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.

 

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Post natal Pilates. What’s all the fuss about?

Post natal Pilates – a six week course where we re-build your post baby body from the inside. We aim to get your body ready for mainstream exercise or a stronger Pilates class.

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You know you probably should be doing it but it seems like everything else about having a new baby seems more important than an exercise class.

After all, you’ve just been through a massive physical and emotional upheaval and you’re just about managing to shower and get out of the house. An exercise class, where you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, might just tip you over the edge.

Admittedly not everyone likes exercise, and exercising in a group environment, when you already feel a little self conscious about your body, might feel a little intimidating.

I’m a firm believer in the power of exercise to make you feel better, to prevent injury and to improve your health. So, I thought perhaps some post natal Pilates FAQs might allay some fears and make it all just a little more approachable.

What should I wear?

Anything you feel comfortable in.  Although snugly fitting clothes do make it easier for me and you to see what’s going on.

What will I need to bring?

Nothing. My classes are mat work based and all mats are provided. Perhaps a few favourite toys since you’re coming to a bring a baby class.

What will we be doing?

Mainly sitting/lying/kneeling on a mat. It’s all very slow and controlled. Put simply, Pilates will strengthen all the muscles in your torso. So tummy, back, shoulders, bottom. We’ll also be getting your joints moving and helping your body to feel better.

Why is it so important when I’ve had a baby?

No matter how the baby came out, your posture, abdominal wall, back and pelvic floor will have been affected by pregnancy and birth. Pilates is one of the best ways of getting your body back to it’s pre pregnancy state and of preventing injuries and health problems in the future.

Do I need to be flexible?

No. Most people start Pilates very stiff and inflexible. It takes time to develop flexibility and the worst thing you can do is get frustrated by the lack of it.

Do I need to be co-ordinated?

No. There are no grapevines, box steps or square dances in Pilates. And most of the time other participants are too focused on what they’re doing to spot if you’ve gone wrong.

Will I get sweaty?

You won’t be dripping but you can expect to glow a little.

Is it all just breathe breathe?

No. Pilates is mindful exercise, which requires you to concentrate on the quality of your movements but there’s a lot more to it than breathing and stretching. Expect to be challenged.

What about this pelvic floor stuff – isn’t it embarrassing to do it in front of other people?

Pelvic floor exercises are incorporated into the class, no one will know. If we do spend time specifically focusing on pelvic floor I ensure we aren’t all looking at each other.

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If you do want to give it a try I currently teach one post natal specific class and my Foundations class which is great for post natal mummies who’d rather exercise without baby or have perhaps left some time between birth and getting back to exercise:

Post Natal Pilates ‘bring a baby’ –  Epping Registry Office, Epping. In partnership with Brambles Children’s Centre. Tuesdays at 12pm.  Babies don’t participate – this is a class for mummies where babies are welcome (up to crawling). There is a 10 minute ‘baby break’ to ensure babies are happy and not overwhelmed by the sociable nature of this class.

Do get in touch via email at karenlisalaing@gmail.com. I don’t bite!

Or book online

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Pilates. What’s all the fuss about? Why bother?

We do this move every week in class!

 

Is it like yoga? Will I break a sweat? Will it make me thin? Will it fix my back? Will it be able to make me touch my toes? Will it give me a bottom like Pippa Middleton? What if I don’t like it? What if I fart? What’s with all those machines? Will I need a pedicure? What shall I wear? Why bother?

Pilates. Popular with dancers, pregnant ladies and physiotherapists.  But for some, a complete step into the unknown. Many women arrive at a class with trepidation, fearful of beautiful people with long bendy legs. Fewer men arrive, motivated by pain or their physiotherapist or wife telling them to try it!

So what’s all the fuss about?

HISTORY

In the early part of the 20th Century, with a little help from his wife Clara, Hr. Joseph Pilates (he was German) developed the physical exercise system we now know as Pilates. Originally called ‘Contrology’, controlling the body through the mind, it became popularly known as the Pilates method.

Hr. Joseph Pilates

Our Joe had been brought up a bit of a hippy. His mum was a naturopath, so a bit ‘alternative’ and his dad was an award winning gymnast.

A sickly child – Joe suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever – he devoted his life to studying ways to get back to health. He lived in an era of ‘medical gymnastics’, or exercise as medicine. He studied gymnasts, yoga, Qigong and became a gymnast, diver and body builder. All big influences on his exercise system.

On moving to the UK in 1912 he became a professional boxer and taught self-defense for Scotland Yard.

As a german, the onset of WW1 led to his confinement in an internment camp. He used the time to learn and train his fellow inmates and to develop his system, apparently using the bed springs to create his own equipment.

After the war he worked in New York with dancers (including the notable Laban) and developed his system into the exercises we know today.

Fundamentally, Joseph Pilates believed the key hindrances to health were modern lifestyle, poor breathing technique and bad posture! And perhaps it’s these parallels with our lives today which have made it so popular.

SO WHAT IS PILATES?

Pilates is a system of exercises designed to lengthen and strengthen muscles. It’s focus is on the spine and the core muscles which support it. It is resistance training using either body weight alone in mat work classes, or small equipment like balls. As well as using your muscles, you’ll be stretching and moving around a bit and breathing deeply – so it can also be pretty relaxing.

Pilates can also be practised on various larger pieces of equipment like the Reformer (a system of pulleys and springs).

If that’s still a little confusing perhaps it would help to share a few of the questions I ask of all my classes and class plans – a little insight into my mind:

  • How is my class feeling today – do they want progression or do they need to chill out?
  • Have I got my participants’ joints and spines moving so they’ll feel better when they leave?
  • Have I worked my class all over – abdominals, backs, bottoms, shoulders, pelvic floor?
  • Has my class REALLY understood the concept of core abdominals, pelvic floor and shoulder stability today?
  • Has my class tried something new today?
  • Has my class really connected today in some way – through laughter, focus, or a furrowed, concentrated brow?
  • Have my participants stretched their bodies today – do they feel a little more supple?
  • Are my participants walking out with better posture than when they arrived?

There’s nothing snooty about Pilates but it does take time to practise and understand the key concepts, so it’s not the sort of class you can dip in and out of.

Of course, the best way of finding out what all the fuss is about is to try it for yourself. Go on, we won’t bite!

To my class participants past and present, I’d love to hear your comments on what Pilates is all about.

If you’d like to read more about our man Joe, here’s a great blog post from Pilates guru Joanne Cobbe http://www.jpilates.co.uk/lates-blog/2012/7/30/joseph-pilates-a-man-of-mystery.html