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Client Spotlight: Meet Nicole!

At Corpo Kinetic, we specialize in Pilates and bodywork for rehabilitation.  This means that the majority of our time is spent with people one-on-one, addressing individual needs and concerns.  However, we also offer a nice array of  group classes — check out our full schedule!  For clients who have advanced past an acute rehab need, group classes are a great way to maintain their newfound strength and flexibility and gain community by working out alongside others.  For this month’s client spotlight, we talk with Nicole!  Nicole has been doing Pilates with us for a few years now, and mixes it up with a private and a group class or two each week.  She’s gotten to work with three out of our four trainers, and we all love her sweet personality and determined nature.  Meet Nicole!

How long have you been doing Pilates?

I’ve been doing Pilates for about 4 years now!

Why did you originally start Pilates lessons? 

Originally, I sought out Pilates because I had constant lower back pain and I wanted to work on building back my strength. My mom was actually the one who introduced me to it – she said it’s not only good exercise but it’s also great for rehabilitative purposes.

What changes have you noticed in your body since you started?

I’ve definitely become more aware of my posture and body movements (especially trying to correct poor tendencies and habits when standing or sitting). I’ve also noticed a difference in flexibility. Although I’m pretty inflexible to begin with, I feel like through Pilates I’ve been able to gain more range of motion and develop a stronger core!

You do both private sessions and group classes with us here at Corpo Kinetic. What benefits do you get from your private sessions?

Private sessions give me the opportunity to really focus on specific areas whether it’s trouble spots, injury, or tight muscles. It also gives me the chance to choose the level of intensity (to a certain extent) in the case that I want to feel the burn in my abdominals or arms and what not =). Finally, in private sessions I’m really able to concentrate on correcting any postural habits and working with the trainer to achieve a certain short-term or long-term goal (flexibility and strength).

Are there things you enjoy about group classes that you don’t necessarily get in the one-on-one private sessions?

Absolutely! I love how in group classes you are working alongside people of different backgrounds so you get try out different workouts – it’s a nice mix up of levels and full body exercises and everyone gets a chance to provide input on what they would like to work on.

Do you have a favorite exercise?  

If I really had to choose…I would probably say bridges, roll downs, mermaid, and the one where you are horizontally jumping on the reformer! I also have a love-hate relationship with the elephant. I know that wasn’t just one exercise, but it’s hard to them narrow down – there are so many!

Joe Pilates famously thought that if the members of the UN could just do his first 10 exercises, we would finally have world peace.  What challenges – big or small, physical or mental – do you feel Pilates has helped you overcome?  

Pilates has really helped me overcome roadblocks when I workout by learning how to use your breath and constantly engaging your core muscles to help support movement and include more reps. Some of the breathing exercises involved in stretching and warming the muscles up are also really nice and meditative, so it relaxes the mind and body. You feel great afterwards!

Happy Earth Day! Getting grounded…

Sunday, April 22nd is Earth Day.  Fun fact!  Did you know that when you stand barefoot on natural ground, there is an electron transfer between your body, via the soles of your feet, and the earth?

This scientific phenomena is called “grounding,” sometimes also referred to as “earthing.”  Wearing shoes, which are rubber-soled and not conductive, prevents this natural process from occurring as we go about our day.  So, for Earth Day, get a little adventurous (or out there) with us and try some grounding!

  1. Find some natural ground – i.e. not covered in cement or pavement.  Grass will work, so will dirt, rocks, logs, etc.  You can go to a natural area such as your local park, step out into your backyard, or just find any patch of ground in between the concrete jungle…
  2. Take off your shoes!
  3. Stand on the ground.  That’s it, you’re grounding!


You could stand there and do nothing for 10 minutes and the process of grounding would take place.  According to those who study this phenomena, grounding can improve your mental clarity, your quality of sleep, increase your energy, and for some lessen chronic health condition.  However, I’m a movement person, and as much as I love some time outside in my bare feet, I’m probably not going to just stand there for ten whole minutes!  So, while you’re out there, here’s some kinesthetically-focused information to think on:

The bottoms of our feet are rick with sensory neurons which, when functioning well, provide feedback to our brains on our environment.  Our brains take in this information about our environment and use it to affect our motor control and balance.  The way our feet feel the surfaces we stand on affects how we load our knees, hips, and back, and how the muscles which affect our knees, hips, and back engage.  Feet which are “sensory deprived” may not give the necessary info up the chain, resulting in poor balance or gait mechanics (how we walk).

foot pain exerciseIn the Pilates studio, we take off our shoes, roll our feet on pinky balls, and balance on spiky domes — all activities which help to “wake up” and stimulate the sensory neurons in our feet.  These “awake” feet are then able to better sense the ground underneath them, adapt their shape to the ground, and thus inform the knee, hip, and back how to adapt to keep you safe, balanced and happily walking along, all without you having to stop or consider all the work your feet are doing.

To further appreciate how our brains use sensory information to affect our motor control, let’s consider the hands, an area we’re more used to thinking about in terms of fine motor control.  Imagine reaching deep into a bag to find your phone.  If you’re like me, you’ve got a lot of stuff other than the phone in there, and your fingers brush against your water bottle, a notebook, a pack of gum, some old receipts, and whatever else.  With just a light brush, your fingers are able to determine within milliseconds “not the phone,” and within a few seconds find the object they’ve been searching for.

Now imagine reaching into your bag to find your phone while wearing thick mittens.  The mittens would mute your hands’ sensory awareness, and it would probably take much longer to find your phone – or you may have to recruit other senses, such as your eyes.  Remember that the process of “feeling the ground beneath you” happens with every step – waking your feet up can help you walk, stand, and balance much more efficiently.

So, as you are standing out there on your patch of natural ground this Earth Day, consider how by taking off your shoes you’ve “unmuted” your feet.  They can now feel a lot more than moments before.  Check in, and see how your feet feel on the ground.  Since muscle tension can also decrease sensation, let’s do some mobility exercises while we’re here.  Roll to the pinky toe side of your feet, slightly lifting the big toe side off the ground.  Roll to the big toe side of your feet, slightly lifting the pinky toe side off the ground.  Repeat several times.  Lift the toes off the ground, standing on your heels.  Lift the heels off the ground, standing on your toes.  Repeat several times.  Spread your toes.  Are you standing on grass?  If so, can you spread your toes wide enough to get grass between them?  Enjoy your new awake, happy, grounded feet – and Happy Earth Day!

7 Ways to Love Your Musculoskeletal System

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!  On this day of love, your local Pilates studio would like to chime in with some simple ways to give your muscles and bones the care they deserve. As everyone who has just been to a great Pilates class knows, giving your body some love often makes the rest of you — be it mood, energy, or spirit — feel better too. So, on this Valentine’s Day, enjoy the chocolate, and as your digestive system is working on that, check out our list for your muscular-skeletal system:

  1. Constructive Rest Position.  A great way to do nothing while still providing your body with some great benefits. Spending 2-10 minutes in Constructive Rest Position lets the muscles in your neck, back, and hips release, often alleviating pain or discomfort.  
    Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. (Use a pillow behind your head if it helps your neck feel more comfortable.) Let your arms rest by your sides or cross across your torso.  Let the weight of the  rib cage sink into the floor, and the weight of the legs sink into your feet. Hang out, and just let things go!  Pro tip:  tie a yoga strap around your thighs so they don’t flop out to the sides, and you can relax the hip muscles even more.

    1. Pelvic Clocks.  We teach these to beginning Pilates students as a way to find your core and learn how to stabilize your pelvis.  They’re also a great exercise on their own to mobilize the lower back and release tension.Imagine your pelvis is a clock face, with your belly button as noon and your pubic bone as six. On an exhale, tip your pelvis towards noon, gently bringing your low back to to mat. On an inhaler tip your pelvis towards six, gently arching the low back away from the mat. Repeat 5-10 times. Pro-tip:  try tipping from 3 o’clock to 6 o’clock.
    2. Deep breathing.  Breathing is a cornerstone of Pilates.  Breathing deeply is also one of the was we can directly calm our “fight or flight” response.  I use this trick in traffic. 

      Imagine your torso is an empty glass of water. The bottom of the glass is the base of the pelvis (pelvic floor), and the top of the glass is the tops of your shoulders. As you breath in, start filling the glass, from all the way at the base.  Feel the breath travel up your spine, all the way into your shoulders. Exhale and slowly empty the glass, top to bottom.

    3. Neck release. Our necks take a lot of abuse with our screen-focused culture. Give your neck a break throughout the day with this simple release!
      Clasp your hands behind your head, holding the base of your skull in your hands.  Gently pull up.  Gently lean back — just a little, think 5-15 degrees — and let the weight of your head be supported by your hands. Ahh!
    4. Seated Spine Twist. Another movement we don’t get enough of is rotation.  You can do this one without even getting out of your chair.
      Place your left hand on your right knee and your right hand on the back of your chair.  Look over your right shoulder, and use your hands to gently encourage the spine to twist to the right.  Take a few deep breaths, then repeat to the other side.
    5. Goal-post stretch.  This is another one which feels so good after a work day. Let the shoulders open up, and you’ll get some releif in your upper back as well.
      Lay on your back along a foam roller — make sure it supports your hips and your head. Bring your arms out to the sides and bend your elbows, like you’re making a “goal post” with your arms. Let the weight of your arms drop down towards the floor. Hold for 5-10 deep breaths.
    6. Hip-flexor stretch.  While you’re down there on the floor with your foam roller, why not give another often tight area of your body a release?  Sitting puts the hip flexors in a chronically shortened position. It’s nice to spend some time letting them lengthen…
    7. photo by Bénédicte Lasalle

      Lay on your back on the mat with your feet flat on the mat and the roller between your bum and your feet.  Lift up into a bridge and roll the roller under your hips.  Engage your core, and bring your legs up to table top. From that position, pull one knee into your chest and let the other leg lengthen over the roller. Hang out and breathe in that position for awhile – focus on letting the leg hang heavy and the ribs gently sink down towards the floor.

Bonus! Need a way to give your whole body some TLC?  Come to class!  A lot of these simple tricks we’ve mentioned above, and many more, are integrated into a Pilates workout.  We’ve added additional group classes to the schedule this year –  check them out, and join us for an hour of love!

Anatomy Moment: Good glutes!

Happy New Year!  I may be a little late, but it’s still the start of 2018, and a time of year that many people make body-related resolutions.  Goals are a great way to get motivated, so I’d like to offer a Pilates-themed one out there… what about for 2018 making a resolution to build a better butt?  Teehee!

Why would I care about your behind?  We’re a studio who’s focus is proper function, injury prevention, and pain reduction, so you won’t see tips and tricks for making your booty look better in jeans here.  However, a stronger behind will protect your back, knees, and hips – and that’s exactly what we care about.  Enjoying how you look after your training has paid off is just a side benefit.

Let’s start with the anatomy:  what are the glutes?  “Glutes” is a catch-all term describing all of the muscles on the back half of the pelvis.  While there are nine different muscles in this region (actually, 18 if you count each side separately!), the name “glutes” comes from the anatomical name for the three largest ones.  Let’s start there.  We have:


The Glute Max shown all alone – even without it’s friends, it’s very butt shaped!

  • gluteus maximus – the largest muscle of the three, which really gives the butt its quintessential butt shape
  • gluteus medius – the middle sized one of the three muscles.  Sometimes referred to as the “jean pocket” muscle, it is more on the sides than the exact rear
  • gluteus minimus – the smallest of the three, it lies below the gluteus medius and shares many of the same functions as its middle sibling

So, there’s three.  I told you there were nine on each side, so we’ve got a ways to go!  The other six are sometimes referred to as “the deep six.”  What you can tell from this name is that:

  1. The deep six lie below the other muscles.  Deep in anatomy is further from the skin surface.  A deep tissue massage is one which affects these deep muscles, as opposed to just the superficial ones close to the skin.
  2. The deep six share a similar function – otherwise they wouldn’t be grouped together when named.  Another example of a group of muscles sharing one colloquial name is “the rotator cuff” in the shoulder, which refers to a group of four muscles which support and stabilize the shoulder.  Some anatomists think of the deep six as the hip’s version of the shoulder’s rotator cuff.

Just for the fun of naming them, the deep six are the:

  • piriformis
  • obturator internus
  • obturator externus
  • gemellus inferior
  • gemellus superior
  • quadratus femoris

I personally consider the glute region to include ALL of these muscles – both the deep six and the three muscles which actually have the work root “glute” in their name.  However, functionally, they act quite differently.  In general:

  • the deep six act with the psoas muscle on the front of the pelvis to center the thigh bone in the hip socket.  They create small, precise movement which contribute to balance and stability.


Here’s a great example of the movement “abduction,” or bringing the legs out to the side.

  • the gluteus medius and minimus abduct, or move the leg out to the side.  Unless you’re laying on your side doing leg lifts, doing jumping jacks, or doing some cool side kicks on the dance floor, you may not be doing straight abduction in day-to-day life.  However, every step involves a moment of balance on one leg, and it is in the full gait cycle that the gluteus medius and minimus should be active to help move and stabilize the hip joint in the side-to-side plane.
  • the gluteus maximus extends the hip, or brings the leg behind the body.  Again, we have lots of exercises in the Pilates studio which target and strengthen the gluteus maximus.  However, the gluteus maximus also works in a healthy walking pattern.  Every time you step forward, the gluteus maximus is essentially “pushing” the ground behind you to propel you forward.  Walk up a hill, and the gluteus maximus is now pushing you up hill – a heavier load and more work!

So, from starting with nine different muscles in the region of “glutes,” we now have three different groups of glute muscles, each with a different function.  If you want to build your glutes this year, you can of course come to the studio, where we have a host of different exercises to target each one, and where we ca evaluate you to be sure your glutes are firing when they should be.  And when you’re not at the studio, here are a few simple things to do to build yourself a better booty in 2018:

  1. Get off your glutes.  When we’re sitting, the whole region is smushed and not doing much.  Stand up walk around, and get some circulation and movement down there.
  2. Every time you get up out of a chair, you’re essentially doing half a squat.  Squats are one exercise we frequently use at the studio to strengthen our clients’ glutes.  As you’re getting up from your chair (and off your glutes), think about feeling your weight on your heels.  Push through the heels as you stand up, rather than the toes, for more glute engagement.
  3. Stand on one leg.  Every step involves a brief moment of standing on one leg.  Ideally, our gluteus medius and minimus are working at this moment to stabilize the pelvis.  However, most of us don’t use these muscles much as we walk.  Stand on one leg with your pelvis even and hips level, and see if you can feel the engagement on the side of your hip – around where a jean pocket would be.  How long can you hold the stance?  I do this when I brush my teeth.  That’s a twice-daily glute workout, right?

    Walking is good for your glutes – walking on uneven ground is even better!

  4. Take walks.  Remember that the gluteus maximus is responsible for “pushing the ground behind you” as you walk.  Focus on that push off, as opposed to the leg swinging forward.  If appropriate for your body, take your walks up some hills.  Also if appropriate for you, start walking on uneven ground: beaches and hikes are great places for this.  Uneven ground challenges the small stabilizing deep six muscles to make their micro-adjustments at each step, and builds better balance.

That’s it for this month!  Here’s to health, happiness, and a better booty in 2018.  😉

Men Who Pilates

First, as a grammar nerd, I’d like to apologize for this post’s title.  Pilates is not a verb – it is a noun referring to the system of exercise developed by Joseph Pilates.  However, social media has changed everything, including our use of grammar.  The title of this post comes from a hashtag: #menwhopilates

If you haven’t seen it, here’s one of the most popular #menwhopilates posts :

Yes, that’s Kobe on a reformer!  Looks like he’s doing a prep for the Hundreds.

At Corpo Kinetic, we have men who do that too!

While Pilates originally had a reputation of only being done by rich women in between facials and hair appointments, in recent years I’ve seen a big change around that perception – and thank goodness.  Pilates is a challenging, adaptable system which is appropriate for men, women, injury rehab, and training for athletic performance.  Joseph Pilates, the founder, was a man after all:  a professional boxer who trained the Scotland Yard before emigrating to the USA, and is said to have spent his spare time walking around the streets of New York City smoking cigars.  The original spring equipment came from Joe’s work rehabilitating injured soldiers.

Let’s talk briefly about the Pilates springs:  they come in different colors.  The colors stand for different weights.  If a Pilates instructor needs to challenge you, they can adjust the springs to do so.  That means that if you’re grandmother and you were to do the same Pilates reformer exercise, the spring settings might be completely different.  Chances are, your grandmother would use lighter springs.  (But then, you never know:  I have worked with some incredibly strong seniors in my day.)

So men, welcome to the Pilates world.  We’re glad you’re here.  If you’re an athlete who’s forgotten to stretch for the past decade, we can help with that.  If you’ve realized your core strength has something to be lacking, we’re here for you.  If you’re hoping to train to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, have you tried lunges and mountain climbers on the Wunda chair?  They’ll make Kilimanjaro feel like a breeze.  Men, we got you!

Without further ado, here are a few of the men of Corpo Kinetic, with a brief statement on what they get out of their Pilates sessions:

“I started Pilates with a shoulder injury, but since then a lot more has benefited than my shoulder.  Through Pilates, I’ve learned about proper body mechanics and posture.  I feel like my weekly sessions are essentially an insurance policy which helps me nip things in the bud before they become an issue.  I go in with curiosities and leave with strength and understanding.”  – Dave K.

“Pilates has allowed me to regain the ability to once again enjoy many of the things I lost after I was injured and has lowered the amount of pain I’ve been living with for years.  On a day to day level, pilates helps me be much more functional.  Julia’s attention to detail and form is amazing and something I just wasn’t getting with physical therapy.  Pilates, without a doubt, has increased my quality of life and although I was hesitant to do it in the past, I’m now a firm believer!” – Mason K.

“Pilates is more than a physical activity. Balance is vital for a healthy lifestyle and Pilates provides me with the perfect balance between body and mind.”  – Angel B.

“Two words–fluid strength. That’s what this is all about.  I have rediscovered movement that had imperceptibly disappeared over the years and regained strength I thought was irreversibly gone. Now I am more present in my body, more active and find myself dancing in the kitchen again. But the real surprise and delight, in my experience, is that the exercises themselves go from embarrassing clumsiness to a dance, an unexpected grace, a growth of fluid strength. So you feel your progress in the moment as well as across time. And, inevitably in this process, you learn to know and experience your anatomy, musculature, breathing and balance. Hello body.”  – Richard B.
“Pilates gives me the opportunity to challenge my physical, emotional and psychological strength in ways that no other activity can. By engaging in Pilates on a regular basis, I have a chance to dialogue with myself about how I’m doing and how I’m feeling about my body and, by extension, about myself. It’s not for sissies, that’s for sure. But the end of each session comes with its own reward of satisfaction and gratitude.” – David H.

Client Spotlight: Meet Linda!

I first met Linda a little over a year ago when she came to the studio for private sessions in order to strengthen her core in order to help with an old back injury.  As a long-time yoga practitioner, Linda was already cued into the mind-body connection, and approached Pilates with an impressive eagerness to learn.  After several months of working together, Linda let me know that she felt strong enough to pursue a life-long dream of hers: to complete a yoga teacher training program.  After completing an 200 hour program over the course of nine months through the Niroga Institute, followed by 20 hours of service teachingwith a focus on reaching people without access to yoga, Linda is now a certified yoga instructor.  Way to go, Linda!
I don’t get to see Linda as often these days, as she’s gotten strong enough that she can work safely in our studio’s small group classes to maintain her core strength.  I’m so excited for Linda’s progress: that she got so much out of our private sessions, that she’s now comfortable in the group setting, and that she’s been able to take her yoga practice to the next level!  Like many of our clients, Pilates has been key to a helping Linda get past pain and on to what she loves to do.  Here’s my conversation with Linda:
J:  How long have you practiced yoga? 
L:  I first discovered yoga at the tender age of 20, more than 40 years ago.  Even though I’ve gone astray now and then, I always come back because it is so much a part of my sense of well-being.
J:  When did you first decide you wanted to do a yoga teacher training program? 
L:  I first contemplated yoga teacher training about a dozen years ago, but I had two very young daughters at the time and knew I wouldn’t be able to even keep up with the curriculum, let alone give it the time it deserved!

A couple of years later I injured by back, then spent many of the years following trying to find a doctor who didn’t want to operate, taking strong pain medication, getting physical therapy and chiropractic, all the while avoiding most of the activities I love – running, swimming, dancing, bike-riding, walking, even yoga.   I finally found a physical doctor who prescribed “therapeutic yoga,” and discovered, to my great relief, that one of my favorite early yoga teachers had a studio right down the street from home!  I could barely move when she and I started working one-on-one, then over time, as I felt better, I was able to take some beginner classes.

J:  Why did you originally start Pilates lessons?   
L:  A bit more than a year ago, a friend told me about Corpo Kinetic and how much she was being helped to recover from an injury. A total Pilates novice, I started training with Julia, eventually started taking some of the group classes and today I am stronger than ever – I just returned from a 4-day yoga retreat practicing many hours a day!
J:  Do you have a favorite Pilates exercise or technique?   
L:  I love to work with the springs on the Cadillac – I find that really fun, maybe like being in the circus!  I also love how building strength in my core and upper back has noticeably improved not only my posture, but my stamina throughout the day.  I love the concentration Pilates  requires. I believe Julia is a natural healer, and I really benefit from the mental pictures she creates to help me with my form.

Because of the strength and coordination I have built in my body with Pilates, as a yoga instructor I can demonstrate any pose with confidence  (even if I am not as flexible as I was years ago!)   I’m convinced that even beginning yoga students need core strength to practice safely, and I bring that to my teaching.  Pilates has also demonstrably improved my own yoga practice, because I rely on my “center” to support the rest of my body in a pose.

J:  I often get this question from people unfamiliar with Pilates: How is Pilates different from yoga?  You may be the perfect person to answer this question!  What do you think? 
L:  I think Pilates and yoga both can develop certain qualities like body awareness and strength.   I find Pilates different from yoga, however, in its unique focus on the precise alignment, engagement, and integration of our muscular-skeletal structure at a very deep level.  As yoga emphasizes flexibility and balance, these disciplines are a perfect pair!
J:  Joe Pilates famously thought that if the members of the UN could just do his first 10 exercises, we would finally have world peace.  What challenges – big or small, physical or mental – do you feel Pilates has helped you overcome?   
L:  I am so grateful that Pilates has given me back the courage to be physically active, and to pursue my long-time dream of being a yoga teacher.  Thank you Corpo Kinetic!
J:  Thanks, Linda, for taking the time to speak with me, and for being our client spotlight!

Moving Towards Fall: Join our Walk/Bike Challenge

As the days start getting shorter and we begin moving towards Fall, we’re trying something new at Corpo Kinetic.  In an effort to encourage us to keep all the benefits of summer hiking, walking, biking and outdoor activities going, we’re starting a Walk/Bike challenge!  Join us!

How it works:

  1. Walk or Bike to the studio instead of driving, and drop a chip in the jar when you arrive.
  2. Each chip represents $1 – when the jar is full, Corpo Kinetic will make a $100 donation to the Sierra Club!
    * Live too far away for a bike or walk commute?  You can still participate – keep reading!

Our Inspiration

Raise your hand if you want more movement in your life!  (Or better yet, raise both hands and reach your arms way above your head and enjoy a shoulder and spine stretch if you want more movement in your life!) If you’re a reader of these posts, chances are you recognize that movement is beneficial to your health, including small movements such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, taking stretch breaks at your desk, or spending 2-5 minutes on a foam roller.  Not all movement needs to be confined within an exercise class, or even within a full 30-minute bout, in order to give you very worthwhile benefits.

After a Pilates class, you probably feel good!  You may feel more aligned, balanced, and strong.  Your joints are moving well and your muscles are stretched and awake.  Small aches and pains may have subsided.  One of the great things about Pilates is that it works you out without beating you down.  After your session, you should feel energized, stretched, and ready for your day!  Now, how do we keep that feeling going during the time you’re not at the studio?

The easy answer to that is: do more Pilates!  (ha!  Yes, we’re a Pilates studio so of course that’s our first answer!)  Whether it’s a home program developed with your trainer or finding a group class which fits your schedule and needs, increasing the frequency of your Pilates practice will of course help you keep that great feeling of Pilates going throughout the week.

However, if devoting more time to your Pilates practice isn’t possible right now, finding ways to incorporate more movement into your life can help keep all those lubricated joints and activated muscles going in between sessions.  With our walk/bike challenge, we’re focusing on one way you can add more movement to the tasks you already do:  instead of commuting by sitting in your car, commute with movement!

Using commute time to get in more movement is pure gold – you already have to schedule time into your day to get places.  What if you could just block off a little more, and by doing so you doubled your movement time?   By applying your Pilates principles on your movement commute, you’ll be taking those lessons learned inside the studio out into the real world.

How to use your Pilates principles on a walk:

  1. Start with a neutral pelvis.  Place one hand on your stomach and the back of your other hand on your saccrum.  Make sure that your two hands are more or less parallel to the walls:not slanted forward (too much curve in the low back:  or slanted backwards (tail tucked under, too much tension in the glutes):A neutral pelvis is the best place for you to move from.
  2. As you walk, think about using your glutes as if you are pushing the ground behind you.  The glutes should be engaged with every step, but often our chair-heavy lives lead us to use only our hip flexors on the fronts of our hips, and not the glutes when walking.  Focus on the glutes and you’re stride will be stronger and longer!
  3. Look up!  Look around!  We’re often used to looking at screens just 20-40 inches from our face.  Not only is looking at things further away good for our eyes, but our vision is also a major contributor to our balance.  Change what you’re looking at, especially the distance and level of things you’re looking at.  You’ll be subtly challenging your balance with every step. 
  4. Breathe!  If you’ve been stuck in a chair for most of the day with your arms and shoulders in mostly one position, you may not have been breathing deeply either.  Swing your arms, and take deep breaths as you walk – doing so will bring more oxygen to your muscles and help mobilize your shoulders, ribcage and thoracic spine from the inside out.

How to use your Pilates principles on your bike:

  1. Start with a long neutral spine.  Too often I see people riding with a very rounded lower or upper back – aim to start more in a neutral, hips, ribs, shoulders, and back of head all in one line. 
  2. Draw the belly to your spine to engage your core.  Keep your pelvis as stable as you can as you pedal – the force should come from your legs.
  3. Support your shoulders by drawing your shoulder blades down your back.  Make sure you are lifting out of the shoulder girdle, as you would in your Pilates plank, not collapsing into it.

    lifted and supported shoulder girdle

    collapsed shoulder girdle

  4. Push with your glutes!  Your quads will and should work on a bike, but it’s all about balance:  since we tend to be a quad dominant society, focus on using your glutes as you press down on the pedals to help balance things out.

Ready to try a movement commute to the studio?

Keep in mind that this isn’t an all-or-nothing challenge.  Walk or bike once and you’ll still contribute to the cause.  Walk or bike a lot and you’ll contribute a lot.  I think that an all-or-nothing approach to exercise is one of the greatest things keeping us from moving.  Doing something differently takes all sorts of getting over inertia and potentially reorganizing your thinking (not to mention reorganizing the stuff you have to bring with you).  A little is still something – commit to trying the movement commute once this month and see how you feel!

Do you like the idea but live too far from the studio for this to be feasible for you?  Maybe you could replace some of your driving commute with walking by parking further away from the studio.  Or consider public transit as a go-between: we’re about a 15-20 minute walk from both the Ashby and Rockridge BART stations.  For purposes of this challenge, there’s no rule on how much distance you need to walk or bike to make it count – as long as you are moving yourself more than you normally do on your way to Pilates, it counts!

We look forward to moving with you!  If you’re not following us on Facebook and Instagram, this is a good month to follow us.  We’ll be sharing our stories of our walk and bike commutes with the hashtag #movetocommute, and encourage you to as well!

Facebook: Corpo Kinetic

Instagram: @ckpilatesstudio

Modifications for common injuries, part 2

I was listening to Katy Bowman’s podcast over at Nutritious Movement, and loved her advice to someone who wanted to keep moving her body, but had plantar fasciitis (a painful inflammation of the fascia on the bottoms of the feet).  With plantar fasciitis, she couldn’t keep up her usual walking.  Katy’s advice?  Get down on the floor!  Roll around!  There are so many other body parts you can move, move those!

I love Pilates for how versatile it is – it’s a great way to keep all healthy parts of you moving and strengthening!  Last month, we looked some ways we work with  low back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome at Corpo Kinetic.  This month, we’re looking at two additional common sites of concern: knee and neck pain.  We’ll look at how we can modify challenging exercises to take stress off of an area while still strengthening the rest of the body.  We’ll also look at some orthopedic body work techniques and gentle rehabilitative Pilates exercises designed to help an injury get better.

Knee Pain

Knee pain sometimes comes with a diagnosis of patellar femoral syndrome from your doctor.  Whether diagnosed or not, if your knees hurt you know it!  Often your knees will talk to you as you go up or down stairs, when you have to kneel or get down to the floor, or after higher impact exercises such as running.

Traditional Pilates exercise: Squats!

Squats are an excellent exercise which strengthens the muscles which support the knees.  If your knees are healthy and happy, getting into this deep squat with the balance challenge of the springs is a good thing to do to keep them so, but if you have knee pain the deep squat may aggravate the problem.

Modified Pilates exercise

If your knees need more support, a smaller squat with the more stable push through bar can be a great way to strengthen the muscles of the legs, adding support to the knees.  A ball between the inner thighs can help the knee track properly, avoiding the pain on the inside of the knee as the squat deepens.  

Rehab: Orthopedic Bodywork

Sometimes knee pain is caused by a poorly tracking kneecap, or patella.  If there is too much tension on the quad muscle on the outside of the thigh, that can pull the kneecap to the side, causing grinding and discomfort at the kneecap.  Orthopedic bodywork can release excess tension, allowing the kneecap to glide more freely.

Rehab: gentle and specific Pilates exercise

Proper knee alignment during movements such as squatting and climbing stairs is key to avoiding knee pain.  If the muscles on the outsides of your hips are weak or not activating properly, your knees will drift towards your midline as you bend your knees, and that’s not a happy place for them to be.  This exercise is essentially doing a one-legged squat while laying down – which takes the load of gravity off the knee, and allows you to focus on good alignment throughout the movement.  Laying on your side also puts those muscles on the outsides of your hips under a particular load so that it’s easier to target them and build strength without pain.

A Pain in the Neck!  

Whether caused by a specific injury such as whiplash or a general tension pattern from a lot of time at the computer, neck pain can be debilitating – in some cases leading the headaches, in others a reduced range of motion, or the inability to turn your head fully to one side.

Traditional Pilates Exercise:  The Hundreds!

Remember the hundreds from our last post?  The hundreds is a traditional Pilates ab buster, but one which can be aggravating when working with injury.  In the case of neck pain, holding your head up against gravity can strain tight muscles.  If all you’re feeling while you’re trying to strengthen your core is tightness is your neck, you aren’t getting the benefit out of the exercise.  Time to modify!

Modified Pilates exercise

Placing a magic circle behind the head allows you to relax the weight of the head into the support.  The neck is free and easy, while the abdominals work like crazy to hold the weight of the head, shoulders, and arms off the floor.  Once the neck is supported and relaxed, you can focus on the purpose of the exercise – abs!

Rehab: orthopedic bodywork

If your neck has been carrying a lot of tension, Active Release Technique is a great modality which incorporates an active stretch with manual therapy applied to the tightest fibers.  Releasing chronic tension in your neck can help your shoulders and upper back feel better and move better as well.

Rehab: Gentle and specific Pilates exercise

Key to resolving neck pain is proper shoulder stabilization so that every action we do with our arms doesn’t translate up into tension in the neck.  This exercise teaches shoulder mechanics and helps strengthen the muscles which stabilize the scapula on the ribcage.  When these are strong, our arms can connect into our trunk, and our neck can rest free and easy on top.

That’s it for this month!

If you are considering Pilates and are curious about where to start, give us a call at 510-463-1473.  We’re happy to chat with you to see if we might be a good fit.

Modifications for common injuries

One of the things I love about Pilates is that it is a highly versatile system of exercise, which can be gentle enough for rehabilitation, and yet challenging enough for athletic conditioning.  When you want to strengthen but you’re working with an injury, you can count on your Pilates instructors to keep you safe, help you heal, and give all the other body parts a workout while we’re at it.  This month, we’re focusing on how Pilates accommodates injuries.  We’ll show you some ways we modify exercises to keep you safe while you strengthen, as well as highlighting how we use orthopedic bodywork and rehab-specific exercises to help the injury get better.

While rest is a vital component of recovery, Pilates is exceptionally good at keeping all of those other body parts moving while the injured part gets some TLC.  In fact, working with an injury is what drew me to the Pilates system in the first place.  After tearing my ACL (a major stabilizing ligament in the knee), I was looking at months of being out of my usual dance classes.  I was bored, emotional, and my body missed movement like nothing else.  Putting full weight on my leg hurt, but I could walk into the Pilates studio with crutches, lay down on the reformer, and still be able to strengthen and challenge the rest of my body.  My sessions with my Pilates trainer lifted my mood and kept me sane while I was recovering.  In the meantime, I strengthened my core and upper body so that I came back almost stronger than before the injury.  Along with my highly talented surgeon who hooked me up with a new ACL, I credit Pilates with all the professional dancing I did post-recovery.

But enough about me.  How do we help you and our other clients going through a similar journey? Here are a couple common areas of pain or injury we see often at Corpo Kinetic, and some ways we address them.

Low Back Pain

Low back pain is so common in our culture that it is just written out as an acronym among medical professionals:  LBP.  Because low back pain is often accompanied by a weak or under-active core, we tend to see a lot of clients looking to improve their back pain through Pilates.  However, traditional abdominal exercises, even those done in a typical Pilates class, may not be appropriate if your back hurts, and may even end up making it worse.

Traditional Pilates Exercise: The Hundreds

The hundreds: the traditional Pilates abdominal buster we all love to hate.  You will definitely feel that deep abdominal burn in this one, but if you’re not able to also recruit the inner core unit to properly stabilize your lower back, you may end up making your back pain worse.

Modified Pilates Exercise

By keeping your legs in table top, the stress of holding your legs up is much less, and you can focus on feeling the engagement of the inner core unit, which stabilizes your lower back.  As you get stronger, your trainer can have you straighten the legs up to the ceiling.  As you gain strength, you can work on lowering your legs with proper low back stabilization, getting closer to the full “hundreds,” pictured above.

Rehab: Orthopedic Bodywork

The muscles of the lower back often get over tight in instances of low back pain.   While stretches can help, orthopedic bodywork can pinpoint and release the cause of the pain, and help reset the nervous system so that the pain is less likely to recur.

Rehab: gentle and specific Pilates exercise
With acute low back pain, learning where the inner core unit is and how to activate it is critical.  Stabilizing your pelvis and lower back while balancing on the roller teaches a recruitment of the transversus abdominus, pelvic floor, and lumbar multifidi muscles, all which need to be active to progress to more advanced core strengthening.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

While the surge in ergonomics and postural education has helped, carpal tunnel syndrome is still considered a very common injury.  Marked by a numbness or tingling in the hands, it can make any repetitive motion which involves the wrist painful, and can make it challenging to develop upper body strength without aggravating the wrists.

Traditional Pilates Exercise: Long Stretch

Pilates loves to plank, and for those looking for a good heavy-hitter exercise which can strengthen shoulders, back, core and legs all at once, this version called “long stretch” will get you there.  However, if you’re experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome, this version of the exercise would be off limits due to the stress placed on the wrists.

Modified Pilates Exercise

Putting the forearms on the box takes all the pressure off the wrists, giving you all the benefits of strengthening your shoulders, back, core and legs – without aggravating your carpal tunnel syndrome.

Rehab: Orthopedic Bodywork

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can be aggravated by too much tension on the wrist flexors and transverse carpal ligament, which then compress the space the median nerve has to pass through the carpal tunnel.  By relieving tension on these structures, the space for the median nerve can be restored, reducing symptoms

Rehab: gentle and specific Pilates exercise
In some cases, weakness in the shoulder musculature can cause the wrist flexors to be overactive, leading to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  If this is the case, cuffs can be used to take stress off the wrists during strengthening of the shoulder muscles.  When using the wrist cuffs, the hands and muscles of the forearms can remain relaxed, and the work is focused where we want it – in the muscles of the shoulders. 


That’s it for this month!

We hope you’ve enjoyed a look at how we modify for common injuries, as well as the glimpse at how we use orthopedic bodywork and rehab-specific Pilates exercises.  Stay tuned next month when we’ll look at knee and neck pain!

Anatomy Moment: the shoulder girdle

Shoulders have been on my mind lately.  Sometimes in the rehab and movement world we see themes in our clients, and lately our clients have been bringing us lots of shoulder puzzles.  So thank you all — you know who you are! — for the inspiration of this Anatomy Moment.

What is the shoulder girdle?  Let’s start with that often confusing word “girdle” – we’re not talking shape-wear here.  Merriam-Webster’s defines girdle as “something that encircles or confines.”  I LOVE this definition, in particular the image of encircling, as that is exactly what the bones that make up the shoulder girdle do: they cover a  360 degree range, encompassing the front, sides, and back of our trunk.

The bones.  This picture is looking down on a skeleton, with the head and neck bones removed.  The white bones in at the top center of the image which poke up are the vertebrae which make up the spine.  The long white circular bones are the ribs.  The shaded grey bones, with the exception of the central hexagonal bone on the bottom (we’ll get to that one later) make up the shoulder girdle.

The shoulder girdle is officially made up of six bones: a right and left clavicle (or collar bone), a right and left scapula (or shoulder blade), and a right and left humerus (or upper arm bone).  These bones sit on top of our ribcage, much as a queen’s cape would sit on top of her torso.  Imagine the collar bones as the strings which tie the cape in the front, and the shoulder blades and arms the heavy velvet which make up the cape.  (Most of the cape is behind the queen, while some of it wraps around her sides.  The side parts of the cape are analogous to our arms, the back of the cape to our shoulder blades.)  Because the cape is one unit, any movement of one part will effect the rest:

  • If you tug the cape down in the back, the strings will pull upwards towards the neck.  If you place your fingers on your collar bones, and then gently drag your shoulder blades downwards towards your hips, you should feel the collar bones gently rolling up towards your neck.
  • If you pull the sides of the cape forward around the body, the fabric on the back of the cape will stretch taught.  Reach your arms as far forward as you can – really stretch them out, like you’re trying to grab something just out of your reach!  You should feel a gentle stretch in your upper back.
  • If you were to lift the back of the cape up towards the back of the head, you would get a lot of scrunching of the fabric around the neck, and you may start to feel a connection between your “shoulder girdle cape” and your neck musculature.

Joints: the place where two bones meet.  As mentioned in our foot post, where we have bones we have joints, and where we have joints we have movement.  The joints of the shoulder girdle are unique, as they allow for a huge range of motion unseen anywhere else in the human body.  The simple movement of raising your hand above your head actually involves movement at three joints!

The first and most obvious joint is the glenohumeral joint.  This is where the upper arm bone (or humerus) meets the shoulder blade.  (Gleno- comes from the fact that the part of the shoulder blade which is in contact with the humerus is called the glenoid fossa.)  If you raise your arm from your side to shoulder height, that’s a movement at your glenohumeral joint.

The next joint of the shoulder is the acromioclavicular joint, where the collar bone (or clavicle) meets the shoulder blade (particularly the acromion process of the shoulder blade).  If you were to wear a coat with epaulettes — or maybe just a really good blazer from the 80s with some fantastic shoulder pads — the widest part of your coat would be about where your acromioclavicular joint is.

The third joint of the shoulder girdle is the sternoclavicular joint.  If you find the widest part of your shoulder (right under that fantastic shoulder pad), and then trace the long, thin collar bone inwards towards your midline, right where the collar bone ends is the sternoclavicular joint, where the collar bone (or clavicle) meets the breastbone (or sternum).

Did anyone notice that we have another bone in play here???  The sternum, or breastbone, is the long flat bone in the center of the chest.  It’s located about where a necklace would hang.  Going back to this picture from earlier, it’s the hexagonal bone shaded grey in the center bottom of the drawing.  It’s not an official part of the shoulder girdle, instead anatomists consider it part of the torso.  Thus, this spot where the collar bone meets the sternum is where your shoulder girdle attaches to your trunk.

Find your sternoclavicular joint again, and then move your arm around.  Raise it all the way up above your head, and then put it back down.  Trace a big circle with your hand, all the way in front of you, all the way, up, all the way behind you and back down.  You should feel some movement at your sternoclavicular joint.  While the degree of movement is much less here than all the way out at your hand, you should feel some:  the collar bone will raise and lower with the arm.  We often don’t think of our shoulders starting this close to our midlines, but they do!

NOW!  I would like to come back to the point that the sternum the ONLY boney connection between your shoulder girdle and your torso.  That’s right.  While the arm bone and shoulder blades have muscles which attach to the torso, the only boney connection your arm has to your trunk is that tiny sterno-clavicular joint.  Amazing!

Why is this important?  A boney connection, or joint, is supported by ligaments.  Ligaments are tough, fibrous tissue which bind one bone to another.  While they are designed to allow movement, their main job is to stabilize and support the joint.  For the shoulder girdle, we only have one tiny joint — and one small set of ligaments — to support the wide range of motion our arms are capable of.

This wide range of motion our shoulders are capable of, supported by such a tiny boney connection, puts more of the jobs of stabilization and creating balanced movement on to our muscles.  This is why balanced strength and flexibility throughout the musculature of the shoulder girdle is important, and why Pilates upper body strength work incorporates not just movement of the arm, but full range of motion of the shoulder girdle.  We talk a lot about how to best position your shoulders for optimal muscular control, and what muscles you should be feeling when.  Check out our Arms & Abs: Pilates for Upper Body Strength class on Tuesday mornings if you’re ready to build your strength.  If you’ve been dealing with a shoulder issue and need to restore the health of your shoulders first, try our Therapeutic Pilates Springboard on Tuesday evenings.

Sign up, or see our full group class schedule.