Pilates isn’t about sculpting body beautiful

I’VE been teaching Pilates for at least 10 years now and I confess, I look back at my early days and cringe a little at how I taught or what I focused on. Of course at the time, my theory and practical knowledge was up to date but modern science combined with Joseph Pilates’ original exercises, my own experiences and education (most recently from the brilliant JPilates) have created a very different ‘Karen’s Pilates’ from what I taught 10 years ago. I was also much more likely then to be swayed by the more vocal participants in my classes!

As in all professions, experience and training influences and shapes you. I believe that where I’m at now would hopefully let Joe P rest easy under his daisies. It’s true to me and to the participants I work with.

Of course as my experience evolves I get a bit ‘fussy’ about what other forms of ‘Pilates’ are out there. I don’t believe in one size fits all but I am in this profession to improve lives and health. Wellbeing.

So I’m penning a series of articles about what Pilates isn’t. That doesn’t mean if you enjoy your chosen class it’s wrong – it just might not be Pilates. And there is a brilliant magic and flow in the process of Pilates, which you, your body and your wellbeing might just be missing out on.

PILATES IS NOT ABOUT SCULPTING BODY BEAUTIFUL. PILATES ISN’T AESTHETIC LIKE A FIGURE MODEL’S GYM PROGRAMME. PILATES COMES FROM THE INSIDE OUT. PILATES WON’T MAKE YOU THIN AND IT WON’T WHITTLE YOUR WAISTLINE.

  1. THE FAT THING.

Fat is fat. No amount of roll ups, teasers or gym crunches will drop belly fat. Fat loss starts in the kitchen, continues in the gym (with weights or interval training), is massively complemented by Pilates and graduates with a happy symbiosis of all of the above.

  1. PILATES IS INSIDE OUT

If we focus first on the outside, we are likely to neglect the inside. By inside I mean back and joint health, muscle imbalances, pelvic floor health, hips, shoulders, breathing, stress and TENSION. In fact years of experience have shown me that the Pilates participant who comes from the physiotherapist, where pain has motivated them is generally much better at Pilates (if there is such a thing) and progresses quicker than the gym bunny who wants to get thin.

  1. PILATES ISN’T ABOUT BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

You know what I mean. All those stock photos of models looking serene and just occasionally doing a bit of Pilates in a well lit studio without a squidge of fat or under-eye baggage in sight. Now I’m not anti-pretty (I should say I consider all my participants beautiful) but I am anti putting anyone off exercise. In my classes we have fat rolls, we have ‘retro’ workout gear and the occasional hairy leg (sometimes a little parp too) but we are all doing it. Striving to look after our bodies, not just to show them off.

Of course, I’m not ignorant to the fact that how we look is a driving factor behind exercise but let’s not lose sight of wellbeing and let’s not lose sight of Pilates.

Focusing on toned tummies to the detriment of our backs will not serve us long term. And when your motivation is looks over health you are far less likely to stick to exercise.

If you DO want to change the way you look, then yes do Pilates but do HIIT training, eat clean, cut out alcohol and processed sugars, sleep more, unwind, train with weights and have fun.

https://alittlefitter.com/2013/06/04/sit-ups-the-fastest-way-to-a-flat-tummy-after-having-a-baby-i-lied/

https://alittlefitter.com/2013/10/22/want-a-flat-tummy-my-top-5-dos-and-donts/

https://alittlefitter.com/2013/06/07/10-golden-rules-for-a-flat-holiday-ready-tummy/

Next up … Pilates is’t an ab workout.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.

Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.

TWITTER: @fitschoolessex

FACEBOOK: ccfitschool

WEBSITE: http://www.fit-school.co.uk

Pilates Foundations

Pilates Foundations is a new course designed for those new to Pilates, returning after injury or illness or pregnancy. The classes follow a similar programme to the Monday Pilates classes and you can still expect to progress, learn and move your body – this class focuses more on technique and adaptations where necessary. 

Book Online

 

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Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

The cure for back pain

BACK pain is one of those nasty conditions which bites most of us at some point in our lives but for some it’s chronic, debilitating and just plain miserable. Is Pilates really the cure all that we hope for when we’re suffering?

Second to post natal rehab, back pain or back injury is the most common reason that newcomers find my classes and take action. As a very dear friend of mine always said, ‘pain is the best motivator for exercise’ and she had a good point.

BUT (and yes it’s a big but), Pilates does not cure backs, improving core strength does not make pain go away and Pilates is definitely not a replacement for physiotherapy.

Before you start Pilates following a back injury you’ll need a diagnosis and/or a sign off by your medical professional that you are fit to exercise.

Back pain requires a long term management strategy. I’d be lying if I told you Pilates could fix you, rather it can be fantastic as part of a long term pain management approach alongside other lifestyle changes. Dull hey? There’s no fad or tabloid worthy headline here. Back pain is not an injury you can fix like a broken leg when you were 12. Instead it’s a condition you need to accept and find ways to work around.

Do bear in mind however that most adults have some degree of disc bulging or wear and tear. We could all be exercising with a minor disc prolapse but never know it. Our backs are strong and designed to last a life time. 

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STAGE 1:

So you first visit your GP and get referred or you go straight to a physiotherapist. In a nutshell, physiotherapists are like musculo-skeletal doctors. They cure with physical treatments and exercise recommendations not pills. This might sound blindingly obvious but a physiotherapist can not cure your back like a course of antibiotics might cure a throat infection. So at stage 1 of back pain you already have exercises to do, at home, between sessions which will help the repair process. The more you do your exercises, the quicker you’ll be on your feet.

STAGE 2:

When you are beyond the acute (really painful) stage you might be referred on to a hospital based Pilates programme or you might be signed off with a recommendation for Pilates or similar. So at stage 2 there are still exercises to do. At home or at the gym. But you need to keep doing them.

STAGE 3:

You get advised to improve your core strength. You may have even skipped stages 1 and 2 and gone straight to here. This is where Pilates becomes an option. However, core strength is a bit of a fad that doesn’t really exist, I’m not sounding very positive today am I? Core strength conjures images of a super iron girdle which you can get so strong by doing Pilates that you’ll never feel back pain again. The problems with this theory are that a) this girdle doesn’t exist; and b) immobility is the enemy of back health. I’m not suggesting it’s time to launch yourself into a dynamic Pilates class but fixing (as in making more rigid) your painful joints will not serve you long term. Instead we can use Pilates and physiotherapy exercises (that you need to keep doing between sessions) to get your body to a place where you can move, rather than using it to make you even more stiff.

STAGE 4:

Keep doing your exercises … forever! Visit your occupational health team at work and get a work station assessment. Can’t fit Pilates in at home, get a group together and get a Pilates instructor in to you. Consider what else you could do to help your back. Is there another health concern you need to get sorted in order to get you more mobile? Could you swim during the week? How’s your bed, your shoes or your bra? These can all be massive contributors to back pain.

Fit School is planning a seminar on long term back pain management (we hope it will have a sexier title than that) so if you’d like to find out more visit our Facebook page or contact us via the contact form below.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

Get updates from the alittlefitter post natal newsletter: http://eepurl.com/YVmD9

It’s time we stopped ‘using’ Pilates and just did it?

In the world of Pilates we’ve got accustomed to ‘using’ Pilates exercises to help participants back to health following an injury, illness or pregnancy.  But by doing so, have we lost some of the flavour of what Pilates is really about? A workout.

Physiotherapists often refer patients to me to ‘improve core strength’ (that term in itself is fodder for another post).Pilates is fantastic for back health but contrary to popular belief it’s not physiotherapy. It is a workout first and foremost and many of my participants require extra homework dependent on their specific needs. We work through a range of both strengthening and mobility work from a variety of interesting angles! Tight muscles and immobility are greater enemies of back health than muscle weakness. This is something I too am constantly learning about. I’m not saying this to put anyone off. My participants range from early 20s to mid 80s and there are always adaptations or props which make it suitable to all.

Controlology

All my classes are programmed, so we work through a programme over a 6-8 week period with the aim of improving not only strength and mobility but understanding of Pilates and ability to do the moves. I’m doing this myself a lot at the moment since I’m just returning after having my second child, now 4 months!

In my opinion, fitness professionals (myself included) can get so caught up in what’s best for us that we’re in danger of losing sight of the things in life that make us happy. Like chocolate cake! Plus pain can make us afraid of doing certain exercises for fear of making it worse.

One hour of Pilates once a week will not break your back, it’s the remaining hours you spend slumped in a chair, tight with anxiety or sleeping at funny angles that do that for you. So stop being afraid of exercises that seem a little more challenging.

There is a place for Pilates exercises to help get you back to fitness if you begin a little broken and if you just love feeling the burn in your abdominals then abs away but remember your poor old back needs some love too. Let’s just not lose sight of Pilates, the workout. Perhaps it’s time we brought our bodies up to Joseph Pilates’ high standards rather than water Pilates down to suit our broken bodies.

With thanks to Joanne Cobbe of JPilates for inspiring some of the above concepts through ‘The Moves’ Workshop. If you liked this post, check out Jo’s take on the subject: http://jpilatesblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/when-did-pilates-become-the-easy-option/

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

Three simple exercises which could predict early death

IF you’ve had your eyes on the health news recently you might have noticed the new study which has revealed three everyday exercises, could be a predictor of early death.

According to the study published last week, grip strength, balance and squats are key indicators of early death.

And guess what? Squatting, balance and grip strength are all things that can be developed through regular (you’ve guessed it) Pilates and exercise, especially resistance training.

The study, by the Medical Research Centre, published the results of tests performed on 5000, 53 year olds but they also said that the exercise results on younger participants could also predict a reduced life expectancy.

So what are the exercises and how can you test yourself?

TEST ONE: Balance

Stand on one leg with your eyes closed. How long can you do this for?

The study found that men and women who were able to hold the position for less than two seconds were three times more likely to die early than those who could hold it for ten seconds of more.

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TEST TWO: Squats (the chair test)

Using a dining chair, sit down and stand up as many times as you can in one minute.

The study found that men who could stand up from a chair and sit down again less than 23 times in a minute were twice as likely to die in the following 13 years than those who could 37 or more.

Among women those who could stand up and sit down again less than 22 times in a minute were twice as likely to die in that time than those who could do the test 35 times or more.

TEST THREE: Grip strength

Participants gripped a special device, like a bike brake. Those who had the strongest grip had the longest life expectancy.

You can measure your own grip strength by your ability to hold on to monkey bars, hold a heavy weight or open and close a jar.

For the full story visit:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10795230/Standing-on-one-leg-may-predict-which-53-year-olds-at-risk-of-early-death.html

Headaches, push-ups and tennis elbow: The shoulder blade connection

THIS week, across all my classes, there’s a bit of a theme. Clue: They are behind you and you need them to move your arms. Anatomically speaking I’m referring to your scapulae, without the latin they are your shoulder blades.

Any arm or shoulder movement is dependent on your shoulder blades. From golf to gardening, running, or even drinking a cup of tea. Conditions like headaches, tennis elbow, rotator cuff injuries and even arthritis can all originate in dysfunctional shoulder blades. And the basic problem? They don’t move. This is why many Pilates exercises incorporate arm movements and why, during classes we spend a lot of time mobilising the upper body and taking care to position arms, elbows, shoulders and necks in a specific way.

Now to be honest, this is way too big a topic to unravel in one blog post and I don’t intend to. Instead, I’d like to offer you some food for thought to take into your classes and every day activities.

Even now, as you read this, how are you sitting or standing? Think about your little shoulder blades. Where are they right now? And where have they been for most of the day? If you spend a lot of time at your desk, they’ll have been fairly slack as your shoulders slope forwards and your wrists/fingers take the strain. If you sit up straight now and think about letting them drop away from your ears, how does that feel?

Inactivity and rigidity are enemies of your musculo-skeletal system so here are a few ideas for getting your shoulder blades moving:

THE IMAGINARY HAND SQUEEZE:

Stand up and imagine someone has placed their hand between your shoulder blades. Now try to squeeze the hand (you could of course find a willing volunteer).

 

My son, demonstrating THE DIVER

My son, demonstrating THE DIVER

THE DIVER:

From standing, place both hands above your head as if you were about to dive into water. Now raise your shoulders to your ears, without changing your hand/arm position and then lower your shoulders to create space under your ears. This exercise stimulates the natural winging in and out of your shoulder blades.

THE PUSH-UP PREP:

From your hands and knees (you can progress to toes) prepare for a push up. Now check your elbow joint position. Are they pointing out to the sides or back, towards your knees? If they are facing the sides, your shoulders aren’t in the right position and you’ll always struggle to do a push-up (plus you’ll get really sore wrists). Instead try drawing your shoulder blades away from your ears, squeeze them together just a little and ensure your elbow joint creases are facing forwards. Notice what happens now when you bend your elbows.

THE KNEELING TWIST:

From your hands and knees, thread one arm through your torso as if you were threading a needle, bending the other elbow to enable your shoulder blade to almost touch the floor, then go the other way, opening up your arm completely to the side.

 

Back pain: A long term project

Here’s a post from our Fit School pages, written by Fit School co-director Chris Laing.

Most people will experience back pain in their lives. It can vary from an ache, to full on debilitating agony. Long term pain of any kind can lead to depression and many people feel their lives are adversely affected by back pain.

According to the British Pain Society, around 10 million people in the UK suffer from back pain on a daily basis which affects their lives. And this can be expensive to UK businesses, with the TUC reporting that British businesses lose an estimated 4.9 million days a year due to employee absenteeism due to work related back pain. It’s a big deal!

Known factors that cause back pain are bad posture both sitting and lying down; lifting something incorrectly; and general stiffness and tightness in the muscles above and below the painful site (however it can be as far away as your big toe). There are also many unknown factors that can cause back pain, it isn’t an exact science.

It can be a terrifying thing to experience, but you mustn’t lose hope when it comes to pain management. Once you experience pain, you need come terms with it. This is the hardest thing. You need to accecpt that it is a part of you and will be for some time. Until you get to this point, you will be constantly looking for that one good crack or stretch to sort it out. Quick fixes rarely work with back pain.

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Here is our guide to back pain management:

Any back pain requires a long-term management programme. Take it on a month by month basis and see if things are improving.

Get your situation assessed by a professional. Only they will have an idea about what could be causing the pain and how to manage it better.

Assess everything that could be contributing to your pain and do what you can to manage it.  The main culprits are: posture; your driving position; your sitting postion; your working position (maybe get stand up desk); and your sleeping position.

You need to put aside some money to pay for treatments or ergonomic aids to assist with the pain. You might eventually want to get a new bed to help with the pain. A good mattress doesn’t cost the earth but it isn’t cheap either.

Know and understand which exercises to do on a regular basis. Having a few physiotherapy sessions will not solve your back issues. People often stop doing their exercises once the pain has stopped. If you stop feeling pain, the issue isn’t fixed. You just don’t feel the pain anymore and it can come back at any time.

Let go of what you think you should or shouldn’t be doing. I used to scoff at people doing Pilates or Yoga. However, since experiencing back pain, I incorporate Pilates exercises into my daily routine. One thing that your back needs is regular movement. This is why Pilates and yoga are a great way to help manage back pain. However, you need to ensure that you address other factors too.

We often get asked questions about this, so we are creating a daily exercise routine to help people who are mainly sedentary but experience back pain. It will help manage back pain better and stop back pain ruining your life. If you are interested, get in touch and we’ll contact you when the programme is up and running. Ignoring back pain, taking pain killers or resting it for a bit is not the answer. Nor is doing bootcamps (this is another topic for another day)! So before you try any of these, try addressing some of the factors we have mentioned above.

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ABOUT FIT SCHOOL:
Fit School is run by Chris and Karen Laing. Chris has been Personal Training since 2002. He re-trained after he completed his degree in Business Studies as he was fascinated with the human body and how your health is affected by diet. 

Chris was always fascinated with body transformations and fat loss and was about to learn more about it as In 2008, he was hired to train and present a celebrity fitness DVD for Claire Richards. Claire was also getting married so he had 3 jobs in one! 

For years, Chris and Karen were saying that gyms need to focus on creating programmes for people that deliver results, but gyms weren’t interested. Chris and Karen came up with Fit School, a system for people to get results through group exercise programmes which isn’t gym centred.
Fit School creates a structure for people, where they only need to turn up and enjoy themselves.

Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

Is your baby positioned for an easy exit?

Optimal baby positioning. Doesn’t sound sexy does it? But when it comes to giving birth, the position your baby starts in can make the difference between a speedy 3 hour home birth or a C-section.

LOABaby

LOA

The optimum position for a baby before delivery is Left Occiput Anterior (LOA) which means head is down, baby’s spine is outwards (towards mummy’s navel) and baby’s back and body are on the left side of mum. In this position baby can apply pressure to the cervix, which helps stimulate contractions and with its chin tucked in, has the easiest exit through mum’s pelvis and the birth canal.

What can go wrong?

Baby’s can get themselves into tight spots. Breech (bum down), tranverse (lying across mum’s abdomen) or back to back, where baby is lying spine to spine can all cause issues when it comes to delivery.

What can mum do?

During pregnancy consider the following:

Stay active … it’s thought that a sedentary, seated lifestyle is one of the leading contributory factors to the increased number of back to back presentations before labour.

Avoid sitting for long periods in comfy chairs or long car journeys, especially after week 35. Aim to have your hips higher than your knees, or sit on a high and firm chair.

Classes like Pilates and Yoga where instructors know tricks for getting your baby into position for birth are fantastic. Especially if you have a stubborn baby who doesn’t seem to want to move.

Lie on your left side in bed. This is not only the best position for your circulation but also to encourage baby’s body to the left. If you put a chunky pillow between your legs you can also get your tummy facing left and downwards to further encourage baby to move.

What if baby is not in LOA presentation?

Even if your baby has got themselves into a less than optimal position, there is still lots mum can do to fix it.

Don’t panic! I’ve known babies to move after a class or even immediately before a planned C-section, enabling mum to deliver naturally. Sometimes babies leave it until the last moment to get themselves ready for the exit.

Work with gravity … baby’s head and body are its heaviest components. Use gravity to encourage baby towards an LOA position. Consider swimming, getting on all fours or any forward posture where your hips are higher than your knees. I often get my participants to get on all fours and gently swing hips from side to side or in circles, this is nice on the back and also great for gentle pelvis mobility.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

Taking the fun out of fitness

Personal training. Spinning. Bootcamps. HITT training. Weights or no weights. Running vs. jogging. Pilates vs. yoga. Zumba. Walking the dog. Nordic walking … the list is endless. As someone who is immersed the fitness industry on a daily basis, both as a service provider and a writer, I’m forever bemused by the internal wranglings of fitness professionals over what is best, what is optimum and what is just a waste of time. In their opinion.

The thing is, if you are exercising to train in the Commonwealth Games or to rehabilitate a broken back, then the type of training that you do is REALLY important. But if you start a personal training programme and your trainer insists you do X,Y and Z for optimum effect and you hate X,Y and Z, then no matter how clever your trainer is or how keen you are, you won’t stick to it. Would it not be better for you to do a bit of X and Y but then a whole lot more of the stuff you love?

Here’s what I think (for what it’s worth). Enjoyment, community, stress release and fun are THE most important factors when it comes to exercise for most people. Yes, if you have a specific goal in mind like marathon training or weight loss, then you might have to factor in a little more of the optimal training stuff but please not to the detriment of what makes exercise enjoyable for you. When I recently interviewed the man who pioneered fitness clubs in the UK. Ken Heathcote (who was also the founder of fitness industry qualifications) he said social HAD to come first, functional after.

So if someone tries to tell you otherwise … I’d suggest you tell them to optimise their opinions to someone who cares.

Now here are a few people who knew how to laugh at themselves: Acorn Antiques does health and fitness.

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Ken Heathcote, Father of Fitness, on creating fitness moments of magic.
Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

Ante Natal Pilates

Saturday, 26th October, 10.15am.

It’s our last full course before Christmas and your best opportunity to relax and prepare your body to be in the best shape ever for pregnancy, birth and beyond.

AnteNatalFlyer£67 for the six week course.

For more information on the class check out these links:

Exercise During Pregnancy

About Fit School’s Ante Natal Pilates

Top 10 things you can do for an easier birth

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com