Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Stretch Band Exercises

Ok so you have a length of stretch band. Here are some ideas as to how to use it to improve your posture, strength, and flexibility.


Breathing exercises and hydrates the spine.

Your ribs insert onto your squishy inter vertebral discs,while also articulating with the vertebrae. The upward and out movement the ribs make when you breathe not only makes your spine lengthen up, as they pull on the discs, but also creates a vacuum in the discs – which makes the discs soak up available fluid. So, breathing exercises and hydrates your spine, as well as providing your body with the right balance of gases. You can see then, that poor breathing patterns lead to a stiffened and poorly hydrated spine, and less than optimal performance in all physiological systems.

You can use the band to give you a reference for your breathing.

It's useful then to determine where you do most of your breathing. The shape of your rib cage gives you a big clue here.

Your rib cage shape is determined by where your breathe. The ideal shape is a slightly compressed circle,and this reflects a balanced breathing pattern : the breath goes laterally into the ribs, backwards into the back, forwards into the chest wall, and deeply into the diaphragm (and from there into the abdominal wall).

Generally people with a flattened, and arched rib cage breathe laterally, but not so well into their back, between their shoulder blades.

Those with a round rib cage may breathe abdominally,or into their upper chests,but not so well into the sides of the ribs.

Place the band around your ribs, fairly tightly, and breathe in and out. Start with the band low on your spare or, floating ribs,then take it up to the abdominal ribs, and finally up to the ribs on the level of your heart. Are you breathing well on all three levels? How much breath is going between your shoulder blades? Place your hand on your belly - how much breathing is going on there?

One mistake that has been made over the years with Pilates is to forbid people to breathe into the abdomen. Your stomach muscles are part of your breathing apparatus. If you walk around with your belly button pulled into your spine the whole time, your spine will be stiff, and your breathing hampered.

Band Raises.

To help shoulder mobility,and to practice posture.

You may need to adjust the band length.

Be in a good standing position. Hold the band at your hips between your thumbs and forefingers.

Breathe in and lift the band until your shoulders and chest feel stretched.

Breathe out and lower the band to your forehead. Your elbows, shoulders and hands are at ninety degrees.

Breathe in and lift.

Breathe out and lower the band behind your head if you can, maintaining elbow angle, and DON'T MOVE YOUR HEAD.

Breathe in and raise the band.

Breathe out and lower to starting position.

If you need to move your head, don't,but instead lower the band to start position

Up and overs

You need enough band here to be able to perform the exercise WITHOUT MOVING YOUR HEAD OR CHEST, but not so much that you can't feel a stretch.

Good standing.

On the inhale, lift band

On the exhale, stretch the band and lower it behind you.

On the inhale, repeat from behind.


Bicep Curl

Stand on the middle of the band, holding the ends in each hand.

Keep the elbows fixed ie the upper arm does not move,

Breathe out to bend the elbow, breathe in to straighten.

Triceps - seat belt fastening

To tone bingo wings

Put your right arm behind your back,between your shoulder blades,and hold one end of the band. Bring the band over your right shoulder,and hold onto it with your left hand,close to the front of your right shoulder.

Breathing out, pull the band down to your left hip,keeping close to your body, as if doing up a seat belt. Breathe in to take it back.

100 arms

To tone the arms, to breathe.

This exercise uses the 100 breathing.

Start with the band close to the hips,and check the tension,by pulling on both ends. Then take 20 breaths in the following positions -

  • down by the hips,
  • at waist height
  • above the head
  • low, behind the waist
  • high, behind the waist
From Sitting

To mobilise the spine,and strengthen tummy and hip flexors. You can use the bands around the soles of your feet to help with your roll-backs.Make sure that your arms stay long and shoulders and neck stay relaxed. (As an alternative,a small cushion placed under the small of the back works wonders.).

California Rollbacks

To strengthen the arms, core (you will feel that particularly in the presses), stomach muscles.
Rollback half way with the band - then take 6 of each of the following
  • bicep curls (elbows stay fixed)
  • flies (softly bent arms) - arms stay at shoulder height and open away from each other
  • presses - take the band down to the floor, and back
Lying on your back
Knee circles
- to mobilise the hip joints. Pick up one knee and place the band over the knee, with the lower leg relaxed. Circle 6 times in each direction, keeping the upper body relaxed.

Leg stretches Keep left knee bent, foot on the floor and place the band over the right foot. Keep neutral pelvis for all three stretches. Hamstring stretch - raise the right leg and extend your leg high, , till you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Release the stretch and repeat 6 times. Inner thigh stretch - take the leg out to the right, as close to the floor and to your right shoulder as you can. Outer thigh stretch - take the leg across the body. Change leg and repeat Now, remembering the ends of your range of movements, and keeping your pelvis still, (use the opposite gluteal muscles), take 6 leg circles with the band in each direction.


To strengthen the medial gluteals, which will strengthen and balance the hip joints.
Lying on your side,with the band tied fairly tightly around your knees, open the knee on the exhale. Keep the heels connected and pressed together.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Why am I doing this?

Why practising the above exercise will help prevent having to get out of a car like this.

"Why am I doing 'this'?"

WAIDT is the plaintive cry I sometimes hear in class, usually from clients who are having problems doing 'this', whatever 'this' might be.

Most recently 'this' was a deceptively innocent little manoeuvre, a kneefold with a rotation. My client was lying on his back, one knee bent with his foot supported on the floor, the other knee was up over his hip, and he was attempting to rotate his thigh in his hip joint. Which is easy enough to say, and easy enough to do judging by the performance of most of the rest of the class. However this particular client’s experience of the exercise was more reminiscent of Kafka’s Gregor Samsa’s efforts to control his metamorphosed beetle body, than the effortless lift and twist that most of his classmates were performing. Fortunately for this client’s ego he was sandwiched between two other men, the left flank proudly declaring that he could do “this” with his left leg, while the right flank groaned in disappointment. In other words, between three middle aged men, they only had one hip between them which was supple enough to facilitate this movement. Most of the women however, had no problem. And expressed their surprise that the men were complaining. (A common theme.).

“Why are the women able to do 'this' when we can’t?”

I don’t want to be sexist about this: I’ve got female clients’ with stiff hips, and male clients with flexible hips (actually the second half of that statement is stretching the truth), but generally women have evolved with extra flexibility in this area, so that they can give birth without breaking bones.

The supplementary question, (I had yet to answer the first one) was why then, was I putting my client through this tortuous and evidently torturous 'this', when he would never have to give birth, not at his age at any rate. He would have been far happier doing the exercises he could do such as spine curls, hip rolls etc.

Why was he doing 'this', when 'this' was a movement which he couldn't relate to his daily life?'

Good question.

The exercise was both a test of , and then an exercise in, hip flexibility, in a couple of planes of movement. And no, its functional application is not terribly obvious, though if you have to turn a corner as you go up the stairs, then it’s useful to be able to lift your leg and rotate your pelvis at the hip joint as you straighten your leg – it’s the same movement, as in the exercise, reversed. And just changing direction on the flat involves rotation at the hip.

If you can’t do 'this' rotation, because of stiffness, how does your body cope with the task of climbing stairs where a change of direction is required? Or getting out of your car? Well, your body has a series of joints which facilitate rotation: the ankle, the knee (very limited), the hip, the pelvis/spine, the neck…you get the idea.

Out of all these mentioned, the hip, a ball and socket joint, has evolved with a greater degree of rotation than the other joints. (Similarly, the shoulder - also a ball and socket joint, and a shallower and more flexible one at that.). But if the hip joint won’t rotate when you change direction (because it’s become stiff from sitting for hours everyday at a desk, in a car), then another joint will have to, or going up and down stairs will take a lot longer than it used to. Going up the chain of movement from the hip, rotating your spine isn’t going to get you from A to B. Only your legs will do that. The next joint down the chain of movement is the knee – it’s a hinge joint, stabilised against excessive rotation with cruciate ligaments. If the hips are stiff, those ligaments will stretch and the knees are going to suffer - but they will twist if they have to.

Fundamental to our work in Pilates is maintaining and increasing where appropriate, the range of motion at the joints. If any part of the body is stiff, (the muscles, the fascia, the joints,) then in order to get about, the body will accommodate movement by increasing flexibility elsewhere. You often see this when the lower back is stiff: the upper back becomes excessively mobile and weak. Knee problems may also ensue.

So, the answer to the WAIDT question was to improve the flexibility of your hips and to save your knees and back. Keep practising!