Each week Virginia gives us her top tip. These are quick little snippets of advice which, if followed, will make a difference to your well being. Check back regularly to see updates or, if you would like to receive these tips, accompanied by an exercise of the week, delivered by email, let us know.
# 1. This week my focus and top tip is based around the timing of the activation of your deep core muscles. In the ideal world, your core should activate prior to any change of position, exercise or general movement. Failure in the timing of this can lead to your body “stealing” stability from elsewhere and becoming less efficient (e.g gripping through your hip flexors). Pick at least 5 things you do everyday, and try to activate or check your core is on before and during the activity – don’t forget to breathe!
# 2. This week my top tip is all about your feet. Some of you will know if you have been in my pilates classes that I occasionally go on “foot patrol”, to see the posture of your feet as you stand, sit, or lie. Ideally we like to see the feet sitting underneath the knee, and hips in good line. Watch for one turning out to the side, or taking more of your weight. Remember, your feet are highly sensitive and take on a lot of load when when walk – so don’t forget to look after them!
# 3. This week my top tip relates to how we breathe. Often we can get caught up with taking short and shallow breaths from the upper part of the chest, which can tighten up the muscles of the neck and shoulder, but also means that we aren’t getting the most out of each breath. Diaphragmatic breathing encourages a full deep breath, relaxes the muscles around the shoulders and means we can optimise the uptake of oxygen.
Try placing your hands around the base and sides of the ribs as you breathe, feel the ribcage expansion as you inhale, and soften as you exhale.
# 4. My top tip for this week relates to sitting posture. If your day involves a lot of sitting, try to ensure good posture by keeping your feet flat on the ground and your lower back against the back of your chair. Ideally you should directly face your monitor (if you are working at the computer), without any rotation through the spine. Shoulders should feel relaxed from the ears and chin gently tucked in. If you can, try to change your posture regularly through the day from sitting, to standing, walking etc.
# 5. My top tip for the week is all about how we look after our spine.
The spine is a machine which is designed to move, and remains strong and flexible by staying active. By moving around, or even just a subtle tweak to your posture through the day, you allow the spine to manage the loads placed on it.
# 6. My top tip for this week relates to relaxing the muscles around your face and jaw. Sometimes, without realising, we tend to clench our teeth and tighten the jaw. This can sometimes lead to pain referring into the neck and face, or even a headache. Through the day try to open and close the jaw and allow it to remain relaxed as you work. You may be surprised at how tight it has been!
#7. My Top Tip this week relates to your lower back. This is one of the most commonly strained areas of the body, so needs to have some attention! Maintaining good flexibility around the lower back, hips and thighs, along with a regular strength and cardio programme can make a real difference to spinal health. Variation in what you do is also important, so try to mix it up every 6-8 weeks to keep your body strong and your mind motivated!
#8. This week my focus returns to maintaining your neutral spine throughout the course of the day…we are all built with different spinal curves, so it’s helpful to be aware of where your neutral position is. Try tilting your pelvis forward and back several times to find a comfortable middle ground. This should reduce pressure building up through your back with day to day posture & hopefully improve your awareness of your body position.
#9. This week my focus is all about your balance. Sometimes we can become reliant on one side of the body more than the other, and naturally become much stronger on this side. When you can, try and balance on 1 leg and see how steady you are compared to the other. Try and aim for at least 10 seconds each side. If you are a little unsteady, make sure you are near a wall or something solid for support. If you find one side isn’t as good, work away on this as you can to help restore similarity.
#10. This week my focus is all about your balance. Sometimes we can become reliant on one side of the body more than the other, and naturally become much stronger on this side. When you can, try and balance on 1 leg and see how steady you are compared to the other. Try and aim for at least 10 seconds each side. If you are a little unsteady, make sure you are near a wall or something solid for support. If you find one side isn’t as good, work away on this as you can to help restore similarity.
#11. My Top Tip for this week relates to your feet, and more specifically, the small internal muscles that lie within them. Like any other muscle group, the internal muscles of the feet can get tired and weak, and can be strengthened to help offload the joints of the foot and ankle. My favourite exercise for this I call “The toe grippers”. Take a small towel, place it under your foot and start to grip it as if you are trying to pick it up. Repeat this on and off for 30-45 seconds, 1-2 times per day.
#12. My Top Tip for this week relates to your hands. Similarly to your feet, your hands work a lot through the day and the small muscles within them, (along with the larger ones of the forearm), can get very tight and tired. Give your hands some love by stretching out the arms every hour or so at work…this may simply be stretching the fingers out or extending the forearm and drawing the palm up or down.
#13. My Top Tip this week is all about keeping active. Don’t underestimate the impact of going for a brisk walk, getting in the pool or even doing a home based programme with small weights. With the seasons changing and the nights creeping in earlier it may be more tempting to head straight home after work, so try to mix up your routine and try something new!
#14. This week my focus is on looking after your neck whilst at work, especially if you sit or stand a lot through your day. Try to keep your chin tucked in just a little, and if working on a computer ensure the screen is set at the right level, just so you aren’t looking down or twisting the neck to see it. Every so often stretch the neck side to side and reset your posture.
#15. My Top tip for the week relates to the Thoracic (middle) spine. This part of the spine is often the area we lean forward and hunch from when sitting, typing and even texting! As it supports the rib cage and has an important role in our posture, it is important to keep it mobile and strong. Simple movements such as rotating the trunk as you sit, or a cat stretch on hands and knees, can keep it from stiffening up. Lifting the chest bone up slightly in sitting, along with broadening the collarbones, can be easy ways of encouraging a little more extension and length of the spine…
#16. This week my focus is on the ribcage. Ideally, when we breathe, there should be a slight emphasis on getting your breath to the base and the side of the ribcage. This is called “lateral breathing”, and encourages the diaphragm to be part of the process. You can feel this happening if you gently rest your hands on the base of the ribs as you inhale. Whether you are sitting, standing, or simply lying down, test this out and you should feel the rise and fall of the chest wall. This can help also to activate your deep abdominals, assist in relaxation of the body and also help direct stress away from your shoulders.
#17. My top tip for this week relates to how much we rest and sleep. With life being as busy as it is, it is important to allocate sufficient downtime, and get to bed early where possible, to allow our bodies to slow down and recharge. Your body is busy as you sleep repairing itself and preparing you for the day ahead…so reward yourself by getting your 6-8 hours as often as possible!
#18. This week my focus turns towards planning your exercise for the winter months. As the seasons change, the days get shorter and more chilly, it can be harder to go for the morning or evening walk or run. Have a few alternative options if the weather is against you that you can do inside no matter what. Maybe try your hand at swimming, the local indoor tennis centre, or even a touch of Pilates to see you through!
# 19. My Top Tip for this week relates to those people who stand a lot through the day. With the option in many workplaces now of the sit- stand desk, more of us are spending time on our feet, which is great. If you are on your feet more through the day, keep an eye on your posture and every so often check that you haven’t started to stoop or lean too heavily on one side. Small, subtle corrections and movements through your day can make a world of difference!
#20. As winter is now upon us, try to make sure you still get out at some stage through the day to get your dose of fresh air and Vitamin D. It can make such a difference to your day just to get outside and get the legs moving, energising you for the rest of the day. Alternatively, wrap up warm and hop off the bus or train a stop early and get a few extra steps in on your way home….it all adds up!
#21. This week, my focus is on how we hold up the weight of our head through the day. Every morning on the bus, I look around and sure enough the majority of commuters have the head down, scrolling along their texts, reading the news or checking out Instagram posts they may have missed overnight. Although this definitely makes the trip go faster, it certainly doesn’t help the pressure around the muscles of the neck and shoulders. Where possible, try and take a quick break from your phone and take the time to stretch out your body. Think about lengthening up through the spine, rolling the shoulders and nodding the head side to side.
See you in the studio,
Virginia & the Pilates team