Personalizing Pilates' Q&A Blog – by Sherry

July 12, 2012

How to Sit with Lower Back Support

Hi everyone,

Our bodies are designed to move, they are not designed to sit for long periods of time.     One of the things that happens when we sit is that we lose the inward, lumbar curve of our lower back.    When this curve is lost, our posture suffers, we slouch and we put tremendous pressure on the discs of our lower back.     If you happen to have osteoporosis, a herniated or bulging disc, sciatica or any sort of lower back pain, it is absolutely critical that you have this lumbar curve in your spine at all times.     

The problem with sitting is that very few chairs have proper lumber support.   Even the ones that claim to have support, don’t have enough of it so we still slouch to a certain degree.

How NOT to sit

How NOT to sit

In the photo above, you might think that this is an okay way to sit because my back is supported.    But here’s the problem.   Look at my lower back.   It is flattened and there is no lumbar/inward curve in the spine.   If you have a herniated disc, osteoporosis or sciatica, sitting like this (or slouching even more) is going to make the problem worse.

Here’s what I show all of my clients.   It’s the proper way to sit with support.   It will feel a little “rigid” at first but it will quickly become comfortable.

First, you will need a good-sized bath towel.    Fold it in half lengthwise.   Start rolling it up until it’s a cylinder and secure the ends with elastics or duct tape.    When it’s finished, it should be 6 to 8 inches in diameter.     Now sit in your chair and wiggle your hips all the way to the very back of the seat.    Lean forward and place the roll behind your navel in the curve of your lower back.    There!   Now when you sit, your lower back has the lumbar curve in it but it is supported by the towel.     You’ll notice in the photo below that my spine is more vertical when compared to the first photo.   I’m not leaning back.    When sitting correctly, you should be able to draw a vertical line from the earlobe, through the shoulder to the hip.   In this photo, you can do that.   In the photo above, the line is not vertical at all!

How to sit properly using a lumbar support

How to sit properly using a lumbar support

You can buy a lumbar roll instead of using a towel, but make sure it’s big enough.   Many of the ones that I’ve seen are only 3 – 4 inches in diameter which is not big enough for an adult.

Remember if you have questions, add a comment here or email me via the website (on the right).  And I’d really appreciate it if you would check out the workouts that I have on my website.    There are even special workouts for osteoporosis and herniated discs that teach you how to strengthen your abs while keeping the lumbar curve intact.

Cheers,

Sherry

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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

www.PersonalizingPilates.com

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

November 18, 2011

Lower Back Strengthener

Hi everyone,

As a Pilates teacher, I see many people who have lower back pain and problems.   I would estimate that 90% of these problems come from poor posture and from sitting way too much.    Our bodies are not designed for sitting but too many of us sit for hours and hours each day.   I dare you to calculate how many hours a day you sit – from eating breakfast, commuting, working at your desk, eating dinner and watching television.   It’s not uncommon to hear that people are sitting for 8 – 12 hours a day!  No wonder their backs hurt.

Here’s an easy exercise that you can do just about anywhere and anytime.  It’s not a classical Pilates exercise although you could say that it’s a version of Joseph’s swimming or flight exercise.   It’s known as a McKenzie exercise, named after Robin McKenzie who is one of the world’s leading authorities on lower back pain.

To do the exercise, follow these cues:

  1. Stand with your feet a bit wider apart than your hips
  2. Keep your knees straight
  3. Place your hands in the small of your lower back, fingers turned inward
  4. Imagine doing a back dive over your hands, lifting your heart out of your chest
  5. Hold for a couple of breaths
  6. Repeat three times

Try to do this exercise every hour or so when you need to sit.   If you’re at the office, you can do it in the washroom where it is private.   It will help to strengthen your lower back safely.

Questions?  Don’t hesitate to email me.   I’m here to help.

And please check out the downloadable MP3 workouts on my website.   They’re easy to follow and very effective.   Plus, if you input promo code 4001 when you place your order, you’ll get 10% off your entire order!

Sherry

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!

Sherry

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,

Sherry

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
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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 http://www.PersonalizingPilates.com

Sherry

July 12, 2009

Hi World!

Filed under: Uncategorized — personalizing pilates @ 6:22 pm
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Hi everyone!

I have just set up my new blog!    I’d like to introduce myself and let you know that I am here to help you with any questions that you may have about Pilates.

First, let me tell you a bit about me.   I am a PMA Certified Pilates Teacher.   What that means is that I have passed a National Certification Exam that was set by the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA).   Pilates teachers can do their training at many different facilities and the curriculum and quality of teaching can vary so the PMA has set the standard for Pilates teachers.   There are less than thirty PMA Certified Pilates Teachers in Canada and I am proud to be one of them!     I did my Pilates training through the PhysicalMind Institute which is based in New York.   I am certified to teach mat Pilates as well as Pilates using the reformer, cadillac and wunda chair.   I’m also certified to teach Standing Pilates.  

I have taught fitness (as an ACE certified aerobics teacher  and personal trainer) for over twenty five years and Pilates for more than ten years.   I have a private studio where I work with clients with various needs including general fitness to herniated discs, sciatica, amputations, osteoporosis and motor vehicle accidents.    My studio is in a chiropractor’s office and over the years  I have picked up some really great exercises and tips to help my clients and I will be passing these along to you over time! 

I will be blogging about exercises and ways that Pilates can help various spinal conditions.   However, I am much more interested in helping you with your specific questions and needs.   So please send me your questions!   I’m happy to help you.

Sherry

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