Pilates: Foot Review

In honor of summer, and the fabulous Riva Preil, we will use this blog to echo Riva’s advice on summer footwear.  We all know that flip-flops are, in theory, the perfect summer shoe.  They are light, they are airy, and they are very inexpensive.  However, flip-flops provide absolutely no support for our feet.

In an earlier blog, I mentioned the importance of having tone in the muscles of our feet.  If the muscles of our feet have good tone, the bones of our feet can maintain the proper structure they need to balance our legs, pelvis, and spine.  However, if you absolutely need to wear your flip-flops, do the following exercise daily to maintain proper muscle tone in your feet.

You can do this exercise either sitting or standing.  In addition, you will need a small ball, preferably the size of a tennis ball.

Place the ball of your foot on the ball and anchor your heel to the floor (photo 1).  Lift your toes off the ball, and then lower them again attempting to wrap your toes around the ball.  Repeat ten times. With each repetition, the ball of your foot should spread wider and extend further over the ball.

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After ten repetitions, maintain your toes wrapped around the ball.  From here, begin to rotate your foot from right to left (photo 2).  Attempt to keep this motion in your ankle, rather than your knee or your hip.  Do this action ten times.

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Next, roll the ball forward and backward under your foot while you point and flex your foot (photo 3).  This will help you maintain the proper heel striking rhythm that Riva mentions in her blog.  Repeat this action ten 10 times.

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When you have finished with one foot, stand on both feet and observe the difference between each.  Hopefully, the foot your exercised feels more grounded, yet, light and supported.

Pilates: Leg Swings

By Denise Vidal

In our last blog, we explored different aspects of our hip joint by moving our legs upward and downward in the coronal plane. In this blog, we will continue with the theme of massaging different aspects of our hip joint by adding movement in a different plane.

We will begin in the same position as we last finished, lying on your side with your bottom leg bent.  You can put a pillow under your head to allow for better alignment of your spine.  If you need a reminder, please refer to the last blog in our archived exercises.

As always, we will start with the breath.  Inhale deeply through your nose, and exhale completely out of your mouth.  As you exhale, feel your abdominals narrow across your waist.  To increase this sensation, make your exhale audible.  That is, as you exhale make a sound as if you are blowing out your birthday candles.  To ensure that you are exhaling completely, imagine that you are blowing out the candles at you 100th birthday party.

Remember, our goal is to create tone in the abdomen to maintain stability in our pelvis.  Our abdominals create the best support when they are engaged completely.  Because our abdominals engage in response to respiration, it is important to breathe fully to create the maximum amount of stability.

On your next exhale, begin to lift your top leg.  With your leg lifted, observe if you are lifting only your thigh, or if you are hiking your hip.  Again, we want to stabilize our pelvis, while moving the leg in the hip joint.  If you are able to maintain a stable pelvis, move your leg forward and backward as if you are walking.  See if you can continue to keep the pelvis stable as you add focus to your breath, exhaling as you take the leg forward and inhaling as you take the leg back.

Do eight swings of your leg, forward and back.  If you feel comfortable, add five little circles of the leg in each direction, inhaling as you circle forward and exhaling as you circle backward.  You should feel your gluteal muscles working, as well as your abs. When you are ready, repeat the exercise on your other side.

If you feel any discomfort or pain, discontinue the exercise.  Contact your doctor or physical therapist before continuing any exercise routine.

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Pilates: Hip Abduction

By Denise Vidal

The relationship between the thigh bone and the hip socket is known as a ball and socket joint. A ball and socket joint is different than other joints in the body in that it allows movement in all different directions. For example, unlike the hinge joint of the knee, which moves predominantly forward and backward, the ball and socket joint allows the thigh bone to move forward, backward, sideways, and around in rotation.

In the last few blogs we have discussed, among other things, the thigh bone’s ability to roll in the hip socket. Specifically, in the downward dog movement (or Pilates’ knee stretch), we focused on the thigh bone’s ability to roll forward and backward. However, as I have mentioned before, the healthiest joints are those that experience their full range of motion. Therefore, in today’s blog we will explore movement of the thigh bone in a different direction.

To begin, lie on your left side. Your bottom (left) leg will be bent, while your top (right) leg will be straight. In this position, your head, tail, and right foot should be in alignment and your pelvis should be stable. If necessary, you can put a pillow under your head.

Next, inhale through your nose and feel your abdomen expand. In your mind’s eye see your breath swirling down to the base of your pelvis. As you exhale, see your breath swirling up into your ribcage as your abdominals contract. Use this abdominal tone to keep your pelvis stable during the exercise.

On your next exhale, lift your right leg. As you do this, the top of your thigh bone, the “ball,” will move in opposition to the foot. In other words, the top of your thigh bone will roll inward in the hip socket as the foot floats off the floor. As you place the foot back down the thigh bone will roll outward in the hip joint. Continue to lower and lift the leg eight times. When you have finished, lie on your back with your legs straight and feel the difference between your two legs. When you are ready, roll onto your left side and repeat the exercise with your left leg.

Just a reminder, if you experience any pain during this exercise, do not continue. If your pain persists, contact your Doctor or PT before resuming any exercise routine.

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Pilates: Imagery

By Denise Vidal

In our last blog, we started to assemble our past exercises to create a fuller movement experience. We combined the scapular mobility exercise and the mechanics of the hip joint to work towards a downward dog. In today’s blog, we are going to go one step closer the full downward dog movement.

To review, come into tabletop position on your hands and knees.  When you have found a neutral position, take a deep inhale and envision your ribcage expanding underneath your shoulder girdle. When you exhale, envision your abdomen pulling in and lifting up towards your spine. On your next inhale, shift your weight back towards your heels. As you do this, envision your shoulder blades widening and upwardly rotating on your ribcage. At the same time, envision your sitz bones widening and your thigh bones rolling back in the hip socket. In this shifted position, take a deep exhale and engage your abdominal muscles.

If you feel confident with the above movement, you can attempt the next phase of the exercise.

Sitting back towards your heels take another deep inhale and tuck your toes under. This time as you exhale, you are going to engage your abdominals and ENVISION your knees floating off the floor. Do not actually take your knees off the floor,  just visualize the movement. Notice how much more your abdominals need to engage by just imagining the movement? The movement should progress with a deeper abdominal engagement, yet with the same hollowing quality as when your knees are on the floor. Our goal is to eventually take the knees off without hardening and gripping in the abdominals.

Visualizing movement can often be more beneficial than the movement itself. By creating an ideal movement experience in your mind’s eye, you are offering your nervous system a different option, without stressing the system. Try the above visualization exercise for a few weeks.  When you feel ready to attempt the actual movement, you’ll be surprised at how effortless it is.

Pilates: Building to Downward Dog

By Denise Vidal

So far in our Pilates blogs we have built a solid foundation of exercises by exploring fundamental joint movements in relationship to our breath and core support. In this blog, we will attempt to apply what we have learned to a more challenging movement called downward dog.

Downward dog is a movement that is a part of the yoga repertoire, but versions of it are also done in Pilates. In Pilates, the mechanics of downward dog are involved in the exercises “Knee Stretch” and “Upstretch.” In both methods, the exercise is a full body movement that requires a flow of communication between the upper and lower limbs through the torso. In our last few blogs we have been working on movements that support this interaction. In this blog, we will begin to put them together to create the full movement.

To begin, come into a table top position; that is, on your hands and knees with your head in line with your tailbone. Take a deep inhale, feeling your ribcage expand under your shoulder girdle.  As you exhale, feel the abdominals float up toward your spine, without changing your spinal position. Remember the pregnant cat cue?

On your next exhale, maintain the connection of your shoulder blades and ribcage as you begin to sit back towards your heels. As you sit back, two things are happening. The shoulder blades are beginning to widen, just as they did in the last blog. Remember lifting the dowel up to the level of your forehead? Your hands should be in a similar position on the floor. The second thing that is happening is your sitz bones are widening and your thighs are rolling back in your hip joint. Remember our Pilates footwork?

Continue to shift forward and back until you can feel both movements, while connecting to your core. Remember to inhale in the table top position and exhale in the kneeling squat position. Practice this a few times a day.

If you are experiencing any wrist or knee pain do not continue with the exercise. Check with your doctor or physical therapist before proceeding. In the next blog we will attempt to take our knees off of the floor.

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Pilates: Scapular Mobility

By Denise Vidal

In the last blog, we demonstrated how core strength can be supported through the shoulder girdle’s connection to the ribcage. We did this by exploring motions called protraction and retraction, that is the shoulder blades’ moving toward and away from each other along the ribcage. In this blog, we are going to explore upward and downward rotation of the shoulder blades, while continuing to practice our protraction and retraction. To do this exercise, you need a dowel of some kind that is wider than shoulder width. You can do this exercise sitting or standing; however, whatever position you choose be sure to align your head on top of your ribcage and pelvis.

To begin, hold the ends of the dowel in each hand and rest it on your thighs. Take a deep breath. As you inhale, feel your ribcage expand into your shoulder blades. As you exhale, engage your abdominals, feeling the front and back of your abdomen hugging towards each other.

On your next inhale, maintain your abdominal tone as you raise the stick to shoulder height. The shoulder blades will begin to widen on your back, just as they did in last week’s blog (picture 1). As you exhale, continue to lift the dowel to the height of your forehead. The shoulder blades will widen more as they upwardly rotate around the
ribcage (picture 2). I like to imagine the tips of my shoulder blades following the path of my little finger. At this point, your shoulder blades should be as wide as possible against your ribcage. Continue to lift the stick up over your head. As you do this, your shoulder blades will begin to narrow towards each other, or retract from the previous position (picture 3).

On your next inhale, begin to reverse the pattern until you come back to the original position. The shoulder blades will widen as the stick comes down toward your forehead, and then narrow slightly as the dowel comes to rest on your thighs.

Do this motion 5-10x every morning. Remember to connect your breath and the engagement of your core to the movement.

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Pilates: Footwork

This week’s blog is taking a cue from Beyond Basics’s move into their beautiful new space, and PT Riva Preil’s recent blog on squatting. We have all heard the instruction to “lift with your legs and not with your back.” However, without proper hip joint mechanics, differentiating your back from your legs may not be possible. In Pilates we have a series of movements called footwork, which mimic the motion of squatting while encouraging healthy joint movement. Footwork is traditionally done on the Reformer, but it can also be performed standing.

Before we begin, we’ll review the boney landmarks of the pelvis. Stand with your feet as wide as your shoulders and put your hands on your hips. Now, slide your fingers down and in towards your pubic bone. The soft area on either side of your pubic bone is your hip joint, where your thigh bones join your pelvis. Keep your fingers there, while you lift your knees one at a time. Feel the movement of your thigh bone rolling back as you lift your leg, and rolling forward as you lower your leg.

Next, put your fingers on the back of your legs, where the top of your leg meets your buttocks. This is referred to as your gluteal fold. Keep your fingers there as you sit back into a squat position and feel your sitz bones move away from each other. Then, as you stand up, feel your sitz bones move toward each other.

Now, with your hands on your hips, we’ll imagine both movements happening at the same time.

To begin, take a deep breath. As you inhale, squat. Imagine your sitz bones widening and your thigh bones rolling back in the hip joint. As you exhale, stand up. Imagine your sitz bones narrowing and your thigh bones rolling forward in the hip joint.

Repeat this action ten times, remembering to breath as you move.

If you would like to try this movement on the reformer, call Beyond Basics and schedule an appointment with me. I am at the office on Thursday mornings.

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