Sunday Piloxing Starts Tomorrow!

I’m driving home from South Carolina today, which makes me sad (I call this my least favorite day of the year). I’m definitely going to miss my beach chair after a week of sand, sun and waves, but I do have something … Continue reading

Recipe for Beach-Ready Abs: The Pilates Teaser

It may be July, but if the weather we’ve had in the DC area (or most of the eastern U.S., for that matter) is any indication, we still have a lot of summer ahead of us. That said – are you rocking the beach body you’d hoped to be by now? Are those crunches getting a little stale? Maybe not seeing the results you’d expected?

Must be time to try some Teasers. Pilates Teasers work the deep abdominal muscles, and as you go through the progressions below, you’ll be hitting the abs from a number of different angles. They are challenging, but the payoff is absolutely worth it.

A couple of tips before you get started:

Always go back to the level one teaser if at any time the progression feels too difficult. It’s always better to work your way up when your body is ready for it, rather than forcing your way through the exercises if you aren’t ready for them (you want the exercises to be fueled by muscle, not momentum). The two main elements to focus on are your breathing – a strong exhale will help you control your movement – and keeping the feet firmly planted on the ground when the upper body is in motion (the rules change a little for the full teaser).

Level One Teaser

Start on lying on the back, with knees bent and feet flat on the ground and arms extended straight behind the body. Inhale, lifting the hands up to the sky, and exhale, lifting the upper body to a seated position. Inhale, lifting the hands to the sky, and exhale, slowly lowering the body to start, hands parallel to the ground.

To make it easier: Only lift the upper body as high as you can without sacrificing form

To make it harder: Add one 2-3 lb. weight in each hand, or one larger weight pinched between both hands.

Hint: The key is to keep the feet on the ground at all times. The farther from the body the feet are, the easier it is to get up, and the closer to the body the feet are, the harder it is to get up. Any pressure felt in the hip flexor (front of the hip) is the body’s way of compensating for weaknesses in the abs – as you get stronger you will start to feel more work in the abs than the hips.

Single Leg Teaser

Start lying on the back, with one leg bent, foot on the floor, and the other leg extended long, knees together. Inhale, lifting the arms to the sky, and exhale, reaching forward toward the toes. Inhale, lifting hands back to the sky, and exhale, slowly lowering back down to start.

To make it easier: Only lift the upper body as high as you can without sacrificing form

To make it harder: Add one 2-3 lb. weight in each hand, or one larger weight pinched between both hands.

Hint: Don’t let the knees separate or the extended foot drop. Think about squeezing  a quarter between your knees, and trying not to drop it. You can also place a yoga block between the knees – this will give you a little space between the knees, making it easier to keep the hips aligned – and if the block moves, you know you’re dropping the top leg.

Prep for Full Teaser

Start the same as Level One teaser, with feet flat on the ground and hands straight behind the body. Inhale, arms lifting to the sky, and exhale as you draw the body up toward the knees. Once the upper body has stopped moving, lift toes off the ground, extend legs out straight, and return toes to the floor. Inhale, lifting arms to the sky, and exhale as you slowly lower yourself back down to the ground.

Full Teaser

Start with the body extended long on the ground, hands and feet reaching in opposite directions. Using angel arms (like you’re making a snow angel), inhale, sweeping the hands from behind the head until they reach the side of the body. Exhale, lifting the hands and feet together. Inhale, hands to the sky, and exhale, slowly lowering the body to the ground, hands and feet reaching the ground at the same time.

As you progress through the Teasers, don’t get frustrated if it takes a while to build up your strength! I’ll be the first person to admit that when I first started taking Pilates classes, this was one of the most difficult exercises for me to work through. You’ll find that once you get the rhythm of the breathing down, it’s easier to control your motion as you pull yourself up and slowly lower yourself down with strong exhales, you’ll start feeling the correct muscles working … and you’ll start seeing the results of your hard work (as long as you’re putting in your cardio time, too).

Beach-Ready Abs in 5 Easy (But Challenging!) Steps

Beach season is upon us … are your abs ready? If not (or if you consider yourself a constant work in progress), the Pilates stomach series – sometimes referred to as the “5s” – is a great way to hit your abs at every angle. And it doesn’t take much to get the benefits!

A couple form tips to keep in mind as you get going: through all of these exercises, the position of your lower back will be incredibly important. You want to maintain a neutral spine, with your bellybutton tucked tight into your spine, almost as if you are trying to press it down flat into the floor below you. If, at any time, you feel your spine start to curve off of the mat, all you have to do is raise the legs higher to the sky – it will drop the back down onto the mat, and relieve any pressure you may be feeling in the low back. Remember, if you feel the work in the low back, it means you’ve lost the tension in your abs … meaning you’ve lost the muscle-shaping benefits of the exercise.

So, without further ado, here they are … you should focus on trying to perform these exercises 2-3 times a week, on non-consecutive days, to start seeing results.

 

Single Bent Leg Stretch

Head and shoulders up, bellybutton tucked tight to the spine, hands on the inside and outside of one knee, opposite leg extended straight. Release and switch sides, repeating 8-15 times with each leg.

To make it harder: Pick up the pace, inhaling for two counts and exhaling for two counts.

Hint: Only thing moving should be the legs and hands as they release.

Hint: If the low back starts to pull up, angle the legs higher to the ceiling.

 

Double Bent Leg Stretch

Head and shoulders up, bellybutton tucked tight to the spine, both legs tucked in, hands in blades on top of the shins. Inhale, extending arms and legs in opposite directions. Exhale, using angel arms circling the body, and pulling arms and legs back in tight. Halfway through, reverse the arms, with angel arms back, then pulling up and over, legs stay the same. Perform 6-10 reps in each direction.

To make it harder: Add 2-3 lb. hand weights, pinched between the palm and thumb.

Hint: If the low back starts to pull up, angle the legs higher to the ceiling.

 

Single Straight Leg Stretch

Head and shoulders up, bellybutton tucked tight to the spine, legs at 90+ degree angle – one parallel to the floor, the other leg extended to the sky, hands behind the leg. Reverse the legs, drawing straight lines to the front with each leg. Repeat 8-15 times with each leg.

To make it harder: Speed up the motion, inhaling for two counts and exhaling for two counts (each inhale/exhale is a switch with the legs).

To make it harder: Release hands so they are parallel to the ground, maintaining control through the center as legs switch.

Hint: Only thing moving should be the legs and hands as they release.

 

Double Straight Leg Stretch

Legs to the ceiling, low back grounded, bellybutton tucked into the spine. Legs together, inhale as you draw a straight line down, as close to the ground as you can get without allowing the low back to pull up, then exhale to draw the toes back to the ceiling. Three upper body/arm positions: for low back issues, keep hands underneath hips, head and shoulders on the ground; or keep head and shoulders on the ground, hands next to hips; or head and shoulders off the mat, hands placed lightly behind the head. Repeat 6-12 times.

Hint: Use your exhale! A strong exhale will make it easier to draw the toes up to the ceiling.

Hint: If the hands are behind the head, think of an open chest and elbows – you should be able to let go of the head and have the upper body stay in the same position. Don’t pull on your head!

 

Crisscross

Start lying flat on the mat, head and shoulders up, hands lightly behind the head, knees bent at 90 degrees. Angle one shoulder toward the opposite knee, reaching long (not crunching), then reach toward the opposite side. Repeat 8-15 times.

To make it harder: Balance up on the sit bones. Holding a weight (5-15 lbs.) center, reverse the legs, while twisting the weight through center in opposite directions.

Hint: Think of reaching long, not crunching in – your elbow should never reach your knee. Unless you’re missing a few ribs.

Perhaps most importantly … don’t forget your cardio! All the ab work in the world won’t make a difference if you aren’t actively working to lower your body fat percentage. Like I always tell my classes – never say you don’t have abs, because everyone does. You just may not be able to see them … YET!

BONUS! Pilates Playlist!

Little bonus for you today … since I always put my Spinning playlists out there, I thought I’d share with you the music I keep in rotation for my Pilates classes. Essentially, I keep this huge list and just take a few minutes to shuffle it up so the music is still fresh every week – and, of course, add a new song now and then when I fall in love something.

The beauty of Pilates music is it’s just kind of the background – doesn’t necessarily drive the class as much as it sets a mood (hence the slower songs). And sometimes – okay, honestly, in my case, most classes – it helps drown out the high-energy cardio class taking place in the main studio next to my more serene mind-body studio.

So, here’s what I currently have in the rotation … let me know if you think there’s anything I should add!

Please Forgive Me – David Gray

Come Home – Sara Bareilles ft. One Republic

Break Even – The Script

Teenage Dream – Katy Perry (as well as the Glee cover)

Your Body is a Wonderland – John Mayer

Bleeding Love – Leona Lewis

Somebody That I Used to Know – Gotye

Eyes Open – Taylor Swift (Hunger Games Soundtrack)

I Run to You – Lady Antebellum

I Won’t Give Up – Jason Mraz

Like a Star – Corrinne Bailey Rae

Secrets – One Republic

Mad – Ne-yo

Dog Days Are Over – Florence and the Machine

Not Over You – Gavin DeGraw

Showtime – Nelly Furtado

In Your Eyes (Studio and Acoustic) – Peter Gabriel

Turning Tables – Adele

Beautiful Ways – Pat McGee Band

The One That Got Away – Katy Perry

You Make it Real – James Morrison

Lucky – Jason Mraz ft. Cobie Callait

Gravity – Sara Bareilles

Set Fire to the Rain – Adele

Amazing (Studio and Acoustic) – Josh Kelley

Love Soon – John Mayer

Say it Right – Nelly Furtado

You and I – Lady Gaga

Anna Begins – Counting Crows

A Thousand Years – Christina Perri

Nothing – The Script

Mr. Know it All – Kelly Clarkson

Hollywood’s Not America – Ferras

King of Anything – Sara Bareilles

Someone Like You (Studio and Live) – Adele

Colorblind – Counting Crows (Cruel Intentions Soundtrack)

One – U2

Come On Get Higher – Matt Nathanson

Lover Come Up – Josh Kelley

Best I Ever Had – Vertical Horizon

You and I Both – Jason Mraz

Chasing Cars – Snow Patrol

Don’t You Wanna Stay – Jason Aldean ft. Kelly Clarkson

Heartbreak Warfare – John Mayer

Happy – Leona Lewis

Wonderwall – Oasis

Domino – Jessie J

Nobody Knows it But Me – Babyface

You’ve Got a Way – Shania Twain

Love and Memories – O.A.R.

Chasing Pavements – Adele

Gravity – John Mayer

Better in Time – Leona Lewis

Just a Kiss – Lady Antebellum

Stay – Lisa Loeb

The Only Exception – Paramore

I Dare You to Move – Switchfoot

Dreaming with a Broken Heart – John Mayer

Beautiful Disaster – Jon McLaughlin

Haven’t Seen for a While – Pat McGee Band

Poker Face – Glee (Lea Michele/Idina Menzel)

Walking on Broken Glass – Annie Lennox

Haven’t Met You Yet – Michael Buble

Love Song – Sara Bareilles

These Days – Rascal Flatts

How to Save a Life – The Fray

Good Life – One Republic

Lose You – Pete Yorn

Make You Feel My Love – Adele

Comfortable – John Mayer

What Hurts the Most – Rascal Flatts

All the Right Moves – One Republic

Just the Way You Are – Bruno Mars

Can’t Get You Off My Mind – Lenny Kravitz

Rhythm of Love – Plain White T’s

Faces – Josh Kelley

Shattered – O.A.R.

The Luckiest – Ben Folds

Need You Now – Lady Antebellum

I’m Like a Bird – Nelly Furtado

Almost Honest – Josh Kelley

For the First Time – The Script

Everything – Lifehouse

Use Somebody – Kinds of Leon

Rolling in the Deep – Adele

Belief – Gavin DeGraw

Say – John Mayer

All Good Things Come to an End – Nelly Furtado

Just Say the Word – Josh Kelley

Every Breath You Take – The Police

Fidelity – Regina Spektor

Shadow Boxer – Fiona Apple

Set a Drift on Memory Bliss – PM Dawn

Champagne Supernova – Oasis

With or Without You – U2

Don’t Know Why – Norah Jones

A Long December – Counting Crows

Airplanes – B.o.B. ft. Haley Williams

Hey There Delilan – Plain White T’s

I Could Not Ask for More – Edwin McCain

Pilates: It’s Not Just for Women!

One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that Pilates is just for women (another one is that it’s easy, but that’s a whole other myth for another day). Although women outnumber men in most Pilates classes – my classes tend to average one or two men to every dozen or so women – the benefits to men are just as prevalent. In fact, Pilates was created by a man (boxer Joseph Pilates).

Pilates is based on functional fitness, which can help to increase strength, balance, flexibility, coordination, endurance and range of motion throughout the body. Focused on building core strength – through the abdominals, back and hips – Pilates engages the smaller muscles in the body that are often missed in weight-based strength workouts. The exercises are designed to hit the deeper, often under-developed muscles that lead to weaknesses, and potential injuries, in the body. And if you’re doing your cardio, you may even (finally!) find the solution to uncovering that sexy six-pack.

Many athletes have turned to Pilates to help them improve their game. A strong core allows athletes to lift heavier weight without compromising form, and improved posture can also lead to more efficient breathing. In fact, sports-specific Pilates classes have started to pop up across the country, focused specifically in improving your golf or tennis game.

Still need a little convincing? Professional athletes who have turned to Pilates include:

  • Basketball players Jason Kidd (see what he has to say about Pilates here), Lebron James and Kobe Bryant
  • Football players Calvin Johnson and Ruben Brown
  • Baseball players Curt Schilling and James Loney
  • Golfer Tiger Woods
  • Rugby player Ugo Monye
  • Hockey Player Carlo Colaiacovo

Many professional sports teams, including the Minnesota Timberwolves, New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, also include Pilates in their strength and conditioning regimen.

So, men, don’t be afraid of that room full of ladies. You’ll gain strength, flexibility, coordination, and improved overall sports performance – and maybe even finally see that six-pack you’ve been working toward. You never know, play your cards right, you might even get a date out of it (just don’t be creepy about it!) 😉

Pilates Principles: The Basics for a Strong, Lean Body

Pilates can have a place in everyone’s workout routine – young or old, male or female (no, Pilates is not just for women … in fact, numerous stories have been published recently involving professional football and basketball players actively participating in Pilates classes). Used for years as rehabilitation for dancers, Pilates has gained popularity in the last 10 or so years. Numerous modifications can be made to the core Pilates exercises, making it ideal for both novices and extremely conditioned athletes.

When beginning a Pilates practice (and even if you’ve been a Pilates devotee for years), focus on the following elements, all of which are the basis for a successful Pilates experience:

Breathing Pilates breath is based on deep inhalation through the nose, and forced exhalation through the mouth. Most importantly, never hold your breath!

Concentration Begin by removing distractions and mentally preparing for the upcoming work. Focus on proper movements, executed correctly – eventually you should feel as if the movements take place without subconscious thought.

Control Always focus on working with your muscles, versus allowing momentum to take you through each exercise. Maintain mental control over your movements, working slowly and with complete control.

Centering Focus on maintaining a stable core – all work should come from your center.

Flow Movements should always be executed smoothly and evenly, flowing one into the next, guided by full inhalation and complete exhalation.

Relaxation Be aware of your body – only use the correct muscles to produce each movement. Aim to reduce tension in the neck, shoulders and hips.

Most of all, remember to do what feels good for your body on any given day. You never want to force the movements – it eliminates the element of control, which takes away from the muscle work and could introduce the possibility of injury. Before long, you’ll find yourself growing leaner and stronger!