Soft Body Pilates

Pilates is great for creating mind/body awareness, skilled movement, and physical introspection that we do not always spend time with on the gym floor. It is sometime defined as controlled movements through a strong core. Id like to think all training could be described this way. The "long, lean look" they preach is more of a selling point. Long lean muscles are created in the kitchen with your diet, and your genetics. Though I know what everyone means, when they say they want to get "toned," its actually a reflection of the tension or strength your muscles can create. Strength and tension is created using resistances of progressive intensity. Being defined, is a reflection of your body composition, which is 80% diet, some training, and genetics. Using "smaller muscles" is not entirely true either. Muscles used for movement can be categorized as agonists, antagonists, stabilizers, and neutralizers. They are all involved in any body movement, from getting out of a chair, to walking, movements on a Pilates reformer, or bench pressing in the gym. Agonists and antagonists are your main movers, the pushers and pullers, flexors and extensors. They re the muscles you see and become developed, hence their focus in exercise. You also have muscles that aid these movements called stabilizers and neutralizers. Theses muscles stabilize joints throughout your agonist movements and neutralize any unwanted movement elsewhere in the body when performing an exercise. These muscles are often under your superficial muscles, making them harder to visualize. They are also not as voluntary, making it harder for you to recruit and engage, sometimes even involuntary, and do not need to be engaged, i.e. the transverse abdominus. This lack of awareness or ability to engage or recruit has made Pilates and mind/body training popular. However, in Pilates, like any other mode of exercise, all four types of muscle actions are taking place, and no single mode of exercise truly isolates any of these. So to say Pilates works small muscles is not entirely true. In fact, I would argue that the resistance generated during a barbell squat or dead lift recruits more of your smaller stabilizing/neutralizing muscles, than a resistance created on the reformer with resistant springs attached, much like a bench press or pull up, trains the smaller muscles more than pulls on the cadillac, or equivalent pushing movement in Pilates. It does have application for corrective exercise and injury prevention/rehabilitation in addition to traditional resistance training. However, it lacks progressions, scientific periodization, and objective measures of its training protocols. If you continued to use the same resistance for a given exercise, you would plateau and eventually regress, as that stimulus would no longer elicit a response. There s a diminishing return for the same intensity, which is why strength and conditioning applies systematic progressions.

Often yogis, dancers, and individuals that are already genetically lean, long, and flexible, are drawn to Pilates, which allowed for a subcultural attractive look to develop. You don't see overweight Pilates clients, because they are doing something more efficient for fat loss, and an overweight Pilates instructor can not stay in business long. It would be fair to say that many personal trainers are former athletes or fitness enthusiasts that always had good genetics and results too, but there are many trainers with life transforming stories. Because Pilates is fairly new and does not have mass appeal yet, there is little science or research to support any of its benefits. The entire philosophy of Pilates was developed by one German man looking for an alternative way to be healthy through physical activity. It is now passed on from instructor to instructor and has evolved over time. Many fitness professionals, on the other hand, have degrees in exercise science and internationally recognized certifications. Their training and expertise is routed in science, supported by facts and centuries of historical application. I recently had a conversation with a Pilates instructor who mentioned their instruction specifically avoids anatomical terminology, in terms of their branding and imaging. And while some instructors are educated in anatomy and physiology, the focus of Pilates is more about feeling and less about applying real theory. In some ways it made me think of a placebo....

(Updated) Sketchers Shape Up Shoes and Other Negative Heal Footwear

Toning ShoesVia:

You may have noticed the latest in footwear technology hitting the streets, the negative heal shoe. Forbes Magazine recently included them in an article on 20 Ways You are Getting Ripped Off. You have seem them, they are big and bulky, resembling orthopedic or moon shoes. I have been getting a lot of questions from clients about these shoes and if they are worthwhile. Common brands include Sketchers - Shape Ups, Reebok's - Reetone, Fit Flops, and MBT, among others. These shoes are ergonomically designed with a soft, depressed heal, and rocker bottom, to promote greater lower limb muscle recruitment. They claim to tone leg muscles and abdominals, improve posture, and burn more calories. The marketing campaign, targeting mostly women, are a goldmine. Who wouldn't want to reap these great health benefits. Unfortunately, a lot of these claims are unfounded or based on company financed research and anecdotal evidence. They are the latest foray of quick fix fitness gimmicks. While they may serve some purpose in the realm of balance training and simulating a hyper-proprioceptive environment, there is little research to support efficacy of instability training anyway. With the exception of your lips and genitalia, your hands and feet contain more nerves than any place in your body. Wearing these shoes, pads and dulls vital sensory input from the ground and up through your sensory rich feet, via proprioceptors to your brain. Intentionally placing yourself in such a precarious position may expose you to injury, ankle sprains, falls, etc. I would not allow a client to do anything beyond moderately walking in them. They are definitely not conducive to resistance training, which will yield greater health and weight management results than a change in footwear; $100+ footwear! Yes, you may initially feel an increase in muscle activity. Any change in your footwear and or posture will elicit a similar effect until your body adapts and realigns itself. Better to reinforce a natural, healthy gait pattern, strengthen the muscle in your feet, and improve your posture with proper alignment, then to reinforce a negative pattern, shifting your weight onto your forefoot, stressing your knees, and anteriorly rolling your pelvis, crunching your sacrum.

So what can you do to improve leg and abdominal toning, improve your posture, and burn more calories? Stand up from your desk and take your shoes off. Turn your feet parallel to each other, toes spread, big toes straight ahead, slightly tuck your tailbone and engage your abdominals, take a deep breath, pull your shoulders back, tuck your chin, and lift the crown of your head towards the ceiling. Now stand and be mindful of your renewed sense of posture and alignment. Maintain this mindset and walk around the room. Feel your feet in contact with the floor and the transfer of energy up through your feet, into your legs, through your core, and up to your neck, shoulders, and head. Continue to be mindful of this posture with each and every step you take and notice the immediate benefits in muscle activity. Remind yourself of this postural ideal tomorrow as you go about your day and start reaping the benefits. Because you can't walk around barefoot all the time, consider a flatter soled shoe that keeps your foot closer to the ground. Stay tuned for my next blog where I will delve into choosing proper footwear, the latest in barefoot training theories, and why yoga practitioners may know something we don't.