Motivation Series – Buddy Up

Buddying-up is a fantastic way to keep motivated to completing your session on the days when you find it a little harder to get yourself going to do your exercises.

When we start something new it isn’t usually too hard to get motivated. During this “honeymoon period”, it is really easy to set the time aside for your exercises and you might even find that you feel really excited about getting going on this new aspect of your life. You might find that you feel really good about yourself for deciding to start this new positive exercise plan and as you start to feel the benefit, this only increases your initial enthusiasm.

However, it is unfortunately inevitable that eventually the honeymoon period will start to tail off and, regardless of how good you might be feeling for doing the exercises, you will experience periods when your motivation and enthusiasm is not what it was at the start.

This is where buddying-up can come in really useful!

Buddying-up is where you find a friend or family member to do the classes with you.

One way that you can Buddy-up is by arranging to do the classes together, in the “real world”, by meeting-up at someones house and doing your Pilates class together. Buddying-up in this way can be a really nice way of doing your classes as you can arrange to have a coffee or catch-up afterwards and make it a bit of a weekly social event.

Another way to Buddy-up can be a “virtual meet-up” where you and your buddy arrange a mutually convenient time to do your class but, instead of meeting up, you make contact either through a text, email, phone call or Facebook message just before you are due to start. You then both do your classes and then get in touch afterwards and talk about how it went (in the same way as you would in a face to face meet-up).

By buddying-up, you are making your MyPhysioPilates classes more sociable. You will both be able to help and support each other when your motivation is low, as well as share your experiences, improvements and all the other highs and lows that can sometimes accompany a new exercise plan.

If you would like to try some Physiotherapist-led online Pilates classes for free, to see if our classes could help you, please go to MyPhysioPilates.com where you can get 2 weeks free access our complete library of over 100 Physiotherapist-led Pilates classes including:

  • An 18-part beginner’s course
  • Masterclasses
  • Gentle classes
  • Intermediate/more advanced classes
  • Access to our member’s only Facebook group (for support and answers to any questions you might have)
  • Weekly recommended class’s emails
  • Monthly newsletters
  • Complete motivation and support package for the first 6 weeks of any new subscription (to help you incorporate Pilates into your daily life)

Please do comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts and, if you haven’t done already, follow this blog by clicking the button to on the right for more health and motivation posts coming soon.

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Concentration and Pilates

Aside from the many physical benefits of Pilates, such as reducing pain, increasing flexibility and improving core and joint strength, an often overlooked benefit of doing regular Pilates is the effect it can have on your mind, your concentration and your overall stress.

It takes concentration to do Pilates. The exercises are deceptively challenging and, what can seem like an easy exercise at first glance, can be far more challenging when you focus on doing the movement correctly, getting the breathing right, engaging the core muscles correctly and trying not to wobble your trunk and pelvis.

This is one of the reasons why so many people tell me that their classes seem to fly-by and that they can feel incredibly relaxed and energized after doing their sessions.

Concentration and the 7 Key Principles of Pilates

When Joseph Pilates developed his exercise method, he described 7 key principles which underpinned all the exercises in his repertoire. Whilst I teach a modified version of Pilates in both my face-to-face and online PhysioPilates classes (using my physiotherapy experience to alter the exercises to help people with pain and other various medical conditions), the 7 key principles remain at the core of what I teach.

Just to give some context, I have listed the 7 key principles of Pilates below:

  1. Centering (core strength)
  2. Concentration
  3. Control
  4. Precision
  5. Breath
  6. Flowing Movement (efficient movement)
  7. Alignment

“Concentrate on the correct movements each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value”  – Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates placed such a high emphasis on concentration that he placed it second on his list of key principles (right under core strength). However, this is often a benefit of Pilates that is overlooked.

Stress

One of the main benefits of concentration is in reducing stress.

It is a sad fact of modern life that we seem to be getting busier and busier and many of us just accept an element of stress in our daily lives. The negative effects of long-term stress have been thoroughly researched over the years and general consensus is that chronic stress can lead to some pretty un-pleasant medical conditions (such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease and chronic pain).

We can very quickly feel overwhelmed by the weight of all the pushes and pulls on our time and our energy. Work, family, friends, gym, hobbies, emails, social media, etc. All these can add up and over time we can feel the pressure mounting – did I remember to answer that email?, I haven’t seen (enter friend’s name here) for ages, the kids need new shoes, I need to do X Y and Z for work…….. the list can go on and on and we can feel like we’re sinking deeper and deeper into the swamp.
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Concentrating on Pilates exercises can give a welcomed distraction to the mind. While you’re concentrating on doing the exercise correctly, breathing at the right time and making sure your pelvis and trunk are stable and not wobbling, you cannot think about all the other stresses and strains that can increase your stress levels.

Yes, your problems and stresses will still be there when you’ve finished your class, but by giving yourself a break from them, you will be better able to calmly work through them without feeling completely overwhelmed.

There is also some scientific evidence that doing regular Pilates can help to reduce blood pressure.

The Concentration Muscle

Concentrating on your Pilates exercises can also help you to improve your concentration in other areas of your life. If your mind tends to wonder or you struggle to concentrate on something for an extended period, strengthening your concentration through regular Pilates can be of real benefit.

Think of concentration as a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it will become!

By regularly concentrating on your Pilates exercises, you will be strengthening your concentration. After a while, you may find it easier to concentrate on tasks that you don’t particularly enjoy (such as work tasks like long staff meetings) or find it easier to settle doing creative hobbies, as well as things like reading or writing. Tasks such as these, alongside your regular Pilates sessions will help you cultivate a strong and more resilient mind.

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It is a very out-dated view that the mind and body are separate. The old medical model of treating the physical without taking into account the emotional/mental is slowly being replaced with a more holistic approach with an understanding that what affects the mind will affect the body and vice-versa.

By concentration on doing the exercises correctly and breathing in the right way, Pilates really is a complete workout for both your mind and your body.

I would love to hear your thoughts on concentration and exercise. Do you have any tips or techniques that have helped you improve your concentration or reduce your stress? if so, please share it with us by commenting below.If you would like to try some Physiotherapist-led online Pilates classes for free, to see if our classes could help you, please go to MyPhysioPilates.com where you can get 2 weeks free access our complete library of over 100 Physiotherapist-led Pilates classes including:

  • An 18-part beginner’s course
  • Masterclasses
  • Gentle classes
  • Intermediate/more advanced classes
  • Access to our member’s only Facebook group (for support and answers to any questions you might have)
  • Weekly recommended class’s emails
  • Monthly newsletters
  • Complete motivation and support package for the first 6 weeks of any new subscription (to help you incorporate Pilates into your daily life)

Please do comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts and, if you haven’t done already, follow this blog by clicking the button to on the right for more health and motivation posts coming soon.

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Are you Sitting Comfortably, or are you Standing?

Standing desks have seen a real increase in popularity over the past few years. Many offices now have standing desks and you can even pick-up a sit-stand desk for your home in many furniture stores. But why are they getting so popular and is sitting at a desk all day really all that bad?

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It is widely accepted that many of us sit too much. Sedentary lifestyles have been linked with a whole host of chronic conditions such as: chronic pain, chest infections, some forms of cancers, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and many more. Furthermore, it has been suggested that a sedentary lifestyle has a similar effect to what astronauts experience with prolonged weightlessness – increased risk of osteoporosis and reduced muscle  strength. I’m going to do some posts in the future looking at the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle in more detail. But in the meantime, here is a couple of links for further reading: NHS Live Well, Authority Nutrition.

If you work in a traditional office, chances are that you probably spend the majority of your working life sitting down behind your desk. Couple that with the current trend of having lunch “al-desko” (sitting at your desk) and you might find that you’re not even walking to a lunch area.

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With emails, mobile phones and desk-top printers, we don’t even need to move to speak to our colleagues or to photocopy documents anymore. All this adds up to a lot of time sitting at your desk.

Couple this with what we do at home, and the problem can get worse. We sit to eat, sit to watch TV, sit in the car, sit to read, sit at the computer and even when we socialise, we often find ourselves sitting.

But I go to the gym most days and walk to work every day. Does this prolonged sitting cause a problem for me?

This is something that I’m asked a lot and I’m afraid the answer is a resounding YES. A smoker who smokes 20 cigarettes per day, but also goes to the gym regularly and walks to work every day is still going to be damaging their lungs. The exercising does not undo the negative effects of smoking and it is the same for prolonged sitting.

An hour of exercise, whilst having some health benefits, will not undo the negative long-term effects of 23 hours of in-activity. It’s a good start, but not enough to really combat the negative effects of sitting for too long.

So what can help?

Putting it simply, we need to reduce the amount of time we are inactive. We can do this in several ways and this brings me to my initial question. As you read this post, are you sitting or are you standing?

Standing desks are certainly a good place to start. Unfortunately, there is very little good quality research into the long-term health benefits of standing desks, although a recent cochrane review did indicate that standing desks do seem to reduce the amount of time sitting from between 30 minutes to 2 hours per day in the short to medium-term (however, it was suggested that all the research papers in the review we of low quality as no good quality research currently exists).

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) also issued guidelines from their own research which suggests that sedentary workers should aim to slowly increase the amount of time they stand and walk to 4 hours per day.

Putting it all together

Walking to work, exercising regularly, using the stairs and not the escalator, watching TV standing up and standing on the bus or train are wonderful little ways to break-up long periods of sitting at home.

At work and at home, using a sit-stand desk and slowly increasing the amount of time you stand should reduce the amount of time you sit. I would always recommend building the time standing at your desk slowly – this is a marathon, not a sprint and we’re aiming to change lifestyle habits for the rest of your life, not just the next few years! I usually suggest starting at 30 minutes per day and gradually increasing this amount by around 10% each week.

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For the rest of your time, when you are sitting, set reminders on your phone or computer to go off every 20-30 minutes. This is a little reminder to stand-up, stretch, maybe walk around your desk a little and to just generally move. It will take less that 30 seconds, but will help to break-up long periods of inactivity.

So, to sum up:

  • Sitting for long periods can have huge detrimental effects on our health and well being.
  • Regular exercise does have good health benefits, but will not off-set all the negative effects form long periods of sitting.
  • The key is to exercise regularly AND move as much as you can throughout the day.
  • If you choose to use a sit-stand desk, build up into standing slowly. Start with 30 minutes standing at your desk per day and slowly increase by around 10% per week. Some people may need to increase their standing slower than 10% per week, particularly if they already have a chronic condition. Listen to your body and take your time – remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Taking the time initially, to slowly build the time you spend standing, will really pay-off in the long-term.
  • Even if you are standing, remember to regularly move and walk throughout the day. Little and often is the key to reducing long periods of in-activity.

Rachel Mills is a UK-Based Chartered Physiotherapist and Clinical Pilates Instructor with over 10 years experience. She founded MyPhysioPilates.com as an online Physiotherapist-Led Pilates service to help people use Pilates to reduce their pain, improve their flexibility and ultimately live happier and more active lifestyles.

MyPhysioPilates.com has over 100 lessons in our library and, with at least 2 new classes added each week, you will never run out of new classes to try.

To try the first 3 classes from our beginners course for free, with no commitment to buy a subscription (you don’t even need to give us your payment details), follow the link here and get started today.

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Motivation Series: Finding the Time to Exercise at Home

One of the biggest problems people often tell me that they have is time (or lack of it) for exercising!

If you are doing something like Pilates at home, I usually recommend practicing at least 3 times per week, particularly if you are recovering from an injury, trying to manage a painful condition (such as persistent lower back pain or fibromyalgia) or are doing your sessions to try and prevent recurring injuries.

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So, if you wanted to do three 30 minute sessions per week, it should be fairly easy to fit that in. You only need to find one and a half hours per week (out of the 168 hours in each week).

However, despite it being easy on paper to find this time, life doesn’t always work out as it should and finding three half hour slots can sometimes be extremely difficult. we have a busy week and, before we know it, it’s the end of the week and we haven’t managed to find time for our exercises. We promise to do better next week, but then the same thing happens – we have a busy week and before long yet another week passes where we haven’t managed to do our three 30 minute classes.

But ask yourself this: do you regularly miss doctors appointments, cancel coffee with friends, miss gym classes, or miss scheduled clubs or activities because you’re too busy? The chances are that you probably don’t. So why is that?

Firstly, we don’t like letting people down. If we’ve made a commitment to be somewhere or to do something with other people, we tend to prioritise it.

Secondly, we schedule the appointment in our diary and, because we know we can’t change it, we stick to the appointment time.

So how can we apply these principles to exercising at home?

When we exercise at home, we don’t need to worry about letting anyone down and it’s far too easy to “put it off” until another time or even another day.

So one way of making sure that you stick to your exercise plan is to make yourself accountable to someone, either a good friend, a family member or even by posting to a friend in a social media group. Tell them that you intend to do three home exercise classes per week and at the end of each week, let them know how you have got on.

Another method of treating your class like an appointment is to prioritise it in the same way that you would if it was a face-to-face class or other important appointment. Put your session in the diary and protect the time. Choose a time that is realistic for your routines; for instance, if mornings are generally manic, schedule your exercise session for later in the day and the same vice-versa.

By making yourself accountable to someone and timetabling your class in your diary, you will be far more likely to complete your classes and therefore get the many benefits to your health and well being that regular exercising can offer.

If you would like to try some Pilates exercises at home, why not try MyPhysioPilates for free.

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MyPhysioPilates is an online Physiotherapist-led Pilates streaming service. with over 10 years experience as a UK-based Chartered Physiotherapist and “real-world” clinical Pilates instructor, I have developed this online service to help people reduce their pain and improve their flexibility, strength and stamina.

When you subscribe to MyPhysioPilates, you will get access to:

  •  Our comprehensive 18-part beginners course – available on-demand through you phone, tablet, Smart TV or computer
  • Access to our ever expanding complete library (currently over 100 classes) of easier, intermediate and more advanced lessons –  available on demand and consisting of: Short 10 minute classes (for when time is at a premium), Longer 30-40 minute classes, Joint/injury specific classes, Easier and harder classes (clearly labeled, so you can work at your own level), Masterclasses and New Classes added every week.
  • Weekly class recommendation emails – to help you choose which classes to do from our extensive library
  • Join our online community through our Members Only Facebook Group
  • Support and motivation package over the first 6 weeks to help get you started and stay motivated
  • Monthly newsletter – packed with motivation tips and ideas, as well as interesting and informative articles from the PhysioPilates
  • Email support – contact me directly if you have any questions or need a little support
  • A two week free trial period – if you decide that MyPhysioPilates is not for you, cancel within your two week free trial period and you will not be charged.

With no tie-ins or minimum term contracts, you can cancel your subscription at any time without incurring a cancellation charge or leavers fee.

You can also try the first 3 classes from our beginners course for free here.

 

So remember, your health and well being is important and worth prioritising. Make time to exercise, tell your friends and/or family what you plan to do and schedule your session in your diary, just as you would any other important appointment.

For the next post in our Motivation Series, we will be looking at techniques to help you remember your exercise program when life get busy.

Until then,

Happy Exercising

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Time and Motivation

Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick………..time. There never seems to be enough of it!

Work, college, kids, parents, grandchildren, partners, friends, emails – it doesn’t matter how old or young we are, there are a lot of pulls on our time.

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I am married, have two teenagers at home and run two businesses with my husband – a “real world” Pilates studio & physiotherapy clinic, as well as my online physiotherapist-led  Pilates streaming service MyPhysioPilates.com, so I know as well as anyone how difficult it can be to balance all the different pushes and pulls on our time.

There’s been a real drive over recent years in many industries towards trying to encourage employees to develop something called a “healthy work/life balance”. But what is a healthy work/life balance?

Our “work” (be it employment, voluntary, childcare or school/college) takes up a huge part of our lives. The time left over is then referred to as the “life” part of the work/life balance.

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Now, imagine a set of balance scales. In a perfect world, “Work” would be in one side of the scales and “Life” would be in the other and these would be perfectly balanced in terms of time and energy. However, real-life is unfortunately rarely that simple!

Our “work” often encroaches into our “life” – we think about it at home, sometimes talk about it more than we know we should, we go in early or finish late, and can just simply bring our stress home with us (does any of this sound familiar)?

“Life” can also be fairly chaotic at times can’t it! It would be lovely to think of our home life as being a purely relaxing and harmonious existence – allowing us to fully de-stress and un-wind from work so we can face the next day in a calm and refreshed state of mind. But how many of us can truly, hand on heart, say that this is reflects our true home life?

The truth is that many people have as many commitments, deadlines and jobs to do at home as they do at work, but often with less time to do them in. At times our “Life” can be just as stressful and busy as our “Work”. So, whilst at first glance the work/life scales may be balancing fairly well, we may still feel exhausted by the end of the day and be completely un-motivated to do anything other than sit in front of the TV and zone-out for a couple of hours.

The scales may be balancing, but they are creaking and straining under the weight!

So, with time at such a premium, how do we fit an exercise program into an already tight schedule? How can we get ourselves motivated when we are simply exhausted and just want to sit down?

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The simple answer is that we must! We must find a way to exercise and we must find a way to de-stress, otherwise it’s our physical health, our relationships and our mental health that will suffer.

I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers for everyone, as everybody is different and what works for one person will not always work for another. However, it is something I am asked about a lot. In fact, the number one thing that I am asked in both my real-world clinic and through my online service at MyPhysioPilates are questions around motivation and how to fit exercise into an already busy routine.

Over the past few years, I have researched and tried several different strategies which many people have found help them to keep motivated. Whilst these strategies are aimed towards people doing their Pilates classes at home (something that both strengthens the body and de-stresses the mind), they can be used into other areas of our lives as well.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to publish a few posts on a selection of the most popular strategies that I use to keep my clients motivated to doing their PhysioPilates classes.

The up-coming posts will be taken from a selection of emails from our 6 week motivation package that every new subscriber to MyPhysioPilates receives. These emails are sent out three times per week over the first six weeks of their subscription, to help them keep motivated whilst they bring Pilates into their routines and general lifestyle.

MyPhysioPilates is an Online Physiotherapist-Led Pilates Streaming Service. We specialise in helping people with painful conditions such as: persistent back pain, neck pain, postural problems, arthritis, fibromyalgia and many other conditions.

Subscribers to MyPhysioPilates receive:

  • Access to our 18-part beginner’s course
  • Access to our ever increasing library of classes (I up-load at least 2 classes per week)
  • A complete motivation package over the first 6 weeks – comprising of 3 weekly emails packed with motivation tips and action steps to help you incorporate MyPhysiPilates into your lifestyle
  • Access to the member only Facebook Group, where you can join our active and friendly online community
  • Weekly class recommendation emails
  • Monthly newsletters

You can try the first three classes from our beginner’s course for free here, or sign up for a 2 week free trial. Unlike other sites, we don’t tie you in to a subscription so you can cancel at any time without incurring a fee.

So stay tuned, or even better follow our blog, so you never miss a post.

Happy exercising

Rachel

 

 

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Spinal Mobility

Sit up straight, lift with a straight back, keep your back straight and stiff when walking and running, keep your chin tucked in, avoid bending forwards, brace your back muscles before exercising………….. These are all examples of the advice that some people receive (often from physiotherapists and other health professionals) when they have a bad back.

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The problem is that, more often than not, many people mistake this advice to mean that they shouldn’t move their back at all.

There are many reasons why it is a good idea to keep your spine as flexible as possible and to keep it moving, particularly if you have back or neck pain.

First off, the discs need movement to stay hydrated and to get their nutrients.

I try to picture discs as giant Fruit Pastels! They are strong and fibrous on the outside, with a soft, jelly like core. Unlike many other structures within the body, the discs do not have a blood supply to transport nutrients to them. But they do need fluid and nutrients, so where do they come from?

Movement……

Our tissues are bathed in fluid and the discs work a bit like a sponge. When we move one way, a small amount of the fluid within the disc is squashed out (a bit like if you squeezed a sponge) and when we move another way, fluid from the surrounding area – full of nutrients and goodness – is drawn into the disc (like letting go of the sponge under water). This is roughly how the discs replace their fluid and keep hydrated and well nourished.

Now, imagine somebody who is afraid to move their back. Whilst it is impossible to keep the spine completely rigid, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, there will be far less of the movements needed to keep the discs well nourished and hydrated. This in itself could be a factor in their continuing back pain, meaning they then continue to move less, meaning the discs don’t get the movement of fluid they need, increasing the pain and so on……… It can become a vicious cycle!

Secondly, muscles need to move

Muscles like movement, they need to move and work to keep healthy. They like to work through their full range of movement (from shortened positions to lengthened positions). Holding the back rigid forces the muscles in the back to only work in one position, which can cause them to spasm, weaken, lengthen or overwork. Tight and overworked muscles can be very painful and can certainly contribute to lower back pain and, without stretching them off and working them properly through movement, there will be little relief from this sort of pain – massage and heat can help with this sort of pain in the short-term, but it always returns fairly quickly.

A third reason for keeping your spine mobile is shock absorbency

One of the roles our spine plays is in absorbing shock. When we move the spine, such as when running or walking, we allow it to absorb some of the shock that occurs from the impact of the feet on the road or pavement. If a person walks or runs and fixes their spine to hold it rigid, they will be denying their body the shock absorbency given by the spine.22403834 - shock absorber  isolated on a white background

And finally, specific spinal movements can help people with various conditions

Lower back extension (backwards leaning) exercises are often given to people with disc problems and can be extremely effective. Likewise, forward bending exercises can help with conditions such as spinal stenosis. Chin retractions can help with neck and arm symptoms and movement exercises can help with many forms of arthritis and pain caused by joint stiffness and poor posture.

So, if movement is so good, why do I teach some Pilates exercises with an emphasis on keeping the spine still? 

The key word here is “some”. I teach some exercises to work predominantly on the stability muscles. Strengthening these muscles give us the ability to keep the spine still when we need it to be and to prevent global movement patterns (I will discuss this in a future post) which can contribute towards muscle imbalances and pain. Exercises which promote good core stability include: hip twists, one leg stretch and single and double table top exercises.

However, I believe strongly that Pilates is a fantastic form of exercise for promoting muscle balance and flexibility as well as strength. This is why I always balance the strengthening and stability exercises with spinal mobility exercises such as Roll Downs, Arm Openings and Thread the Needle (all of which are spinal mobility exercises).

Obviously I am not advocating ignoring your doctors or physio’s advice, as some conditions or medical procedures do require that certain movements be avoided and you must, for obvious reasons, follow the manual handling advice for where you work. If you are in any doubt at all, please speak to your doctor, consultant or a chartered physiotherapist before starting any spinal mobility exercises.

And, as a general rule of thumb, avoid exercises that increase your pain or worsen other symptoms such as pins and needles or leg and arm pains. If  pins and needles or numbness occur, or the pain lasts for a period of time after you have finished exercising, it is most likely a sign that you are not ready to do these exercises just yet and you may need to speak to a GP or physio to get some different exercises before starting.

However, assuming that you don’t have a medical conditions and you have been cleared by your GP or physio, incorporating some spinal exercises in different planes of movement will help to keep your spine more supple, more resilient and, in the long-term, hopefully less painful.

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For spinal exercises for strength, flexibility and overall balancing of the body, why not try MyPhysioPilates for free today. We have an ever expanding library of Physiotherapist-Led Pilates classes aimed specifically towards people in pain. If you have never done Pilates before, we have a 16-part beginners course aimed at gradually introducing the MyPhysioPilates method. We also offer a comprehensive support package which includes:

  • Regular emails for the first 6 weeks packed with motivational tips and techniques to help you make MyPhysioPilates a part of your healthy lifestyle
  • Weekly emails with class suggestions and information on new classes
  • Monthly newsletters with extra motivation, news and articles from the Physiotherapy and Pilates world
  • Access to our Members only Facebook Page – get support from our active and friendly Online community
  • You can contact me directly with any Pilates or class related questions

You can try the first three classes of our beginners course for free, or jump straight in and get access to our full library of classes for 2 weeks absolutely free. We don’t tie you into a contract, so you can cancel your subscription at any time.

So, keep your back moving and, until next time, happy exercising

Rachel x

Posted in Core Stability, exercise, Spine, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Balance

Balance is something we can all take for granted and, if you haven’t tested your balance in a while, it can be something that you may not even be aware needs to be worked on. But why is balancing important?

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If you really think about it, walking is just a series of standing on one leg as you push forward, as is going up the stairs – particularly if you have your hands full and can’t hold onto a handrail! Stepping over a curb, getting in and out of the car, getting dressed in the morning and stopping yourself from falling when you trip are all activities that require a degree of balance.

Furthermore, research has shown a direct link between balance training and improvements in conditions such as longstanding lower back pain and knee arthritis, as well as reducing the risk of re-injury after a sprained ankle by as much as 60%.

Balance training can also improve your coordination and, the better your coordination (which is simply the ability for all the muscles around a particular joint to work effectively together), the less likely you are to suffer from an injury and the more efficient and effortless your movements will become.

Balance training has a strong effect on a system known as proprioception. I will write a post on proprioception soon, but to put it simply for the benefit of todays post – proprioception is the body’s ability to know exactly what position each joint is in and where it is without needing to look at it. An example of proprioception in the arm would be if you closed your eyes and put your finger on your nose. If you have a good level of proprioception, you should be able to do this easily without needing to work out where your hand is. This is because the proprioceptive nerves in your hand are telling your brain where your hand is and in what position your finger is in (presumably pointing).

If you have experienced pain in an area of your body or have injured yourself, such as a sprained ankle or knee injury, you may find that your proprioception around that joint has been affected. This can place you at a higher risk of re-injury and is part of the reason why many people who have previously sprained their ankle go on to re-sprain their ankle again. Balance training on the affected side is a great way of reducing the risk of injury, especially if you have had a previous injury.

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Balance training is also an effective way of strengthening your legs and your core. When you stand on one leg, you will feel lots of small movements in your foot, leg and trunk as your body tries to keep you balanced. This works the muscles and proprioceptive nerves extremely hard.

Interestingly, studies have shown that balance training on one leg will also improve the balance on the other leg, so if you are currently injured and unable to stand on your right leg (for example), practice balance exercises on your left leg (or vice versa) and you will improve your balance on your right side as well!

And finally, balance training improves reaction times. When we trip or stumble, we have a set of in-built reactions that save us from falling, our foot comes forward and our arms fly out, adjusting our centre of gravity and keeping us balanced and on our feet. All this happens in a split second, without any conscious thought from us and, the faster we react, the less chance there is of us falling over. The more we practice balance exercises, the faster these reactions become and this is important for which ever age group we are in. For example, a frail elderly person will be less likely to fall if they regularly do balance exercises. Similarly, it has been shown that athletes in the teens and twenties get less injuries if they incorporate balance training into their workouts. However, the balance exercises I would suggest that a fit teenage athlete should do would obviously be very different from the exercises I would prescribe to a frail elderly person!

So, we’ve established that balance exercises are extremely beneficial in terms of injury prevention, improving coordination, reducing the risk of falls, strengthening the core and legs, reducing pain and making movements easier and more effortless; but what is the best way to work on balance?

Firstly, it is worth noting that there are two types of balance – static (standing still on one leg) and dynamic (balancing with movement). A good place to start would be by testing your static balance.

Try this static balance exercise. Stand in front of your kitchen work surface or sink (so you can hold on if you feel that you might fall). Now bring your weight onto your right foot and try to balance without holding on – how long can you balance before needing to either put the left foot down or using your hands to hold on?

Now do the same on the other side – does it feel the same? Can you hold it for as long?

Repeat this a few times on both legs and see how it feels. Many people have a good side and a not so good side – I’m better at balancing on my left, whilst my right side always takes a bit more work!

If you find this hard, practice regularly throughout the day (maybe every time you put the kettle on to make a cup of tea or coffee, you could practice balancing while you wait for the kettle to boil). It is amazing how your balance can improve with practice. I find that many people often feel no difference at all for a while, then suddenly it seems to click and they find they can balance for longer.

When doing balance exercises, you should feel wobbly and unsteady – but not at risk of actually falling over. It is for this reason that I normally suggest doing balance exercises by the kitchen sink, or next to a wall, so if you feel you are going to fall, you will be able to catch yourself so that you don’t go over.

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The static balancing exercise above is one way of improving your balance, but don’t forget to incorporate some dynamic balance exercises into your daily routine. I include both static and dynamic balance exercises into many of the Pilates classes on MyPhysioPilates.com.

MyPhysioPilates is a Physiotherapist-Led Clinical Pilates streaming service available on-demand through your computer or SMART device. We specialise in helping people with conditions such as:

  • Persistent lower back pain
  • Neck and upper back pain
  • Arthritis
  • Reduced stamina
  • Recurrent injuries
  • Poor posture
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Other painful conditions

We have a 16-part beginner’s course to gently introduce you to the MyPhysioPilates method, as well as an ever expanding library of classes which includes: easier, intermediate and more challenging classes, sessions of varying lengths from 10 to 40 minutes, joint specific classes, small equipment sessions and masterclasses.

As part of your subscription, you will also receive a weekly email with suggested classes and information on the new classes added each week, as well as a monthly newsletter packed with motivation tips and techniques, articles on exercise and general health and wellbeing, as well as general news from the PhysioPilates world.

You will also be invited to our Members Only Facebook Page, where you can share your Pilates highs and lows and get support from our active and supportive online community. I never leave any of my subscribers high and dry and you will always be able to contact me direct via email, should you have any issues or need a little one-to-one Pilates advice!

To try the first 3 classes in our beginners course for free, with no obligation to purchase a subscription (you don’t even need to enter any payment details), please go to MyPhysioPilates.com and get started today!

And as a final note on balance, please note that some neurological conditions, brain injuries and some age related changes can affect your balance systems and prevent the “saving reaction” from occurring. If you are in any doubt at all, please consult your GP or a Chartered Physiotherapist before starting any balance exercises.

Enjoy practicing your static balance exercise and I look forward to hearing how you get on in the comments below!

Happy exercising

 

Rachel

Posted in Core Stability, exercise, Pain | Tagged | Leave a comment

Breathing

“Breathe, you are alive” – Thich Nhat Hanh (Buddhist Monk)

We all do it, every minute of every hour of every day for the whole of our lives. But have you ever stopped to think about breathing, how it can affect us both physically and emotionally, and how different breathing patterns effect both pain and stress?

If you really think about it, breathing is amazing! Most of the time it just happens without any thought – your breathing continues when you’re 31531040_sawake, asleep, working, relaxing, exercising and resting. This is much the same as the heart beating, as well as many of the other processes going on in your body all through the day, every day of the year, throughout our whole life. However, unlike many of these automatic processes, breathing is the only automatic process that can be overridden and controlled. We can hold our breath, slow down our breathing or speed it up, just by thinking about it. Over time, we can also change the way that we breathe, which we will come to later.

In MyPhysioPilates, we focus a lot on breathing. So I thought we could explore this fascinating process in today’s Blog post

So, how do we breathe?

When we breathe in, a muscle called the diaphragm (which is found between the base of the lungs and the stomach) drops down, which increases the cavity inside the ribs (where the lungs sit) and pushes your stomach outwards. Muscles between the ribs simultaneously move the ribs outwards which further increases the space in this cavity. This increase in space results in air being sucked into the lungs through the nose and mouth, filling the cavity (and so the lungs) with air. The opposite process happens when we breathe out, the diaphragm lifts (causing the stomach to drop inwards), the ribs come closer together and the cavity within the rib cage shrinks, which pushes the air out of the lungs.34592110 - the movements of the chest when breathing.

What should normal breathing look like?

  • A breath-in should start in the stomach not in the chest
  • The stomach should rise as you breathe-in and fall as you breathe-out
  • The shoulders and chest should not rise up or visibly move as you breathe-in
  • The rib cage should expend outwards (laterally) when you breathe-in, but it should not lift up whilst doing this

When we were children, this style of breathing would have been the norm for the vast majority of us. If you have young children or grandchildren, try to watch how they breathe when they are relaxed. You should see their tummies rising and falling, whilst their shoulders and chest stay fairly still and relaxed.

Unfortunately, as we get older our breathing pattern often changes and instead of recruiting the diaphragm to breathe deep into the lungs, many of us begin to use a group of muscles in the neck and shoulders known as the accessory muscles. These muscles lift the ribs and shoulders and encourage air to enter the top part of the lungs. In normal lung function, where the diaphragm is being used as the main breathing muscle, the accessory muscles help to increase the cavity within the rib cage even further, which allows larger breaths. However, if the diaphragm is not really kicking in as well as it should, we can end-up relying on the accessory muscles for breathing, which will result in shallower breaths where the stomach remains fairly still and the shoulders and upper chest do all the work.

Look in the mirror and try to breathe in a relaxed way, in and out a few times. Now watch what happens to your shoulders, neck, chest and stomach as you breathe………

If you can see any of the following happening while you are breathing, you may have a poor breathing pattern:

  • The stomach goes inwards during an in-breath and outwards during an out-breath (i.e. the opposite of what we described earlier as a “normal breath”) – this is called Paradoxical Breathing
  • Raising the shoulders as you breathe in – recruiting all those accessory muscles in the neck and shoulders
  • Raising up of the breastbone or other portions of the chest as you breathe-in
  • No outward (lateral) expansion of the rib cage as you breathe-in
  • A groove does not form around the collar bones as you breathe-in

Breathing with the accessory muscles, instead of the26947247 - a woman having acute pain in the neck muscles diaphragm, is thought to be a stress response linked to Fight or Flight, which is why it is maybe not regularly observed in
children’s normal breathing patterns, but is regularly seen in adults. Breathing in this way can increase states of anxiety and stress, which can impact several areas of our lives, including how intense we feel pain, our personal relationships, our posture and how tight our general muscles are (many of us hold tension in our shoulders, which might already be over-working due to the processes mentioned above).

There is also increasing scientific evidence that suggests a strong link between breathing with the accessory muscles and lower back, mid-back, shoulder and neck pain. Whilst over worked neck, shoulder and rib muscles can explain the link between poor breathing patterns and mid-back, shoulder and neck pain, the reason for its impact on lower back pain is not so clearly understood. However, it isn’t so surprising when you consider that when we breathe-in with the diaphragm, the abdominal pressure increases (which is why our stomach rises). This increase in pressure may help to support and stabilise the lower back, in the same way that tightening-up your core does.

The Diaphragm is also joined, through connective tissue, known as fascia, to several of the core muscles, including: Transversus Abdominus, Quadratus Lumborum, Illiopsoas and Gluteus Maximus. This fascial connection will have a direct effect on these core muscles, meaning that a dysfunction in the diaphragm could affect any of these muscles, and vice-versa. It is also worth noting that the diaphragm is attached directly to the lower back, so if it is not working as it should, it is easy to see how it might also impact on lower back pain.

Changing our breathing pattern isn’t easy and takes practice and persistence, however, the good news is that it can change! We will talk about how we can change our breathing patterns and I’ll go through some breathing exercises in the next Blog Post.

I go through a lot of breathing exercises in the classes over on MyPhysioPilates.com, our Online (Netflix style) Physiotherapist-led Pilates streaming classes. MyPhysioPilates.com is aimed specifically towards people with pain, such as lower back pain, neck pain and arthritis. As well as an ever increasing library of general Pilates exercises, we have an 18 part beginners course to introduce you slowly and safely to the PhysioPilates method, as well as joint and injury specific classes and small equipment classes. You can try the first 3 classes in our beginners course free by clicking here, or you can start today with a free 2 week trial here. We don’t lock you into a contract, so you can cancel anytime!

If you are experiencing pain and think Physiotherapist-Led Pilates classes might be able to help, try your first 3 lessons for free here

So, next-time you think about breathing, try to remember that there is a lot more going on than the simple automatic mechanism of in-breath followed by out-breath. Breathing is an amazing process that can affect more than just how much air enters our lungs, it can also affect our levels of pain, stress, anxiety and relaxation.

Happy exercising

Rachel

Posted in Breathing | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Engaging the Core

In Pilates we talk a lot about engaging you core, but what exactly is the core, why is it important and how is it engaged?7967273 - green apple core on a white backgroundWe all have four layers of muscle in the stomach. The outermost of these is called the Rectus Abdominus, which is the six pack muscle often seen in bodybuilders. Underneath this, there are two layers of diagonal muscles that each run in different directions – these are called the External and Internal Obliques. Finally, underneath all three of these layers is a muscle called the Transversus Abdominus (or Trans Abs for short). The Trans Abs attach to the lower spine through connective tissue and wraps around to the front of the abdomen – creating a corset-like structure. Although this muscle is not involved in spinal movements, by tightening just before any movement occurs, the Trans Abs increases the support through the spine, making it easier for other muscles to move and control the spine, pelvis and arms and legs

Back pain and pregnancy can both have a strong detremental effect on the Trans Abs muscle through our old friend “muscle inhibition” (I talked about this phenomenon a lot in a previous Post). When the Trans Abs become inhibited, there is a delay between when the muscle tightens and when movement occurs – so instead of tightening a little before a movement begins (giving the corset-like support to the spine), the muscle tightens up after the movement.

When we engage the core, we are attempting to activate the Trans Abs, without engaging all the other layers of stomach muscles. We can achieve this through gently pulling in the lower part of the stomach just 20% or 30%.

When learning to engage the core, it is best to breathe in just before you start, then breathe out slowly as you attempt to activate the Trans Abs. It may also help to try following one of these ques when trying to engage your core:

  • Gently draw in the lower part of your stomach, as if you were trying17123263 - zipper isolated on white
    to zip-up a pair of low-cut hipster trousers that are a little too tight and you were pulling your skin
    away from the teeth of the zip, OR
  • Pull up on your pelvic floor as if you were trying to stop yourself going to the toilet, OR
  • Find the two bony points on the front of the pelvis and imagine trying to draw these two points together, OR
  • For men, imagine drawing up your testicles as if you were running into cold water

Don’t worry if you struggle at first as this can be a tricky exercise to master, however it is worth persevering as I have found that the “penny drops” after a while for most people. Remember, I have done a master-class on the MyPhysioPilates website and on my YouTube channel on engaging the core, where I go through many of the difficulties that people can experience when first attempting to engage their core.

Some tips which might help you learn how to switch-on the core can include:

  • Finding the bony prominence’s on the front of your pelvis and bringing your hands one in in and one inch down from these points. When you engage the core, the muscle under your fingers should pull back slightly from your fingers. If you feel the muscles bulge up, you have engaged one of the other muscles that I mentioned earlier. Next time try a gentler contraction.
  • The Trans Abs muscle does not move the pelvis in any way. If you feel your pelvis move, or your back flatten or arch, you are contracting something else around the pelvis or abdomen. If you aren’t sure if the pelvis is moving, place your hands palm down into the small of your back and make sure your back doesn’t push into your hands or lift away.
  • When you engage your core, try placing one hand on the top part of your stomach. This part of the stomach should not move when the Trans Abs are engaged. If you feel the muscle under your hand tightening or bulging, you are pulling to hard and activating all the stomach muscles instead of the just the Trans Abs on its own.
  • Breathe out when you practice – to make sure you aren’t holding your breath.

Try to remember that “less is more” when it comes to engaging your core. I have found that most people usually pull too hard when trying to engage for the first time. Keep practicing until you have got the hang of this very subtle contraction.

Once you have managed to engage the core, you can practice holding this contraction for three breaths and do this 5-10 times per day for at least 6 weeks. To start with, practicing lying on your back with your knees bent, as this is the easiest position to learn from, but as you feel more comfortable engaging the core, you can start practicing it in sitting and standing as well.

Also, try to remember that the Trans Abs are only a part of the back pain jigsaw and, if you are experiencing lower back pain, there will most-likely be other muscles which are being inhibited, or are over working.

Remember…………….it’s easy to join MyPhysioPilates.com – Online Pilates classes taught by a Chartered Physiotherapist, aimed specifically at people with pain, where you can access our ever increasing library of classes on demand,  including an 18 part beginners course, masterclasses, mat-based Pilates Classes aimed at different levels and access to our closed Facebook group. You can even try the first 2 weeks for free and we don’t tie you into a minimum contract, so you can cancel your subscription at any time. To start your 2 weeks free trial, please go to www.myphysiopilates.com

If you have any questions or would like to leave a comment, please leave a message below, or comment on our FaceBook Page.

Happy Exercising

Rachel Mills

(Chartered Physiotherapist and Clinical Pilates Instructor)

Posted in Core Stability | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Ever been told “No Pain, No Gain”? The latest scientific research would not agree!

If you  currently have pain, or have recently experienced a painful condition, you may need to change your approach exercise and fitness regimens. Certainly, griting your teeth and taking a no pain, no gain approach to exercise and activity may not be as effective as you hope.

Scientific research from all over the world has shown that exercise, done in the right way, is by far the best medicine to reduce or completely get rid of pain. In the old days, Doctors would advise rest for people experiencing conditions such as back pain, and would prescribe collars and supports to people with neck pain (presumably to “rest” the neck). Unfortunately, the majority of these people would either experience more pain in the long run, take longer to recover than an active person or would simply not get better at all.

11833745 - woman holding her painful backWhen you experience pain, certain muscles can become inhibited (muscle inhibition is where the muscles do not fire effectively due to reduced signals from the nervous system). Common muscles to become inhibited in lower back and hip pain include the glutes in the buttock and the deep abdominal muscles. Due to the reduced signals from the nervous system, muscle inhibition is very different to normal muscle weakness, although the inhibited muscle will become weaker the longer it is not firing properly.

The problem with muscle inhibition is that, to compensate for the inhibited muscle, other muscles have to work harder and often become overactive and tight. This is known as a “muscle imbalance” and can further contribute to the initial pain, which causes further muscle inhibition, increasing tightness in already over worked muscles, which increases pain and causes further inhibition, which……………I’m sure you get the picture! It can be very easy to get into this cycle and very hard to get out of it.

Just to drive home the point on rest:

  • Resting will not help inhibited muscles to fire, only encourage them to weaken quickly.
  • Resting will not help to prevent overactive muscles from over working. It might feel nice at the time, but as soon as you start moving around again, the imbalance will remain and the pain will return.
  • Prolonged rest will make you more susceptible to other conditions such as osteoporosis, chest infections, joint pain and cardiac conditions.
  • Rest will not help you get back on your feet.
  • And the long and short of it is that rest will not reduce your pain! It will instead most likely increase it in the long term, or prolong your recovery.

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So, if I’m not advocating rest for painful conditions like lower back and neck pain, what do I suggest. The scientific research points towards targeted exercise and therapeutic movement to reduce pain. The exercises that I teach in the MyPhysioPilates beginners course are specifically designed to target the muscles that typically become inhibited and weak. They are purposefully taught at an easy enough level so that the muscles get a chance to work and not just shut down immediately, which would increase any muscle imbalances and not help to reduce pain. The exercises then slowly build so as to allow the correct muscles to strengthen, without increasing the muscle imbalance any further. You can try a few classes for free over at MyPhysioPilates.com  or on our YouTube channel.

One of the common mistakes that I have seen time and time again, is where people with painful conditions are advised to work on their “core” and are given exercises at far too high a level. These exercises only serve to increase muscle imbalances and ultimately exacerbate their pain. However, by being patient and allowing the muscles to slowly build at the rate they need, I have seen amazing results in people’s pain levels and their ability to carry out “normal” everyday tasks which were previously well and truly out of reach!

With that in mind, you will need to use your common sense a bit when you are doing exercises like the MyPhysioPilates exercises. As I’ve mentioned above, pain will inhibit the muscles that we are trying to train. Therefore, to get the results in terms of reactivating and strengthening these muscles, it’s best to do exercises that don’t increase your pain. It’s OK for your pain to stay the same, or even better for it to reduce, but you really don’t want it to worsen – particularly if it stays painful for longer than 20 mins after you stop exercising (this also includes exercises that feel OK at the time, but make you sore the next day).

If you do get an increase in your pain, it may be that your technique is not quite right, in which case you could try re-watching the exercise during the video and really making sure that your position is right. 36502508_lThere may also be a masterclass on the exercise or rest position in the Masterclasses section, so this might be worth a look. If you are struggling with the exercises, or would like some advice, please get in touch by either leaving a comment below, or commenting on Facebook, Youtube or on MyPhysioPilates.com (where you can try 3 classes for free)

So, to summarise the key points when it comes to pain:

  • Exercise helps you recover from pain, so don’t wait to be better before starting
  • Continue to exercise, even on a bad day – just do less and go more gently
  • Don’t skip the easier classes in the beginners course – otherwise you risk increasing muscle imbalances.
  • DO NOT exercise through pain.

I love reading your comments, so please leave a message below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can and remember, you can try 3 MyPhsioPilates classes for free, or you can sign-up to our 2 weeks free trial, over at MyPhysioPlates.com.

Happy Exercising

 

Posted in Pain, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment