Eyes *Always* Open

You've just got to your fitilates (Pilates) class and laid your mat on the floor, the class hasn't quite started yet so you stretch out on you mat and close your eyes to focus on your breathing. Deep breaths in through your nose, expanding the rib cage like a balloon and exhaling through pursed lips feeling the connection of the deep abdominals as you fully exhale.

The above scenario is a great example of how to warm yourself up mentally for the class ahead. You can choose to lie down, sit cross-legged or even stand up but bringing awareness to your breath is perfect. Often we need to shut out some of the world around us and closing our eyes is a great way to do that. But once class officially begins, in the world of Pilates, it's eyes open. Always.


Why you may ask? Spinal alignment is a fundamental principle in the Pilates world and it pretty much trumps everything else. If your spine is not properly aligned, most likely your core muscles will not be properly engaged, other muscles will compensate for you to complete the movement and pain is often felt in areas such as your low back, hips and neck. I know what you're thinking.. what does any of that have to do with my eyes being open?? The answer is of course, everything! You see, the eyes are the centre of our head and our head should be perched perfectly on our neck, imagine a bowling ball balancing on a stick. Our eyes are not only used to see what's going on around us but they are sending constant feedback to our brain about our surroundings and our body placement within these surroundings. This information is extremely important for proper spinal alignment.

Try this little test:

Look straight ahead and let your head feel balanced and relaxed on your neck.

Look as far over to the right as you can using only your eyes. Notice that your head will automatically want to turn to follow your eyes and centre your head around the direction you are looking.

Now just imagine what happens when you close your eyes - your brain is actively searching for feedback on where your head is in space and proper alignment becomes very difficult to maintain. This becomes extremely evident in any of the abdominal flexion exercises. With the eyes closed, the position of the head is often skewed and extreme stress is placed on the intrinsic muscles of the neck.

Moral of the story - keep your eyes open throughout your class to ensure the spine is properly aligned and unnecessary stress is reduced. If your neck is causing you grief, notice where you are looking, if it's up to the ceiling, draw your eyes down towards your thighs and allow your head to gently follow your eyes.

Fitness Instructor or Personal Trainer? Cue your clients eye placement to achieve proper spinal placement, such as gazing straight up to the ceiling for a neutral spine placement while lying on their back; bringing their eyes to their thighs when in an ab curl; and keeping their eye gaze slightly in front of them (not too high up) when in spinal extension.

Looking for more information on proper spinal alignment - check out my previous post 100% Crunch Free

How To Give Your Pelvic Floor a Workout

The importance of pelvic floor and how to engage!

I would harbor a guess that almost everyone has heard of ‘doing a kegal’. I would harbor another guess that most of you are doing it incorrectly, if at all. Dr. Arnold Kegal was one of the first to address the importance of strengthening of pelvic floor muscles, particularly in postpartum women. Kegal exercises quickly became popular in people with incontinence issues and physicians and media began to tell ladies of all ages that strengthening the pelvic floor was important.

Here’s the thing: strengthening pelvic floor muscles is NOT just for the ladies, men need this too. It’s also not just for those who have had children or are over the age of 65. Learning how to properly engage pelvic floor is crucial for everyone!

What is my pelvic floor?

Your pelvic floor is made up of a series of muscles that support the rectum, urethra and bladder (uterus as well in women). The function of our pelvic floor is not only to help with keeping us continent but also to provide support to our torso and postural muscles. In fact, the pelvic floor is a co-contractor of the transversus abdominis, multifidus and internal oblique who’s role it is to compress the abdomen and provide support and stability to the lumbar spine. The correct timing and firing of these muscles is crucial when dynamically moving our limbs.

How do I find my pelvic floor?

Unfortunately, this is one of those exercises, where pictures and videos do not help. These muscles are so deep and the contraction is isometric (meaning that there is no movement produced). However with a little practice you’ll be a pelvic floor contractor in no time!

Sit cross legged on the floor and lean slightly forward. You should be able to feel your pelvic floor resting on the floor (completely relaxed). If you find it difficult to feel, sit on a stability ball with your feet flat on the floor. The ball will provide a little more biofeedback than the floor.

With your pelvic floor resting on the floor, imagine that it is now an elevator. Where you are now, is the basement. If you were to do a full on Kegal (imagine stopping the flow of urine, without tensing your butt cheeks) that would be the fourth floor. Practice lifting the ‘elevator’ to the first, second, third and fourth floor, then release to the basement. Practice that as many repetitions as you can before fatigue (my guess is it won’t be many). Once fatigue sets in, STOP! Quality over quantity is of the utmost importance, do not practice bad technique.

Once you’ve mastered the levels, try to slowly release back down as well. Play a game such as this one:  Basement – First floor – Second floor – Third floor – Fourth Floor – Third Floor – Second Floor – First Floor – Basement. Then you can take it to the next level and skip floors (ie. Basement – Second – Fourth – Second – Basement).

Lastly, work on your muscular endurance. Engage the pelvic floor to the second floor (no higher) and try to hold it there for 10 seconds. It’s a lot harder than it sounds! The first few times you will likely not be able to hold it that long and after a contraction or two, you may not be able to engage at all.

Benefits of a strong pelvic floor

Besides the obvious benefits of urinary continence, a strong pelvic floor can assist in a strong core meaning less lower back pain and strain, improved daily function and sport performance. But if these aren’t motivation enough… here’s the big one… for men and women… improved sexual gratification!!

Start your pelvic floor training today!

Do You Set Bad Resolutions??

I recently saw a social media post talking about bad new years resolutions. It got me thinking, what makes a new years resolution bad in the first place?? Is it that as a society we tend to set the same three to five resolutions every year? Or that it's more common for us to fail at our resolutions than it is to succeed??

I don't think that it's any of the above. The definition of resolution is

a firm decision to do or not to do something.

If we go off that definition alone, then we are nailing the act of making a resolution. However synonymous with resolution is plan and that's exactly what's missing from most resolutions, making them bad resolutions. The plan doesn't need to be elaborate or even extensive but there needs to be one. Not sure how to come up with the plan, here's an easy way to get started.

Step One
Make your wish list. Here's where you are going to figure out what it is you actually want to accomplish this year. Grab a piece of paper and a pen, and yes, it must be written by hand, not typed on a keyboard. Why? Because the act of writing has been proven to help you remember things better, clarify your thoughts and even help you achieve your goals! If you're someone who wants to keep this list with you at all times, you're in luck - write it down, snap a picture of it with your phone and carry it with you always ;)

Alright, back to the wish list. Grab that paper and pen and set a timer for 5 minutes. For the next five minutes dream big. What do you want to accomplish this year?? There are no obstacles in your way, no responsibilities and nothing that says you can't. Let your thoughts flow freely and write down whatever comes to mind.

Step Two
Look back over your list and narrow it down to 1 -3 things that speak to you the most. If you're not sure how to narrow it done, write down your whys for dreaming up that goal in the first place. The goals that you can an attach a strong why to are most likely the goals that you should focus on.

Now grab another piece of paper for each goal that you chose to focus on. You'll need to focus on one at a time now so you'll need a little bit more time. Write down your first goal at the top of the sheet of paper as if you have already achieved it. For example, if I currently weight 190 lbs and my goal is to lose 30 pounds in 2016 at the top of my paper I would write: I weigh 160 lbs by December 31, 2016. I have succeed in making my goal specific and timely but there is still no action.

Set your timer for 10 minutes. Write down all the steps that you would need to do to achieve this goal, and I mean all of them. Using my example above, my list may look something like this:

  • drink 3L of water a day
  • no snacking after 8pm
  • eat veggies with every meal
  • resistance train 2-4 days a week
  • cardio train 2-5 days a week
  • core/mind body training 1-4 times a week
  • find babysitter so that I can go to the gym
  • talk to my boss about leaving 30 minutes early (cut my lunch by 30 minutes) so that I can make it to my fitness class twice a week
  • wake up for the 5:30am class 2-3 times a week
  • prepare lunches the night before so I don't have to do it in the morning
  • meal plan every Friday night
  •  grocery shop every Saturday
  • prep for the week on Sunday
  • arrange a walking meeting with a colleague once a week (we discuss work and walk at the same time)
  • talk to my personal trainer about my upcoming goals
  • weigh in once a week or once every two weeks to track progress
  • ETC, ETC, ETC!

Yours will be even more specific to you. Write down everything no matter how small or mundane the task seems! Repeat for goal 2 and 3 if you have them.

Step Three
Now the action truly begins. Go through your list and pick out two goals that you can focus on that day. Based on my list above, maybe I could schedule a meeting with my boss to discuss a flexible work day and I could track my water intake for the day. Then do them. It seems easy right? So easy that maybe you think you could tackle even more steps from that list. And maybe some days you can. But most days you won't. And that's ok. Why set yourself up for failure with too many to-do tasks?? Pick a couple and get them done. Be pleased with yourself that you moved closer to your goal.

If your action steps looks like it would take longer than 30 minutes to complete. Break down your action step. For example, if I simply listed meal plan, that might seem time consuming or overwhelming. But if I made my action step to chose two healthy recipes to try for dinner next week, I could likely do that in less than 10 minutes.

Work Towards Progress, Not Perfection
Small attainable action steps add up to big, mind blowing results. But not over night. Look over your action list at the start of every day. Chose where to focus. Need to revisit an action step, do it. Need to change your goals, do that as well. Remember this is your 2016 and your journey, you get to chose how you want it to go.

I'd love to hear what you have planned for 2016 and if this type of goal setting worked for you! Please feel free to leave me a comment below.

Give Yourself the Gift of Life

It's true - with one simple exercise, I can add years to your life!! I am practically giving you the fountain of youth!! Ok, ok, I am slightly exaggerating but the truth is, that being able to get up off the ground without the use of your hands or knees correlates to a longer life. Here's the scoop:

“If a middle-aged or older man or woman can sit and rise from the floor using just one hand - or even better without the help of a hand - they are not only in the higher quartile of musculo-skeletal fitness but their survival prognosis is probably better than that of those unable to do so.” 

The above quote is from Brazilian researcher, Dr Claudio Gil Araújor and was reported in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention. The study was performed on individuals 50 years of age and up and looked at their ability to get off the floor without the use of their hands or knees.  The test was scored on a point scale between 1 and 10 - 5 points for getting down to the ground and 5 more points for being able to stand back up. All participant's were given a starting score of 10. Any time the use of an arm or knee was used to help balance, a point was deducted. Half a point was deducted if balance was lost or the feat lost it's fluidity (clumsy).

You wouldn't think that such a simple test would be able to tell you so much, but Araujo found that it could predict life expectancy with alarming accuracy! Of the more than 2,000 individuals he performed the test on, he found those that scored less than 8 points were twice as likely to die within the next six years!! And those who scored three points or less were five times more likely to die within that same time period (yikes!!). Overall, every point achieved in the test accounted for a 21% decrease in mortality!

Armed with that knowledge, here's an exercise to try for yourself and get your clients to start doing too!

Now before you panic, remember this exercise is just a great benchmark and if you're younger than 50 years old, the results won't mean the same thing! Regardless of your age, use this exercise as a useful tool to help you literally add years to your life ;)

ps: You're Welcome! (for those additional years of course)