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Alignment, Core and Breathing for Maximum Returns

Why Pilates is key to optimising your gym gains

Pilates teaches you how to mobilise, strengthen and align your body helping you feel more bulletproof in body and mind. When lifting or squatting for instance, you can apply pilates techniques to help your form and that all important mind muscle connection. You will be the pro with all the gains in no time.

Pilates will:

  • Help your form and technique
  • Teach you the importance of breath when lifting
  • Lessen the propensity to injury
  • Increase mind-body connection for more gains
  • Protect your back
  • Teach you how to engage your core properly
  • Will increase your overall strength and mobility
  • Help you feel bulletproof in mind and body

Squat or not to squat

Squatting was such a functional movement when we didn’t have a loo seat to sit on to do our business. When we squat your hips, knees and ankles flex in order to allow the descent. Now when you apply that to a gym setting, often what is observed is people not having sufficient mobility through those joints in order to squat in optimal alignment. People then grip in their hips or hyperextend their backs to allow them to squat or use tools such as a wedge under their feet. This creates further imbalances and heightens the propensity to injury especially when you add load.

Read on to find out more about Core, Alignment and Breathing.

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Here are some tips for core engagement, alignment and breathing when lifting.

1.Core

Your core is made up of the pelvic floor muscles (the muscles that keep your organs in place and helps with continence and sexual health), the deep abdominals called your Transverse Abdominis (TA is like a corset around your vital organs and lower back), small muscles in your back called Multifidus (helps stabilise the spine) and the diaphragm (intrinsic to breathing). These muscles all collaborate in a pressurised system to help give you stability and protection to your trunk – like a corset hugging your body. Weakness in your core can result in back pain, incontinence, injury particularly to the lower back and hip region and cause further imbalances and complications further up and lower down.

You can start to strengthen your core through deliberate engagement of your pelvic floor and deep abdominals. 

How to engage your pelvic floor muscles

Start by lying on the floor with knees bent. Place hands on your pelvis. Exhale and gently tighten your back passage (anus) and front passage (urethra). Under your hands you might feel a tightening in your lower abdominals – that’s your TA kicking in. If you can’t feel your lower abs then try to tighten your lower belly by tensing the area between your hip bones. A bit like wearing a weightlifting belt or tensing your belly to your spine. Hold the engagement and release and try not to hold your breath or squeeze your glutes or thighs.

Once you nail this, then learn how to align your spine.

2. Alignment of Pelvis and Spine

Learn how to find a neutral or centred position of your pelvis where your hip bones and pubic bone are aligned. Back injury can occur when your alignment isn’t well balanced and your back is in an overtly curved position or hyper extended whilst lifting. You can find neutral in standing quite quickly simply by bending your knees and placing your hands on your pubic bone and your hip bones. Tip the pubic bone up towards your head and then away from you to gently stick your bum out. Notice how your hip bones go forward increasing your lower back curve. As you tip the pubic bone towards your head the lower back curves the other way. Find the balance between the two and slowly straighten your legs without losing the alignment. That is roughly your neutral pelvis. Now try to think about your spine being balanced on top of your pelvis with the back of your head, back of your shoulders and back of your pelvis. The weight of your body will be more in mid foot to heel rather than your toes.  However when squatting or lifting, try to consciously think about this alignment as the spine tips forward and your hips, knees and ankles fold. The joints of your hips, knees and ankles need to have full range of movement and to be balanced in order for your pelvis to find its optimum alignment too. This is where a Pilates class can really help you find better alignment and for you to be mindful of it in other activities that you do such as golf, cycling and running. 

3. Breathing

The amazing link between your core to your jaw! When you clench your jaw and hold your breath, you add more tension down to your core and pelvic floor because there is a direct facial link from your pelvic floor to your jaw. Relax your jaw and this will help you to breathe better; engage your core better; align your pelvis and spine better; and ultimately lift better with less propensity to injury. The out breath is important on the exertion i.e. the lift. Try to really expel your breath through your mouth when lifting and adding your core engagement whilst doing this. You can try panting on heavy lifts so quicker out breaths to lessen the bearing down affect on your pelvic floor. Breathing in through your nose also increases the oxygen intake, prevents hyperventilating and calms the body in stressful situations.