Pilates is the PERFECT complement to any other form of movement. To kick off this series of blog posts explaining how Pilates can help with all kind of movement, sports and daily activities, let’s start with the most basic human activity:
(Technically, we probably start with crawling, but I’m guessing you don’t spend too much time doing that. Although you actually might want to. But that’s a topic for another post.)
So, back to walking. Since we’re all in the middle of this pandemic, you may find yourself going for a lot more walks – because your gym is closed, you’re bored, you finally have the time to do it.
Since walking is such a basic form of movement, it doesn’t really require much of a warmup or cool-down – you can just head out the door and get going. Or at least that’s what you’d think.
But have you ever really observed how people walk? How they move their bodies as they put one foot in front of the other? Ok, Maybe only Pilates instructors do that. And Monty Python, of course. As documented here.
Now, I really don’t want to make you self-conscious about walking – but I do very much want to encourage you to be aware of your body. So take a look around. You’ll see all sort of odd compensation patterns and lopsided movements that can over time compound into injury.
Let me stop right here and say I’m STILL glad whenever I see people walk! Movement is a GOOD THING!
So what do you need for solid walking movement? Mobility, strength and stability in the ankles, knees and hips, core control and axial elongation (that’s a fancy word for “length – especially through the spine”) are some of the most important elements.
Try these movements – and do them regularly – and see if your walk doesn’t improve.
Heel raises (single-leg)
Stand on one leg, tucking the other foot behind the ankle. (Feel free to hold onto something for balance.) Slowly lift onto the ball of the foot and come back down with control. Try to evenly weight all the metatarsals (the bones in your foot above the toes). Complete 10-20 reps and repeat on the other foot.
Softly point the toes and make the biggest, slowest circle with your ankle that you can. You can hold the front of the shin to make sure the movement is actually coming from the ankle. You can do this exercises on the floor, seated or standing. Circle 3x in one direction, then reverse directions. Repeat with the other ankle.
Stand with feet parallel and hip-width apart. Squat down slowly as far as is comfortable and press through the feet to come back up. Keep your chest up, stick your tailfeathers out, and make sure you’re hinging at the hip. The knees should always be pointing in the same direction as your toes, and try to keep your arches lifted by “screwing” the feet into the ground. Do 5-15 reps.
Feet are hip-width apart. Lunge back with one foot, keeping the width and trying not to wobble. Imagine a straight line from the crown of your head through the back knee. Without letting the front knee come forward, reach down through the back knee for a deeper lunge. Then push off the ball of the back foot to return to starting position. Do 5 reps on each side. (Notice how that push-off is the same as in walking? It also gives you a nice stretch of the hip flexor, which can get tight if you walk a lot – win-win! I LOVE multifunctional movements!!!)
Standing hip circles
Stand tall, shift your weight onto one foot, bend the opposite leg and draw the knee in a large, slow circle in one direction. The movement should come from your hip socket, so no rotating or hiking of the pelvis and keep your upper body square (imagine the shoulders and pelvis like a box – it doesn’t rotate or side-bend here). 3x in each direction, repeat on the other side.
Now, if you’ve been doing these carefully – with “control”, because Joseph Pilates called his method “Contrology“, which is what it’s all about! – you have actually worked to stabilize the core. The core, BTW, is basically your torso and NOT just your abdominals. Thought I’d get that out of the way:)
As for that “axial elongation”? In all those movements, think about lifting your ribs off your hips and floating your head – which is stacked above your spine – up toward the ceiling.
Go ahead and give it a try – and then get out the door and enjoy your walk!
Bonus: Prone hip flexor extension
This one is extra-effective for lengthening those tight hip flexors that result from lots of sitting and walking.
Lay face down on the floor, stacking your hands underneath your forehead. Keeping the knees bent and touching the floor, curl the toes under. Activate your core by gently pulling your belly button towards the spine, then reach through the right heel to straighten the leg and stretch the front of the thigh. Switch legs. Repeat 3 times.
Up next: Hiking, Running, Cycling, Swimming, Kayaking, Golfing … and I’m taking requests for other topics!
And if you’re not the type of person who will actually do all of that on their own (aka most of us, myself included!) – or want some eyes on you/detailed instructions – sign up for a class or try a private session!
I care about a lot of things. But I do NOT care what you look like. Not one bit.
When you walk through the doors of my physical (or virtual) studio, I will look at a lot of things. But not your appearance. I could not possibly care less what the color of your skin is. What you identify as and what your orientation is. Whether you have wrinkles or gray hair. How fashionable your workout gear is. Whether you feel like your legs are ugly or your stomach is bulging. I REALLY DO NOT CARE.
What I DO care about is HOW YOU ARE DOING. Do you feel good in your body? Can you move well and easily? Are you able to do the things you want to do – whether that “something” is running a marathon, playing with your grandkids, setting records at powerlifting meets or playing an instrument without pain? I care about your gender and your weight only in terms of the implications for how you move. And then, I want to know: What can I do to get you there?
What Western consumer culture has fed us about “exercise” makes me angry beyond words. It’s created this belief that “exercise” is some type of punishment for eating too much. That you have to set records and beat your body to the brink of exhaustion. And that your reward for doing all of that is looking like a 25-year-old superstar for the rest of your life and be happy, healthy and successful.
I am calling BS on that.
If you continually beat your body through those massive workouts and starve yourself, you know what’s going to happen? Well, for one thing, you are going to be absolutely MISERABLE. You may thrive on the social rewards of “thinness, but make no mistake – it won’t feel good. There’s a pretty solid chance you’ll wind up totally exhausted. And if you’re unlucky, you may wind up with a malfunctioning thyroid and possibly a painful autoimmune disorder. I could go on and on.
That is NO WAY TO LIVE. Or at least not the way I want to live.
Our bodies are pretty sophisticated organisms. But we’ve learned to ignore their signals. Partially because of a society that tells us to cover up pain (a big signal your body is sending!) by popping a pill instead of figuring out what the root cause is and fixing THAT.
Which is why I’d like to invite you to learn to trust your body again. To show it some love.
Probably 8 out of 10 people who come into my studio start out by apologizing for their body. You don’t do that if you’re really comfortable with your body. (I can relate. I’ve been working on this for years and still have my moments!)
So how do we undo all this damaging conditioning?
The way we start everything – by taking that first step. This will take time, but trust me, it’s worth it. By moving carefully, mindfully, with intention. And – lest that sound woo to you, which I am most emphatically NOT – also, by letting yourself have fun with it.
What kind of movement do you enjoy? What have you enjoyed in the past? Let yourself go there. Take a walk in the park. Go for a swim. Break out a couple of dance moves while making breakfast. Or go take a long trail run or grab that heavy barbell – movement at any level is a good thing, as long as you’re listening to your body and truly enjoy it!
Only this time, DON’T:
- obsess over how many calories you burned
- worry about what you look like
- refrain from wearing shorts or a tank top because of how you think it looks
- notice how it makes you FEEL
- observe how that sensation changes with the movement
- wear that swimsuit
- think about other ways you could move that would feel good to you
That’s your first step. And then go from there.
And if you need some guidance, I would obviously love to see you in a class or session. I can assure you that when you come into my physical/virtual space, there will never be any judging of your physical presence. And that is also the expectation I have of everyone who shares this space. Which makes classes welcoming to everyone. Oh, and yes: I will definitely steer you away from negative self-talk.
Please message or email me with any questions. And definitely reach out if you’d like to have a conversation about this. My (virtual) door is always open!
Much love – and show yourself some kindness!
Eva @ Sunroom Pilates – A brighter place
PS I thought I’d share this little anecdote that you might enjoy. Years ago – I was still translating full-time and teaching yoga on the side -, I was attending a conference and some guy said something about what they were wearing. I responded (somewhat awkwardly) that I hadn’t noticed. And then proceeded to put my foot in my mouth by trying to explain that I don’t actually notice clothing, only the body IN the clothing. Well, THAT got me a weirded-out look! Of course, I didn’t mean that I walk through the world mentally seeing people naked! Yikes! That would be seriously creepy!! Instead, when I perceive people, I instinctively look at the quality of their movement and their posture. And immediately start to have ideas of how to help them improve that. (I’ve since learned
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