How to get Strong Abs with neck pain.

One of the common reasons people have trouble with Pilates is neck pain. Specifically neck pain when lifting the head and shoulders off the floor. Has this happened to you? Do you know why it happens? You may know that your abdominal muscles are not strong enough but do you know what you have trained your neck muscles to work too much? Bad habits over the long term, sit ups for example, teach your neck muscles to fire up every time you lift your head and shoulders off the floor. Your neck muscles “think” they are supposed to do this. You made your neck do this thousands and thousands of times.

My previous post of 3 most common mistakes in Pilates describes how to work on changing the neck muscle firing problem. This post is about progressing through Pilates exercise to strengthen your abdominals and not cause neck pain. This will get you strong enough to do the series of five, the famous 5 ab intense Pilates exercises performed back to back without rest. Hundreds, Single leg stretch, Criss cross, Double leg stretch,  & the Roll up.

There are at least 6 steps to building strength for the Series of 5.

1- Practice lifting head and shoulders off floor while hands are holding the head, neck muscles must stay relaxed, this will take time. Knees bent, feet flat on floor.

2- Once you can do #1 for 10 seconds you can start adding exercise movement while hands are holding head.

Start with #1 position then lift one knee to 90 degree angle. Put knee down, lift other knee up and down. Start with 2 reps then work up to 10 reps. Your goal is to have no neck strain after 1 set of 10 reps.

3- Once you can do #2 above, try it without holding the head. Again, start with 2 reps and rest. Work up to 10 reps without holding head.

4- Now do the second exercise listed above in the series of 5. Single leg stretch – but holding head in hands. The legs alternate with each other, one knee towards chest the other stretched straight in front of you. Work up to 10 reps.

5- Time to try placing hands on bent leg in chest, then switch legs, hands hold other leg, continue switching. Do 2 reps first then rest head down on floor. Work up to 10 reps again.

6- Once you can do 10 repetitions of the Pilates Single Leg Stretch exercise without holding head (and No neck pain!) then add the next exercise right afterward, the Criss Cross, but holding the head during the new exercise. Try to keep neck relaxed while hands are holding the head.

You will continue to add one exercise from the series of 5 in this way until you can do all 5 exercises in a row without resting AND without having neck strain.

You’ll need to practice at least 3x a week to progress. I recommend adding Hundreds last when neck strain is an issue. This exercise does come first in the series because it warms up the body by increasing circulation, but this exercise will take longer to progress in, Hundreds is also about muscle endurance.

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What is the Shape of Your Spine? Pilates Test #1

My Pilates test is here to help you understand why and how awareness of your body and its traits is important. I want you to have awareness of mobility in all your joints and all your muscles. I also want you to have control over all your movements in exercise and in daily life. 

You might know how stiff you are first thing in the morning, but do you know if all your joints are equally stiff in the morning? Are all of your muscles, connective tissue and fascia equally stiff and tight? Is it really your back that is stiff or is it your thigh muscles that are tight causing stiffness in the back? Is it really your low back that is stiff or is it the upper back that is so rounded forward that it causes low back pain?

All of these questions can be answered once you have awareness of your own body as a result of my Pilates test.

The picture for Pilates test #1 is of the main categories that spinal alignments fall into. Each person’s spine is either ideal, kyphotic, lordotic or sway back generally. (Sway back not pictured)

Ideal= Right amount of spinal curve in the right places front to back

Kyphotic= Exaggerated curve in upper back

Lordotic= Exaggerated curve in low back

Sway back= Pelvis is pushed forward, in front of ribcage. Hyperextended knees usually accompany this misalignment.

There are many times that the above positions are mixed with each other. These misalignments are separate from scoliosis. Scoliosis can be be found with any of the above alignments.

How is this important?

If you have a lordotic lumber spine (low back) then certain muscles in front of pelvis and thighs are shortened too much and certain muscles in back of pelvis and thighs are lengthened too much. The musculature is out of balance, Pilates exercise addresses these specific imbalances. 

Why is this important?

Some pain issues you might have are probably the result of not doing anything about these imbalances over the years. Even if you’ve been exercising regularly. Exercise by itself doesn’t guarantee good postural alignment.

Melt Method is used in tandem with exercise routines to keep bringing back hydration to your tissues which makes it possible  for your spine to come back to ideal alignment.

Even though you might not be able to bring the spine back to alignment in a few weeks or a few months it is imperative that you know where you are starting from and then diligently work on improving it. You will automatically increase body awareness, body mobility and have more control over your body.

For one to one coaching with me email me or DM me on Instagram

Part 2 Pilates home workout, Most Common Mistakes

Part 1 blog post covered the first 2 common mistakes in Pilates form and technique. Now I write about the 3rd most common mistake, hand & wrist placement when in position on all fours (on hands & knees or hands & toes).

Fix common mistake #3

Do your wrists hurt after being on your hands and knees?

Wrist exercises: on hands and knees (or against a wall if needed) lean body weight in all directions forward, backward, left, right, and circling. Then do this with hands turned at different angles. Fingers turned in, turned out, try as many angles as you can. Please try to keep elbows straight. Video on Instagram cosmik_fitness

There are a couple reasons for wrist pain. First, you probably don’t do exercise on the floor on your hands on a regular basis. This is easily fixed by gradually spending more time in this position in plank, side plank and cat. 

The second reason is lack of flexibility at the wrist joint, I see this usually in older adults. As we age our joints and tissues tend to become less flexible or mobile. Passive stretching your wrists can help some. Leaning on your hands and wrists is the most effective way to increase range and mobility. You just need to do it gradually. 

So how do you fix common mistakes? Practice. 

Pick one of the above common mistakes and make it a project. Every time you do your Pilates workout consciously make your body attempt to improve it. You might think that’s enough, not yet!  Try to incorporate it into 2 or 3 other Pilates exercises to improve your project. That means spend 5 minutes on an exercise that forces you to work on the common mistake you selected.

I guarantee that this method done gradually and moderately will improve common mistakes you might make and turn it into proper Pilates technique. 

For one to one coaching with me email me or DM me on Instagram

Part 1 Pilates workout at home, Most Common Mistakes

I’m sure you are already doing regular workouts at home. This post will help with your Pilates workouts at home.

Our upended lives have created new daily routines. To me these new routines are a reminder that each person has to take responsibility for their own health and wellness. Time to figure out what you CAN do for yourself (instead of can’t do). 

You can control what you eat, how to stay safe and when to exercise. Let’s use this “safe at home” time to make exercise a natural automatic habit. Maybe you’re at just 1x a week workout. Good! After 3 weeks let’s make it 2x a week. You get the idea. And there’s a Big Yes to: Can you do a workout every day? But, maybe a couple of those workouts include more stretching. 

Bottom line, make a small commitment that is successful and then build upon on it. The tips in this post will help you get the most out of your Pilates workouts at home by pointing out common mistakes to watch for. 

These are the 3 most common mistakes in the Pilates form.

Keeping neutral in an abdominal curl, 

Keeping shoulders down, 

Hand/wrist placement on all fours.

These 3 things have something in common, they require you to control your body.  Pilates exercise is specifically for teaching or training the body how to perform more efficiently. 

This post will cover the #1 & #2. Next post will cover #3.

Neutral position takes a while to master. Neutral position does not feel “natural” because the body takes the easiest (or laziest) way to move, always.

What happens when you lie on your back?

Lie down with legs and arms stretched out. Your back will pop off the floor in an exaggerated arch. Bring the knees up…  and the body will flatten the low back to carry the load, while the ribcage will still lift off the floor. 

Just because this automatically happens doesn’t mean it’s supposed to. Especially during your workout routine. 

Fix common mistake #1:

When on your back in a Pilates workout keep neutral spine position by practicing it with feet on floor and knees bent.

Tailbone stays in contact with floor and back of ribcage stays in contact with floor. There should be a small space under the low back. Practice holding this while you lift your head and shoulders off the floor. Master this and the entire ab series will give you the abs you’ve been dreaming of. Video of this is on my instagram cosmik_fitness

Fix common mistake #2 

Shoulders are not earrings! Keep your neck visible by practicing holding the shoulders down during your Pilates workout. 

It’s easy with this teaching exercise. Place your fingers on the wall right in front of your shoulders, move shoulders up then press them down 5-10 seconds. Now move fingers up on wall at eye level, shoulders up then down, hold 5-10 seconds.

Now raise fingers above head (shouldn’t hurt). This is harder, but doable. Shoulders up then down and hold again.

You might notice as the fingers go higher that the ribcage will start to push forward making the back arch, Avoid this! Keep breathing (Pilates breathing) & keep front ribs pulled in and deliberately hold shoulders down as you inhale. Video on instagram Thrashy50

If the shoulders are up then the neck muscles are worked and shortened. This can cause neck pain and headaches. Use the muscles around and under the shoulder blade and this will connect the shoulder girdle to the abdominal wall of muscles. 

Shoulders down literally means “working from your core”. The shoulder girdle will become more stable and your abs will work harder and therefore get stronger. The hardest position to keep the shoulders down is any exercise where the arms raise higher than the shoulders. 

So how do you fix common mistakes? Practice. 

Pick one of the above common mistakes and make it a project. Every time you do your Pilates workout consciously make your body attempt to improve it. You might think that’s enough, not yet!  Try to incorporate it into 2 or 3 other Pilates exercises to improve your project. That means spend 5 minutes on an exercise that forces you to work on the common mistake you selected.

I guarantee that this method done gradually and moderately will improve common mistakes you might make and turn it into proper Pilates technique. 

For one to one coaching with me email me or DM me on Instagram

Breathing & Pilates

Conscious breathing is its own exercise. Especially Pilates breathing, it takes practice and focus. How deep is your breath? Right now the world collectively has its shoulders up around its ears taking shallow breaths. We are all very stressed, understandably.

It is even more important now to listen and notice your own personal breathing. Does your neck feel tight? Is it hard to relax? I’m noticing these things in myself too. If you meditate regularly it’s probably easy for you to sit and focus on breathing. I’m not one of those people yet.

You might think that deep breathing is a scary thing right now with a contagious virus running amuck. The opposite is true. Not only do rib muscles get exercised during focused breathing, but signals get sent to the nervous system that increase feelings of calm and relaxation. This diminishing stress helps support your immune system which of course will help you fight off any viruses or bacteria. 

I use exercise to focus on breathing and letting go of stress. Breathing is an integral part of Pilates. We generally use the exhale to help stabilize the torso while doing a movement and the inhale to connect with the back of your lungs, an underutilized area. Pilates breath is this: inhale with the nose and exhale through the mouth. 

The most important part of breathing in Pilates is connecting the breath to the movement. Inhaling helps certain types of movement and the exhale helps other types of movement. If you follow your instructor’s directions you’ll know when the inhale and exhale should be.

The issue that comes up again and again in my clients is consistently using the breath with the movements. They start the movement or exercise with correct breathing but then give in to the fatigue they are feeling. The breathing turns into an aerobic type where the mouth is open and air is being sucked in the through the mouth or they hold their breath when they should be inhaling and then gasp when the rep is over. This is inefficient breathing and the air will only reach the top part of the lungs, in other words shallow breathing.

I’ve found that the key to connecting breath to movement is focusing on the inhale. Practice feeling the dimensions of the lungs inside the ribcage by keeping your mouth closed while inhaling. You will automatically feel your lungs fill up more fully, accessing the sides and back of your lungs. 

The breathing in Pilates is not easy, Pilates usually has challenging choreography while handling equipment plus breathing that has to match the movement.  

The better you are at inhaling at the right time following Pilates principles the more you’ll get out of the exercise. The better you’ll feel and the better your immune system will be.

Here is an article on Healthline if you want to try another types of breathing exercises.

Breathing Exercises

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