I’ve seen it so often. Women find out their pregnant, start feeling the effects of it, and quit coming to the gym or their classes. When I see them again postpartum, they feel huge and out of shape.

 

Now, let me preface this by saying that I’m not throwing rocks. I know how debilitating some of pregnancy’s “side effects” are. As one who has experienced hyperemesis through two pregnancies myself, it can be extremely difficult to lift your head to do a daily task (other than hang out with the toilet) let alone get yourself dressed for a workout.

 

I’m also going to say that working out is the¬†only thing that saved me from 1) losing my lunch (and my mind) completely and 2) turning into a couch potato. Even though by eight weeks I could no longer do my usual workouts due to the severity of my nausea, practicing and teaching Yoga and Pilates really, really helped me maintain a healthy weight, keep down the nausea, maintain strength and flexibility and a strong core (essential for delivering babies), and mental clarity.

 

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Pregnancy is a wonderful new adventure, and the perfect time to clean up your routine. This doesn’t necessarily mean starting something new or increasing your goals. It means making small, healthy changes that benefit you and the baby and your household. Gentle, consistent exercise is the main way to keep pregnancy side effects at bay. It helps maintain muscle tone and bone strength, increases adherence to healthy behaviors and therefore a healthy weight, increases circulation and oxygen to the body (and baby), increases positive mindset and mood while decreasing anxiety and depression, and also reduces all the side effects of pregnancy such as swelling, excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes, insomnia and exhaustion.

 

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This sounds wonderful (and is!) but I always provide a word of caution. Whenever pregnant, make sure you consult your physician and/or OB about your routine. Each pregnancy is unique and needs to be well attended by both you and your doctor. Complications and contraindications can occur at any time, in which case you must curtail or change your regimen to meet doctor’s orders. Never go against them (seek a second opinion if you don’t agree with the decision) for your own sake and that of the baby.

 

Most of all, enjoy the journey. Be gentle with yourself. You are venturing down a new path–yes, even those of us who have multiple children, it’s still new because there’s another one coming ūüėČ Take care of the important things, learn to let the little things go, and laugh a lot. Children are precious and fun…and I bet you’ll feel better when you do!

There are a few things regarding exercise that I truly believe are accessible to everyone. I’ll talk about cardiovascular exercise another time but for now I want to talk about working the deep muscles of the trunk–in this case, I’m focusing on the transverse abdominis. This thick band of muscle is the deepest of the four abdominal muscles,¬†provides¬†thoracic and pelvic stability, and compresses the ribs and viscera.

 

transverse-abdominis

Source: Wikipedia (link above)

 

Pilates focuses a lot on the TA due to the immense strength and stabilization force it creates. To give a good example of its power, and why we as instructors call it the powerhouse, the TA is one of the main muscles recruited to help a woman deliver a baby (the pelvic floor muscles being the others). When I was dancing, a college professor told me that by controlling this muscle, you can really control every movement in your body, making you strong and and your movements efficiently powerful. This is something that Joseph Pilates discovered over a lifetime of studying movement, which fed his understanding of the body, body mechanics, and effective movement. His method, called Contrology, looks at the body as it is now and emphasizes the connection of mind and body through concentration during movement that results in the healing of the body, the improvement of the mind, and the elevation of the spirit.

 

In layman’s speak, that means that anyone can do Pilates. Pilates himself was a sickly child who could not get out of bed and therefore needed exercises developed by his doctors just to be able to do so. Because of this, he made it a lifelong goal to study movement and became an avid athlete, studying a wide variety of disciplines including swimming, running, gymnastics, yoga, dance, and many more, all from which he drew a knowledge base that became the foundation for his Method.

 

There are two exercises that I like to start everyone off with because I feel that they are accessible to all levels of fitness: the Pilates bridge and the 100. These two exercises connects a person with their core. For those who are brand new to exercising or Pilates, and may not be aware of the neutral position so often discussed in Pilates, here is an excellent demonstration of how to find it:

 

 

I consider the Pilates Bridge to be a foundation exercise from which everything is built. It lengthens and moves the spine, stimulating the creation of synovial fluid which helps keep all joints limber, accesses the deep muscles of the core and pelvic floor, and strengthens the muscles of the abs, pelvis, glutes, and thighs. A modification for those who are just beginning is to start with the lower back only, and over time gradually increase this movement to include the middle and upper back till you reach the full position.

 

 

The other exercise that I consider to be important is called the One Hundred. This is the exercise that begins every Pilates workout. It oxygenates the blood, stimulates circulation, and activates the deep core. Try the beginner version shown in this video until you’re ready to move to the next step.

 

 

Two other modifications for those who are not ready to extend the legs in the regular (non-advanced) exercise: when ready to lift the shoulders, 1) keep the feet on the ground or 2) keep the knees bent until you’re ready to extend the legs (first up to the sky and then out to that 45-degree angle). Make sure as you work you maintain that neutral spinal position and have patience with the exercise. Developing strength over time is safe, effective, and reduces the risk of injury. When in doubt, always start small and slow!

 

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I have been in the fitness industry for over eight years now and one of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how unwilling people are to pay for instructor services. I’ve talked to so many instructors over the years who tell me their client base finds it difficult to pay $25, $15, or even $5 for a class, let alone private lesson fees. We commiserate over the injustice of it all, but in reality it all simply comes down to a lack of customer knowledge about how the fitness industry works. So, I thought I’d break it down for you.

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First off, let me just take a moment to point out that in most cases, we as customers do not go to the cheapest places when we’re looking for a haircut, to get our nails done, have our cars worked on, and so forth. We want to pay for good quality services that we trust and that are backed by service guarantees. I mean, who wants to go to a hair stylist who won’t fix a goof-up? Or a mechanic who won’t at least let you know that your car is leaking when you take it in for a checkup so that you can decide whether or not it’s a necessary fix right now?

 

The fitness industry is the same. Most often, it pays to pay for the services of a good certified instructor and/or personal trainer. There are a lot of reasons for this, starting with the fact that most instructors do not decide they want to instruct as their first job. It is an extension of who they are and what they care about, and this can happen at any point in their life.

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Secondly, instructors spend months–yes, years!–training in order to be competent and qualified to meet your fitness needs. They also spend a lot of money to get that training. In the mind-body industry, yoga and Pilates certifications cost on average between $2,500 and $5,000¬†before travel expenses. In my own experience, I was fortunate to have the MyCAA military spouse scholarship to help me earn my 200-RYT, but I still shelled out about $3000 for hotel and flights because I was trying to get my certification finished before I had my first daughter. (I ended up having to postpone the last two classes I needed till after her birth because the conference I was trying to attend had sold out.)

 

Then there are the hours they spend creating your fitness regimens each week. You might only see them a hour a week but often they spend several more developing your next workout(s), researching and practicing each movement so that you are being trained with the utmost competence. Let’s look at a quick example. Let’s say you pay $30/session for a personal trainer. You see them once a week for an hour, but they spend an additional two hours creating your workout. That averages out to $10/hour, which is not even minimum wage in some areas. And this is before you average all the money they spend to earn their certifications, maintain them each year with continuing education, keep liability insurance and any other insurance they need for their business, equipment, travel and food expenses, clothing, and other professional fees and services they may implement to help promote their business.

 

It sounds like a lot, and it can be, but fitness professionals like getting the best up-to-date education possible so that you, the customer, is taken care of to the best of our abilities. It is always worth having an initial interview with your future trainer or instructor in order to make sure you both jive and understand what each is bringing to the table. Because, when it comes down to it, as an instructor I want to know what you want and need so that I can best serve you!

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If something feels off to either party, it may be best to keep searching until you find the person that is right for you. Because, first and foremost, fitness is a¬†preventative measure against chronic disease, and then a remedy to help you improve and even heal from it. It takes a team to help you achieve your fitness goals: your doctors and therapists (or any professional you may be working with), your fitness instructor, and–most importantly–you.

 

Yes, without your commitment to yourself, we don’t have a client and, therefore, a job, and that is why your input is so valuable to us as instructors. You are the reason why we spend so much on training and other professional fees. You are that important!

Pilates Principles

July 17, 2014

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It’s been a while since I wrote about Pilates, but as it was my first venture into mind-body fitness and I promised myself I’d become an instructor in it, I thought I’d take the time to write about the basic principles that act as the foundation for Joseph Pilates’ method of “Contrology” which he based on a lifetime of study of movement and fitness. There have been a lot of studies coming out on the benefits of doing Pilates in the past year, ranging from improving sleep to quality of life.¬†Before I launch into the explanations of the six principles (sometimes they vary a little depending on the school teaching them, but these are the main foundational ideas he wrote about), I want to talk about the powerhouse.

 

In Pilates, the powerhouse is considered your core. Not just your rectus abdominus, the superficial muscle that makes six- or eight-pack abs look good but actually can contribute to back pain when overworked, but the integrated system of muscles that supports your lower back and pelvic girdle. There are a lot of them because the pelvis is where the two halves of your body combine. Besides the rectus, which is focused upon least (in my opinion), the powerhouse includes:

 

  • The transverse abdominals
  • The internal and external obliques
  • The erector spinae and other back muscles
  • The hip flexors
  • The gluteals

 

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Most of the focus is on the transverse abdominus, obliques, hip flexors, back muscles, and other supporting trunk muscles. Pilates believed–and science has since proved–that all movement originates in the core. When the mind-body link is established through practicing the Pilates principles which underline the method of Contrology, you’ll find that you have an enormous sense of understanding of what’s happening within your body as well as being able to control what your body is doing. It no longer acts of its own accord, but instead you become more mindfully aware of how you ¬†move.

 

The principles are:

 

Concentration: perhaps the most important principle (again, in my opinion), it is absolutely necessary to stay focused on what you are doing throughout your practice, whether it be a 15-minute or hour-long workout. Concentration establishes the mind-body link, allowing for new neurological pathways to be established over time with repeating the exercises. It takes at least six seconds to begin establishing these new neurological pathways, and at least 1000 times repeated with an average of 10,000 times, equating roughly to 18 hours of practice for each exercise.

 

Centering: this principle states that all movement starts in the powerhouse, with the main working muscles being those of the deeper abdominals, back muscles, and glutes. From the powerhouse, each movement flows outward into the rest of the body, enhanced by correct form and anatomical alignment.

 

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Precision: in addition to doing an exercise with full concentration and the activation of the powerhouse, Pilates asks the student to approach each exercise with goal. “Honor every movement,” said Pilates. Every exercise has a purpose, a way it will help build strength and the connection between mind and body. Therefore, each exercise should be done with the aim of achieving perfected repetitions, which is part of the reason most of them are performed in a low number of repetitions. It is vital that, as you practice your exercises, you continually scan your body and breath (coming up) to see if you are doing all six principles.

 

Breathing: not only do you need to perform exercises as well as possible, you must also breathe with them. The breath is integral to every exercise because it helps create a rhythm and flow with which to follow. It also makes the exercises easier, though it can take getting used to. Sri K. Pattabi Jois used to say to his students, “Incorrect breathing, pain coming.” So many people hold their breath when they work out, causing an increased thoracic pressure (and elevated blood pressure), veins popping out of their bodies, redness in the skin, faintness that might lead to nausea or fainting, etc. As a general rule, a student inhales through the nose on the preparation and exhales through the mouth to execute the movement.

 

Control: in order to prevent any injury from happening to the body, all exercises need to be done mindfully. A student needs to be in full control of every movement they execute, both in body and mind. (Again, coming back to the link between body-mind is very important in establishing those neurological pathways.) This idea is where Pilates got his “Contrology” term, or “The art of control.” When done without sudden, thoughtless, or haphazard movements (and distracted thoughts), Pilates is one of the safest exercise regimens out there.

 

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Fluidity of movement: also called “flow,” this principle states that each exercise should have a smooth, graceful quality to it; additionally, transitions between each exercise should also flow together. With practice and time, any jerkiness, static rests, or fragmented movements will melt away into an effortless dance-like practice.

 

As with any exercise, particularly if you are new to it, it’s going to take some time to learn all of this. I highly recommend finding a qualified instructor under whom to study. As I tell my new students, who often look like deer in the headlights when they have to think about all of these things at once (and look a little worn out after class from having used their brains in new, unexpected ways), take things one step at a time. Master one principle at a time–make it the focus of a practice and as you begin to learn the movements, add more and more principles until you can concentrate (no pun intended!) on them all while flowing (hehe!) through all the exercises.