Pilates with Kiertsin! The Saw

Kierstin Elliott, Pilates Rehab Specialist

Exercise: Saw

Set Up: Seated with legs extended mat distance apart and arms extended out to the side.

Execution: Inhale to prep, exhale to rotate torso right as you flex forward (nose toward knee) reaching your left hand toward the outside of the right foot. Reach the pinky finger to the pinky toe a little further 3 times (creating a saw like action) before rolling up through the spine. Inhale as you pass through center and rotate left as you repeat the same actions on the left side. Complete 3 rounds.

Focus: Focus on anchoring the opposite hip to the mat while reaching toward the foot. Be sure to keep a flexed spine versus an extended spine while folding forward over the leg. Lastly, keep shoulders out of the ears (IE. Relax your shoulders) while reaching toward foot.

Importance: Spinal rotation and hamstring length! It’s so easy to track improvement with this one 🙂

Modifications: For extra tight hamstrings or hip flexors, sit on a bolster or a couple yoga blocks to elevate the pelvis.

Pilates with Kierstin! Thoracic Mobility

Kierstin Elliott

Exercise: Thoracic Mobility

Set Up: Set up your foam roller vertically (so it runs up and down your spine). Sit on a mat with the end of the foam roller placed right between the bottom tips of your shoulder blades. Lean back into the roller with arms stretched back so hands are gently placed on either side of roller. Place feet flat on the mat, parallel.

Execution: Inhale to prep, exhale to lift hips off the mat, finding extension through the psoas. Inhale to lower hips down. After about 3-5 hip lifts, reposition the roller a couple inches further up the back, mid shoulder blades. Repeat hip lifts. Pause here with hips on the mat and take a few lateral bends right and left, allowing the roller to become an extension of your spine. After about 4-6 reps on each side, reposition the roller one more time towards the top of your thoracic spine (upper shoulder blades), being careful not to place it on the neck. Repeat the hip lifts.

Focus: Focus on stabilizing your pelvis during lateral flexion and connecting to breath during the hip lifts.

Importance: Mobilizing the thoracic spine! This alone comes with so many benefits: deeper, expansive breath, more accessible spinal rotation, mobile shoulders, greater spinal extension and flexion, better connection to core, etc.

Modifications: Place a small pillow or towel roll under head if neck support is needed. Take a few moments after the lateral flexion for some snow angels to stretch the pecs and open the chest.

How to Start a New Exercise Program When You’re Feeling Intimidated

How to Start a New Exercise Program When You’re Feeling Intimidated

woman stretching on ground
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

Kierstin Elliott

Maybe you were an avid gym-goer, cross fitter, or yogi and then you got injured. Or maybe fitness has never been a part of your life, but now your doctor or PT has told you that a fitness regimen is necessary in order to help you feel like yourself again. Whatever the case may be, you just don’t know where to start, or you feel intimidated to return to what you were doing in the past because that is how you got injured in the first place. My advice is to start slowly. Educate yourself on how and why you got injured and what the next steps are on your road to recovery. Set goals on what you need to accomplish and build a plan to achieve them. Last but not least, train smartly. If you follow this check list, then you should definitely feel more confident moving forward!

It is imperative when you are transitioning from injury rehab to the fitness world, or starting a new exercise program for the first time, that you build a foundation. It is so crucial you stay true to your journey and not compare yourself to others. Trust that progress takes time. Resist the urge to jump right into something new if you’re unsure about form, alignment, and technique.

The first step would be to invest in private sessions. Educate yourself on what you’re getting into and find an expert in what you want to master. Having a coach who devotes the entire hour to your body and your needs will help you garner a deeper understanding of how your breath, body, and mind connect. Learning the proper form with a watchful eye on alignment, will ensure you have a strong foundation to move forward or join group classes.

Once you’ve gained confidence with your new (or old) exercise program, set some fitness goals. You’ve laid a strong foundation and now it’s time to build a skyscraper! Do you want to improve strength, flexibility, endurance? Once you have clear goals set, create a timeline. Establishing a realistic timeline will hold you accountable to sticking with your exercise program and crushing your goals!

The point I’ll end with is to train smartly. No matter what discipline you train in, if you are not focused on form, alignment, and breath control, you are only setting yourself up for future injuries. If you are in a group class, don’t be afraid to ask questions if something is unclear, doesn’t feel quite right, or if you know you need a modification. If you are doing an at home workout on your own, try to do it in front of a mirror to check out your form. If there’s no mirror accessible, simply take it slow and use the knowledge you’ve acquired from a trainer, coach, or PT. Take notes. Practice. Your exercises won’t be perfect the first time you attempt them. Be patient and mindful. It’s all about the journey 🙂

Pilates with Kierstin! Scissor Kicks

Kierstin Elliott

Exercise: Scissor Kicks

Set Up: Lying supine on the mat, press your back into the mat, legs in table top with hands behind the head.

Execution: Inhale to prep, exhale to curl head to your chest, neck and shoulders off the mat driving your naval closer to spine. Inhale to extend your right leg out 45 degrees and left leg straight up to the ceiling. Switch legs, with continuous emphasis on length and control from the psoas. Inhale for two kicks and exhale for two kicks.

Focus: Focus on stabilizing your pelvis and lumbar spine with your core while lengthening through energized legs. Your neck and shoulders should not be holding any tension.

Importance: Stability and strength! While this is primarily a core exercise, the psoas gets the opportunity to strengthen and lengthen with each kick as well.

Modifications: For extra assistance, bend the knees slightly to lessen the load for the core. You could also keep head on mat and place hands under pelvis for greater lower back support.

Pilates with Kierstin! Split Lunges

Kierstin Elliott

Exercise: Split Lunges

Set Up: Stand with right foot in front and left in back, hip distance apart. Pelvis should be square to the front. Weight is primarily in the front foot while the back heel is lifted acting as a kickstand. Hinge forward from the hips slightly to maintain neutral pelvis.

Execution: Inhale to bend both knees as you angle the tailbone to the back wall sitting back into a squat-like position- keep lengthening through the spine. Exhale to stand following the same forward angle that keeps the crown of your head in line with the back heel, squeezing gently into your right glute. Repeat 10x and switch to left foot in front.

Focus: Primary focus is the right glute. Keep front knee stacked over ankle the entire time. Be sure to maintain length in lower back while keeping lower abs engaged. Taper ribs toward hip bones while keeping hips square/level.

Importance: Great exercise for glute strengthening, balance, and stability.

Modifications: To make it easier, use a chair, or wall to hold onto until balance improves. To make it harder, add free weights to incorporate some arms simultaneously, or simply transfer weight solely to front leg as you stand floating the back leg off the floor for a little extra balance challenge!

Pilates with Kierstin! Abdominal Bracing

Kierstin Elliott, Pilates Instructor

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What is it? Abdominal bracing is an activation of the core muscles that help provide support and stability for your trunk. This brace is commonly called upon in almost every single Pilates exercise and is essential for building tone within the deep and superficial layers of the core. Let me take you through two different scenarios where the core should naturally brace on its own.

Scenario one: Imagine kneeling on the floor with one foot forward and back toes tucked. Now if you were to lift the back knee two inches off the floor, how do you prep for that movement? I bet you would find yourself naturally bracing your core as a response to your body calling for additional stability to lift the back knee. Try it. If you do not feel the core engage naturally, it may take some deliberate asking from the brain to activate the core.

Scenario two: Imagine you tripped, but caught yourself! Chances are your whole body tenses up and your abs engage. Your body has to instinctively muster up as much stability as it can manage to prevent you from falling. This is another example of abdominal bracing.

One common question I get when introducing abdominal bracing to clients is, “How do I breathe when I’m bracing?” Don’t expect to get a full belly breath while under an abdominal brace, but do allow your abdomen to stretch and fluctuate a bit to accommodate to the task at hand. If the task is strenuous, strive to find a three-dimensional breath. Expand through the back of the ribs on your inhale. On the exhale while you exert the most force, start to knit your ribs together, draw your pubic bone up and gently pull navel toward spine (finding your brace). This will provide adequate support for your system. If you need prolonged stability throughout an exercise, your breath pattern may feel a bit short and more shallow than a full expansive breath.

Note from a PT

An abdominal brace is a useful tool for you to support your spine and pelvis during moments where you may have to lift something heavy, stabilize yourself from a jossle or bump, or to allow you the stability through your body for explosive athletic movements. That said, it is important not to grip constantly, that can invite a whole host of issues including pelvic floor dysfunction! A good abdominal brace is really like a seasoning. Think cilantro, it may be tasty in small doses on top of a burrito, but you certainly don’t want to eat a salad of it! We are often taught to grip because it pulls in our flab and men and women alike have been taught that “fluffiness” around the waste line is icky for some reason. But it is truly important for your health to let go when you are at rest.

Breathing under an abdominal brace directly impacts our intra-abdominal pressure which leads me to another common question I often get when asking clients to brace, “Is it safe for my pelvic floor?” Yes, bracing but not gripping is safe for your pelvic floor. In fact, not bracing for certain movements could lead to hernias, prolonged diastasis, or more severe pelvic floor issues. Learning the proper way to activate the various layers of your core and then coordinating that activation with proper breathing techniques will take you far; not only in functional daily movement, but in all of your active fitness dreams! If this peaks your interest, or you find it hard to find an abdominal brace on your own, schedule a session with me at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, and we’ll have some fun exploring abdominal bracing!

Saggy Jeans and Tailfeathers: How Your Pelvic Positioning Affects Your Body

animal bird blue bright
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Joanna Hess PT, DPT, PRC, WCS

Wait! Marie Kondo has you throwing out your favorite jeans because the joyless saggy bottoms that your tushy cannot manage to fill out? We are seeing an epidemic flat butt among mamas, plumbers, barre fanatics, and office workers—all with strangely similar symptoms—pelvic floor dysfunction, low back and sacroiliac pain, and a tucked under pelvis. In this blog we will explore why the position of the pelvis, the maker of flat butts and the maker of less flat booties, is important and how to more easily move out of this position for benefit beyond your behind.

Besides needing a new wardrobe, why should I care about my flat bum?

The flat bum or preference towards posterior pelvic tilting shrinks the distance between the front and back of pelvic outlet which changes pelvic floor muscle tension. The body needs access to the full range of the pelvis and pelvic floor muscles. Over time, this position could cause excessive pelvic floor activity to compensate for the loss of resting tension. Think of the pelvic floor muscles simplified as a rubber band between two points, the pubic bone and tailbone. When the distance between the two points decreases, the rubber band loses its stability from resting tension. Changes in pelvic position alters stability from the pelvic floor muscles. This posterior pelvic tilt position also decreases the accessibility for hip extension and therefore the upper glute muscles get sleepy. As the top of the pelvis moves back, the sacroiliac joint in the low back opens and decreases its bony stability. Translated into everyday life, the flat butt position increases the potential for incontinence, pelvic floor muscle tension, sacroiliac pain, and decreased efficiency in movement.

The Flat Bottom. Only in the eye of the beholder?

Pelvic floor and tilt

The disagreement of the “neutral pelvis” or zero-point causes confusion when describing pelvic tilt—anterior pelvic tilt, posterior pelvic tilt, and neutral pelvis. Some argue that the neutral pelvis is when the ASIS’s (front hip bones) are level to the PSIS (back butt dimples). Others say that the pelvis is neutral when ASIS’s are in the same plane as the pubic bone. Or for those with X-ray vision, pelvic tilt is the vector of the sacral angle at S2 in relation to the vertical axis. But often, neutral pelvic position is subjective to the observer and relative to other parts of the body—namely the spine/rib cage and thigh bone. Clinically, this “neutral pelvis” is hard to find because 1) pelvis’ are shaped very differently, 2) left and right pelvis on the same person can also be quite different, 3) feeling these bony landmarks have been shown to be remarkably unreliable, 4) the neutral pelvis should be on top of vertical thigh bones. See how the eyes can be tricked confusing spinal curve focusing on pelvic tilt without also including rib position.

Rib pelvic alignmentThe inability to move in and out of posterior pelvic tilt and anterior pelvic tilt decreases efficiency and possibly results in pain and instability. Anterior pelvic tilt is when the front part of the pelvis moves forward/down. Posterior pelvic tilt is when the front part of the pelvis moves back/up. A neutral pelvis on top of vertical femurs and happy rib cage should correlate with better muscle performance.

Do I have a flat butt?

Aside from the saggy jeans, the flat butts of the world have a few other correlations.

1. The Tailfeather Test: Stand comfortably and squeeze the gluts.

a. Neutral pelvis: Thigh bones rotate.

b. Posterior tilt-ing pelvis: The butt will further tuck under and mainly access the lower glutes.

c. Anterior tilt-ing pelvis: The pelvic floor muscles will do most of the work.

2. You bear weight more in the heels

3. Back of your rib cage is behind your pelvis

4. Your Thigh bones are angled so that your pelvis is front of your knees

5. Your lower belly pooch

6. You Sit with pressure more on the sacrum/tailbone vs. sit bone

7. You have Overactive and possibly overworking pelvic floor muscles—the front to back pelvic distance decreases with your posterior tilted pelvis and loses the resting tension from length. As described earlier, this is similar to tensile strength of a slightly stretched rubber band vs. rubber band without pull/tension. Therefore, your pelvic floor muscles have to work harder to keep some type of tension for purposes like continence, stability, etc. The inability for the pelvic floor muscles to work optimally can lead to incontinence, pain, and constipation.

9. You have Breathing and abdominal pressure problems

10. You have Sacroiliac joint pain. As the pelvis tips back, the sacrum moves away from the ilium decreasing the bony stability. The hip muscles have to work harder, but as felt in the Tailfeather Test, the glut muscles aren’t in a good place to work.

Is there a better fix than butt implants?

Bodies have and love variability for posterior, anterior and “neutral” pelvic positioning. The brain likes positions where muscles and nerves work with ease and stability—life shouldn’t be so difficult—but it needs the chance to choose and learn it. Folks working with bodies have traditionally “corrected” spinal curves by changing pelvic position. From what has already been discussed, spinal and pelvic position can be altered many different ways—from the changing weight-bearing area in the feet, to position of ribs and range of breath, and even head angles with visual and vestibular input. Consider these hacks into pelvic stability until the brain learns how to access this stability in many situations and positions.

1. Standing. Bring your chin down to your neck and keep looking down until you see the front of your ankles. You’ve just untucked your pelvis and brought your ribs over your pelvis. This one is courtesy of my colleague, Stephanie Stamas. Or check in to feel where the weight is going through your feet. The front to middle of the foot is a good place to start and then do the Tailfeather Test. You might have to toggle other parts of the body because of how the body will compensate in the chain.

2. Sitting. Get your hips as far back as possible. Or put a pillow in the back of the chair so that your hips can find the pillow and you are sitting on top of your sit bones. Then, relax the trunk into the seat back/pillow. Again, you’ve untucked your pelvis and brought your ribs over the pelvis.

3. Better squats/lunges/burpees/stairs/ab work. You can do 5 sets of 20 squats, but still no junk? Take care to see if your pelvis is tucking under in the movement. If so, use an inhale to keep the pelvic floor lengthening as your hips bend in movement. Later, the movement should be dissociated with breath pattern (as long as you are breathing.)

4. See a physical therapist. Often times, the habits of pelvic tucking are a little more complicated because it is a protective and compensatory mechanism for stability. A physical therapist can help with seeing the bigger picture and how different parts of the body relate to each other. They can also help facilitate better movement through manual therapy and specialized movement.

Good luck with the joy sparking!