the quality and detail of each movement that make up the exercise, coordination, control, mobility, strength and the overall efficiency of the whole body are improved.
Pilates movements should be controlled, graceful and flowing. Moving your body through different planes of movement (rotation – think thread the needle, side bending – think mermaid, flexion – think roll down and extension – think cobra), and your joints through their normal ranges of motion, will lead to longer, leaner muscles that are stronger across their whole range.
Come on, be honest, who’s favourite position isn’t the relaxation position? Relaxation of the mind and body is an essential part of any pilates session. Focusing on releasing areas of tension within the body allows for change in the body to take place. In doing so, the mind starts to relax as conscious thought becomes purely focused on moving with grace and ease.
Pilates encourages thoughtful awareness of your whole body while your performing the movements. To bring about change to the way you move, the body and mind need to work together and pilates is a genius practice for achieving this. Pilates will help you develop greater body awareness and control, through concentration and focus on your ABCs (alignment, breathing, centring remember). When you are aware of the movements within each exercise, this way of moving will ultimately become automatic, bringing about unconscious improvements to the way the body moves in everyday life – that pilates magic!
Pilates is an endurance based movement method, where the emphasis should always be on the quality of the movement. As you progress in your practice, repetitions and the difficulty of each exercise can be increased to challenge your stamina. Small pilates equipment can also be introduced to further build muscular endurance and don’t forget I’ve got HIP Pilates coming in August (stands for High Intensity Power Pilates), which will draw on all of the pilates principles but most of all this one!
Do you have a favourite pilates principle? Let me know in the comments below!
The pilates mermaid stretch is one of my all time favourites for a stiff low back and because there is also a kind of inner flow to it. You can use the pilates mermaid as a gentle warmup or as more intense cool down stretch or, if like me, you do a lot of sitting.
This is an exercise that works to lengthen and open the side body. Keeping the sit bones grounded as the arm extends in long reach up to the side of your head and over, it will connect the stretch through the center of the body. Mermaid is also a good lesson in keeping the scapula settled in the back as the arm moves. There is a special dynamic between breath and stretch as you ground down and reach skyward, which is what gives it the special inner flow feel.
This exercise is great for improving your overall flexibility by working to stretch your obliques, shoulders, and inner thighs. It opens your side body, lengthening the muscles between the ribs and pelvis. This can aid in being able to fully expand your chest in breathing. It prepares you for moves that call for twisting and bending and keeps your low back supple too!
How to do the pilates mermaid stretch:
Sit on the floor with both legs folded to the right side in an 90/90 position – one shin is parallel to your front, one parallel to your side, in line with your hip. Make sure the back foot is flat to the floor to protect your knee. Make a connection between your pelvis and your ribs so that you are flat as if your torso was between two sheets of glass. Both arms are lengthened by your side providing some light support as you sit upright. Like most pilates exercises, the real support for the move comes from the abdominals.
Follow along in the video:
Extend your left arm straight up above your head. Keep your left shoulder down, away from your ear. Bring the inside of the arm as close to your ear as you can without hiking up the shoulder.
Keep your left hip grounded as you lengthen your spine and the stretch moves up through the center of your body. Grow tall through the crown of your head as your spine lengthens and extends up and when you have nowhere left to go with the stretch, take it over to the side. Keep both sides of your waist long.
Do not let your ribs pop forward as you curve to the side – connect them to the pelvis.
Your support hand moves further away from your body to increase the stretch.
Keep your shoulders down and your scapula settled in your back, even at the farthest point of your reach.
To initiate your return, send your left sit bone down toward the mat. Then use your abs to begin to bring your torso up.
Now begin the reach to the other side, again lengthening up through the crown of your head and side bending to your right. You can walk your supporting arm (left arm), out and bend at the elbow to take your forearm to the floor to increase the stretch. Continue to focus on keeping the right side bone grounded now as your stretch extends up and over toward the left.
Aim to keep your left shoulder down and the scapula settled in the back.
Repeat two to three times each side.
How to tell if you’re doing it wrong:
Work to not let your back arch, your ribs pop out, or your shoulder twist inward.
Keep your shoulders down and your scapula engaged in your back.
Keep your head in line with your spine as you move (i.e. try not to tilt it in any direction).
Need a Modification?
If you can’t sit in the Z leg position without discomfort, you can do this stretch in standing or cross your legs in front of you if that’s more comfortable.
Take your time with this and be sure to breath fully into the side of your body when you’re in the stretch to really open it up. Stretch only as far as you can with good form and no discomfort. The more and more you do this stretch, the further you’ll be able to go. It’s a great beginners exercise.
And don’t forget to smile :-)
Leave me a comment to let me know if i should start calling you Arial :-)
P.S. Be sure to read my blog post on pilates breathing tips to make sure you get the most of that side opening! I’ve linked it above for you.
One – You have to be flexible to do pilates
When I first started pilates, I could barely bend over let alone do anything else! My hands would get to the tops of my thighs and then I would just get stuck meaning my flexibility was practically at zero! However, a few months in and I could start to see my hands getting lower and lower towards my toes whilst at the same time I could feel myself getting stronger and stronger as my core worked to support me on the way down to touch my toes; that balance of strength and mobility that pilates is so famous for.
ake it from me – and from the many clients I’ve taught over the years – you do not have to be flexible to take up pilates. Pilates trains flexibility. It does this mainly through dynamic stretches which means you are always actively moving.
Done consistently, you will gradually see improvements in your mobility, your flexibility and your strength.
Two – Pilates is only for woman.
My first two pilates teachers were both male. Several of my teacher training teachers have been male. And in case you didn’t know, Pilates himself was male (first name Joseph).
Although on the surface of things, it would appear to attract a higher proportion of women, earlier in the year The Sunday Times ran an article on ‘Mat Men’ and called out the rise in the number of men turning to pilates for a variety of reasons including improving their mental health, rehab-ing an injury, solving a low back issue, improving their balance and coordination and using it alongside other training programmes.
Over the years I have worked with many male clients both in a 1:1 and Group capacity and I currently teach a male orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in hip and knee replacements! He came to me because he’d heard such great things about how pilates can safely and effectively rehabilitate joints like the hip and the knee post operation and is also a very keen cyclist looking to improve both his flexibility and strength.
Pilates is for any body and every-body. It is non-competitive and a really smart way to look after your body and your mind regardless of your gender. And remember, you don’t have to be flexible to start it (see point one).
Three – You need lots of fancy equipment to do pilates
All you need is something soft or cushioned between you and the surface you’re working on making it both a cost effective and convenient work out – you can literally do it anywhere!
Although I don’t use a mat when I do pilates at home (my carpet provides enough cushioning for me), it is important that your bones and joints are protected from working on any hard surfaces so if you don’t have a soft surface at home, you’d need a mat around 1cm thick and these can be picked up really cheaply from places like Amazon.
Sometimes in class we use small equipment like the foam roller, an overball, a theraband or light hand weights, but these are all things that have been added to pilates over the years helping to give the matwork routine some variety, and whilst these are all brilliant and introduce a bit of fun to a class, they are not essential.
The original pilates matwork was just Joe on his mat and 34 body weight exercises and nothing else. This is now known as the ‘Classical Pilates’ repertoire.
Since lockdown, we’ve gone back to basics as we’ve not had access to my equipment and it’s been great just to focus on getting a work out using our bodies. No two classes of mine are ever the same and it’s amazing just how much strength you can build with just yourself.
There are pieces of pilates equipment you can progress to, like the Reformer or the Cadillac but you can happily stick with just yourself and your mat!
Like I say – cost effective and convenient.
Four – You need an hour of your time to do pilates
You can build strength, improve your posture and boost your energy in a very short space of time with the pilates method. It’s one of the reason’s why I love it so much – no need to find a very rare 60 minutes to workout! Try it for yourself = this 10 minute pilates for beautiful posture is a great place to start! Just roll out your mat and hit play!
I hope this has helped clear up any misconceptions you might have about pilates or are there any that I might have missed? Leave me a comment if you think I have and I’ll see if i can clear it up for you!
P.P.S. Looking to improve your flexibility? Then I have something coming for you very soon!
Did you know I ended up in pilates because I suffered chronic low back pain for over 2 years when I was in my mid twenties? It’s true. I was 25 and couldn’t even bend over to tie my shoes.
I had over 30 physio sessions, took prescribed sleeping tablets, had 2 MRI scans and a set of injections in my lumbar facet joints and not one single thing made a difference to the pain I felt day in and day out. It was truly debilitating in every way. I spent hours in the dead of night reciting Philip Larkin poems, willing the day to come. When it did, I spent hours lying on the floor stretching. I had to trade my beloved heels for not so beloved flat shoes and had to alternate between standing and sitting everywhere I went, and yet no position felt comfortable. I had to have a zillion adjustments made at work and used a wedge cushion for driving.
And then along came a newly graduated, fresh faced physio from Down Under who took one look at me and said, “you need to do pilates.” At that point in time, the only person I’d heard of who did pilates was Madonna and the only place to do it was in LA! However, if he had said get yourself and on a plane to Arizona and jump off the Grand Canyon to sort it, I would have done it! As luck would have it, I didn’t have to do that, nor did I have to go to LA to hang out with Madonna. Instead the gym at RBS Gogarburn, where I was working like a dog, was about to launch a run of pilates classes so I immediately signed up.
I remember every single thing about that lesson. There was a total of 5 exercises with the rest of the class being structured around learning completely alien things to me like spinal alignment, finding a neutral pelvis and how to make best friends with your ‘corset’ of support to support your back (corset = your deep abdominal muscles). I remember having to do a curl up and was shocked to find that I could barely lift my head off the mat, let alone my back! But in that 60 minutes something magical happened; for the first time in 2 years, I left that room with zero pain. How could that be? After everything I’d done to try and manage my back pain in 2 years, including a medical intervention, how could 60 minutes of 5 exercises melt it away? It left me feeling light and happy and I was hooked. The pain came back but the more I went to pilates the less and less it came back until eventually it didn’t come back at all!
That was way back in 2005. It’s a true story and, fifteen years on, is the reason I still do pilates everyday – be in 10 minutes or 60. I never want to feel that pain again – anyone who has suffered chronic low back pain will get my drift here. It is the pitts and effects everything in your life.
I felt stronger, calmer and more able to enjoy life with each and every class. I started to live my life in a different way and as time went on, I also started to notice things that were out of kilter with my new found way of living, particularly the fact that I had been spending faaaarrrr too long chained to a desk all day, working in a high performing team for a high performing company and busting a gut to keep up. It was stressful, fast paced and – dare I say it – cut throat at times. Recognise it? Yip, all of that contributed to my back issues too. In fact, within a year of conquering my back pain through pilates, I quit my high performing job and went to work for a smaller business that still had high expectations of delivery but without the competitive, internal politics of the big global corporation I was slogging away for. It was also handily located within the city centre which meant I could ditch the 1 hour commute to work each way and actually walk to work (and also meant I could fit in 2 pilates classes a week instead of 1).
Pilates really has been the only thing that has helped my back – it has been worth every penny of investment I have made on it. It is so easy to slip it in to your day – spending just 10 minutes on 4 or 5 exercises every day, or every other day, will leave you feeling stronger, calmer and better about everything; do if for long enough and you’ll start to see those little magical shifts in how you go about your every life stuff. I promise.
It is incredibly difficult to truly ‘damage’ your back but like any living thing (yes your spine is a living, breathing thing!), if you don’t look after it, it will stop working. There is lots of medical research to support the fact that you no longer have to hold an anatomical position and work the back mechanically; movement in all directions is best. Here are my 8 go to pilates exercises to help loosen off a stiff or sore low back – do all 8 or pick and choose a few. Aim for around 8 -10 reps of each 2 or 3 times a day if you can; they are truly magical for your back:
Sore back? Feeling stressed? Looking for a way to exercise that fits neatly into your every day life in a way that will build strength, reduce stress and will 100% leave you feeling better than before you rolled your mat out? Then join the other 100+ people signed up to my newsletter for hints, tips and guides on how the magic of pilates can help you every day too.
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