I seem to be talking a lot about posture recently. But that’s because poor posture causes so many problems for so many people.
I always seem to have several people who attend my sessions with neck or shoulder problems. They complain of pain in the shoulder, unable to turn their head or they can’t lift their arm without something hurting.
The solution is sometimes really simple. If you improve your posture and encourage your spine to lengthen, it will help to address the strain, tension, aches and pains you feel.
When I first discovered Pilates, I quickly realised the simple exercises are often the most powerful. We don’t have to lots of different exercises. We just need to stay consistent in what we do. And quite often, it’s the basic exercises that help the most.
This is why I’m so passionate about sharing Pilates, and the simple exercises we can add into our day, to make ourselves feel so much better. Not feeling stiff, no tension. Just relaxed, supple, and more mobile.
So today, I have a video of a live session I did in my Pilates group recently, that I would like to share with you.
Of course, it’s all about posture! There are two simple exercises, that are really effective.
Ageing is an inevitable part of life. But how many of us are ageing actively? By this I mean, how many of us remain active, or even increase our activity levels as we age?
Our body’s tissues, of which muscles can be the most noticeable to us, change and loose tone and strength as we age. This is usually due to lack of movement.
We live in a society where we are not required to move much at all, so we get into a habit of not moving, and adopt a sedentary lifestyle. We believe that a decline in movement is related to ageing. However, many of us have spent our adult lives not moving, and we rarely consider the transformative effects activity and movement can have on our life, including ageing.
Much research has been done on the protective effects exercise has on our health. It’s clear that our bodies need to move, and as we get older, we shouldn’t be thinking of doing less, but actually doing more to stay active.
Movement not only protects the joints and keeps the muscles strong, it also helps your energy levels, has protective cognitive benefits, and helps with overall mental health and wellbeing. Staying supple and maintaining our flexibility means we can move easier without overstretching and ‘pulling’ any muscles. Balance is another area. Often forgotten about, balance is key to help preventing falls. Balancing exercises strengthen the muscles in the feet, ankles and lower legs, making us more stable when walking.
Exercise doesn’t need to be hard work, and we certainly don’t need to go out and start running marathons. A regular walk every day is a good place to start.
It doesn’t matter what you do. Find a way to keep moving and age actively.
Doing your Pilates workout in a standing position offers a greater variety of exercises, but it’s also a great alternative for anyone who feels they are unable to easily get to the mat.
As we get a little older, we usually find that our balance isn’t as good as it used to be. Pilates in standing can incorporate different levels of balance exercises to your routine, depending how stable you feel when standing on when leg. You can start with holding on to a chair for support, and gradually progress until you can stand on one leg and move your arms at the same time!
For me, one of the greatest benefits to exercise in standing, is the weight-bearing created through the legs and hips. This in turn helps increase the bone-building potential for anyone looking to prevent the onset of osteoporosis. Both balance and weight-bearing exercises are always beneficial for anyone who already has osteoporosis. It helps by delaying the progression and maintaining the strength of the bones, and helping to prevent falls from practising balancing exercises regularly.
Standing also gives us the opportunity to add a little more cardiovascular work so we can help to keep our heart healthy, without creating too much stress through the joints.
There are lots of props we can use in standing, such as weights, resistance bands and balance pads, all adding greater variety to our workouts.
Don’t be put off because you think Pilates is all done on the mat. There are lots of ways you can do your Pilates work out in standing.
Preparing yourself and warming up your body before you start to exercise is always beneficial.
Warming up encourages your circulation to get going, which warms up the muscles to make them more pliable, helping them to work more effectively later on. You will also be preparing your joints, so they become mobile and less stiff, making movements feel easier.
In Pilates, you can use the warm up to become more aware of your body. You have chance to check your posture, stand in the correct body position, focus on your breathing and check that you are gentling engaging through your core abdominals.
You can do your Pilates warm up in standing. This is a good way to warm up the whole of the body easily, and take your joints through a good range of movement. You can also use some of the basic exercises that are done lying on the mat as part of a warm up routine as well. Whichever option you choose, a warm up routine is general done at a slow and steady pace with controlled movements, so you don’t hurt yourself.
All of this prepares you mentally, setting yourself up to have a really good workout.
Although Pilates may seem easy and lower in intensity than other forms of exercise, it still asks a lot of your body.
In a healthy spine, there are three natural curves. In the
neck, the mid back and the lower back. The curves cushion the spine from
excessive stress or strain. A neutral spine alignment will help to stabilise
the spine while walking, lifting and sitting.
Muscle imbalances can develop if the spine is out of
alignment, you then risk stressing other joints and the surrounding muscles.
Good alignment is crucial to exercising safety and correcting
Pilates helps you to focus on good posture and to perform movements with precision and control so that you can encourage your body to re-learn healthy movement patterns, and ensure your spine is fully supported in a neutral alignment.
It’s important to work in a neutral position because:
It allows activation of the correct muscles
The natural curves help protect and cushion the
It places the least amount of stress on the
It’s the best way to maintain good balance.
It makes breathing more efficient.
It uses the least amount of energy to maintain a
You’ve probably heard that your ‘core’ muscles are important,
but what actually are these muscles and why are they so important?
The core muscles are made up of your deepest abdominal
muscles. They include the transversus abdominis that is located at the front of
the trunk, the pelvic floor muscles, the diaphragm and the multifidus muscles
in your lower back.
When you engage the core, these muscles work in unison. You
can think of it as putting on a corset. The corset helps to support you around
your centre as you move your arms and legs, just as the core muscles do. They
can help to maintain the natural curve of the spine and are important for
supporting the lower back.
You shouldn’t just think of engaging your core when you
exercise, but also as go about your daily activities. Engaging your core
creates more power and strength through the limbs, making movements easier.
It’s difficult for all of us. I quite often have days when
I’d rather not do any exercise, but on the days I do pursued myself to roll out
the mat, I am always reminded that I never, ever feel worse after exercise.
Exercise has the fantastic ability to lift your mood,
energize you for the day and put a smile on your face. For me at the moment,
it’s all about making exercise a habit. You can make the habit easier by doing
little things that prepare you to make getting into the habit, easier. Here’s
what I do.
Make sure my workout gear is ready to put on
first thing in the morning. I can’t do a serious workout if I don’t look the
Have my mat close to hand. It’s currently living
in the kitchen, rolled up ready to grab when I need it. I see it when I go in
the kitchen in a morning, so it’s there to remind me.
Follow a video. Yes, I follow Pilates videos as
well. Some days I need some inspiration.
Those little things makes it easier for me to stay committed
to my workout, but here are a few other suggestions:
Find you own space. Make sure you have enough
room for your workout. There’s nothing worse than finding you can’t get your
arms out fully without hitting the wall when your halfway through a workout.
Book yourself some ‘me time’. Find yourself a regular
time in the day when you have time to exercise. Remember it doesn’t have to be
too long. Sometime ten minutes might be all you need. If you always do it at
the same time, the rest of the family will come to expect that that’s your time
to workout. Just like it would be if you were going out to a class.
You don’t have to exercise everyday. Have a
change and go for a walk instead.
Join an online community. You’ll find other
likeminded people who are looking for ways to stay active.
Do FaceTime Workout with friends. Have a giggle,
have a chat and make it fun. Each pick a couple of exercises you can contribute
Workout with a family member. You can help to
motivate each other.
Workout to music. Whatever you like, it really doesn’t
matter, as long as it helps to keep you going. If I’m working on strength, my
favourite is Queen!
I hope that’s given you a few ideas. And remember, you don’t have to exercise everyday, just a couple of times a week for 10-20 minutes is enough to keep your body moving. But, as one of my clients reminded me today, the more you do, the better you feel.
Pilates is great to help tone and strength your body. But
what happens if you add hand weights to your workout?
I love to add weight when I’m working out at home because they can help to tone the arms and shoulders. But you have to remember to only use a light weight; so for women 1-3lbs is plenty, but men can use slightly more. It’s important not to use a heavy weight as it can create leverage and momentum challenges that can pull you out of alignment and take away the focus from the core to the extremities.
Weight should be used to bring more focused attention to the
core abdominal muscles, creating controlled movement with extra stability for
the shoulders and pelvis.
Weights can add some variety to you regular workout, so it’s probably best to use them occasional and not all the time. You can also include ankle weights in some of your workouts to tone the hips and legs. But again, a light weight is best.
My favorite hand weights are from Fitness Mad. They offer excellent grip due to the neoprene coating and the added bonus of being soft to the touch. The edges of the dumbbells have a hexagonal shape, so when you put them down they won’t roll away. They come in a great range of colours and are available from 0.5kg – 5kg. The lighter are great value for money start at £7.59 for a pair. Because they are only a small business, they do occasionally go out of stock, but you don’t normally have to wait too long before they come back in stock. For me, it’s worth the wait.
DTX Fitness also have a great range of hand weights for women. Again they have a neoprene coating so are comfy to use and won’t mark or scratch your floor. These are nice looking weights and slightly more expensive, starting at £9.99.
If you’d like to try out some ankle weights, Fitness Mad offer a really comfortable neoprene pair that could also be used as wrist weights. When you’re not using them for Pilates, you could wear them when going out for a walk to strength the legs even more. The lighter weight pair are great value at £9.99 for a really good quality product.
When you hit your 50’s, it usually around this time in our
lives when we suddenly notice that it’s not as easy to do certain things as it
You might find that getting up and down off the floor isn’t
as easy on the knees, you find that you wake up feeling stiff and achy in the
mornings, you might have trouble reaching up high because you have discomfort
in your shoulder or arm, and bending down hurts your back.
All this creeps up on us slowly, sometimes over a long
period of time. You’ll start to feel those aches and pains one day and wonder
what you’ve done to make it hurt. In fact, you probably haven’t done anything.
It’s just built up over time.
A lot of the discomfort we feel in our bodies is just a
muscular issue from the muscles get tighter and tighter. This is a common
problem if you spend your day sitting at a desk. Muscles tighten up in the neck
and shoulders until one day it really starts to hurt.
Your body can carry a lot of tension before you start to
notice a problem. Knots appear within the muscle fibres as they start to stick
together. If left, this just gets worse, putting even greater strain on
ligament and joints, which can then lead to wear and tear or the joints.
The best way to prevent this is to move your body as much a
possible. You don’t need to do really vigorous exercise; some gentle and
controlled mobility exercises may be all you need to keep the joints healthy
and the muscles free from tension.
This is why I find Pilates so beneficial for the over 50’s
and anyone else in their 60’s and 70’s can find great benefit as well. The
exercises can easily be adapted if you are new to Pilates or even new to
Check our my standing warm up for beginners to get a better understanding of Pilates exercise.
If you have been to one of my classes, you’ll now that at
the beginning of every session, I recap how to stand tall with excellent posture,
so you are ready to exercise. It’s so important to recap this, because, let’s
face it, ten minutes after leaving an exercise class you forget what you were
doing, and don’t often carry those ‘standing tall’ principles with you every
The same applies to the basic exercises. You can think of
them as re-training your bodies movement patterns, and over time, muscle memory
takes over, and suddenly, the exercise becomes easier. The basic exercises also
give us time to think about everything that we’re doing. Focusing on your
breathing makes the exercise easier to perform, co-ordinating your arms and
legs to work together, but most importantly learning how to engage and control
the ‘core’ muscles. These muscles are your powerhouse. They are the deep
underlying abdominal muscles which help you to control all your movements,
ensure that you are well supported around the centre of your body and avoid any
injury, especially to the lower back, while exercising.
I feel that everyone should have that solid foundation of
basic exercises that they practice regularly when first starting out, even if
it seems very repetitive, each time you perform that exercise you’ll learn
something new, or you’ll be able to add in different elements easily.
You may watch one of my beginner exercises and think it
looks really is. But even the easiest of exercises can be challenging if done correctly.