Saturday 15 March 2014

Why everyone should practice Pilates!


I have been practising Pilates for quite a few years now, it was only when I stopped doing it that I realised what the benefits of it are.  We often laugh in our classes, that if anyone just happened to look through the window they would think that all we were doing was lifting our legs up and down, and not doing much at all!  But if they looked even closer they would see the pained expressions on our faces and if they came into the room, they would hear the grunts of pain (good pain!) as we engage the deep core muscles.

Practising Pilates is giving your body what it wants, your skeleton wants to be correctly aligned and your muscles want to support the skeleton in it's goal!  All to often in modern life we are bending our bodies into positions that they are not designed to be in - think bent over a computer, lounging on the sofa in front of the tv or driving a car.

Just look at a toddler bending to pick something up - they do it properly, bend from the knees rather than the hips and extend up.  Children have great posture, they haven't been subjected to sitting for hours in one position, slouching in chairs and generally learning bad habits - they still run about, jump and generally do the things that humans are designed to do.

What are our bodies designed to do?  

Looking at our anatomy - we are designed to walk upright (think how many animals have gluteals (butt's) like humans?), we're beautifully designed to run, jump, throw, climb, push and pull heavy objects - all of these things your body is perfectly adapted for to enable it to move in a number of ways.  Think of our big muscle groups;

- the quadriceps designed to hold your pelvis upright whilst contracting to pull the leg forward.
- the hamstrings - opposite of the quads, pulling the leg back
- the gluteals - big muscle group designed to keep body upright and move the leg
- the biceps - strong arm muscles to enable throwing action or lifting action
- all of the big back muscles (trapezius, latissimus dorsi) all designed to hold your spine upright whilst helping the limbs move

How much correct movement do you actually do during your average day?

Probably the average person will do a bit of walking, maybe a bit of lifting (bag or baby), some carrying, perhaps a bit of pushing (the vacuum?), bending to get in the car - not much really, when you think what the body is designed to do.  Also have a think about when you're actually doing this stuff, how much of it is with the body in it's correct alignment?  So think of carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder, carrying a baby on one hip - think about what that's doing to your body, putting extra pressure down one side, pulling the pelvis out of alignment.  So even when we're doing the good stuff - are we actually doing good stuff for our bodies?

Why Pilates?

When you first start practising Pilates you will feel a couple of things;

1. Going to a class will feel like having an anatomy lesson!
2. Your teacher will be obsessed with your alignment (be prepared to be pulled and pushed).
3. What you probably think is good body alignment is actually not!  (If you've never practise any discipline where alignment was important - dance, martial art, a technical sport - then you will probably have no idea when your body is correctly aligned). This will feel very strange at first.
4. There are too many things to remember - pelvic floor engagement, pelvic stability, engaging the transverse abdominus (see what I mean about anatomy?), correct alignment and BREATHE!!  It will feel like learning to drive again, and that's what you are doing - you're learning to drive your body.
5.  The time will fly over - this I promise, you'll be too busy trying to remember all of the above, whilst actually trying to do the exercise that you will forget all about your worries, stresses and the time.  Hence why Pilates is a great mind/body workout.

So give Pilates a go - your body will thank you for it, and soon you'll start feeling the difference - you'll be walking a little taller, thinking about your posture (and therefore improving it - 'where the mind goes the body will follow' - Joseph Pilates) and as a by-product getting some strong core muscles and some serious muscle tone.  The changes are subtle, and it's only when you stop that you realise the benefits.

Let me know the benefits you've experienced through Pilates, your comments are welcome.


Thursday 6 March 2014

Weight Loss v's Fat Loss


This is something that I've been meaning to write about for a while and is quite a controversial subject.  Lots of people want to lose weight for various reasons, but most of the time weight loss does not mean fat loss.  You hear lots of people saying that they've lost 10lbs in a week using various diet methods, but at the end of the day what are they actually losing?  Do you know the difference between weight loss and fat loss?

Weight Loss = Total loss of body weight as measured by weighing scales, weight is taken from all over the body including bones, organs, muscles and fat.

Fat Loss = Lowering total body fat, as measured by calipers or body shape.  Healthy goals are around 10 - 15% for a man and 15 - 20% for a woman (depending upon age).

Using only the scales as a measure of success is completely flawed and you are doomed to failure!


Your body is very complex and has lots of things going on within it - if you use only the scales then you are also including things like the contents of your stomach/intestines/bowel, the amount of water contained within your muscles as well as the amount of fat in your body.

At the end of the day you can chop off your head (it weighs about a stone by the way) and lose weight!

What most of us want to lose is fat not weight.

The below picture shows the difference between fat and muscle. Muscle is much more dense that fat - that is why you can have two people who weigh the same but look totally different.  The same weight in muscle takes up a lot less space that the same weight in fat. Therefore if you're building muscle you'll see very little change on the scales - but people will comment that you look slimmer!

How to lose fat and not muscle.

1. Eat Protein - your body needs protein to build muscle as well as for many of the other nutrients contained within.  The usual recommendation is 1g of protein per every lb of body weight.

2. Include some Weight Training - Pilates is great for this as it uses body weight.  But anything that requires resistance training is great.

3. Don't reduce your calories by too much - not only will this send your body into 'starvation mode' thereby holding onto fat, but it will also reduce your body's ability to build muscle.  A 500 calorie a day deficit is more than enough  - the daily recommended amounts are 2000 per day for a woman and 2500 per day for a man.  (Remember to adjust if you're also exercising, so for example, if you're using up 500 calories a day in exercise - then keep your dietary intake at around 2000 calories)

You should be aiming to lose no more than 2lbs in total weight per week as anything above this is water and body tissue taken from your muscles,bones and organs, not fat!  Rapid weight loss will get you into the rut of yo-yo dieting (sound familiar?) as it is unsustainable and unhealthy - the only thing that you will be losing is pounds from your pocket and not your thighs!

So eat sensibly, cut out the processed food, eat as much organic food as you can, weight train, include a bit of cardio exercise, eat more protein and less starchy carbs - the results will speak for themselves.

For anymore advice then please contact us through our Website or Facebook page. If anyone wants their actual personal Total Daily Energy Expenditure (your individual, actual total daily calorie intake - for your body based upon your lifestyle and other indicators) worked out, then we can include this in our 1-2-1 sessions.

Saturday 1 March 2014

Yoga v's Pilates


This is something that we get asked alot, both Yoga and Pilates usually get put together into the same category and there are many similarities, but there are also some major differences.

Both Pilates and Yoga are standalone exercise programs that don't really fit into any of the normal moulds for exercise, both emphasis the mind/body connection and help lower stress levels. Everyone should include some practice of this sort into their lives, and it's just a matter of trying them out to find out which one is best for you.  (Within Yoga and Pilates there are also different forms depending on which teacher you get - so if you're trying to decide between the two, it might be best to try a few different teachers to get the right match for you).

1. Origins

Yoga is based upon ancient beliefs originating in India, it can be found in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.  It has evolved over many years into several different branches - Hatha, Iyengar, Ashtanga to name but a few.

Pilates was developed in the 1920's by Joseph Pilates an athlete who took elements of dance, yoga, gymnastic, boxing and martial arts training, to develop his system of exercise into a full body program that emphasises proper alignment, good technique and correct breathing.

2. Mind/Body/Spirit 

Both programs emphasis the mind/body connection, but yoga adds the extra element of spirit through meditation.  Pilates is based more on anatomical correctness (sometimes it will feel like an anatomy lesson), focus and concentration are achieved through correct engagement of the required muscle.

3. Movement

Both Pilates and Yoga focus upon correct movement whilst maintaining alignment. In Pilates you will find that you are moving the muscles more to increase the load;  whereas in Yoga through the postures, you will find that you get yourself in position and then hold it there thus creating an isometric contraction.  Both programs focus upon flexibility and spine strengthening.  Pilates is more about core engagement and correct technique, the focus is on quality and not quantity.

4. Breathing Techniques

Breathing is an important part of both practices (and life!!).  Breathing in Yoga is taken on a deeply spirtual level - especially in  flow based classes (such as Ashtanga), where breath is matched to movements and postures.  In Pilates a special breathing technique is employed called 'Thoracic Breathing' which basically means keeping the core engaged and taking the breath further down into the bottom of the lungs, 'exhale on effort' is used to ensure that muscles and breath are combined.

5. Calories burned

Neither programs will get the heart rate up sufficiently high enough or long enough to gain cardio benefits - so that is why it is important to include some cardio exercise into your program, but you will build up strength and therefore muscle (which in itself burns more calories).  A beginners yoga class will burn about 145 calories per hour, whereas a power yoga class will burn about 250 calories.  A beginners pilates class will burn about 175 calories per hour, where an advanced class will burn between 250-350 calories.

They both work! - Both of the methods are time tested, and have stood this test of time because they work.  Both have benefits for posture, strength and muscle toning, and both will increase your flexibility.  Just find the one right for you - or as they are both designed as different programs why not combine them - as they can be complimentary.