How to Engage Your Core?

If you have taken a Pilates class or basically any fitness class you might have heard your instructor say:

Engage your core!

But how exactly do I engage my core? And what is my core?

Well… to know how to engage your core, it is helpful to know what your core is first.

What is my core?

The core, or powerhouse, is the foundation of every exercise in Pilates and in life. The elements of the core include:

  • Transverse Abdominis (deepest abdominal layer)
  • Pelvic floor
  • Multifidius (muscle along your spine)
  • Diaphragm

The core stabilizes the spine through a complex series of interconnections between muscles and fascia.  The first link in the chain consists of one set of the deep muscles of the spine, the multifidi.  The second link in the chain, the transverse abdomens, acts like a corset to draw in the abdominal muscles and decrease the diameter of the waist.  When the transverses abdomens contracts, it creates tension on the lumbodorsal fascia which surrounds the multifidi.  The pressure of the casing against the multifidi also helps to create space between the vertebra which is called decompression or axial elongation.

The pelvic floor acts in conjunction with the diaphragm to create the top and bottom of the cylinder formed by the transverse abdomens, the spine, and the spinal muscles.  The primary purpose of the pelvic floor is to hold the contents of the abdomen up against gravity and to control what comes out and when.

Now I know what my core is. How do I engage it?

Here are some cues you of how to engage your core and they mean:

  1. “Zip up your jeans”. Standing tall with your feet firmly planted in the ground and the crown of your head reaching towards the ceiling, pull your belly in as if you are trying to squeeze into a pair of jeans that are two sizes too small.
  2. “Pull your belly button to your spine”. Lie on the floor with your knees bend and feet flat on the floor. Then place your fingertips on your hip bones and on your navel. Continue to breathe normally as you draw your navel in towards your spine and up towards your ribcage and then slightly bear down, imagine lowering the navel towards the floor.
  3. “Brace as if you are going to get punch in the stomach”. Another way to think of engaging your core is to imagine you’re bracing yourself for a punch in the stomach. No real punches necessary, but bracing during exercise can be important for reducing nagging lower back pain that can feel worse than a single punch.

Now, go ENGAGE YOUR CORE!

Exercise When Sick? Yes or No?

Your exercise routine is going great! You’re being consistent and noticing improvements in your performance and appearance…..then you start feeling sick! UGH! What should you do?

Should you skip the gym or your favorite Pilates class for a nap? Or should you power through?

Exercising When Sick? Yes or No?

The answer depends on what is going on! For example, exercising with a cold may be OK, but if you’ve got a fever, hitting the gym is a definite NO.

I like to use this simple rule, it is called the neck check.  A neck check is a way to determine your level of activity if you are feeling under the weather. If your symptoms are in the neck and above, including a sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, and watering eyes , then it’s OK to exercise. If your symptoms are below the neck, such as coughing (it comes from the chest), body aches, fever, or fatigue then it’s time to put away your gym clothes and relax until these symptoms go away.

Most important thing is to listen to your body! If you feel up to working out with a sore throat then go for it but if you start working out and you are feeling worse then give yourself the OK to stop or slow down. Not every workout needs to be high intensity. Going for a walk or taking a Yoga class are other great ways of moving your body.

Take care of your body and your body will take care of you!

Things I Want My Daughter To Know!

Things I want my Daughter to know.
1. You are STRONG. You are strong on the inside and on the outside. And remember you are stronger than you may realize.

2. Be who you are! Don’t be ashamed of your passions, interests, be friends with people like you. Don’t let anyone make you ashamed of who you are. You are 100%, you are worth it!.

3. Make friends. Be a friend. Put yourself in other people’s shoes and realize we never really know what someone may be going through. Everyone could use a friend or someone to be friendly.

4. Talk to me. You can tell my ANYTHING you are thinking, feeling, or going through. There is nothing you can say or do that will ever make me stop loving you. We may disagree but I love you unconditionally. I love you for who you are!.

5. You are BEAUTIFUL. I know I am your mom so you think my opinion doesn’t matter, but since I am your mom, it matters the most, because I know you the most! (just like what the mom said in Wonder) Beauty comes from within. It doesn’t matter how pretty on are on the outside if you are ugly on the inside. Know your worth and your value.

6. You are You. We have some things in common. We also have our differences. But you are your own person. Your path is your own and I want very much to help guide and cheer you along! You have a unique and beautiful spirit.

7. It’s not you, it’s them. Practically every time someone hurts you, it is about them. Everyone is fighting their own battles and has their unique experiences. You can not change anyone but yourself, so there is no reason worrying about things you can not change.

8. I LOVE YOU. Because I can not say it enough!! I love you just the way you are!!

Sleep and Weight Loss

I know there are many things you do every day to watch your weight. Eat healthy, workout, stay active. But what about sleep? Does sleep affect your weight loss? The short answer is YES. The better sleep you get, the better your body can recover from your workouts and you can make better food choices.

The problem lies in the lack of sleep. When you are short on sleep it can lead to a cascade of problems:

-Lack of sleep slows your metabolism down. When you are sleep deprived your body wants to hold onto resources, thus holding onto carbs and storing them as fat.

-Lack of sleep creates a fight or flight response. The hormone cortisol raises which in turns increases your appetite.

-Lack of sleep also affects your emotions thus not handling situations most effectively.

-Lack of sleep can lead to bad eating. When you are overly tired, your brain is looking for something that feels good, like comfort food. Most likely you won’t go for celery or raw broccoli.

So now that we know we need more sleep, how much sleep do we need every night? We all have different biological clocks which means we all need different amounts of sleep. Some people need 8 solid hours, where others are good on 6 hours of sleep. To know more about how much sleep you need, check out this quiz: http://thepowerofwhenquiz.com from the sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus.

Here are tips to getting a better nights sleep.

  1. Stop using laptops, iPads, and cell phones 30 minutes before you go to sleep. The light emission from these devices suppresses melatonin, the sleep hormone.
  2. Instead of counting sheep, count your breaths. Breath in for a count of 10, hold your breath for a count of 3, and exhale for a count of 10. While you are busy counting breathes, your brain will start turning off.
  3. Watch what you eat. Avoid eating heavy meals and alcohol close to bedtime, which can cause heartburn and make it hard to fall asleep.
  4. Stay away from sodas, teas, or other caffeinated beverages at least 5 hours from your bedtime as caffeine can keep you awake.
  5. Take a shower. This can help relax you and can bring your body temperature down and ready for sleep.

Here’s to a good nights sleep!!

Is Sitting the New Smoking?

How many hours did you spend sitting today? We’re sitting while you read through your emails? Playing a game on your phone? Watching your favorite TV show? Eating meals? Did you drive in your car? These are all things we do every day: sitting.

The average person sits 9-12 hours a day, 20 if you are including sleeping. Crazy!

What happens to our bodies when we sit?

Our chest muscles get tight and this causes bad posture which can lead to neck pain. You can also experience pain in the low back, hip flexors get tight, and even stiffness in the feet and ankles.

Is smoking as bad as sitting?

Smoking is pretty bad. In the early 1900s and even as little as 30 years ago, people were having horrible health problems due to smoking. And they did not know that smoking was the cause. Similarly today, many people are experiencing back pain, neck pain, and health issues that they don’t realize are being caused by sitting.

What should we do?

First, get up! Walk around! Just move more! Incorporate more movement in your day. Whether it is taking a parking spot that is father away, making sure you get up from your desk chair every hour, walk around up while talking on the phone, or get away from the TV, just move! The more you move the better you feel.

The other important thing to do stretches that counter-act the effects of sitting. Here are some great strengths to do at least 2-3 times throughout your day.

1. Lunge stretch.

Position yourself with one leg forward, knee bent and the back leg straight or resting on the knee on the ground. Be sure that the front ankle is directly under the knee and that the trailing leg is straight out behind you. Use your hands on the ground to steady the body, the gently lower the hips downward & forwards and hold that position. Repeat on the other side.

lunge stretch

2. Bridge.

Lay flat on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms to your side. Push into your feet and arms then lift your hips off the ground. Be sure to keep your ribs together and belly button in and squeeze your gluteus at the top of your bridge. Slowly lower down to ground articulating through your spine. Do 10 reps, 2-3 rounds.

Bridge

3. Chest stretch.

Interlace your hand behind your back. Pull your shoulder blades together and bring your elbows back as far as possible. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Wait 10 seconds and then repeat the stretch.

Chest Stretch

Teaser A Day Till V-Day

The Teaser A Day Till V-Day 2017 Challenge is underway!! This is the third annual Instagram Challenge where people all over the world (yes there are people other than the US that participate!!) take a photo or video February 1 through February 14 of them in a Pilates Teaser – my favorite Pilates move!!

The Pilates Teaser is an advanced Pilates move and is a challenge for me. It is one of the Pilates mat series that I really struggled with being a tall girl, in fact, I sorta hated it when I started Pilates over 11 years ago. I have more leg to hold up which requires more core strength. So I practiced and practiced this move until I fell in love with it! Am I perfect at this move? Nope. But I have grown to love a challenge and my body, imperfections and all.

I also love that this move incorporates balance, flexibility, and core strength! And so I wanted to share the Pilates teaser and help others to find their love for this move and their bodies. And what better time to do this than Valentine’s Day!!!

Get all the details on my Instagram Page – TallGirlPilates – including different variations of this move and how to win the challenge and free stuff!! It is not too late to join the fun!!

And by the way…did you notice you make a V with your body when doing a Teaser??? BONUS!!

Happy & Healthy Holidays

“My diet can start in January.” 

“I don’t have time to work out during the holidays.”

“I am too stressed to worry about my health right now.” 

These are common excuses why people put their health and fitness to the back seat during the holidays. You may have said one of these or know someone who has said this during the holidays and the statistics back this up. The “average American” gains five pounds or more over the holiday period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. And these people may or may not lose the weight.

So why do people gain weight during the holidays?

Obviously, people gain weight during the holidays because they eat more and work out less. There is more social pressure, stress, broken routines, and emotional situations.

But if you want to stay healthy, you don’t have to be a statistic. Instead, decide to make smart choices and start your New Years Resolutions in December! Make smart choices, enjoy treats consciously and in moderation. Pass them up when it is not worth it, just because there is a dessert on the table, doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Plan you workouts and don’t skip them! Think of your workouts as important meetings with yourself. You will feel better, less stressed, and be better you for yourself, your friends and family. Most importantly don’t beat yourself up! If you missed a workout or over indulged at a party, don’t worry about it. Just refocus and find balance. The holidays are a happy time! Be happy and give yourself the greatest gift – your health!