Striving for the best you can be through Pilates: Part I
The Rio Olympics continue to spark dinner conversations in our family. There is just something about hearing the stories of people who devoted so much of their lives to their dream of being an Olympian. Their enthusiasm fills me with a desire to continue to pursue my own dreams.
Achieving our dreams Perhaps a dream we all share is to be the best that we can be, physically, mentally and emotionally. The Olympians are on a quest to master each of those elements –and, something I had not realized is how many have turned to Pilates to do exactly that. Of course, Pilates is not just for Olympians, athletes or dancers. It’s for all of us who want the integrated mind-body connection –and to retain the strength and flexibility of our youth for as long as we can!
Let’s Take a Deeper Dive
To delve into the topic I interviewed Kerry Gonzales, Pilates Instructor at Fitness Matters, about this. Kerry has a long list of certifications including as a Certifying Instructor –Trainer in Pilates. She is at a high level of mastery. Here is how our conversation went:
Me: I was a competitive athlete and tried Pilates at one point, but it hurt me. Could it be that some people just aren’t meant to do Pilates?
Kerry: Athletes tend to hyper-develop the certain sets of muscles they are using over and over to gain the strength and endurance for their sport. Pilates helps balance that out because Pilates is a safe, full body training program that engages lesser-used muscles to enhance your body’s core muscles. This helps to improve your physical power, and at the same time it improves your dynamic flexibility to prevent injuries. So, if you were having pain, you were probably engaging the wrong muscles. A good instructor will observe you and interact with you so that the exercises mesh with your present capabilities.
Me: Well, that would help explain it. I was in a popular class with a lot of other people and the instructor just stayed on her mat showing us what we were to do. She didn’t really pay attention to us as individuals. And, as a result of that experience I thought that is how Pilates is done.
Kerry: In fact it is your instructor’s responsibility to really observe you and interact with you so you are at the right level of challenge and safety.
You Deserve An Experienced Instructor
Me: I see that now. At the time I desperately tried to keep up with the instructor and others in the class.
Kerry: Your story makes me upset with instructors who don’t take their responsibility seriously. For some people Pilates is just fad, a cool thing to do. And, it is cool and enjoyable, but it’s a powerful method, and everyone deserves an instructor who really understands that.
The important thing is to find out before the class if the instructor-to client-ratio is low enough to support good feedback and proper technique for every participant. The right instructor can help you feel (not just see) the movements you are doing. This consciousness, this heightened sense of awareness, helps you be in sync with your body.
Me: So, I can see that feedback and feeling/seeing would help with the mind-body element.
Next month I’ll share more of the interview with Kerry. Until then, I hope you will reflect on the importance of your mind-body connections.
You, Pilates, and your life: Part II
I believe that at some level, we are all on a quest to integrate mind, body, and spirit. It is good work, as they say. Pilates has helped many people do that good work. And, so with the Rio Olympics still fresh in my mind, I did a Google search and discovered numerous past and present Olympians –and professional athletes– have used Pilates to learn to integrate their breathing, strength, flexibility, body control and kinesthetic awareness –to integrate mind/body. They span the sports of swimming, tennis, track and field, cycling, golf, skiing, baseball, basketball and football, and include: Lolo Jones, Kerri Walsh, Misty May Treanor, David Boudia, Dana Vollmer and others.
Some Mysteries of Pilates –Explained!
I want to continue sharing the interview I had with Kerry Gonzales, Pilates Instructor at Fitness Matters, about this. Kerry has a long list of certifications including as a Certifying Instructor –Trainer in Pilates. She is at a high level of mastery. Here is how our conversation went:
Me: I was wondering about if it’s better to do Pilates mat classes or to use the Pilates equipment like the “Reformer” or “Cadillac”?
Kerry: Both mat and equipment-based Pilates programs are based on Joseph Pilates’ principles of breath control, muscle elongation and core stability to achieve a balance of strength, flexibility and mobility.
Me: Is there a preference though for using Pilates equipment –say over using a mat?
Kerry: The equipment brings a wider spectrum of routines to help you gain strength and endurance. And, it gives the instructor more options to modify the exercises. For example, the leg straps on the Reformer allow you to move through a wider range of motion with support. That means your instructor can help you go further –safely –than you might achieve on a mat.
Me: I read some advice from Sara Meeks, PT, MS, GCS, that if you have been diagnosed with Osteoporosis you need to be careful with the mat classes as they have multiple exercises that tend to push your spine into too much flexion –and therefore could cause damage.
Kerry: Meeks is correct about that, which is why the best Pilates instructors are highly trained and pay close attention to the unique condition of every individual client.
Me: Meeks also points out that the benefits are huge for improving a person’s spinal elongation via Pilates but that the Pilates instructor needs to be knowledgeable about low bone density modifications.
Kerry: I agree 100%. There is no substitute for knowledge and experience.
Pilates and Everyday Life –in every walk of life
Me: You were a dancer in New York City and now a Pilates teacher and Mom of two beautiful children. How has Pilates helped you across all phases of your life?
Kerry: I have kept up my Pilates routines through the years because I enjoy them so much! And they have practical benefits, too. As a dancer, the routines helped me meet the rigorous demands on my body and to avoid injuries common to dancers. While pregnant, I was able to stay strong and mobile to prepare me for labor. After delivery, the routines enabled me to get my body back quickly. Now, in my post-dancer life, Pilates helps me to carry out my day-to-day activities without the aches and pains that I would otherwise have from my active life. And, it is a serenity break and brings me emotional balance.
Living the Dream
I learned a lot from my conversation with Kerry. Dreams for whole body health are reachable and Pilates may hold the key to opening that door. Just make sure you find a qualified instructor who can get you there safely.
If you have a child who plays sports, then you share my excitement for them when they play the game. You probably also share my apprehension about injuries. I recently witnessed one of my daughter’s teammates tear her ACL in a soccer game in a non-contact play. It was heart wrenching. In fact, this caused me to look at the latest research for ways to prevent this from happening to my child and to other children.
The Research Is Revealing
My daughter’s teammate is not alone. There are nearly 150,000 ACL injuries in the U.S. each year (American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine). 70% of those are non-contact injuries involving landing or cutting. Females are 2-8 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than males. Worse still: 1 in 4 go on to have another knee injury later.
One study (American Journal of Sports Medicine, 2014) looked at re-injury rates in 750 people after 5 years and found that of the 561 people who finished the study, 4.5% had their graft repairs tear and 7.5% tore the ACL in the other knee. What I found most disturbing is that the highest incidence of further injury occurred in the people who had their first surgery before 20 years of age!
I looked at several studies going back 15 years. They all conclude about the same things when it comes to injury prevention: a program of education, strength, flexibility, sport specific agility drills and plyometrics [aka: jump training] help to prevent injuries.
You might well ask: If we know that is the case, then why haven’t we taken the recommended actions to reduce the number of injuries –the rate of which are basically unchanged in the past 10 years? There are a number of reasons, and perhaps one of them is because we parents assume this is part of the coach’s job.
Truth be told, though, we really expect coaches to focus on technical training –that will help our children gain proficiency and expertise. Sure, they want to reduce injuries, too, but they can’t do it all and most don’t have degrees in injury prevention. So, if the coach can’t do it, who can? Well, if you are lucky enough to have a certified athletic trainer at your school, that helps. But for me, the “aha!” from the research is that injury prevention falls first and foremost on my shoulders as a parent.
What a Parent Can Do –And Should Not Try Do
To get a better handle on what I can do, I spoke with Kyle Sweeney, Personal Trainer and Performance/Fitness Consultant at Fitness Matters. Kyle worked with collegiate lacrosse, soccer, tennis and football players at the University of Pittsburg and Northwestern University. He told me that your child athlete’s best training tool is BODY AWARENESS. “Learning how to decelerate and land from a jump are just some of the important skills to learn that can help with performance and safety,” Kyle explained.
The research backs this up.
There are various screening tools to assess an athlete’s ability to hop from a box, jump and land. Athletes who have poor control or have asymmetries right to left were correlated with greater injury risk. (Chorbe et al N AmJ Sorts Phys Ther 2010; Padue et al AJSM 2009).
Kyle’s pre-season program is a progressive one starting with teaching body control in static positions, progressing to linear jumping drills and plyometrics. Then, the young athletes are taught to apply the learned techniques to deceleration activities in their sport, while all along maximizing strength and joint range of motion. This type of program needs to be ongoing to be effective (Padue et al AJSM 2012) and typically works best if done 2-3 times per week pre- season and 1 time per week in season.
Mind and Body Make the Winning Combination
So why can’t we just give our children a packet of drills to do on their own or take them to the gym ourselves? After all, I was a pretty good athlete in my day… Well, one reason is psychological. They need to understand the serious purpose of the activities and be 100% committed to what they are learning and doing. One way to do that is to work with a professional.
The second reason is about what is known as “motor memory”. Form is everything and it takes a trained eye to recognize and teach form, such as good landing mechanics and deceleration skills so that they become a part of motor memory. The bottom line is: If your child practices good jump-landing techniques s/he may have better form and motor memory to handle knee joint loading forces (Meyer et al. Am J Sports Med 2013).
As we head into fall and winter sports, let’s give our kids the best opportunity for an injury free season. I urge you to do what I’m doing: seek out a body awareness/training professional who can teach them to stay in the game they love!
There IS something you can do about the pain!
A patient came to see me a few weeks ago who suffered with pelvic pain for 27 weeks during her pregnancy thinking, “There is nothing I can do about it.” Turns out she is not alone. Many women think lower back (LBP) and pelvic girdle pain (PGP) are just one of the many blessings of pregnancy.
The Fitness Matters team is excited to welcome Kyle Sweeney to the team! Kyle earned his Bachelor of Science at the University of Toledo with a focus in Health Preparation Human Performance. After college Kyle spent time at both the University of Pittsburgh and Northwestern University helping to train and strengthen the University athletes.
Please read his full bio here for more info.
The Fitness Matters Team is excited to introduce our newest team member, Holly
Holly earned her BS in both Physical Therapy and Exercise Science at The Ohio State University. Since graduating, her experience has primarily been in outpatient orthopedics treating a variety of injuries from low back pain to post operative patients. She provides treatment focusing on hands-on manual therapy and exercise based programs. Therapy, in combination with other services offered at Fitness Matters, will help patients reach their full potential. As a two time Boston Marathon finisher, Holly takes a special interest in running related injuries. Encouraging patients to believe in themselves and fully participate in their rehab program is key to a successful outcome and a healthy lifestyle.