Friday, July 26, 2013

Pilates and Rowing

About four years ago, I took a two-week “Learn to Row” course with Northampton Community Rowing.  I loved the pristine water in the morning, learning the biomechanics of rowing, and feeling the boat move through the water as my eight companions and I synchronized our strokes…These were all parts of this two week course that I loved.  Only one thing kept me from repeating it, and that was the fact that leaving my house at 5:30 am everyday for two weeks was just too much. I’ve always said that I am a bad teacher before 8 am, and well it turns out I’m not the greatest student either.  And so after two weeks I chose sleep, and with that my rowing career ended.  At least that is what I thought.
Notice the posture

Fast forward quite a few years, I am still teaching Pilates, and a client enters the studio for her first session.  She rows.  It is her passion.  It is her life.  This client ROWS!  The only trouble is that after an accident, rowing now causes pain and she can’t do what she loves.  She asked me, “Do you think I will ever be able to row again?”  I said, “Let’s see what we can do.”

Pilates retrains the body, Pilates creates functional strength, and Pilates returns people to the activities they love.  So yes, to end the suspense, I will say that I am positive that my client will row again!  We have worked with many aspects of the rowing stroke. We have broken it down and retrained her body in foreign environments and we are now just beginning to put the stroke back together again in a familiar environment.  First of all, I must give credit to Polestar Pilates for sharing this idea with the world.  To create functional strength you change movement patterns in a foreign environment (whether it be the relationship to gravity or the point at which resistance or assistance is given) and then take these new movement patterns into the familiar and begin to integrate the new patterns into functional movement.  This has always been a very effective way to work with knee or back pain, but this is my first attempt at reconstructing the rower’s stroke.

First, we changed the body’s relationship to gravity.  We started in a supine position and worked with joint disassociation (moving the legs and the arms without moving the pelvis or the spine), Then we took these movement patterns into a familiar relationship to gravity, and this is where the fun began.  I love teaching the many classic Pilates exercises, but my favorite part of the session is when we look at the equipment and use the pilates principles to make stuff up!  The following video is how my client and I turned the reformer combo table into an erg rowing machine…No this new exercise does not incorporate the power of the erg, but it does simulate the biomechanics.  And it certainly challenges that balance. 

I hope you enjoyed it!  I love this kind of problem solving!  It’s the best part.  My client is up to 10 minutes on the erg.  I am positive she will be in the water soon!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, PMA®-CPT
Director of Instruction at The Pilates Studio

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Practicing the Spins with Pilates: Facilitating Arthrokinematics to Create Movement Efficiency

The other day I was working with a client whose pelvis has a tendency towards an anterior tilt. During the session we were looking at hip flexion when she was supine (on her back), and I was teaching my client to facilitate the spins of the femur to create efficient hip flexion.  Say what???  The femur spins???  Why yes it does, in fact it also glides! When the hip flexes (thigh moves closer to torso) the femur bone spins out and glides back, and when the hip extends (Thigh moves away from the torso) the femur bone spins in and glides forward.  These are not the muscular actions of external or internal rotation of the hip, this is the way the femur bone moves in the hip socket during hip flexion and extension.  After completing this simple exercise, I asked my client to walk around the room. She seemed baffled because she knew something was different, but she couldn’t tell me what had changed.  Walking just seemed easier.

Here is a video of the exercise we started with.  The yoga belt is facilitating the spins of the thigh.

The previous video is showing the The Thigh Lift if you are practicing the Bartenieff Fundamentals, or The Dead Bug if you are practicing Pilates (The same idea in two different theories = important idea) This exercise is about moving the femur into hip flexion with as much ease as possible.   It is the basis of forward movement in gait, and if it is done efficiently in all relationships to gravity, then the knees, hips and low back will be happy campers.  This movement can be elusive in many bodies because of muscular imbalances in the pelvis. Together my client and I discovered that the yoga belt could help facilitate the movement.       

Due to the success of this simple exercise, I heard myself say, “What if we tried this?”

When I am teaching movement, “What if we tried this?” is the precursor to the most interesting solutions, and whenever I hear myself say it, I get just a little excited.  I feel the synapses connecting in my brain as information that may or may not be relevant is brought forth for consideration.  It’s during these moments between student and teacher that theories and avenues of study are synthesized into the present. It’s here that I realize no matter how many times I teach a particular exercise there will always be more ideas to investigate. 

We added the yoga belt to the Standing Leg Pump:

Then we added the yoga belt to the Scooter:

Then we added the yoga belt to the Side Splits:

At the end of the session, my client and I were flying high on the discoveries we made.  Using the yoga belt in all of these exercises allowed my client to find balance in the pelvis.  She felt release in both the front of the pelvis and low back.  She felt more powerful in her gait, and she felt more secure in all of her movement. 

Each day at The Pilates Studio people are connecting to their bodies on a cellular level and making change through movement.  On the best days, one interesting moment turns into several as the teachers at The Pilates Studio allow a wealth of knowledge to be the basis for their intuition.  The Pilates Studio becomes a living laboratory of the learning process.  We are constantly gathering anecdotal data allowing the creative process to merge with science and biomechanical fact.  “What if we tried this?” constantly weaves its way into our conversations as does, “hmmm, now that was interesting.  What if we changed the relationship to gravity and tried again?”  and now, “What if we used a yoga belt?” has been added to the list of discoveries! Wow, I love my job!!!!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, PMA® -CPT
Director of Instruction at The Pilates Studio