Personalizing Pilates' Q&A Blog – by Sherry

July 10, 2012

 Personalizing Pilates BBB Accredited!


Personalizing Pilates is now Better Business Bureau (BBB) accredited!   That means that you can purchase and download my Pilates MP3 workouts without any worries or hassles!    I have always promised great workouts and great service and now you have the BBB’s guarantee as well.    You can preview and purchase workouts at or simply click on the gravatar on the right hand side of this page.

All the best,



December 1, 2011

Standing Pilates to strengthen your hips

Hi there!

I have a lot of clients who have osteoporosis and I teach them this exercise so that they can train for balance, stability and strength in their hips.   It’s always surprising that one hip is so much stronger than the other so do a few more reps of this exercise on your weaker side.      You can also download this exercise from my website – the exercise changes monthly so check back at the beginning of each month!

Exercise of the Month for December 2011

Joan Breibart, head of the PhysicalMind Institute in New York, created this exercise and included it in her book “Standing Pilates”.  I love this exercise because it can be done just about anywhere, anytime.   It’s great for mobilizing the hip joint and for strengthening the muscles that support the hips.  This exercise is fantastic if you have osteoporosis because it’s weight bearing and I’ve included in my Personalizing Pilates/osteoporosis workout.   It’s also in the Runners workout since runners need strong hips and balance because there is always just one foot on the ground when running.

  • Stand with your weight on the four corners of your right foot (base of big and baby toes, inner and outer heels).
  • Place your left heel on top of your right foot.
  • Your hips will be facing forward (a) and your eyes will be on your horizon.
  • Inhale and slide your right hip out to the right side (b).
  • Exhale and slide it back underneath you (a).
  • Repeat six or eight times and switch sides.

Start position

Slide your hip

October 22, 2011

Hip Flexor Stretch

Good Morning Everyone!

The Toronto Marathon was completed this past weekend and  I have several clients and acquaintances who ran the full or the half marathon.   I want to share a stretch with you that I teach my runners.   It’s also a great stretch to do after you have been sitting for a long period of time.

The hip flexors are a group of muscles that fold the hip.   They pull the leg forward and they all attach at the pelvis or in the case of the psoas muscle, to the vertebrae of the lower back.   When the hip flexors are tight, they can cause lower back discomfort.

I would recommend doing this stretch every day, whether you have gone out for a run or not.

  • Start lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet wide apart (wider than your hips).
  • Reach your arms to the sides
  • Look at the ceiling.
  • Sway both knees to the right (as shown in the photo)
  • Reach your left (top) knee away from you so that the front of your left hip lengthens.  Your left hip will lift up off the mat a bit.
  • Hold for 3 breaths and switch.  Repeat 3 times on each side.

wide knee sway hip stretch

It’s common that one hip is tighter than the other so I recommend holding the stretch longer on that side.

I have a great Pilates for Runners workout available.   It’s a downloadable MP3 iPod workout that comes with photos.   Kathrine Switzer, the first woman who ever ran the Boston Marathon, does the workout and she says its “tremendous”.    Please check it out!

Let me know if you have questions!


September 1, 2009

How to Exercise with a Herniated Disc

A herniated or bulging disc is a very common spinal condition that causes pain in the buttock and down the leg.   It’s important to strengthen the lower back and abdominal muscles so that the pain is minimized or eliminated.  

However, the problem is that this condition is made worse whenever you bend or curl the trunk forward.   So abdominal curls and any sort of ‘classic’ abdominal exercise is going to not only cause pain, but also exacerbate the problem.    I’m estimating that three-quarters of all classic Pilates exercises involve curling the trunk so that means that you absolutely cannot do these exercises.    Exercises such as The Hundred, Rolling Like a Ball, and the Single/Double Leg Stretch are not to be done!   

So how are you going to strengthen your abs and back muscles if you can’t do a curl up?     

Easy.   The simplest way is to do back-bending exercises and include only those exercises that can be modifed so that they are done in a ‘neutral pelvis’ position.    If you’re not sure about ‘neutral pelvis’, there is an earlier entry on my blog so check it out.   There is also a good back bending exercise that I posted in July.   It’s easy and safe if you have a herniated disc and it will help eliminate the pain you feel.    

I created a workout especially for folks with herniated discs – there’s no forward bending at all but it’s still a great workout for your abs.   You can listen to an exercise from the workout on my website (link on the right side of this page) – it’s on the Shop and Sample page.     It’s downloadable, green (no packaging!) and it’s an MP3 format compatible with iPods and all MP3 players.

If you have any questions about how to strengthen your back safely, let me know.   I’m happy to help!


August 18, 2009

No Pelvic Tilts,please!! How to have a strong lower back!

For many years, starting in the early 80’s  I taught aerobics.  One of the things that I remember clearly when teaching abdominal work was to do a pelvic tilt and press the lower back down to the mat so that it flattened.   We always said that you should do this to protect your lower back.     Even Joseph Pilates wrote that the lower back should be flattened when doing exercises. His reasoning was that when we were a fetus, our spines were rounded like a C and this was the proper curve for the spine – this was the prevailing wisdom in the 1930’s.

Sadly, we were not only misleading people but we probably hurt more than a few people as well with this cue.   

Over the years, we have learned that the lower back should have a natural inward curve to it.    It should not be flat.   When you are lying on your back, there should be two places in your spine that do NOT touch the mat – the back of your neck and your lower back.   The inward curve in the lower back is critically important for a strong and healthy spine.   Think of it like the foundation of a tall building – when it is strong, the rest of the building is strong and solid.    Doing abdominal work with the lower back flattened overstretches the small muscles that support this area of the spine and it creates weakness.   Worse, it can lead to herniated discs, sciatica, lower back pain and other spinal problems.

When doing Pilates, it’s really important to have what we call a “neutral pelvis”.   This position of pelvis is defined by 3 bones – the two hip bones and the pubic bone (see below).

two hipbones and pubic bone


When you are lying on your back, these three bones will form a level plane when you have a neutral pelvis.   In this position, there will be an inward curve in your lower back and it will NOT touch the mat.   It’s hard to see in the photos below, but there is enough space that I can slip my hand underneath my lower back.   It’s not flattened.     In the second photo, you can see that the three bones are level and you could balance a cup of tea on my hands and it would not spill.   (In a pelvic tilt, the tea would be slopping into my navel!)

neutral pelvis


neutral pelvis with hands

If you have any sort of spinal condition (such as sciatica, a herniated disc, osteoporosis) it is absolutely critical that you work in a neutral pelvis position.   Flattening your lower back will cause you pain and can make your condition worse.   My neighbour had one herniated disc at L3/L4 and managed to herniate a second one by doing ab work with a flat back.

All of my downloadable workouts include an Ab Tutorial that teaches you how to find and hold a neutral pelvis.  All abdominal work is done with this position so that you are strengthening the foundation of your spine in it’s optimal position.     Check out the workouts that I have available (my website is on the right side of this page!)   

If you are not sure which one is best for you, email me and I’ll help you!

Take care,


August 4, 2009

Pilates Exercise for Herniated Discs

Filed under: herniated disc,leg pain,lower back exercises,sciatica,sore lower back — personalizing pilates @ 7:19 pm

Hi everyone,

I was working with a client who has a herniated disc and thought I’d share a great Pilates exercise with you to help relieve the pain caused by this condition.

First, a bit of background about herniated discs.    Also commonly referred to as bulging discs or slipped discs, a herniated disc is most often found in the lower back (and sometimes in the neck).    It’s a bit technical to explain, but here’s my “layman’s” explanation that I hope is easy to understand!   Imagine that the vertebrae of your lower back are like the chocolate cookie wafers in an Oreo cookie.    The discs are like the white filling in the Oreo cookie.    In a perfect cookie, the white filling is even in thickness all the way around the cookie and it acts like a little pillow between the two wafers.   When we herniate a disc in the spine, it’s like squeezing one side of the Oreo cookie so that the filling ‘bulges’ out the opposite side.   The chocolate wafers are too close together without much ‘pillow’ on one side of the cookie while the filling is bulging out the other side.    In the spine, the filling (ie – the disc) contains nerves that run from the spinal cord down the legs.   When there is not enough filling and the nerves are pinched, then we experience pain.   So, in layman’s terms, we need to make sure that the filling doesn’t continue to be squeezed out.   Make sense?

Discs almost always bulge out to the back of the spine so that means that to “squeeze the filling” back into the cookie, we need to do Pilates exercises that involve back-bending.

Here’s one of Joseph Pilates’ classic exercises that will help you out!

single leg stretch

  • Start lying on your tummy, propped up on your forearms.
  • Look down at your fingertips.
  • Reach your heart forward out of your chest and lift your ribs away from the mat, imagining that you are doing a back dive.
  • Bend your knee and slowly pulse your heel in towards your buttock three times.  Switch legs.
  • Repeat 3 times.

You can do this exercise 2 or 3 times a day when your pain is acute.    Once the pain is gone, don’t stop doing it!   Once a day should be good for ongoing maintenance!

You can download a Pilates workout for Herniated Discs from my website.   It’s the only Pilates workout designed especially for herniated discs that is available!    It’s only $8.99 CDN which is an inexpensive investment in your health.   I guarantee that you’ll feel better after you do it.  Just go to


July 29, 2009

Stretch to relieve sciatica

Filed under: leg pain,lower back exercises,pilates,sciatica — personalizing pilates @ 5:04 pm
Tags: ,

I got an e-mail from Liz asking for a way to relieve the pain of sciatica.

First, a bit of background info…..sciatica is a term for pain that radiates from the lower back, into the buttock and down the leg.   The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human system and it travels from the spine, exiting in the lower back and it goes down the leg all the way to the foot.    Sciatica can be caused by many factors including poor posture (very common!), muscle spasms, wearing high heels (sorry ladies!), pregnancy, being overweight or disc herniations.   The pain generally travels down one side of the body.   Even though you might feel the pain in the leg, it’s important to understand that the cause of the pain is in the lower back.  

Here’s a stretch that you can do to help stretch the tight muscles.   It’s typically called a Figure 4 stretch but I like to call it the Pretzel Stretch because I feel like a pretzel when I do it!

Lie on your back with your left foot on the floor.   Place your right ankle on the front of your left thigh.   It looks like the photo below:

figure 4 stretch prep

Now, pick your left foot up off the floor,  hold the back of your left thigh and gently hug your left knee in towards your left shoulder  (as shown in the next photo):

figure 4 stretch

You will be feeling a stretch in the right hip, hopefully at the back of the thigh and deep in the buttock.

BREATHE!!!   If this is intense for you, you’ll be inclined to hold your breath!     Hold the stretch for 6 long, slow breaths.

Switch sides and hold for 6 breaths.

You will likely notice that one side is much tighter than the other!  And it may be the side that is opposite to where you feel the pain!   That is normal.

I recommend stretching the tighter side more often so you may want to do the tighter side a second time.

Try this stretch twice a day for a week and see if it gives you relief.   

Please post a comment or e-mail me at if you have questions or need help!    I’ll get back to you in just a few hours, promise!

Take care,


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