These VerticAlign blog posts contain information about different exercises and stretches that can assist with posture and alignment. These exercises aim to help reduce back pain, neck pain, hip pain and knee pain. Each movement can be used to help build core strength, overcome an anterior pelvic tilt (arched back), posterior pelvic tilt (flat back) or kyphosis (hunchback) posture. Each exercise has a detailed description to help the reader understand exactly how to do it properly. Exact form is ideal for doing each of these movements. It’s important for the client to know exactly what to do, and how to do it. It’s also important to know what ORDER to do these movements in. Clients can use these descriptions to do workouts at home. Exercising at home is a powerful way to help overcome pain and feel better. Daily movement to improve posture will make you look slimmer, taller and leaner.
Pilates! You’ve heard it’s amazing and it’s the “cure all” of all physical ailments. Having been a Pilates instructor for over 14 years now, I can tell you it’s a and amazing gift that I love to give people. The mind body awareness, the muscle activation, the targeted flexibility training; these all contribute to a perfect batch of feel good movement principles and also get people coming back for more.
However, as you may or may not know, I am extremely passionate about not doing “excessive crunches” in any exercise routine. I explain why and you can read more here.
When Joseph Pilates was around ( he died in 1967 at the age of 83), the posture problems we have today didn’t exist. His repertoire included a lot of “crunch” type exercises that would now place excessive strain on necks that are already compromised from technology lifestyles. So it’s really important to modify and adapt to our changing culture, environment and bodies.
So today, I will present a few exercise that come from the Pilates method, but that I’ve adapted to be performed with the head down. It’s simple to make this change in order to take pressure off a misaligned cervical spine. Even with the adaptations, these exercises are still difficult but valuable exercises to perform. Let’s take a look at 2 exercises in the “series of 5” from the original Pilates repertoire.
Single Leg Stretch:
This exercise challenges the core and hip flexors. Not all teachers cue it this way, but I prefer it when the knees stay directly above the hip joint and don’t come in towards the chest. I find this to be more challenging for the core and helps to build strength while maintaining a neutral pelvis (bringing the leg in close will push the pelvis into a tuck position). In my variation, the head is down and the focus is on the leg extension, the knee position, and the breathing:
Double Leg Stretch:
This one is harder than the single leg stretch because extending both legs out can be very challenging for the core. The biggest mistake here is to lower the legs too far down when the legs extend, which makes it very difficult and often cause the lower back to arch. The goal is to extend the legs straight and find a position where it’s challenging on the core and also maintain the neutral pelvis position. The knees should also begin and end in the tabletop position (where the knees are directly above the hips). When they come in to the chest, it gives the abdominals a break and again, creates a “tucked” pelvis.
These exercises are an example of true “posture pilates” at it’s finest! It’s a variation that maximizes the benefits and minimizes the possible injuries. Let me know how they feel. Are you able to feel your core?
So they say “work your glutes”. In fact, I personally say it often. I’ve even ventured to tell you that working your glutes is more important that working your abs. Read more about this here. Today however, I want to focus on a specific glute muscle.
Lately, I’ve been super focused on the gluteus medius. This is located on the side of the hip. The muscle helps the other glutes with their functions (external rotation, hip extension) but it also has a solid role as a muscle stabilizer. Working this muscle is very important for a variety of movement symptoms:
Do your feet pronate (flat foot) and/or are your knees sore? Work the gluteus medius!
Do your hips shift side to side excessively when you walk? Work the gluteus medius!
Do you have a hip that sits higher than the other side? Work the gluteus medius!
You get the picture. Sometimes an “inactive” gluteus medius can cause havoc on the hip alignment and can create a pain that radiates down the body into the back, knees, ankles and feet.
Now this exercise is unique. It feels odd. You won’t know what to do with one of you arms. But check it out below and then I’ll give you some tips:
Here are my tips:
Stand against a wall. Your inside leg will be lifted into a 90 degree angle. Your inside shoulder should be touching the wall and your inside hand can rest on the lifted leg.
Make sure you are standing in good posture. The standing leg should be very straight. Your bent leg should be pushing into the wall.
You will be working both glutes. However each leg will feel different in how it is working.
Hold this position for at least 1 minute on each side.
Give this Wall Stork exercise a try and tell me what you feel. One client told me her weak glute woke up and she felt it tingling. Another client got so fatigued on one side she was able to immediately identify which glute was weaker. We are all different, so tell me how it affects YOU.
Please comment below and tell me how this feels in YOUR body!
It’s a common alignment problem: ROTATION. Rotation issues can cause dysfuntion such as hip pain, back pain, and knee pain. Where does it come from?
Who knows exactly. Maybe you crossed your legs the same way every day for years on end. Or your dominant hand/leg has taken over your non-dominant side, creating a natural rotation in the body. A shorter leg can cause these issues, as well as something simple like sleeping on the same side for years on end.
It’s important to figure out what is causing the rotation. However, even more important, is to learn exercises that will bring you back to balance.
When I’m working with a client who has rotation, I address it one of two ways, and a visual assessment helps me to determine which approach would be the best solution.
Some clients present their rotational imbalance in their thoracic spine (the midback area). A strong dominant hand, or consistent purse carrying or backpack carrying on one side, can exacerbate this problem. For exercises to address this problem, you can try this stretch:
Often times the rotation actually presents heavily in the hips. This is sometimes causes by leg length discrepancies, excessive leg crossing, or by sports such as golf or baseball.
For hip imbalances, I introduce a new exercise based on an old yoga posture. I call it Wall Triangle, and it can be a powerful exercise when done correctly.
1. Stand against a wall with the right heel against the wall. Externally rotate the left leg and place it 2 to 3 feet out to the side with the left foot parallel to the wall. (check it out: my foot is NOT parallel in this picture. My left foot needs to be turned out more. Shame on me!)
2. Make sure both glutes are against the wall. Bring the arms out to a T position, placing the head, both shoulders and hands against the wall.
3. Lean the upper body down to the left as far as you can, keeping the hands, shoulders and glutes up against the wall.
4. Use your abdominals to stabilize and hold this position for 30 seconds to 1 minute .
Now, I must CAUTION YOU! This exercise can be very challenging to hold and can create some powerful change in the body. If you are feeling any discomfort, back out of the exercise and try holding a shorter period of time, or don’t lower your upper body down too far. The most important piece of this exercise is the glute alignment on the wall, and the feet and leg positions.
You can watch a quick video description here:
Give it a try and please comment below on how it felt. I read every comment and respond to every email I receive!