Monthly Archives: August 2014

Baby on the way? Reasons to do Pilates

Everyone’s journey to becoming pregnant is unique and personal – sometimes a pregnancy is much longed for; sometimes it’s a shock. Whatever your feelings about being pregnant, it is a time to be cherished. Over the nine months, you can adjust to being pregnant and prepare physically and mentally for the momentous event of giving birth and becoming a mother (… perhaps again).

I love supporting women in making their bodies strong during pregnancy, to prepare as much as possible for a good birth and to be ready for the challenges of the first few weeks or months (.. years!). I have already helped smooth the way into the world for some the cutest pilates babies.

If you are already a pilates fan, it’s okay to continue during the first trimester. But if you have never done this kind of bodywork before, you should not start until you have passed the 12th week of pregnancy.

Join me for seven weeks of antenatal classes starting on Thursday, 6.45pm in Excel in Tipperary town. Starting 11th September. Cost: €80. Small group. Early booking advised! Note, there are certain contraindications to doing pilates while pregnant and you must have medical clearance beforehand. 

What kind of exercises would you be doing? My antenatal pilates classes are a combination of matwork, sitting and standing movements. You’ll be using a variety of small props such as blocks, stability balls, weighted balls, fitness circles and so on.

Breathe….. You’ll focus on your breathing. Breath is life. Working actively with the breath is one of the five basic principles of Pilates. The focus is on breathing big into the back and sides of the lungs helps ease tension in the neck and mid-back area.

As your baby grows during the pregnancy, the diaphragm is forced upwards into the chest cavity, altering lung capacity and increasing your rate of breathing.

Deep abdominals…. You’ll connect to the deep abdominals! The focus in antenatal pilates is on engaging and working the deepest abdominal muscle, the Transversus Abdominus (TA). This muscle supports the uterus and helps to stabilise and support the lower back.

You’ll be opting out of exercises that include flexion or that pressure on the Rectus Abdomini (to prevent stressing the diastasis recti). You’ll be avoiding many of the traditional pilates moves, such as sit-ups or roll backs.

Pelvic floor… Your pelvic floor is the very base of your body on top of which sits not only your vital organs, but also your growing baby. It must be strong to support all that, but must also be flexible and able to relax during delivery. Ante natal pilates classes help you connect to your pelvic floor using mind-body focus techniques.

Strengthen and stretching (a little)…. You will be doing movements that strengthen the back, shoulders and arms, hips, gluteal muscles and thighs. This will prepare you for lots of lifting, holding and buggy-pushing once your baby arrives. You will also be gently stretching and mobilising your chest, low back, hips and feet. But be aware that the pregnant body secretes a hormone called Relaxin, which increases flexibility to prepare the pelvis for birth and can also mean more instability. For this reason, you must be very careful to avoid overstretching.

Meeting others also expecting … It can be nice to meet up with other pregnant women and exchange experiences and tips.



Psoas is at your core

As you probably know, building core strength is one of the key benefits of pilates. But what you may not know is that there is a lot more to the core muscles than the abdominal or tummy muscles.

The Psoas muscle (pronounced ‘so-as’) is the epitome of the core. The spine and the muscles closest to it – including the psoas – are your core, your centre of gravity. The abdominals are also part of your core, but are more superficial than this all-powerful muscle.

The Psoas muscle is one of the largest and thickest stabilising muscles; it originates all along the lower spine area from just below the ribs and attaches onto the inside of the leg (femur bone). When it contracts, it brings the femur closer to the torso (thigh flexion) – bringing your knee up to waist level, for example.Thus the Psoas is key to walking and the transfer of weight from foot to foot.

 However, because we spend so much time sitting (driving, in front of computer, watching TV), this long muscle often becomes shorter and weaker than it should be. When this happens and you move from sitting to standing, you first of all stand with your torso tipped forward in relation to your legs (slightly flexed at the hip); when you then go to straighten up fully, the Psoas muscle pulls your low spine towards your front body, making your lumbar curve bigger than ideal.

This causes all kinds of problems down the line:

The joints and the lumbar discs of the vertebrae of the spine become compressed, leading to degeneration and making you susceptible to injury.

  • If the psoas is shortened on one side only, it will cause torquing – pulling the spine or pelvis to one side, leading to pain, possibly scoliosis;
  • Your gluteal muscles may stop firing and activating normally. The gluteal (bum) muscles are other large and necessary stabilising muscles.
  • Your hamstrings will get shorter and weaker – so you are less flexible.

Taught well, Pilates works on the deep stabilising muscles. Many of these movements to sense the Psoas are low-level and simple, but must be done with discipline.

When I teach pilates classes, I encourage people to become aware of the Psoas muscle, to sense how it controls leg movements and position. It’s helpful to tune into this muscle, to feel how it connects the inner groin to the pelvis and low back. I encourage people to move from centre to the outside.

In pilates, the core point for energy is below your navel and above your pelvic floor (this is also one of three points in Traditional Chinese Medicine – others being the heart centre and the third eye). Paying attention to your centre and addressing muscles imbalances at your core pays many dividends down the line.

Tips to release a tight Psoas muscle

Stretch and strengthen:

Do pilates stretches and strengthening moves for your Psoas muscle on a regular basis– but not just for your Psoas muscle… work also on rectus femoris (front of thigh) and adductors (inner thigh muscles). It’s all connected!

Practice constructive rest:

Get deeply restful in what is known as the Pilates rest pose, lying on your back with knees bent, feet flat in line with your sit bones, cervical spine supported so your neck is not extended when your head is resting on the floor.

Here is a link to a great short YouTube on a “boring but super useful pose”:

Avoid sitting too long – keep moving:

If you have to sit for long periods, make sure your torso is not tipped forward; sit back into your chair. Also keep your two feet flat on the floor (avoid crossing at the ankles).