Warming up

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.

Neutral Spine Alignment

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 muscle imbalances.

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 during movement.
  • The natural curves help protect and cushion the spine.
  • It places the least amount of stress on the muscles.
  • It’s the best way to maintain good balance.
  • It makes breathing more efficient.
  • It uses the least amount of energy to maintain a desired position.

Restore your core

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.

Ideas to staying motivated during lockdown

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.

  1. 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 part.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. You don’t have to exercise everyday. Have a change and go for a walk instead.
  4. Join an online community. You’ll find other likeminded people who are looking for ways to stay active.
  5. Do FaceTime Workout with friends. Have a giggle, have a chat and make it fun. Each pick a couple of exercises you can contribute beforehand.
  6. Workout with a family member. You can help to motivate each other.
  7. 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.

Using weights in Pilates

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.

Pilates workout with hand weights

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.

Click here to take a look.

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.

Click here to take a look.

Pilates workout with ankle weights

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.

Click here to take a look.

DTX Fitness have a bigger choice of weights, up to 5kg. Remember it’s best not to have your weight too heavy. One size fits all with simple Velcro fastening.

Click here to take a look.

Have fun and use your weights safely.

Why exercise and movement is important as we get older.

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 once was.

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 exercise.

Check our my standing warm up for beginners to get a better understanding of Pilates exercise.

Why are the basic exercises so important?

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 day.

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.

What is Pilates?

As far as I’m concerned, Pilates is the best type of exercise you can do. It’s great for everyone, regardless of your age or fitness level, there is always something suitable for you.

Pilates is a mat based practice that teaches you how to use your stabilising muscles (the core) to control movement through the arms and legs. It can be a great full body workout, as it helps to build stability and strength throughout the body.

It’s a form of exercise that’s suitable for everyone, including seniors, helping to change the way you look, feel and move. It is not a”quick- fix” and you do need to persevere, but the results will be worth it in helping to improve strength, flexibility and decreasing stress.

Your power and strength come from your ‘core’ or ‘centre’, working the deep abdominal muscles to allow following movements while exercising. Pilates focuses on improving your posture, so when you finish a workout, you’ll feel like you’re standing up taller, and overtime the strength in the postural muscles will improve making it feel easier to stand up tall and help reduce any muscular discomfort.

Pilates is excellent for the rehabilitation of injuries and can help relieve pain and muscular discomfort. Pilates works all muscle groups in your body, teaching you to focus, gaining better awareness of your body and release any muscular tension.

Pilates encourages you to perform movements in a flowing and controlled way which co-ordinates mind, body and breathing. Quality of movement is vital, re-learning correct movement patterns and postures, improving balance, mobility and co-ordination.