Pilates and breath – your secret super power

When you think of Pilates you may not think of the breath. Most people know that Yoga involves some deep involvement in the breath. Certainly in the Byron Bay, Lennox Head and Ballina area there is a plethora of Yoga options and what many people don’t know is that Pilates is also a breath based movement system. If you do a Pilates mat class in a gym you may not get to learn the subtleties of the breath. I don’t want anyone to miss out on the power of this in their Pilates practice. The breath is where your deepest, strongest, lightest power resides.

Joseph Pilates was an asthmatic as a child. He went to all sorts of doctors and healers and as a young man studied yoga, tai chi. When he invented his movement system breath was at the centre of it. The mechanics of breath underpin the basic spine shapes in Pilates exercises. And the purpose of many of the exercises is to free up the function of the lungs, to enable better circulation and increased oxygen intake for the body.

2 Spine shapes in Pilates and breath

  1. The C-Curve or rounded spine (flexion) is associated with the exhale. The diaphragm and the pelvic diaphragm lift to help to empty the lungs. The roundness of the lumbar spine and the back of the ribs help to facilitate this movement in the diaphragms. Fully emptying the lungs is essential for deep, oxygenating inhales. The C-curve spinal position supports a full and thorough exhale.
  2. The arched spine (extension) is associated with the inhale. The opening of the chest and subtle lift of the sternum allow the diaphragm to drop and the lungs to fill. If the pelvic diaphragm is responsive enough it will also drop allowing the lower abdomen as the organs between the diaphragms drop.

This is not the only way to breath in Pilates. There are benefits to reversing this pattern during some exercises. There are also other breathing techniques that become necessary as you move to the more advanced repertoire. As a beginner to intermediate student of Pilates mastery of the breath as the centre of your practice will bring great rewards such as:

  • Helping you to move past gripping of muscles towards deep engagement of muscles
  • Relaxing the compensatory muscles to deepen the work where you want it
  • Releasing tension around the neck and shoulders
  • Healthy engagement of pelvic floor

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer and a mum. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

4 tips for Pelvic Floor Health – And Why Kegels Are No Quick Fix

Are you looking for how to improve your pelvic floor health? You may be noticing that you leak wee occasionally when you laugh, cough, sneeze or run. Sex may have become quite painful or you may have a prolapse in later life or after having children. Pelvic floor health is not well understood in the broader community and especially not in the fitness world. But it needs to be because the way we train our bodies has a direct impact on the pelvic floor. Instead of doing damage we want to get deep engagement and coordination of the pelvic floor, this is the true meaning of ‘core strength’.

First things first

I have said it before and I will say it again. Your pelvic floor is not a floor, it is not fixed nor should it be. It is a diaphragm and it mirrors the diaphragm you have under your ribs. Both diaphragms are part of your respiratory system and need to move with your breath. This is true for both men and women and whilst the information in this post is targeted toward women it is also relevant for men.

Why not Kegels?

Your pelvic floor (diaphragm) is made up of many seperate muscles that work together. Kegels target a couple of the muscles in the pelvic floor (diaphragm). Kegels work on muscle strength by contracting the muscles, making them shorter and tighter. However if you train some of the pelvic floor muscles to be short and tight and the others are not trained at all this can make it difficult for these muscles to work together as a diaphragm, to respond to the breath. To be pliable, flexible and toned the pelvic floor (diaphragm) needs to be worked in coordination with the muscles in the torso and with the breath.

4 tips for a healthy pelvic floor

  1. Allow your breath to come deep into your belly. When you inhale let your belly come out like a balloon (use no force or tension), this can take some time to relax the pelvic diaphragm enough to allow the breath to come down low in the torso. As you exhale notice your belly return naturally towards your bones. This simple breathing technique will help the overall coordination of the muscles in torso and your pelvic floor.
  2. Massage around your SITS bones. Grab a clean tennis ball and start by sitting down on the floor or a chair and massage around the outside of one SITS bone. After a minute or so you can then massage on the inside edge of the same SITS bone. Go gently as the tissues in here are delicate. Continue to breath as in tip 1. Then repeat on the other side.
  3. Practice creating intra-abdominal pressure before you lift anything. Practicing is easy, we can do it with our imagination. Bring your hands out in front of you and imagine you are about to pick up a child. You should feel a slight engagement of your abdominal muscles, this is intra-abdominal pressure. It changes in response to weight that you are lifting.
  4. Have good lifting techniques. Always use a good hip hinge to bend down and pick up anything heavy. Keeping the spine long the intra-abdominal pressure will kick in but in this position most of the weight will be taken by the legs. If your spine is bent then much of the load will end up in the lower abdominals and pelvic floor.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer and a mum. I have had several abdominal surgeries for infertility and recovered after cesarean birth. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online.

‘Pelvic Prosperity’ and your core – what you need to know

Do you want more core strength? Do you wish you were more connected to your core? Are you searching ‘Pilates classes Ballina’ so you can develop core strength? It might be to reduce back pain, or to stop leaking urine when you cough, sneeze, laugh, jump or run. You may have a displaced organ (or prolapse) and you know you need to work ‘down there’ but you don’t know where to start. Or you may be post-natal and wanting to re-strengthen after carrying and birthing a baby. Pelvic prosperity is for women in all of these scenarios. It is the wealth (in spirit and quality of life) that comes from understanding your pelvic floor enough to really look after it.

So first off, your pelvic floor is not a floor. It is not supposed to have the stability of a floor, your pelvic floor is a diaphragm and it mirrors the diaphragm under your ribs. Your pelvic diaphragm is a group of muscles important in women for internal control of the urethra, vagina and rectum and also important for the enjoyment of sex. The pelvic diaphragm muscles are also important for mens health, however the focus of this article is women.

In the exercise world there is a lot of misinformation and confusion about ‘pelvic floor’ strength, the risks of training incorrectly and how best to care for pelvic muscles over the different life stages of life women go through. Most information on pelvic floor health advises ‘strengthening the pelvic floor’ by doing a kegel type exercise – a squeeze and lift of the pelvic floor muscles. This has its place when prescribed to a specific body for specific purpose but this has been taken into the training and exercise world and the side effects for women are not good. The misconception is to learn to brace or grip the pelvic diaphragm at the same time as the deep abdominals to build ‘core strength’. There are a few reasons why this is not a good idea

  1. When we squeeze our pelvic floor Kegel style we are making the muscles stronger, shorter and tighter. Great right? No! What many people don’t realise is that pelvic floor dysfunction often occurs when the pelvic floor is too toned, too strong and too short. In this state the pelvic diaphragm cannot respond to the pressure in the abdomen and so the organs are left unsupported.
  2. When the pelvic diaphragm is trained to be strong and short and tight this leads to further bracing of the deep abdominals, the pelvic diaphragm is so tight it is unable to release with the breath so the the deepest abdominals are not able to engage properly. Training is then only focused on the more superficial muscles and the deep abdominals get left behind.

This leaves women with hypertonic pelvic diaphragm and weak deep abdominals susceptible to back pain and other ailments. They may also have a fine 6 pack or a flat tummy.

A responsive pelvic diaphragm is one that can react and engage when the need arises. Bending down to pick up a child or the shopping; When pressure builds in the torso from a big sneeze; To control a full bladder. Just tightening our pelvic muscles into one contraction does not get us to a responsive pelvic diaphragm.


Release is a word that we don’t hear often associated with the pelvic diaphragm. However the release is what happens after the pelvic diaphragm lifts to support the organs. It responds to the diaphragm under the ribs and moves in tandem with it. If your pelvic muscles are so tight you are not able to release them you may need some treatment from a pelvic floor physiotherapist.

Massaging the muscles around your SITS bones and working with your breath can support the process of releasing the pelvic floor.

Two other important aspects for healing of the pelvic diaphragm are:

  1. Alignment of the pelvis: Our pelvic diaphragm muscles attach to our pelvis. The positioning of our pelvis affects the tone and length of our pelvic muscles. If the pelvis is tucked under all the time the muscles at the front of the pelvic area will be short and tight and will restrict responsiveness of the whole pelvic diaphragm.
  2. Getting the load just right: To load a pelvic diaphragm where the muscles are shortened and tight is very difficult, the abdominals just take over and there is no benefit for pelvic control. Once the pelvic diaphragm is released enough to begin to engage learning to feel the right load is the next step. This is done through trial and error with full attention to alignment.

And this is the way we heal the pelvic diaphragm and create pelvic prosperity for ourselves.

If you would like to try some of these techniques out for yourself, I am running a movement webinar “Pelvic Prosperity” Wednesday 16th September at 8pm via zoom $39. The webinar will cover basic techniques to care for your pelvic diaphragm during exercise and day to day movement. You will also get to keep the recording for your future reference. Sign up here. Be quick and use the code movetonurture to get $10 off the price.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer and a mum. I have had several abdominal surgeries for infertility and recovered from birth. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online.

Are you in an injury cycle?

Do you have an old injury that comes and goes? Just when you think it’s improving something “goes” and suddenly you are back where you started? Recurring injuries can affect all different areas of the body including neck, shoulders and ribs, mid and lower back, hips, knees and ankles and even feet. Conditions such as bursitis (shoulder / hip), plantar fasciatis (feet), knee pain, mid back tightness, and lower back pain are good examples of recurring injuries. These conditions tend to come and go, when they come they can be extremely debilitating. Recurring injuries usually mean that the way you move each day is reinforcing the pattern that is causing the injury. I want you to see how changing the way you move may alleviate your recurring injury for good!

There are key patterns in the body that contribute to pain and recurring injury. The form of our body in a squat is a great assessment tool to see what patterns are at work. When you bend to go into a squat do your knees roll in or out? Or are they in line with your toes? Is your spine long from your tail to the crown of your head? Or have you buckled in the spine to bend your knees? Are your shoulders rolling in with the weight of your arms hanging down or are you holding your shoulder blades in place on the back of your ribs as you come down? Is your neck and head part of your spine in a long line or is your chin pushed forward dragging the back of your neck with it? ]

Get some one to take a photo of you in a squat or do a gentle knee bend / squat in front of a mirror. Check yourself against some of the questions above. This simple test can reveal a lot about the reflex movement patterns that you have. We all have reflex movement patterns, this is how the brain frees up space for more complex decisions like what we will be cooking for dinner! If your reflex movement patterns are good for your bones, joints tendons, ligaments and muscles then you will not suffer recurring injuries. If your reflex movements put uneven strain or pressure on your bones, joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles then it is likely you will suffer recurring injuries and pain.

Correcting reflex movement patterns is not as hard as you think! Our bodies and particularly our brains are very pliable. It can take a short investment of a lot of attention to the way we move to correct any unhelpful patterns. Once these have been learned we can turn them over to reflex movement that is now not going to cause misalignment and pain. The help of a movement teacher and a manual therapist will help with this process. In the long term once you have learned new movement patterns you will need manual therapy much less often as you enjoy a lot more pain free time.

Here are some basic tips for developing healthy movement patterns to keep recurring injury and pain at bay.

  • Learn to do a good squat or hip crease – this movement can be handy every time you sit down on a chair or to use the toilet. Doing this movement with awareness will begin to improve your deep abdominal and leg strength as well as help with spinal alignment and stability.
  • Spend some time barefoot and strengthen your feet – strong feet muscles are the best foundation you can have. Strong feet actually help muscles in the legs to switch on. Walking on lots of different surfaces in bare feet helps a lot and this is why we practice Pilates in grip socks because being out of shoes helps to develop the intrinsic muscles of the feet.
  • Do regular gentle spine twist (or rotation of the ribcage) – rotation of the ribcage is needed for a strong and healthy walking pattern. Gentle and regular rotation through the rib cage can help with easier walking. Rib cage rotations can also help to deepen the breath and create ‘space’ around the lungs.
  • Glide the shoulder blades over the back of the ribs – shoulder protraction and retraction is an important movement for supporting the position of the shoulder joint and the position of the arm in the shoulder joint. Shoulder protraction and retraction helps to strengthen the upper back and is a great to antidote to lots of sitting in front of a computer.
  • Treat the head and neck as part of the spine – imagine you have string from the very top of your head going right up to the sky, like you are a puppet on a string. This image can help to place the head on the neck and lengthen the spine. Use this image often through the day to remind you to lengthen, this will also engage and strengthen the deep core muscles.

If you feel like the recurring injury cycle is ruling your life and constant pain is stopping you from doing the things you love, then reach out for a private or duet session to assess your movement patterns and take control. It’s amazing how quickly you can learn new movement patterns to avoid pain.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer and a mum. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

Core strength -what is it and how to get it?

A lot of my clients come to Pilates to improve their core strength, they understand that core strength can reduce back pain, improve posture and reduce tension in the shoulders and hips. What they don’t often know is that core strength and Pilates is more about connection and coordination than the strength of particular muscles. You can get strong abs without improving your core or your posture or reducing pain and tension in your body, in fact strong abs can result in a tighter, less responsive pelvic floor. So what do you do to improve your core strength?

What is core?

First, our core is not one muscle but a set of muscles and the primary purpose of the core muscles is to enable us to breath. The secondary purpose of the core muscles is to support all the organs in our torso. Our core muscles are:

  • Deep abdominals – Transverse Abdominis (the front)
  • Deep back muscles – Erector Spinae (the back)
  • Pelvic floor muscles – Levator Ani, Coccygeus, Anococcygeal Ligament and Piriformis (the base)
  • Diaphragm muscle (the lid)

When we focus on gripping the base of our core (our pelvic floor muscles) as we might in a plank or when we do a hundred sit ups, we fix the lower half of our breathing muscles. When this becomes habit we get very tight pelvic floor muscles that are not able to stretch to allow full and proper breath (although we might have fabulous looking abs). This pelvic floor tightness can also cause stress incontinence (leakage of urine when coughing, sneezing or laughing).

Breath is absolutely essential to connecting with and coordinating our deep abdominals. It is not possible to ‘switch on your core’ or ‘engage your core’ without utilising your breath. Our diaphragm (under our ribs) is the key muscle involved in breath, the movement of the diaphragm creates pressure. If the deep abdominals are out of synch with the diaphragm then the excess pressure pushes down on the pelvic floor and this can do long term damage to both men and women.

If core is breath how do I strengthen it?

Great question! You coordinate your muscles with your breath. You learn to let your muscles initiate the breath. It is the coordination of the muscles working together that gives you a sense of length in your torso and spine. This can transform any movement or exercise you do.

Many preparatory exercises in the Pilates repertoire are designed to teach coordination of the core muscles with the breath. Here is an example of a beginner exercise to begin practicing.

Getting the load right…

Once you have practiced the coordination of the muscles with the breath we can start to add load, very precisely. Too much load and you simply tighten up into old habits, not enough and you won’t get stronger. This is where a trained and experienced movement teacher (yoga or Pilates) or Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist can help.

Alignment also plays a role here. You want your hips to be level and your spine to be neutral, with no buckling or bending in the spine. You can lift one leg to ad some load, and lift and lower it whilst the spine stays steady. Then lift the other leg, does your spine bend or arch away from the mat? If so this load is too heavy, so return to one leg and then the other. Slowly but surely working with the breath we get stronger.

Neutral spine - Pilates
Neutral spine – piston legs

If you would like to know more, sign up below to get information about the next webinar “Pelvic Prosperity and Core Strength”. I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer and a mum. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

How to love your post baby body

Photo credit: Xavier Mouton

The other day a client told me how she felt in the months after the birth of her second child. She finally found Pilates and learned how it could tone her core and get her feeling ready for the beaches of Ballina and Lennox Head. Her youngest is now 6 but in those first few months she remembered feeling so “floppy and loose” and so “wobbly in all the wrong places”. She said she felt her youth slipping away and she felt really down about it. In a vulnerable moment watching TV as she was breastfeeding on the couch she bought the “Brazilian but lift DVD” for 79.99, and of course she never used it.

Before she did find Pilates though she tried bootcamp, you know, high intensity, kick your ass kind of exercise that makes you want to throw up. It was her second session when her taut instructor asked her to do 20 jumping jacks when she knew she was in the wrong place. By this time it was maybe a year after her second birth but her core had not fully recovered. When she did those jumps, everything moved inside and she gritted her teeth to finish the session.

Her back spasms would come and go, sometimes laying her low for a week. And tight shoulders and neck would often give her headaches. Just the usual toll of breastfeeding and lifting and carrying two children right? She needed exercise, so when her body would let her she seek out something high intensity, running up stairs, cross fit in the park. Until her back went so bad she could not move for over a week.

Then she reached out for Pilates. Starting slowly to build strength, she got strong enough that her back pain settled down. She started to enjoy the subtlety and the focus on anatomy and breath, her neck and shoulder tension improved and she got less headaches. And as her commitment grew so did her strength and technique so much that now she feels strong, toned and relaxed in her body. Her posture is amazing, she works on her feet and never has back pain.

I share her story so if you have had a baby in the last couple of years and you are sitting on the couch feeling “wobbly in all the wrong places” and you are considering high intensity exercise to kick your own ass, then I invite you to Move to Nurture Pilates. Your body will be met right where it is. In a private or duet session in my Lennox Head studio or in a mat class on zoom, you will get stronger and feel more connected to your body. You will learn what deep engagement of your core muscles feels like. And you will sense your own posture and alignment better. Then, once connected to your body, go do some high intensity stuff that will challenge the pants off you ( if you want) knowing you are set up to look after your body and stay injury free.

Check out the best exercises to do after having a baby and also how to know if your body isn’t ready for your exercise routine. I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer and a mum. I have had several abdominal surgeries for infertility and recovered from birth. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

Can I exercise with a disc injury?

Photo credit Toa Heftiba

If you think you have a disc injury or you have had scans to confirm you have a disc injury you can exercise BUT you must take some precautions. In fact keeping strong and flexible will help to reduce your pain and increase your mobility for your whole life. You do however need to be careful when exercising with a disc injury. The wrong movement can aggravate the condition and cause more pain. So how do you know what to do and what not to do?

The first things to understand is – where is your disc injury? Is you disc injury in your lower back or your cervical spine (your neck)? If you have had imaging you may know if the disc injury is posterior (towards the back) or anterior (towards the front).

Once you know where it is let’s talk briefly about what it is.

A disc injury can be called a ‘bulging disc’, a ‘disc rupture’ or a ‘protruding disc’. Spinal discs are the shock-absorbing rings of fibrocartilage and glycoprotein that separate your bony vertebral bodies while allowing movement at each spinal level, and enough room for the major spinal nerves to exit from the spinal canal and travel to your limbs.

The outer section of the spinal disc is the annulus. It consists of multi-directional fibrocartilaginous fibre layers. That are all densely packed to create a wall around the glycoprotein filled jelly-like disc nucleus. When the disc receives pressure over time it can deteriorate and as it ‘bulges’ it can put pressure on the nerves that thread out from the spinal chord to the limbs. This can cause nerve pain such as sciatica down the back of legs of severe neck pain and head aches.

Image shows a normal disc, a bulging disc and a herniated disc
Cross section view of vertebrae

Some movements and exercise can further aggravate the nerves and cause more nerve pain. There are a lot of exercises that can be done without doing more damage. By learning movements that don’t aggravate the injury you can develop new movement habits that reduce the pain.

There are some general rules that will keep you safe while exercising with a disc injury.

1. Limit the amount of rolling bending or buckling through the spine. Keep your spine long and straight when bearing weight or bending. 

2. Limit forward bending. If you must forward bend to stretch, make sure your spine is long and straight rather than rounding or bending through your spine.

3. Usually the disc injury has been caused by movement patterns that hold our spine out of alignment. This may be from tight leg muscles, tight hamstrings at the back of the legs or type quad muscles at the front of the legs. Stretching these muscles can help with the alignment of the spine.  this can result in less nerve compression and less pain,

There are many benefits from continuing to exercise after sustaining a disc injury.

  • Reduced nerve pain
  • Increased strength and mobility
  • Less back or neck pain

It is important to move carefully to avoid further injury. But to not move at all can make things even worse. Don’t let a disc injury stop you moving and enjoying your life or make you ‘old before your time’. If you want to feel in control of your life and your body again, regular, gentle targeted exercise is the only way to achieve this.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

Reduce pain with Body Awareness

If you experience pain in your body everyday, you may wonder how being more aware of your body is going to help reduce that pain. Fair enough. Let’s start with what Body Awareness is. Body Awareness means different things to different people. For the purposes of this article I will explain different levels of body awareness I have observed in myself and my clients. All my clients experience improvement in one of these levels of body awareness by doing sessions or classes with me, depending on their own personal interest.

Level 1 of Body Awareness: Knowing which muscle group to move

Whilst I have listed this first it doesn’t mean this is easy for people. This approach to body awareness does require some basic understanding of anatomy. Then we need to have done some physical training to develop the mind body connection to know you are activating the right muscles for the job. Many of my clients focus on this type of body awareness. This awareness of your muscle groups can be very helpful to reduce risk of injury and to build strength where you want it. Regular Pilates, where you get feedback from a teacher on your form, is fantastic for developing awareness of which muscle group to use.

Level 2 of Body Awareness: Knowing how to move away from pain

This kind of body awareness is less about your knowledge of anatomy and more about how connected you are to how your body feels. Do you register when you are developing tension? Do change your position or your activity to find a less painful way of doing something or do you push through? If you are a pusher it is worth asking your self ‘why?’. You may find you think you don’t have time to listen to your body, or you believe it won’t make a difference.

People who know how to move away from pain often like to move with their eyes closed. They are registering the sensations in their body as they are moving. These sensations are used to inform how we move next, do we do another set or do we reposition the neck first? This kind of body awareness can change the way you experience your body and your life, it can help reduce pain and lead to more simple joy.

A teacher who can help you to learn how to move away from pain is responsive to your body, giving you options and modifications. You don’t develop this kind of body awareness with a’ go hard or go home’ attitude or a teacher that has this attitude.

Level 3 of Body Awareness: Proprioception

Another perspective on body awareness is proprioception. Proprioception is the awareness of the position of ones body in movement. This is one of our senses, to feel it we have proprioceptors, specialised nerves located within our muscles, tendons and joints. The proprioceptors feed information back to our brain about the position of every part of our body in space, they work closely with the balance system to keep us upright and stop us banging into things. To test your proprioception, close your eyes and stand on one foot.

Pilates and particularly equipment Pilates is fantastic for improving proprioception. Proprioceptors respond to feedback, equipment Pilates with the springs, pedals and moving platforms is designed to stimulate the proprioceptors and their connection to the brain.

Improving your proprioception will improve your balance and greatly reduce your risk of injury.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

Is being sore after exercise a good thing?

Well it depends. I often say there is ‘good sore’ and then there is ‘bad sore’ after exercise. And there is a difference. Often people love to feel sore after exercise. It is a sign that they have worked hard and that the exercise has been effective. BUT some sensations of pain are actually our bodies telling us that what is are doing is not good for us. So how do you tell the difference between pain that is evidence of a good work out, and pain that is telling us we have gone too far or we could be doing long term damage?

Good sore vs Bad sore after exercise

One way to look at it is this: there are some areas / muscle groups in your body that get overlooked in everyday movement. For example, our butt muscles (gluteals) and the backs of our legs (hamstrings) don’t get much work in our current lifestyle. With a lot of sitting (for eating, driving and desk work) our hamstrings and gluteals can become weak and sometimes very tight. The front of our legs (quads and hip flexors) become dominant and stronger. Then when we go to exercise this pattern is just reinforced, the stronger muscles get stronger and the weaker muscles stay as is.

When you go to a work out and come away feeling tender the next day in your butt muscles (gluteals) and the top of the back of your legs (top of the hamstrings) this is a good sign. These are muscles that for most of us need to be targeted to get them working to rebalance our bodies from a lifestyle with a lot of sitting.

There are other areas of our bodies where the muscle groups are deeper (closer to the bones), smaller and have very specific jobs. For example the Multifidis and back extensor muscles. These muscles respond to micro and macro shifts of weight in our skeleton to stabilise the spinal column. If you came away from a work out with aching in the lower back this would be a warning bell. Yes sometimes these muscles get fatigued and there is no harm in having a little ache in your lower back but if this is a regular thing it shows that these small deep muscles are picking up the slack of other muscle groups that should be doing the work. Regular pain in your lower back after exercise shows that you are reenforcing a muscle group imbalance in your body rather than fixing it.

Another area that rings warning bells is your neck. If you are regularly feeling strain in your neck when you are exercising there is no benefit to you in pushing through this pain. By pushing into neck strain all you will achieve is a pattern that results in a tight sore neck.

Here are my tips to tell the difference between ‘good sore’ and ‘bad sore’:

  1. What is it? Is it muscle, joint or nerve pain? Joint and nerve pain is not productive pain – there is no gain you will get from this kind of pain in your body. Some muscle pain can indicate increase engagement and strength.
  2. Where is it? Backs of the arms and legs or the butt? Abdominals, particularly deep abdominals (just above the pubic bone)? These are usually good places to feel muscle soreness after exercise. Lower back, neck, calfs, wrists, shoulders – not so good.

Pain after exercise does not necessarily equal gain. Be mindful when you have pain after exercise. Ask yourself these questions to check whether your pain is telling you about imbalances in your body that could get worse over time. Or is the pain a result of working the right muscles to support the alignment of your skeleton?

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

4 tips to avoid injury and get the most out of life

Good form is the alignment of your body whilst you are doing anything. Body alignment and or the lack of it can either lead us toward injury or keep us safe. If you suffer from recurring injuries such as bursitis, shoulder injuries, tendonitis or lower back pain it is likely that by improving your alignment and your body awareness whilst moving will help to reduce your pain and the cause of the injury in the first place.

There are some basic rules of alignment that can help us to check our own bodies whilst we are moving. This helps to develop our own awareness of alignment so we can correct ourselves to reduce pain and injury and to enjoy life more.

Rules of good form:

  1. Find and know your neutral spine – The term neutral spine means the position of your spine when you are relaxed and not in-printing or arching the spine. This position is slightly different for everyone. When in a lying position or standing against a wall in ‘neutral’ you should be able to feel a small air pocket or gap between your lower back and the floor or the wall. Neutral spine is the same spinal position whether you are standing lying or sitting (see images below). Getting used to feeling your own ‘neutral spine’ can help to improve all your movement and your posture and reduce risk of injury. * Thanks to backforever.com for the image.
Image shows different spine positions

2. Unlock your joints – Some of us have a habit of hanging in our joints. This is easiest to see in our legs. When we hang in our joints we have our legs so ‘straight’ that we push through the back of our knee joint. This pushes the hips forward and we hang off the front of hips (see image below). In this position we often collapse in the upper back as the ribs get little support from the abdominals and bottom (gluteals) gets very tight. When you are aware of this you can retrain yourself to unlock the knees and bring the weight of your hips back over your ankles. This will quickly rebuild your leg strength and deep abdominals and improve you posture.

3. Side lying, stack and hold – Side lying exercises are a common feature in rehabilitation programs and in the gym. They are a great way to strengthen the bottom (gluteals) so they are able to support your pelvis. Often I see people doing side lying exercises with some common errors that mean they don’t get the benefits of the exercise and can strain their lower back. The key when side-lying is ensuring your hips are stacked one on top of the other (easy right?) now when you lift your knee or leg, keep them stacked. No rolling the top hip back to lift the leg! See images below. Correcting this will give you a much deeper burn at the gym and will prevent tightness and strain in the lower back.

4. See your head and neck as part of your spine – Your head and neck are part of your spine. Bring that awareness into your minds eye (you just got taller!). When moving or sitting or driving imagine that your head and neck are in alignment as part of your spine. The images below show a good example of when we can forget our head and neck. By simply seeing your body in your minds eye differently you can have a positive impact on your posture.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates