We Can Work It Out (Or Can We?): The Pros and Cons of Working Out Through an Injury

August 27, 2009

By Jennifer Farthing of the BuddhaBabes

It’s been a busy summer for both of us BuddhaBabes, but especially for me. My finance and I eloped in Provence in July, had a reception with the family in August, and have a party with friends in NYC coming up in September–so it’s hardly the time to skip working out! That said, I battled a hamstring pull earlier in the summer, and because I didn’t take time to rest it, I ended up with a nasty case of sciatica. Once the worst of it was over, I got back to working out, but I was far from back to normal.

That was hard. Not the painful injury so much, but the taking a step back from my usual level of activity at a fairly advanced level. My regimen (or was it my vanity?) dictated that I maintain my visits to the gym and studio no matter how I felt. The teacher in me knew that I should rest and/or modify like crazy or risk even greater downtime. My inner yogi backed that up and told me to fight the ego-urge to muscle through it. But still, I overextended myself. And predictably, I hurt myself even more.

Then I came to my senses. I modified. I slowed down. And guess what? When I did my Hundred with bent knees, I curled higher–and I felt it more, right in my core. When I made my Leg Circles smaller, I worked my transverse abs and extended through my psoas, feeling that long, lean line. My Cobra was smaller, but my lowest belly was decidedly uplifted—feeling that deep ab work where it counts. Since I couldn’t run, my hips relaxed and I felt greater flexibility on my Side-Lying exercises. My posture in the exercises improved, my face was not tense. My bad habits, like holding my breath in Teaser (yes, even teachers have their moments), melted as I calmly maintained my bent-leg version longer and better than ever. I ignored the perfect straight legs next to me and focused on the right posture for me, right now, in the summer 2009. (Noting that it, too, would pass.)

The take-away: When you are hurt, it never hurts to check in on your form. Take a break from the full or advanced pose. Straight legs and the highest curl are fantastic goals, but when it’s not right for you, listen to your body and grant yourself permission to take it down a notch.

If your lower body has a twinge, an ache or a pull, focus on your neck, shoulders and collar bones–eliminate the tension from your face, drop your shoulders away from your ears, relax and re-engage those back muscles–and concentrate on the top part of your body when the lower part is sore.

If you have pain in your neck, rotator or along the back, be even more careful. Favoring one side can make matters worse. Consider a break from the machines and the mat, and if the weather outside is fine, get out there and walk, if it feels right. There’s plenty of time to get back to your exercise regimen. If you’ve been doing Pilates for a while, you won’t lose your strength while you recover. Harness that strength, be well, and come back better than ever. You’ll thank yourself later for the break, trust us.


Working Your Backbone

August 14, 2009

After reading my first blog, a student wrote me—and gave me the hugest compliment. She said that I had worked so hard to be a good person and that I only deserved the best. I can honestly say that Pilates has helped me along my path to becoming the type of woman that I admire. Every time I take a mat class or a get on a Reformer and connect with my deeper internal core, I feel like I’m somehow strengthening more than just my physical self. I find that through my practice, I have become more in touch with all aspects of myself.


I take a private with one of the best teachers I know—a friend who I met in acting class years ago. Carey has a second sense about her, and she really knows how to push my buttons and make me dig deeper to really access places that are stuck or even a little dead. She’s helping me wake up my lower-back region, which gives me the backbone to be able to speak the truth and be honest in my relationships. In the past, I’ve often let myself morph into my significant other. I’d become more like the man I was dating and lose sight of my individuality and eventually, I’d start to feel depressed. Thanks to Pilates and my work with Carey, I now have that strong backbone and I’m able to remain true to myself while still growing and developing alongside another person. That person, of course, is Tim and he’s so open and ready to discuss things—and he truly allows me to be myself.

Here’s an exercise that I do with Carey to get in touch with those deep lower-back muscles: Sit tall with your legs extended out in front of you and really try to access your pelvic floor muscles. Imagine closing an elevator door at your pelvic floor and then let it rise up each floor as you hollow out your low belly and keep growing taller out of your lower back. Slowly lift your arms up until they are reaching the ceiling, alongside your ears, and then turn your palms toward each other. Do the very best you can to soften your chest, and keep drawing your front ribs back in space to gain strength in your back body. (I’ll write more about this in my next blog and how softening my heart region in Pilates has helped me in so many ways as well.) Turn to your right as far as you can and then pulse back 10 times, making tiny twists. Turn forward and repeat on your left side.

This exercise had a profound effect on how I carry myself and it has also slimmed the back region of my waist. Not only do I have a backbone and more confidence, I now have a sexy back, too.

Your Best Foot Forward

August 6, 2009

By Kathryn Ross-Nash

Bunions, fallen arches, curled-up toes, plantar fasciitis and the rest of your foot disorders: watch out, ’cause there’s an old tool in town. It’s called the Foot Corrector, and it has been reforming and refreshing tired, achy feet for decades. The little device that looks like what you might find in a shoe store to measure your feet really gets the circulation going, courtesy of the genius of Joseph H. Pilates. Whether you’re beginning from the bottom up (at the start of a lesson) or using the Foot Corrector as a sweet ending the choice is yours–either way, you win.

The Foot Corrector offers a multitude of benefits. For thousands of years people around the world have enjoyed the benefits of Reflexology. Well, the Foot Corrector takes it a step further by increasing ankle stability, flexibility, alignment and propulsion. It uses the pressure of the pedal to massage the bottom of the foot and increase circulation. This massaging action also helps to break up knots deep in the foot. The lateral movement of the pedal detects if the user’s alignment is imbalanced and allows you to find where your correct alignment is. The Foot Corrector will develop ankle stability and flexibility through isolation. It is often used to help develop speed for an athlete and the arch jump of the dancer. At the end of the day, it just plain feels great!

Here is my favorite exercise to become refreshed and revitalized from the bottom up.

If you do not have a Foot Corrector, fear not: you can get almost-similar results using a tennis ball or other smallish squishy ball.

Body Position: Front leg bent and back leg straight. Arms behind your head, palm on palm. Be sure to scoop your tummy and keep your box square and you shift your weight onto the pedal.

Begin with your heel on the back edge and ball on the pedal.

Press the pedal and keeping the pedal straight and pressure even, slide the foot over the pedal.

Slide from the ball of the foot to the arch.

Then slide from the arch to the heel. Remember to keep the pedal straight and pressure even.

Return by reversing the slide and repeat 5-10 times.

Note: A sock is recommended to increase the slide.

Exercise Inspiration

July 22, 2009

By Shari Berkowitz

Your Facebook status update says, “I just have no inspiration to work out. Can’t I just sit on the couch and have more chocolate instead?” The truth is that it’s ok to sit on the couch with more chocolate if…if you are a regular exerciser. If you’re not, though, you’ve got to get off the couch and get into a class!

How do you get inspiration if you’re not naturally inspired? Well, first you need to find value in it—in exercise itself. Which I believe means you have to find value in you.

Whoa: a big subject! You’ve got to find value in yourself to get up and make yourself exercise. Time was, once, that we all hunted and gathered, ran after the kids, cleaned the cave and escaped the saber-toothed tiger. Exercise was a part of everyday life. But today that’s not the case at all. The hunting and gathering is done on the farm by equipment, the nanny’s with the kids who are sitting behind their X-Box, the maid is cleaning with a vacuum, and the saber-toothed tiger is long gone. So we’ve got to make time for exercise, make time for ourselves—and do it as though it and you are important.

One hundred percent of our body and mind was designed to make us move or fuel that movement. That’s right: 100 percent. That little part of your mind that helps you cognitively think is there so you can think better and move away faster from that saber-toothed tiger. Once you realize that you were born to move, it might become easier to get out and do that for at least an hour a day (and when you’re doing Pilates, it’s only 55 minutes).

Here’s a tip that always works for me: schedule your workouts. Put it in your day planner and keep your schedule. If you’re not good at keeping these appointments, then you’ve got to have someone else on the other end waiting for you. Book a workout with a trainer, or, if that’s not in the budget, schedule it with a friend so you will work out together. Make sure you’re accountable for that hour—accountable to your friend and to yourself.

Remember: Working out isn’t punishment. It’s a gift you give yourself. You’re giving yourself the gift of good health. Think about all the negative things you say to yourself each day; why not do this one thing that is positive all around? You’ll feel great about yourself, your endorphins will be flowing which will make you feel incredible and you’ll look better…it’s positive all around.

An important thing to get good at is setting attainable goals. If you’re not used to exercising, start slowly. How about adding one Pilates session to your weekly routine for a month? Then, on the second month, congratulate yourself by giving yourself the gift of a second Pilates session a week. Eventually bump it up to three sessions a week. They don’t have to all be private sessions: why not a private, a semi-private and a mat class? Feeling so good in your body might naturally inspire to you to start walking more: at first maybe 20 minutes, then 30, then 40 at a time twice a week. This is a fantastic exercise schedule. I bet you can do this for yourself. What a gift!

Then the day will come—in the not-so-distant future—when you no longer want to sit on the couch and have more chocolate… There is no guilt, there is no embarrassment on Facebook. Instead, you write a status update that says, “I’ve been exercising like never before. And now I want some extra chocolate…and I’m gonna have it because I’ve earned it!”

Putting the work back in your workout

July 20, 2009

By Kathryn Ross-Nash

A few days ago I was teaching a group of clients who had been students for many years. Instead of suffering through the Hundred…they looked comfortable. COMFORTABLE IN THE HUNDRED! That’s when I realized that they had gotten so strong that the goal position was no longer enough to challenge them; they would have to learn to create the challenge within their own bodies.

The Pilates method is based on creating oppositional forces in the body radiating from a strong center. This means the work is never-ending if you know how to create these opposing forces. Obviously we could spend hours (months!) discussing how to do that, correctly and efficiently, in great detail. But in a nutshell, here are four ways to create opposing forces:

1. Squeeze the juice out of an exercise: As you move through flexion and extension (the basis of the work), push the limits of the movement. For example, in Double-Leg Stretch, as you extend, reach as far as you can between your fingers and toes, make the waist and long and strong as possible. Then, when you bring the arms and legs in, make the ball as small as possible.

2.Pick a principle: Each time you teach, pick one of the six fundamental principles to be the focus of thworkout. You’ll be amazed at what happens. For example, the workout changes when you focus on fluidity instead of precision. The dynamics change when you concentrate on breath or centering (that all comes from the powerhouse). The challenge is different when you bring your full concentration (awareness to everything you are doing) to the work and when you focus on the control over the body and do not allow gravity or momentum to take over. Different Principle: different workout; different muscular response, full benefit of the work!

3. Mix it up: Change the rhythm of your work. For example, on the Single-Leg Stretch, play with the counts. Hold each position 4 counts 2 times, 3 counts 2 times, 1 count 2 times.

4. Alter your attention: Always engage your powerhouse first and align your box second: but then what? Some days focus on keeping the waist long in all your exercises, other days focus on using your bottom or engaging the back of your legs. The possibilities are endless.

Above all else, keep the work in your workout! That is how after 26 years of practice and 18 years of teaching I have never had a moment of boredom in the studio.