Origianally written on January 25, 2011 and updated on April 12, 2017:
“Balance is the point of no effort. Thinking about using more force to be able to balance is the opposite of what it feels like when you are balanced. And this goes for the body and the mind.” -- Eric Franklin, July 2010.
Such sage advice. Especially when it comes to movement forms like Dance, Yoga, Martial Arts, and Pilates, the objective is to be relaxed in balance, with the most efficient use of the body. This also goes for any other kind of sport and work activity. It prevents injury.
Would you like to pursue your sport for a longer time? To stay mobile and age gracefully? (Hey, I'm shooting for climbing my orange tree and doing Pilates and Yoga at 90, what about you?) Then let's draw a distinction between a healthy amount of workout, with excessive strain. And let's learn to align our bodies in space even better, so that our joints and muscles can work the most efficiently for us. How can you do that last part? With Pilates, of course. (You suspected I'd say that, since my logo on www.lahelafit.com says "Balanced. Centered. In Control." )
Force and strain cause injury.
Let’s say we’re going into a “Tree” pose and start wobbling around, and adjust by jamming the hip out, squeezing the leg muscles, and tensing up the back and neck. Well, we’re not using our bodies efficiently, not ideally aligned in gravity, and we just missed the point of Yoga by doing that. And, with repetition and Time, this sets us up for an athletic injury.
You know what else you're doing when you strain like this? YOU'RE MOST LIKELY GRITTING YOUR TEETH
. It's a pretty common thing to do when we're physically straining something else in the body. It's also well-known that over time, habitual teeth clenching can even create problems for the jaw. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001413.htm
. What's not so well-known is that when you grit your teeth, your range of motion throughout the body is reduced. I seriously recommend AGAINST testing this idea by trying out a movement
-- I tried one myself and UGH, never again.
Let’s say we attempt a Roll-up or Teaser in Pilates class, and feel the need to hoist our upper bodies with force; or we try a Rollover and throw the legs overhead — well that is missing the core engagement which is central to Pilates. There are many ways of building that core engagement and strength –for example, using a Cadillac or Reformer, which you would find at a professional studio. And a good teacher will spot you, help you make sure that everything is as aligned and stable as possible, and coach you into using less and less strain.
Q: "I went to this Pilates class, and my abs were so sore that I could barely walk out... That's good, right?" A: Well, no.
I was asked this question back in 2009. If we walk out of class like that or wake up with a painful back (a possible scenario) -- we were: (1) straining muscles; and (2) ought to modify the exercise and gradually build. I also suspect that if a person went that far and could barely walk out, then also: (3) she had stopped paying attention long ago, to critical cues from the teacher, such as: Don't pull your head and neck with your hands; that (4) form was suffering somewhere mid-way, and; (5) the class was too large for the teacher to give enough attention to her. That's why my group classes don't exceed 8 people, and I actually prefer a smaller group. Well I most prefer the one-on-one lesson because then the client has my full attention, and I can look out for any kind of issue like a shaky ankle, a pull or lean to the right, etc.
Q: "What about using spacers? I have knock-knees and my teacher gives me a yoga block to squeeze or bands while I do my leg presses to make my legs look more straight." A: Well, that is likely to cause other problems by forcing your joints from foot-to-hip into unnatural positions.
I heard that one in 2014. I was fairly alarmed because when this person placed the yoga block there and demonstrated, I could see that there was an effect into her hips, ankles, and feet. Which over time would cause an injury. The question in my mind was not IF -- but WHEN -- and the severity. I will never make a diagnosis, but I will make it very clear if I see an injurious type of movement. And then refer the person as proper, to a qualified medical practitioner, whether it's an Osteopathic Physician, Chiropractor, other medical specialist, and of course the Physical Therapist.
I need to address that little quip about " knock knees. " In many Pilates studios, you will hear teachers make a general reference to "knock knees" or "bow legs" to indicate POSTURE, and how it affects the outward appearance of the knees. But this is not a diagnosis. This postural assessment is used as a tool by some Pilates methods to help the teacher determine what to keep an eye on as the client moves, to prevent injury -- and also to pick standard and modified Pilates exercises that would help the client achieve a better sense of well-being.
It's a common practice among Pilates teachers to use bands and spacers to achieve a visual alignment of the knees. I agree with Eric Franklin’s stance that they can potentially create more problems, and not even correct the original issue. Basically, this forces alignment, and doesn’t ensure success. We should seriously revisit this practice and pay close attention to what effect this is having on the client, elsewhere in the body.
If we're stretching and straining, we are getting less flexible? Yes.
I've been in Yoga classes and couldn't help but notice that -- despite the teacher's constant encouragement not to compete and to work at our own level -- often, people will look at the uber-mobile student up in front and try to match that range of motion, GRIMACING. Or, perhaps they're in a standing position and trying to stretch their leg out and grab the foot, but bending at the knee and bending the spine forward. These people tend to wake up the next day, feeling really tight, maybe even complaining of a sore low back. Why, you ask?
1. Because the muscle spindles in their fascia have sensed that the body is stretching to the point of danger, and react by making the muscles very tight.
Oh boy, that was a loaded sentence. Please explain?
Fascia is the connective tissue that starts beneath the skin's surface, then starts sub-dividing into what are called septae, and then wraps around entire muscles (like the biceps, the triceps, the "Lats," hamstrings, etc.) -- then further subdivides to wrap around bundles of muscle fibers, and even further subdivides to wrap around individual muscle fibers. If you want to visualize it: It's like a sheath that turns into a webbing. When you're feeling lower back pain, quite often the culprit is somewhere else in the body -- perahaps the shoulder or hip, or maybe it's those pesky hamstrings, or maybe even in the foot. But you feel it in the low back because the fascia connect all the muscles, and because the Thoracolumbar Fascia in the low back seems to take quite a bit of the load. As time goes on, Western Medicine has grown to understand the fascia a lot more, and thus the information then is picked up by the fitness industry, massage industry, and others.
Muscle Spindles are part of our nervous system, they are sensors which tell the brain whether the muscles are stretching too far and serve a protective function. They are found within the fascia. By the way, these muscle spindles will also react if you're taking Hot Yoga and stretch too far -- except in that case, you might not feel the strain -- which is even more of a concern. The heat tends to allow people to stretch much farther than they would in room temperature. And this can set us up for an injury. So while I'm not a fan of hot yoga -- if you love it, I recommend to be aware of your actual range of motion in room temperature and whether you're feeling sore the morning after class.
What is a good solution, then? EASING into the stretch. Moving slowly, feeling where your body puts up resistance, breathing deeply, and then gently easing a bit further, further, further, and honoring the body's boundaries. In doing so, the golgi tendon organ in the tendons sense tension and allow release of tension. Hey, here are a couple of pictures of the muscle spindles and golgi tendon organs. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Exercise%20Phys/spindleGTO.html . https://courses.washington.edu/conj/bess/spindle/proprioceptors.html .
2. Because the body was not flexible enough to do that in the first place naturally, and the body then took an unnatural position -- contracting muscles and not stretching them. If you are standing on one leg and trying to reach the foot, the assumption is that you are flexible enough to have a straight leg. In that way, you'd be getting an amazing stretch and balancing exercise from foot to head and back down to the floor. If you cannot do that and find yourself bending the legs, then in fact, you're making your hamstrings tighter . If you are bending your spine forward, you are now compounding the problem by pulling at back muscles and contracting your abdominals. All of this is a lot of strain and effort.
How to resolve that, is to modify the position, and allow your flexibility to develop over time and with repetition. You could place your foot on something like a barre or table, and/or use a Yoga strap. That would be so much more beneficial. If your teacher says that the poses cannot be modified, for example, in classic Ashtanga Yoga, then consider trying a different method to get started, build up flexibility, and then try that class again later. Perhaps Iyengar Yoga might be the one for you, or a gentle beginner class in Vinyasa Yoga.
Pilates Method Alliance, certified Pilates Teacher (since 2011)
STOTT PILATES ® certified Pilates instructor (2008, 2011)
Franklin Method ® Level 3 Movement Educator (2011, 2013, 2015)
LMT (Mat #6286, since 2001) and Board Certified through the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB # 307766-00 -- formerly called National Certification -- since 2001)
Okay, hopefully I got your attention from that title! I found some interesting food for thought, after a colleague mentioned her frustation at exercises systems (including Pilates) becoming closed systems and limiting growth.
You're right -- this isn't exactly a Pilates photo, but this is how I felt about being compelled to teach something that was outdated and not resonating with me. It was a struggle in futility. So I simply moved to another studio which allowed me to teach as I wanted, rather than be required to teach exactly as everyone else taught, when I was disagreeing with the concepts/cues taught about Anatomy, Alignment, even Breathing. A few years later, that Brand caught up with the times, and changed many things -- and I'm so very thankful for that.
A. The original Pilates came from an older understanding of the human body; and one cannot dispute that in almost 100 years, modern science has embraced far more advanced concepts about Anatomy, Physiology, and Kinesiology.
1. We used to have this view just 20 years ago, that muscles connected only to tendons, and that bones connected to bones through ligaments. Well, that is just not accurate. We now understand that ligaments also connect to muscle.
2. We also used to think that ligaments could not regenerate when they were damaged (as compared to tendons and muscle). That is also incorrect today (look up Prolotherapy).
3. We also never even thought about Fascia 20 years ago, and now it's the rage in the fitness and wellness industry.
a. We used to teach that muscles pull, that they shorten and lengthen.
b. Now, we are understanding that muscles may not shorten and lengthen all that much, and that it's the Fascia that's changing. That instead of looking at the human body as having several hundred muscles, that we should instead view the human body as one continuous piece with multiple compartments. (Look up Thomas Myers).
Everything is changing. Rapidly .
B. Moreover, when Joseph Pilates first started teaching, people for the most part led more active lifestyles, with far different lifestyle habits (no cell phones or laptop computers, no drive-thru fast food establishments, and so forth). Moreover, if you look at Joseph Pilates's old videos, you'll see some which leave you questioning whether everyone was moving safely. I'm thinking of one in which he was actively pulling a man's head. Ouch. At any rate, their daily habits were different from ours nearly 100 years later. Our bodies have changed, and so have our needs.
C. As the years went on, Pilates changed from men's fitness, and became synonymous with dance, because it helped dancers heal their bodies from injurious training (which isn't the most sound idea in the first place, but it is a beautiful art).
1. For decades, the field was dominated by dancers who became teachers, and they taught for their own niche market.
2. Nowadays, Pilates is embraced by a much larger community. With the aging populations; surgeries for major joints like knees and hips (requiring more physical therapy); sedentary lifestyles leading to back pain; and of course emerging scientific discoveries, it became advantageous to modernize Pilates and take another look at whether we are doing truly healthy exercise in this country. And to suggest injury-preventive training, as well as rehabilitative, corrective work.
D. An unfortunate development in Pilates was that the discipline became littered with dysfunctional cues based on dysfunctional dance aesthetics. (For example, pressing down the shoulder blades, sucking in the belly at all times, not letting the ribs "pop" when you lift the arms, get taller as you twist the spine, and so forth). Let's take some of these dysfunctional cues and look at them:
1. Keeping the belly sucked in at all times. There are so many things to challenge here:
a. Breathing. Functional, healthy breathing requires that we use our Diaphragm properly, in a way that allows our organs to move the way they're supposed to. That means, letting the belly pooch out, so that the organs move. If you don't do that, then you don't let the Diaphragm go all the way down and fill the lungs properly. This is an easy test.
* Breathe in and let the belly button pooch out. Feel how much you can fill the lungs. Take an exhale, and notice how you feel.
* Now KEEP THAT BELLY BUTTON SUCKED IN. Try to take an inhale. You can't fill the lungs so well, can you? How do you feel mentally? I rest my case.
b. Keeping the belly sucked in at all times was thought to help support the low back. HOWEVER, this will make a person constantly "grip" their abdominal muscles, and produce a weak Psoas Major . A, muscle which directly touches all of the lumbar vertebrae and disks (uh oh, that's the low back), connects to the Pelvis, and also the leg. A muscle which is critical for walking, sitting, standing, and all manner of movement. Oh yes, time to toss out that cue altogether.
2. "Knitting in the ribs at all times, don't let them pop."
a. This is especially dysfunctional when you do spine extension. In an ordinary, non-dancer type person, this will make back-bending a physical impossibility. At best you might go a little bit past vertical. The ribs change when the spine changes, and vice-versa. If you don't let the ribs change, then the spine won't change. It's just common sense. If you want to test me on this, try it out.
b. This cue will also limit range of motion in the shoulder. At the end-range of arm-reaching up into the air, the human skeleton does a little spine extension. So go back to what I said in (2)(a), above. Then try this little experiment.
* Reach your arms up in the air and let the ribs "pop." See how far back you go.
* Now KNIT IN THOSE RIBS AND DON'T LET THEM MOVE. Now try raising your arms and see how far they go.
3. "As you twist the spine, get taller and taller." Well this is just anatomically inaccurate. And it could cause an injury.
a. If you actually did lengthen the spine as you twisted it, you would damage the spine and the spinal cord, which is part of your Central Nervous System.
b. Thankfully you cannot do that. It just isn't how your Facet Joints work in the spine. And, it's a mathematical impossibility, based on the curved shape of the spine.
4. "Slide the shoulders down and back." While this may be intended to tell people not to "shrug" their shoulders, this is a potentially injurious cue.
a. Just try this experiment to see how this cue tends to reduce range of motion with arm-reaching:
* Reach your arm up in the air, without thinking of anything else. Note how high you went.
* Now, SLIDE THAT SHOULDER BLADE DOWN AND BACK. DON'T LET IT BUDGE. And now try reaching the arm up in the air. That's possibly worse than knitting in the ribs. How did your neck feel doing it that way? Ugh.
b. I see a lot of people who misconstrue that well-intentioned cue and "fix" their shoulders, and contract muscles that need to stretch.
c. And if you need further convincing, both Pilates and Yoga are questioning this dangerous cue: http://www.yogajournal.com/teach/alignment-cues-decoded-draw-shoulders-down
Thanks, Eric Franklin, for bringing ALL of this to the forefront years ago! He really opened my eyes, starting in 2010. We were learning about really up to date scientific research, as well as some classic research from the early 1900s that had gone mostly ignored. And a lot of this research raised serious questions about whether Pilates as an industry will need to undergo another dramatic paradigm shift. Including the rehab side.
E. Modern Pilates was not perfect, either. I had long been aware from my days as a Pilates teacher-in-training that what we learned was debated.
1. We didn't hear that in regular teacher training -- although I questioned from time to time, the information I had been hearing in basic teacher training. It conflicted with what I understood in the human body from massage school and from massaging people. I ended up hearing about the debate from their leading physiotherapist at the time, booking private lessons from her, and taking a specialty course that she had been teaching. A year later, a leading Physical Therapist took over the course and came up with a new manual, explaining in more detail what was really going on in the human body. Yet, basic teacher training was still teaching the wrong information! At least at that time, that was the case.
2. So this led me, out of curiosity, to do some research. Apparently, all this modern approach to Pilates started in the late 1990s, after a pair of researchers named Hodges and Richardson published studies about the role of certain muscles in the abdomen and trunk area, and relieving back pain. From there, Core Stabilization/ Core Training exploded within the Health and Wellness industry everything from weight lifting to physical therapy focused on a little abdominal muscle called the Transversus Abdominis
3. While I still have yet to find a definitive retraction, I did find an intriguing article by Hodges in 2008 admitting that its not as simplisitic as once thought. Now thats quite notable, considering that so many people are still acting as if its Absolute Truth. I also found some other articles that are either pro- or against- the ideas we preach about core stability. One asks if its pure stupidity. Yikes! And one article in particular punches holes in all the muscle testing. . .
http://e http://www.alexanderschool.edu.au/the-alexander-technique/articles/76-core-stability?catid=25%3Asports rikdalton.com/media/published-articles/dont-get-married/
I'm not looking at this as if all my previous study of Pilates was a waste (certainly not). I don't need to throw away several years of study. In fact, I'm more than happy to entertain multiple approaches and use the ones that work. Who knows what the scientific research will uncover in the next 20 years? I change with the times and bend like the green bamboo. Or the palm tree in the breeze.
Every few months, it seems that some new weight loss plan, pill, or shake arrives in the market, and perhaps millions of people are moved to try it. Especially when someone triumphantly reports losing a significant amount of weight and going down several pants sizes in a short time, with no exercise!
Is this health ?
Some are even marketed as network marketing. I was once curious about an MLM in 2000 but didnt think much of it after a few meetings. How many times can someone hear eat all the pizza, fries and ice cream you like; take the fat blocker pills, and energy pills; and still lose weight.? Yuck. It just didnt resonate. Well, and then there was a widely publicized news report of the founder dying a month later, from a drug overdose. It just sent me running. And as well, the energy pills had Ephedra, which became a banned substance. I remember looking at boxes of unopened product and threw them all away. Blah.
I was later, in 2012, drawn to another MLM mainly because of a great friend who had an amazing idea about doing fitness videos with other friends in the fitness industry. Now that MLM did stress the importance of balanced eating and exercise, which was great. However -- ummm -- I just really didn't like the product, it didn't taste good to me. And after a couple of months, I couldn't lie to myself. I went back and looked at the things that I wrote back several months earlier and nodded.
So, I am not at all for weight loss shakes. Here's why:
A. The things that always raise personal red flags are artificial sweeteners, Sucralose,and Stevia in the ingredients. I realize its in there because most people looking to lose weight crave the very sweet taste, but they dont want the calories or simple carbs. However, they all have negative health effects.
1. Sucralose is literally sugar combined with chlorine, which I've known for the past 18 months, thanks to a local Naturopath. Heres an article on it, as well as Aspartame. http://www.wnho.net/splenda_chlorocarbon.htm
2. Views are mixed with Stevia. http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/09/22/a-sweet-sweet-summer-what-are-the-facts-on-stevia/ . I just really cant stand the flavor of it. Two of my friends felt sick and got headaches after having a drink with it. And so did I.
B. I believe whole-heartedly in a real food diet which retrains unhealthy thinking and teaches people to be independently successful. Weight management is hard work. Keeping it off for life involves a change of life to make it work. My metabolism is better now than it was in my 20s.
C. Diet clubs and plans
have some initial success. But the long term success is grim. I'm sorry, but it just is. http://www.bigfatfacts.com/
And who hasn't seen those TV shows which pit people in a battle to see who could lose the most weight in a relatively short time? Unfortunately, a lot of them regain weight and/or apprently suffer negative health effects as a result of their ordeal. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2927207/We-fat-Former-Biggest-Loser-contestants-admit-cont...
C. The other thing is: I have a hard time believing that one can lose fat with a weight loss program, without exercise. And by that I mean, body fat percentage. Because fat percentage and activity level are pretty good indicators of health and potential risks. http://www.kellicalabrese.com/Articles/combining-diet-with-exercise.html
The following have been well-recognized for decades now...
1. Most diets without exercise end up with loss of lean muscle, water, even organ tissue; and their body fat percentage can grow higher, even if the weight goes down.
2. As a result of weight loss by calorie restriction, the metabolism ends up compromised and holds onto body fat even more tightly. So, if someone falls off the wagon so to speak and gains weight, they gain back a lot more fat. One need only look at well publicized figures to recognize how easy it is to fall into the yo-yo cycle. This fat storage is apparently built into our DNA. Our ancestors faced periods of famine and also trekked by land and sea to populate new areas, so they had to be efficient to survive. Can I do this with even less effort, less energy expenditure? Sure, I'll lower the metabolism so I don't have to eat as much. Sorted.
3. When people are claiming to lose fat, are they talking about measurable, documented fat percentage loss? Or are they just looking at a change in the scale, or the loss of pants sizes and assuming that its all fat? The most reliable measurement of fat percentage is the hydostatic tests. The next most reliable are calipers if done correctly. Those hand held biomechanical impedence things are wildly variable. Like by 4-5 percentage points.
And related material:
Pardon me for getting really steamed, but it really irks me to see advertisements that promise that you'll get "fit" in only 30 days, whether its a pill or a workout.
What a load of . . . well I'm going to use my internal editor to not use the words I'd like to use right now. In this case, Im steaming about a health club advertising a 30 day, 7 days a week Boot Camp. Sounds like a perfect opportunity to get a stress fracture, inflexible joints (including spine), and perhaps a knee injury. Especially for those folks 30 and over.
Fit in what way?
Perhaps someone who goes all out for 30 days will lose a few pounds. But there is no way that the body can maintain such a punishing regime. It's a recipe for an overuse injury, which could manifest within the 30 days or after.
And when (not if) that injury hits, it will sideline you and cause the usual collateral damage: (1) Weight gain often happens, (2) Frustration, depression, lowered self-esteem, (3) Some people give up; (4) Others may develop eating disorders, particularly women; (5) Still others return to exercise before they have finished healing and set up a chronic injury/pain situation.
7 days a week is never recommended for us normal folks, unless its some kind of flexibility training. (Now that would fall within the guidelines of the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America). The people who might fall outside of that are ELITE and YOUNG athletes. But even then, I've seen Cirque du Soleil/Shanghai Circus acrobats hobbling about with ice packs strapped on to this and that body part, getting right to work. And I have also seen elite dancers in some constant state of pain. (Which is why Im so enamored with the Franklin Method®, especially for these folks!)
Well then, we normal folks ought to be taking at least one day of rest per week AT THE LEAST. If you find yourself feeling stiff or developing pain, your body is giving a clear signal to slow down, and figure out whats going on.
Fitness is a lifestyle, its not something you can obtain quickly. There are many facets to physical fitness including core strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and control. Then, there is overall health which includes your energy level; blood work (HDLs, blood sugar, all that good stuff); emotional and mental health; diet (yeah, we cant make up for the pizza, fries and beer with a big workout and nothing but broccoli the next day. Dont laugh, I knew plenty of friends in college who did that every weekend).
And if you are new to exercise, or took a long hiatus because of life circumstances, you deserve to treat yourself well. Start with a doctor checkup to rule out any cautionary measures and jump joyfully into some brisk walking, swimming, or other low-impact exercise. Grab a friend. Take in an appropriate level Pilates or Yoga class. Learn proper body mechanics to prevent injury.
Whenever I see people hobbling about and saying how great their workouts have been, I want to cringe. Want some Ibuprofen with that?
Wouldnt you like to experience instead, that workout in a more joyous, elastic, energetic way and go back to feeling as if you were a kid again? If so, call me; and if Im too far away I can most likely find someone in your area.
Anyway, thats my rant for today. Im totally against get-thin-fast and get-fit-fast regimes. Do it the old-fashioned way: with patience, and focus -- and retraining the brain to think healthy for life. Your body and brain will love you for it.