Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pilates Exercises for a Great Tricep Workout: Part II.

We all want those sleek, tone, and beautiful arms!   Every week I hear about a celebrity that has enviable arms.  I always hear, “I want arms like…”   In last week’s post, I explained that there is more to beautiful arms than 100 tricep dips!  Last week I wrote about the impact of efficient shoulder movement to the overall muscle tone of the arms.  I even explained a few exercises that would increase the width across the front of the chest so that the shoulders are prepared for the arm workout of this week’s post.  Now that you’re ready and waiting..I have to play the role of my own devil’s advocate.

You’ll notice that only one of the seven exercises explained below “isolates” the triceps.  And if you’ve done any amount of internet research you’ll find that these exercises are not usually listed anywhere near a tricep workout, so technically if you are looking for a workout that isolates the triceps you haven’t found it!  But then again there is this soapbox from which I’ve been known to spout gobbs and gobbs of opinionated movement blather, and I’ve stepped up onto it again to say:  It is my firm belief that to truly effect change in the muscle tone of the body, it is absolutely necessary to strengthen the individual muscles within the greater context of muscular function and integrated movement.  We must teach the body how to move and the muscle tone will follow, and more importantly (in my opinion) when we are moving better and more efficiently the long and sleek arms of others won’t register a blip on our  “I should be better” radar!

Think of it this way.  Go ahead a give a squeeze to your upper trapezius (The muscle tissue between the top of the shoulder and the ear.)  Do these muscles have muscle tone?  Are they rock hard? That is how strong you are!  Now think back to your exercise regimen, do you do any exercises to tone the upper trapezius? Or possibly are all of the tricep exercises that you are doing actually increasing the muscle tone of your upper trapezius and not touching your triceps at all?…Okay, now I shall step off of the soapbox and plead that the following workout will make your upper body change, and maybe once the change has happened your triceps might not even be a part of your thought process.  Maybe just maybe you’ll be standing so tall that you see the world in a completely different way!

Watch the video below, and then look farther for more explanation:

This brings me to our first exercise.:

Prone extension:  This exercise accomplishes two goals.  First, it provides an opportunity for your body to slide the shoulder blades away from the ears and secondly it allows the body to bear weight through the arms while maintaining an open chest.  This exercise teaches the form that is necessary for any tricep exercise.  It teaches the open chest posture that allows the triceps to engage whenever you move your arms.

Our next exercise progresses the work of Prone Extension into the Swan:

The Swan has two very important moments for the triceps.  First, as you are lifting your body and your elbows lengthen the triceps are very much involved, but if your shoulder blades slip higher to your ears your body will recruit muscles of the lumbar spine and the upper trapezius to complete the movement.  So as you are straightening your arms be sure to keep the shoulder blades sliding down to the ground. 

The second part of the exercise also requires tricep control.  As you bend the elbows, it is absolutely imperative to keep the chest open and slowly let the elbows descend to the ground so that the triceps are able to do their part!

From here we’re ready to release the hands, you’ll extend your arms behind you in the Dart.  This exercise is the closest you’ll get in this workout to an isolated tricep exercise, but really you are also employing your spine extensors and you are definitely still sliding the shoulder blades down away from your ears!

Next we have the side plank and twist prep.

First sitting on your hip and bearing weight on one hand requires that the entire side of your body be involved in the “arm” work.  As you are shrugging your shoulder you are exploring the range of motion and finding the stable place where your arm bone is completely connected to your shoulder blade.  Then as you continue and lift your hips into space, you are maintaining that shoulder stability!

This exercise then progresses into to side plank and the twist, which allows the body to take what it has learned into a full body integrated movement….

If you haven't watched it yet, here is the video again.  See the workout for yourself and as an admission, my triceps were sore for two days after filming this video! 

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E
Co-director of The Pilates Studio

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pilates Exercises for a Great Tricep Workout: Part I

Today a client came in with a copy of a short article entitled “Ending the Under-Arm Jiggles.”  It had a few exercise suggestions, and I read it and said well I can’t believe I haven’t written a blog post about the triceps yet!  I thought back to the many times that someone came in with the goal of toning the arms, especially the triceps, and realized that most often the “underarm jiggles” are about shoulder instability and not about the tricep weakness at all!  We’ve been spending years at the gym “toning our triceps” when in fact we should have been learning how to move!  

Think about it.  How much do we use our arms in everyday life?  If our shoulders are moving efficiently then the triceps are working along with the rest of our arms when we type, wash the dishes, make the bed, hit a tennis ball, go swimming, open a door, write a check, or hold onto a hand railing.  If our shoulders are moving efficiently then we don’t have to do tricep-isolating exercises because our triceps are working all day long! 

Now I have posed this solution as if snapping the fingers will lead to magic efficiently moving shoulders, but unfortunately I’m afraid that is not the case…Our shoulders fall into repetitive movement patterns just as easily as our knees, hips, and back.  Our lives that keep us at the computer longer than we want, and the repetitive movements in our work and home life keep our hands in front of us, and then when we finally get to exercise the habits that are created during our lives stay and are there even when doing tricep exercises.  SOOOO what now?  Is it hopeless??? Absolutely not!!!

Let this blogpost be your first step! The following exercises will soon be on the Pilates Exercise of the Day Blog they will help you release the shoulders, and allow you to become aware of the relationship between the collarbone, the shoulder blade, and the upper arm bone.  This relationship is crucial to arms for an even muscle tone.  Once the shoulders have loosened up and your body has a deep understanding of the movement of the shoulders, the tricep exercises that I list next week will be so much more effective and beyond that, every arm movement that you do will be working the arm evenly!

First we have Elbow Circles on the Foam Roller

This exercise teaches the body how to use the collar bone and the shoulder blade.  When we think of arm movement often we are only aware of the shoulder socket, but in actuality there are three joints that are involved in all arm movement.  We have the Gleno-Humeral Joint (arm bones connected to the shoulder blades) the Acromio-Clavicular joint (shoulder blades connected to the collarbones) and finally the Sterno-Clavicular joint (collarbones connected to the Breast Bone).  These three joints create the range of motion that we have at our shoulders and as I said before when we spend most of our days with our hands in front of us, it gets harder to use our full range.  

To do these Elbow Circles lay on your foam roller, and place your hands on your shoulders, begin drawing circles with your elbows and then gradually let these circles become larger.  Become aware of the way that the arm bone moves in the socket.  Allow the collarbone to open as you circle the arm back.  Allow the shoulder blade to move as you circle the arm forward.  Be sure to keep the arm connected to the socket as you continue these circles in both directions.

Now take a break and find your way to sitting.  How do your shoulders feel?  Are they warm?  Do you feel additional width across the front and the back of your shoulders?  Have they dropped?

Next we will do Snow Angels on the Foam Roller

This exercise will help you find balance between the front and the back of the shoulders.  Once again because our hands are in front of us during most of our days, the muscles that run along the front of the chest get short and pull the shoulder joint forward, which makes it nearly impossible to engage the tricep.  The Snow Angels will help open the chest so that next week when the strengthening exercises come, your triceps will be available to you!

To do the Snow Angels lay on the foam roller and let your arms open out to the side so that your chest is open.  Then as if you are laying in powdery snow begin creating your angel wings by letting your arms move towards your head and then towards your pelvis.  Always trying to have the fingertips reaching to the ground.  Find the place that feels the most stretch, rest there, and breathe into the chest!

After this find your way to standing and try to engage your triceps.  Do you feel the entire muscle?  As you move your arm can you feel the tricep participating?

What Now?
Now you get to do me a favor! try these exercises on for a week.  If possible try to do them in the morning and right before you go to bed, and then in a weeks time, I will write the second part of this post that will have plenty information about strengthening exercises and even a video to go with it!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E
Co-Director of The Pilates Studio

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Recipes to Release the Back

Imagine the gravity of the earth constantly pushing you to the ground.  Take note of how much of the day you spend sitting.  How is your posture when you’re not thinking about it? Now think about your low back.  Is it “tight?”  Is it sore?  Should it be stretched?  Should it be strengthened?  Does it have a curve?  Is it flat? Is it sore in the morning? The afternoon?  Can you pick up heavy things without pain?  How does it feel when you sit?  What about when you walk up stairs?  What about after a strenuous workout, how does it feel then?  Is that enough questions for one blog post?  Have I illustrated how overwhelming deciphering back pain and what to do about it can be???  The following recipes are a very good first step.  Often when back pain arises simply taking a step back and allowing your body to do some recuperative exercises is a way to calm the nervous system. It’s also a great way for you to listen to your back, a way to see if maybe your back can answer some of the questions I posed for you.

First, let’s talk diaphragm!  The diaphragm exists at the top of the low back and is one of the big reasons that the first step in any release recipe is finding the breath and using the breath.  In “Breath the Olive Oil in any Pilates Exercise” I talk about how sometimes the breath is all you need, but most often it is the place you start.  For these releasing exercises you might want to play with the Diaphragmatic Breath, the Bucket Handle Breath, or the Pitcher Breath.  All of these breath patterns not only focus the breath, but the breath can begin expanding tight tissues in the spine. 

Before we actually stretch the muscles in the spine, it’s important to see what might be making the musculature of the spine tight in the first place.  Often rigidity in the hips sockets can lead to tightness in the piriformis and glutes, which will then translate into tightness and immobility in the spine.  To see if this is the case first start with a marker exercise in this case the Pelvic Rocks.

Then try these three exercise dedication to hip socket mobilization:

With all of these exercises be sure to keep the pelvis still while moving the thighbones in the socket.  In these exercises your hands are doing the work for the muscles in your hip and legs, which allows the muscles of the hip and legs to release.  Subsequently this often allows the muscles of the back to release too.

Now try your marker exercise again.  Rock your pelvis being sure to use the pelvic floor and belly muscles without the glutes and the hamstrings.  Is the range of motion different?  Is there less tension?  Listen to your back what is it telling you.

In the next recipe we want to address the Psoas.  Read the post “The Psoas and World Domination” to learn more about this very important and sometimes tyrannical muscle.  Releasing the psoas can lengthen the spine and open the front of the hips.   

In this recipe, the Bucket Handle Breath is the most efficient because you can focus this breath into the entire circumference of your ribcage allowing the top of the Psoas to release.  Did you know the Psoas and the Diaphragm are fascially connected?  When a person exhales the diaphragm lifts into the body and thus the lengthening of the Psoas begins before you are ever stretching.

After you have mastered the breath then begin with the following sequence of Psoas Stretches

The previous exercises are a progression from gentle stretch to a more intense stretch.  They can be substituted or done in sequence whatever time allows in your life. 

Finally, it’s time to stretch the muscles of the back.  If you have done the previous release work these stretches will be more effective and allow for more length in the muscle tissues of the low spine.  The following exercises are also a progression from gentler to more intense.

The exercises above create a wonderful space and time to find the breath in the back of the body.  Use the breath to lengthen the tissues as you stretch.

Now is the time to ask all of the questions from the first paragraph of this post.  You have taken the time to listen to your back, and allowed the muscles in your body the space to recuperate.  Maybe the answers will come a little easier.

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E
Co-Director of The Pilates Studio

PS After all of this, your back may just be asking for an inner thigh squeeze.  It might even say please! 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Foot and Knee Pain

Last week I was reminded of the importance of the foot once again.  Over the past year you may have noticed that I’ve written a few different posts about the foot and exercises for the feet.  We have “Stomping Out Foot Pain with Pilates,” “Recipes for an Agile Foot,” and “Recipes For a Strong and Flexible Ankle” Not to mention the Pilates Exercise of the Day Blog dedicated the entire month of July to foot and ankle exercises.  It may seem that I’m obsessed.  I was even beginning to think so, but then a client came in with a foot question, we went on a foot tangent, and that tangent led to a decrease in her knee pain. 

With this information in mind, I once again started to compose a post about the foot. This post was to relate the foot to knee pain.  As I was writing I felt I was composing words that were very similar to what I had already written.  To check, I reread “Stomping out Foot Pain with Pilates” and with a little curiosity, I looked at the stats for that post.  And then I was floored.  That post has been seen twice as much as any of the other posts in The Pilates Studio’s blog. I could toot my own horn and say that the writing was brilliant so of course my post was seen so many more times, but I think realistically the trend here is that people are googling.  And people are googling about the foot and foot pain.  People are looking for different ideas about the foot.  People are starting to understand the importance of the foot and its relationship to knee, hip, and back pain.  The feet are being seen as more important in overall health.  So am I obsessed?  Well, not anymore than the rest of the google population…

I took this obsession to the University of Hartford’s Hartt School.  It’s the first week of classes and as faculty we observe the placement ballet classes to make sure that the students are placed in classes suited to their technical development.  Well as I was watching the students, once again I was observing how they use their feet.  Are they using their feet efficiently? Are they applying the foot articulation exercises built into the ballet barre to the work in the center?  And if I noticed that a student wasn’t articulating the foot efficiently, I asked myself what I knew about that particular student’s injury history, and well I must admit I was starting to see some correlations of the movement of the foot to ankle and knee injuries.  Was I ticking the data in any way that I could present scientifically as if there is a correlation coefficient of +.98 between movement of the foot and ankle and knee pain?  Well no not at all, but lets just say these observations didn’t dampen my foot obsession in the least.    

So will this be my last post about the movement of the feet?  I think it’s fair to say no.  Most likely at some point in the future I will feel compelled to write about the feet again and probably then again.  The good sign is the google stats are on my side we are a world obsessed with the feet.  They are our connection to the earth, they give us the spring in our step, and when they hurt they hurt a lot.  Ahh yes, back to my client’s foot and her knee pain, I simply taught her this “Recipe For an Agile Foot.” And it relieved her knee pain.  Will it relieve everyone’s knee pain?  I don’t think so, but I am confident that it should be a part of the puzzle for anyone out there!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E
Co-Director of The Pilates Studio