I'm hoping that you have been following along with Dan's Journey on my blog. If you haven't you should give it a read- it's mainly about motivation so far, and making changes in your life. But for me, this work with Dan has made me realize that I haven't been adequately documenting my clients' progress over the years. This time, I am going into a specific 12 week program where it will be viewed by the public, and I want to show documented, quantifiable progress. I regularly observe changes week by week with my clients, but I rarely make notes and give verbal feedback, or indeed, even give specifics in my conversations with them after classes. This time, I want to put more of it down on paper, so that's why I am adding my thoughts to Dan's blog this week.
From my perspective, I have seen Dan improve a measurable amount even with only 4 total hours of Pilates over the last 3 weeks.
The three things I have observed most visibly are:
1. His breathing capacity and control
2. His core strength
3. His knee and ankle flexibility
He mentioned on our first session that he recently quit smoking. I could see that the breathing we were doing was challenging for him right away. In our fourth session I can see deeper and longer breathing - possibly more awareness of breath and a bit more of a relaxed posture in the shoulders and chest which allows this to happen. I'm quite used to seeing this with my clients because I make breath a real priority in my classes, so they practice the whole time we are together. More practice = quicker progress with breathing deeply and evenly, and connecting breath to movement and muscle engagement.
Fortunately, we can measure base core strength with a simple exercise- the plank. I have been asking Dan to do an all fours plank exercise every time we meet for a session. His first week, he held it for 3 breaths. The second week, for 5 breaths. The third week, he did 8 breaths. Again, this is something I have observed with both myself and my clients. Breath by breath, we improve our time each time we try. The challenge soon will be to slow the breaths too!
Dan has knee problems from a past injury and I observed in our first session an imbalanced knee and ankle alignment. He has been doing wall assisted squats in my sessions and I observed a real improvement in our last session- he was able to squat to a lower level, and it was smoother and more controlled.
I've observed other small changes such as a bit more balance and a tiny bit more flexibility in the torso. However, I can't give a measurable result for these yet. My job is to see what is working, what isn't, and make adjustments accordingly. After 3 weeks I am feeling more confident about what we need to work on, and pleased to see his progress.
So- Keep it up, Dan! Add that extra session in if you can this week. If not, I'm sure we will get there soon :)
Old Man Starts Exercising, Writes Blog
Part 3: 5 Reasons Why I Can't Do Pilates
“Did you get a chance to do Pilates this week, Dan,” asks Diane, the Compassionate Body Pilates instructor as she comes through my door.
“No”, I say and immediately begin excusing myself for not holding up my end of the bargain. She is all business, preparing the equipment as I catch myself apologizing.
“I’m really busy”, I say - not believing what is coming out of my mouth. Then before I know it, the hour is over and I am supine.
There is no place better than being stretched out on your back. Breathing.
Week Three. I have already missed two classes. I have to have a word with myself.
Diane is providing me with one-on-one sessions. I can’t express enough how I look forward to the end of the workweek when I book early on Friday afternoons for Pilates. Plus I get a studio session with a small group.
It’s my end of the bargain to do 1 or 2, forty-five minute sessions every week, in the meantime. And I haven’t done it.
My struggle, as I sense my first improvements in motion balance and stamina, isn’t scheduling a time. I can do that. I schedule times, all the time. Say:Sunday morning. See?
I like the workout. It is pretty clear that I do. Am I just lazy?
Whatever the excuse, the point is that Diane, in asking me to write the Blog is expecting that I put the effort in to help make the program work. Because making the program work for me would, ostensibly make for a better blog.
Oh, how I rationalize. And I haven’t even started about self-interest as a motivator.
It is even worse to think about being non-compliant when it is against my self-interest. To avail myself of a dedicated trainer and instruction in a new exercise regime is a good thing to do and it will be over by Christmas.
So that is my struggle. I can’t seem to work in the 1 or 2, forty-five minute sessions every week.
I had hoped that writing about my missed opportunities to practice before a class would help me deal with why I am non-compliant.
I think it has.
By Dan Willis
P.S. From Diane:
I have been truly enjoying working with Dan through the first 3 weeks of the Post-Rehab Pilates Intensive Program. I always find it refreshing to work with someone who has a good sense of humour, isn't afraid to make mistakes, and truly wants to learn. His blogs are honest, thoughtful, and quite entertaining. I do of course want him to do the extra session on his own but, like anything, this is a process and there are always issues that crop up. My son, for example - he keeps me from my plans for the day with remarkable consistency. You just have to move on and be happy with what you actually managed to accomplish, otherwise you'd be terribly unhappy all the time ;-) I'm already seeing progress from Dan and I plan to write about it this week- stay tuned to hear more!
So I've started running again.
If my mother reads this, she will probably freak out. (NOT AGAIN! Didn't you learn your lesson all those other times you tried?!?)
I come from a family of bad knees, caused by ill fitting patellas. I've had runners knee on and off over the years. More seriously, I tore the meniscus in my right knee about 4 years ago- just as I was about to start training to become a Pilates teacher. I travelled to Birmingham for my first weekend of practical training and I could barely walk. I spent almost all my time in my hostel room bed, reading. I took a taxi to the training centre and hobbled about... I felt like such a joke. Fortunately, Pilates can be modified for every injury... it's true! So I was still able to participate the in training that weekend. :-)
But I keep coming back to running. I started when I was in my mid-twenties, off and on until 4 years ago when I truly stopped.
Here's the 2 main reasons why I love running:
I prefer to run outdoors, in a beautiful place. A nice day is even better, but even rain is ok. I've been fortunate to live near beautiful trails and rivers with paths, so I almost always run there. It feels so free in my head when I am jogging outside- I am simply looking at the world, and smelling the scents, and feeling the air on my skin. This picture is from my running route in Norwich, beside the river. So beautiful there. :-)
2. Measured cardio endurance.
I am not a fast runner. Seriously, I am super slow. My crowning achievement was running 5km in 28 minutes. Anyone who runs seriously would laugh at how slow that is! But I measure my time- from my first run wearing old track pants and a t-shirt, armed with a digital watch, I timed how long I could jog without stopping. That first time, I ran 1 minute and walked 1 minute. But the most amazing thing happens when you run and time yourself- you can run for longer EVERY TIME you go out. There's something so satisfying about running for 28 minutes straight when you worked up from 1 minute 6 weeks ago. (Incidentally, I'm only up to 5 minutes right now!)
I am taking it real easy this time around. No pushing too fast and too far without testing out the knee first with short runs. I've been pleased to note that I have no aches in my knee either during or afterwards. I credit this to my recent post-rehab protocols training with Body Harmonics. I took away so much from their hip and knee course, and I created a series of exercises specifically for my knee. Every time I do Pilates, I include about 8 minutes of specific exercises for my knees. So it's ok Mom, this time, I know what I'm doing! Maybe experience and knowledge can conquer all?
Do you love to run? Please share in the comments why you love it! Happy running to you :-)
Old Man starts Exercising, Writes Blog.
Part 2: This is Just for Me.
There is lots of “stuff” that surrounds taking care of your self. The media and self help gurus are quick to tell you that you don’t quite cut it and with just a little more effort (or one of their gadgets or new info just released) you can be a better person.
Listening to that chatter doesn’t have the effect they think it does. I have never been motivated by some stranger telling me to eat healthier, exercise more and be more mindful. As a matter of fact, those messages come at me with such amazing frequency and zeal that they sound like the propaganda of a despotic ruler. I call it the Tyranny of the health industry.
My healthiest days were when I was in training for league soccer. Starting in March and working out until September we would go twice a week for training plus 14 weeks of matches and play-offs, if we were lucky. I loved that.
Then from October to February, I continued riding a bike or when I was living in the Snow Belt, cross-country skiing. Solitary pleasures that get me out of my head in into the world.
I wasn’t “getting fit”, I didn’t give two shakes about my diet and no one, not even Richard Simmons himself could convince me that I should do more.
Fast Forward half a lifetime later and I find myself pursuing a healthier lifestyle by eliminating (read: reducing) poor food choices and taking up a course of pilates with Diane Archer of Compassionate Body Pilates.
Today, after spending 8 hours hunched over my workstation I was knotted and tired and in a pretty crappy mood after a workweek full of stress and doing things for other people.
Not long after my one-on-one session with Diane started, I began to feel that stress slip away. Just the controlled breathing and stretching that came with our first few moves was enough to change my perspective to “this is just about me”.
I was opening up my lungs, checking my body positions, deliberately moving through the routines and feeling my body doing a little more of what it was meant to do. It brought me to a place where I was finding selfish pleasure; observing where I was pushing through the tightness and coming out the other side.
Blood was flowing better and my mind began to clear. I was relaxing into the work-out with the Diane’s gentle corrections making my efforts all the better.
What a luxury this was. It dawned on me that a private session in my home with a Pilates instructor was worth the expense. That the “selfish” just-for-me attitude wasn’t wrong-headed, but something that truly matters as my life-style choice.
Now as I write this, once again at my workstation, I am sitting taller, my posture is correct and I focus a little more on my breathing. I am relaxed and mildly rejuvenated.
My energy level is a little higher and my outlook brighter.
I came to an exercise program in my mid-life because I want to share activities like hiking and cycling with my uber-fit partner. But in the midst of today’s session with Diane, it struck me that I should have been doing this sooner.
It’s not about hiking in the mountains of Mexico, or our next cycling tour of the wine regions or finally kicking her butt at Racquetball. It’s about treating myself to some time for me, tossing off the stiffness and crankiness and getting to a place of balance in my body and my mind.
That last bit sounded like what a typical fitness guru might have told me.
I just wish they had told me earlier.
By Dan Willis
I was doing an "Ask the Expert" session last week in a facebook group, and this question came up predictably quickly: What is the difference between Yoga and Pilates? I definitely hear this one a lot from family, friends and prospective clients. Most people out there know a bit about yoga and not much about Pilates. I have only been to a handful of yoga classes so I often shy away from speaking too much about yoga. I could talk your ear off about Pilates for hours but my yoga knowledge is very limited! But I gave it some serious thought last week and I came up with the response below. If you are a yoga teacher and have a differing opinion on the topic, please do join in the conversation in the comments below, I'd love to hear more from you about it!
"I can start with what they have in common: both exercise systems use the mind-body connection. That means there is an emphasis on using your mind to move your body, concentrating and focusing on your movements. And both systems use your own bodyweight as a resistance for building strength. But after that they differ a lot! Pilates has a focus on building muscle strength and stability in the core (your torso- including your hips and shoulders). There is more dynamic movement in Pilates and an emphasis on lengthening while strengthening. Yoga is more stationary (holding poses) and emphasizes flexibility. Yoga can include a spiritual aspect, while Pilates does not. Pilates is highly adaptable and therefore great for injuries and back problems. I can't speak to yoga that much because I don't know that much about it... and there are lots of different types, however in my experience yoga has a flow to it where there is a prescribed series of positions moving from one to the next. But for me, when I'm planning a class, I think carefully about who is coming and what injuries they might have and what modifications they might need, and I prepare a set of exercises with modifications specifically for them. I get to be incredibly creative and that's one of my favourite things about teaching pilates- as long as I keep to the 6 pilates principles, I can modify any movement for anyone. :-)"
If you've attended both types of classes, does this explanation ring true for you? Please share your thoughts below! Thanks :-)
I'm so excited to introduce my contest winner from the Post-Rehab Pilates Intensive Contest! Here's a little bit about him:
Dan (aged 55) is a self-employed business consultant that was in pretty good shape until he turned 40. Formerly, Dan played soccer for 15 years and was an avid cyclist. It was a desk job with a giant corporation that contributed to his gaining some extra weight. At 55, Dan wants to take control of his health. He wants to live long enough to become a burden on his children and grow old with the uber-fit love of his life.
He hopes that in twelve short weeks he will be more flexible, have better balance and learn an exercise routine that he can return to time and time again.
The words he is trying to live by are: “I will be the best version of myself that I can be.”
Stay tuned to this blog for weekly updates on his progress with the program. I love Dan's can-do attitude and I can't wait to see what amazing changes we can make to his fitness level in only 12 weeks! :-)
Autumn is the season for change and around our house this year, there are some big changes afoot. In the spirit of that change and newness, I have embarked on some journeys that reflect a new philosophy I am undertaking to follow.
I was brought up with and lived my life for the most part using advice my Dad gave me: “Do what you like, but know what you do”. Problem was, for most things I focused on the initial part of the edict and ignored the more important part that followed.
We had a good run, me and that all-about-me philosophy. But I have tossed that mind-set for a new one. It’s not a revolutionary or mind-blowing concept and not particularly original, but I had the “come-to-god” moment when engaged in a smoking cessation class provided by CAMH and Bridges community Health Centre.
There, I came to realize that the not-smoking journey would result in my considering myself a non-smoker. At some point I would be so far removed from that nasty habit, that my sense of self would not be what it currently was.
I decided to apply that idea to other things that were bothering me lifestyle-wise. And two things that jumped out at me were healthier eating and exercise. Go figure.
I decided that I would not only be a non-smoker, but I would be the best I could be in all aspects of self-care (to a point, lol).
It was fortuitous when I saw on Facebook, that Compassionate Body Pilates was having a contest and the winner would receive 12 weeks of Pilates training.
I had no knowledge of what Pilates was except it was exercise people took in classes, but I was determined to win so I did all the liking and sharing and liking that one must do to enter these contest thingys.
And I won.
Today Diane Archer came for our first session and did a bit of an assessment on my capabilities. I thought it went well. My muscles wondered why the hell they were being stretched out like that and my knees creaked and groaned a little when I was doing the squats, but I loved the breathing aspect of the session and the work required to make the deliberate movements that Diane was asking we to make.
I have classes every Tuesday and a 1-1 session every Friday, plus I will have something to do when my partner breaks out the free-weights or spins her work-out CD. I may not be able to keep up with her aerobics and yoga and plyometrics, but I am taking those first tentative steps to better health and a cleaner diet. And besides I like it that the Pilates mat is so much thicker than a yoga mat.
In case I want to nap between sets.
By Daniel Willis
So I went to Toronto a few weeks ago to finish up my training on Post Rehab Protocols with Body Harmonics. This final one was on the spine. Over the last year I have attended both Hip/Knee and Shoulders, and these were fantastic but I was always thinking, "hey I really want to do the spine one!" I always expected this one to be more challenging and complex than the other two... but boy was I surprised. There was a lot to it, of course, but compared to Hip and Knee it was a breeze. The reason is that all the info we learned basically boiled down to a central theme: wake up the local muscles in your body and the spine will be properly supported.
For those of you who find these terms unfamiliar, it's like this: we can classify muscles into two groups: local muscles and global muscles. Local muscles are buried deep in the body, switch on automatically before movement occurs, and are able to hold and stabilize for long periods. An example of a local muscle is the pelvic floor. Global muscles are located on the surface of the body, and help perform big movements. An example of a global muscle is the bicep in your arm.
I learned many amazing things on this course about the local muscular system. Here's a few for you:
If you activate one local muscle, the others in the system fire up automatically.
Local muscles are less likely to activate during situations of pain, stress or fatigue (ie. your back hurts!)
When your local muscles are working, you are likely to feel relaxed and invigorated.
Now I know why everyone feels better when they leave my pilates classes- it's because I switch on the local system of muscles and they feel great as a result! I always emphasize breathing in my classes and I learned that simply breathing deeply switches on your local system. Isn't that fantastic?
I'm going to follow up this blog post with a series of simple exercises you can do on your own that will wake up those locals for you. You can try it when your back is feeling a bit sore, or even if you are just feeling tired or fatigued. Taking a minute to wake it up will reinforce those overworked global muscles and make you feel invigorated. Like my fb page and you can see it all over the next few weeks. I'll be putting up videos and photos for you to enjoy and follow along with at home.
Yay for Pilates! It's amazing how everything I keep learning now is just an explanation of what I already knew- it's an absolutely fantastic exercise system... and it will make you feel great.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment below!
For years, I shied away from teaching a squat. It was too challenging to get people to do it safely! Without fail, almost everyone seemed to squat in a way that put extra strain on either the knees, the back, or the neck. No matter how many different ways I tried to demonstrate or explain, it just didn't sink in. I'm trying to work on this movement again in my classes now because I'm realizing that a squat- done in a safe and functional manner- is a great foundation for so many other exercises! It's also a fantastic way to strengthen legs, bum and core.
I think the reason I see so much incorrect squatting is because people have a history with squats. If I asked 100 people if they had ever done a squat, how many would say yes? Probably all of them. If I asked how many had done tons and tons of squats at some point in their lives, there would likely still be a large number of yesses! It's a matter of repetitive muscle memory. Your body learned how you want to perform that movement before, and so that's how it does it- whether it is safe or not!
The basic squat involves 3 main fulcrums. Your ankles, your knees and your hips. Each of these joints should move an equal amount and each of these joints should move at the same rate throughout the movment. I have noticed a number of issues with this over the years. I would have to say that from my observations, the ankle joint is the most likely place to cause an issue. Do you ever find yourself lifting your toes when you squat? That's because your ankle joint is too stiff to bend properly. The feet are so important in helping to maintain stability and to "close" the chain of muscles, and yet are often not grounded on the floor properly. The next most common issue I see is the hips. Usually people seem afraid to move their hips backwards... and end up using their knees much more than the hips. So the poor knees are essentially sandwiched between two joints that aren't moving enough and end up overstressed and overworked! I have bad knees myself and I am amazed now at how I am able to squat- even really deeply- without any knee pain. I've still got issues to be sure- I know it's a weak area- but I am functional again. By functional, I can walk, hike, cycle, squat and bend away. I suspect soccer is maybe a bit out my my league at the moment :-( but hey, I used to have horrible knee ache after a long walk. I'd say that's definite progress!
Here are some suggestions for helping to retrain your body for a safer and more functional squat:
1. Use the wall with a ball behind your back
I taught a squat often this way because it helps take the pressure off the knees and gives you better body awareness. Stand with your feet at least a foot away from the wall and place a ball behind your back- just below the shoulders, in the thoracic spine. Lean against it, really putting your weight into it. Using a soft ball will be more comfortable and you can use a big ball such as a gym ball too. Just stand a bit farther away from the wall. Bend the knees and bring the hips down, while rolling the ball up your back. Don't forget to keep pressure against the ball the whole time. When you get as low as you feel comfortable, look at your knees. If they are in front of your feet, move your hips back towards the wall. If they are still in front of your feet move your feet forwards. Practice breathing in to come down, and out to come up.
2. Use a chair as a prop to get those hips to move back naturally
This one's easy- get a chair. Sit in it. Now- the hard part- slowly stand up and be aware of your hip positioning. Try to move as though you are sitting back down but hold yourself slightly out of the chair. I often say "Move your bum out behind you" but maybe I should say "Try to sit down in a chair" ;-) You can use your arms in whatever way feels balanced- hold the arm of the chair or reach your arms forwards, whatever works for you.
3. Try to sit on your haunches as often as possible
I really noticed an improvement in my ankle flexibility once I started sitting on my haunches all the time with my son. Kids do this naturally and easily all the time. I simply mean resting with your bum just off the floor and your feet flat- see the little girl below. If you can't get your feet flat, then raise the heel a little- my left heel still has to lift but my right is ok. This is going to increase both ankle and knee flexibility, and, if you practice standing up from this position it's going to do wonders for your leg and bum strength. I now do a "froggy chase" game with my toddler that is hopping off my haunches like a frog. Real dignified but oh so good for those knees!
Give those a try if you can and please let me know how you get on! Have you struggled with squats in the past? I'd love to hear your story- please share in the comments or send me an email :-) Thanks and happy squatting to you!
So I've been thinking a lot the last week about what it is I actually do. Yes, I'm a Pilates instructor. But there is so much more to it than that- I teach people how to move safely.
What is moving safely? And how do I teach that anyway?
I am a Pilates Instructor, but I feel like what I am is actually a Movement Re-Educator. This is tied closely into my own history with exercise. I used to go to fitness classes and was always disappointed by how hard everything was! This was in my 20's, mind you. No matter how many weeks I went to the gym or to a class, I still couldn't do a press up. I couldn't do a downward dog properly. My flexibility was laughable. I developed lots of pain and back problems. Then I found Pilates! I finally had a teacher who took the time to help me understand why I couldn't do a press up. And gave me exercises that weren't a press up to help me work towards doing one! Now I have stepped into this role to help others in the same way. If your body isn't aligned, if your muscles aren't balanced and working together, you can be working REALLY HARD and not accomplishing anything except causing more pain, more stress, and more imbalance. I've seen it over and over with my clients- once they come for a few months, then they can go to a gym again, they can start running again, they can feel good picking up their child or simply bending over to tie their shoes.
My goal is to help people achieve a balanced, strong and supple body. A body that moves more efficiently- in functional movements, but also in other sports and fitness situations.
Have you ever felt like exercising was getting you nowhere? Do you feel like you can't improve no matter how hard you work at it? Do you injure yourself when you exercise? If you answered yes, then maybe you should come on out for some movement re-education with me. It could make a huge difference to the rest of your life... it certainly did for me.
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!
Diane Archer, Pilates Instructor from the UK now living back in Canada. Blog of tips, thoughts, home challenges.