Keeping up your Pilates practice over the holidays

It’s that time of year again – across the country cries can be heard: ‘It can’t be December already!’ Yes, that’s right,’tis the season to stay indoors, eat a lot and move very little. Which is wonderful, until a few days in where you start feeling a bit ropey. All the hard work you’ve done through the year seems to evaporate as the old aches and pains start to make their presence known. That is, until you had ‘the handy Pilates Plus Guide to surviving Christmas and maintain your mobility and fitness’. Bit of a mouthful, but we’re working on it!

So, we started off by thinking of ways you could incorporate Pilates into your Christmas routine. Firstly, you could roll down as you wind the tinsel round the tree!

xmas rolldown

Then how about getting your toes in on the act and putting up the decorations with your feet, introducing: the Christmas shoulder bridge!

xmas bridge

And to get the decorations a bit higher up the tree, the Christmas side bend!

xmas side bend

Doing a ‘Pilates demonstration’ in your front room not your thing? Then we maybe have some slightly sensible options to help prevent stiffening up as you watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ for the 37th time. Your Pilates instructor can issue you with our handout of home exercises. We also recommend the APPI DVDs available from their website:

Are you somebody who has beautiful posture in your Pilates class and then slouches out the door? If so, make this Christmas the time that you remember all the postural points your instructor tells you about during your classes. Your little black dress or kilt outfit will thank you for it at the Christmas parties – you don’t see A-listers slouching down the red carpet! Good posture can make a nice outfit look amazing, and yes, you have to work extra hard at it in heels!

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Even five minutes a day can help maintain mobility, the next few exercises have been chosen as they give you a good mobility workout and can be done in a small space. If you are not comfortable on your wrists you can do these exercises on a clenched fist, keeping the wrist straight or come down onto your elbows. Stop if any of the exercises are uncomfortable and see your Physio/Pilates instructor for an alternative.

Cat – Camel. In 4-point kneeling, start by inhaling and engaging your centre, exhale and arch your back into a deep C-curve, dropping your head between your arms. Inhale and hold then slowly unravel the other way as you exhale, just lifting your head far enough to look at the floor in front of your hands. Repeat 8-10 times.

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Thead the Needle. In 4-point kneeling, exhale as you thread one hand through to twist your spine. Inhale and hold. Exhale and draw the arm back through, lifting it up to the ceiling to rotate the spine the other way. Inhale and hold, then repeat 6-8 times each side.

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Spine Twist. With or without an elastic band. Sit cross legged, or in a position you find comfortable. Inhale and grow tall, exhale rotate to the side, inhale and hold, rotate a little deeper if you can. Exhale back to the centre. Repeat to the other side. Repeat 8-10 times to each side.


Spine flexion stretch. Start sitting with your legs to the sides. Sit tall as you inhale, exhale reach forward and curve your spine forwards. Inhale and hold, stretch a little further if you can. Exhale and return to the start. Repeat 8-10 times.


Think about all the cues you hear in your Pilates class each week. Checking the turkey in the oven? Engage your centre as you bend down! Reaching out to fix a decoration on the tree? Keep your shoulders melted down your back! Christmas carolling? Find neutral pelvis! Pouring mulled wine? Lengthen through the back of your neck! Before you know it, the entire festive season will be filled with Pilates…

If you do any festive Pilates moves, please post on the Pilates Plus Facebook page or tweet us @PilatesPlusPhys, we’d love to see how you keep yourself fit over the holidays!

xmas Laura and Tess

Wishing you all a wonderful festive season and best wishes for the new year from Laura and Tess and all the Pilates Plus team. We look forward to seeing you rested and ready for some new challenges in 2014!


Pilates for Low Back Pain

Low back pain is a condition which affects almost all of us from time to time. It can range in severity from irritating to debilitating, and many untypeable ****ing’s in between! As physios, the phrases we often hear are ‘it just started out of the blue’, ‘I didn’t do anything’ or ‘it was lifting that chest of drawer/sweeping leaves/shovelling snow that did it’. Possibly the shovelling snow was the final straw in years of lack of movement, poor movement patterns and an imbalance in the repetitive loading of tissues.

The causes of back pain can be complicated and confusing, with everyone around you weighing in with their opinion. ‘ooh, that sounds exactly like when I slipped my disc and was flat on my back for three months’. Gosh that sounds terrifying, is that really what’s happening to me? Probably not.


The actual structures involved in causing back pain could be any one or any combination of muscles, joints, ligaments, connective tissue, nerves, discs. I am deliberately putting discs last, because there is a lot of mystery and confusion surrounding the intervertebral discs. The theory is that when pressure is put on one side of the disc for a prolonged period, there is a possibility that some of the jelly-like substance in the middle of the disc can protrude out the other side. The disc itself is very firmly attached to the vertebrae above and below it, and is not going to ‘slip out’. The other reason discs are last on the list is that disc protrusions account for approximately 5% of all back pains, and of those, only a tiny proportion will require surgery, most can be resolved over time by adapting the way you move and with targeted exercises..


The reasons for back pain occuring are as many and varied as the people experiencing the pain. It could arise from an imbalance in muscle function, deconditioning through our increasingly sedentary lifestyles,  the trauma of a fall from height or a number of conditions such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Even people who have a these conditions can make drastic improvements to how they function and their pain levels by improving muscle function around the affected joints and improving joint alignment.

The worry when someone thinks they have hurt their back by doing an activity such as sweeping leaves or shovelling snow is they is they associate movement and exercise as the cause of the pain; therefore not moving and reducing exercises is seen as the solution. Unfortunately this can lead into a downward spiral of deconditioned muscles, poor posture and stiffening up resulting in more pain. This cycle can be broken by introducing gentle Pilates exercises gradually and building up stability, control and flexibility. So, first of all move, then improve functional movement and increase to higher performance Pilates.


Movement itself is known to reduce painful stimuli to the nerves and your physio or Pilates instructor can help you find the best ways to move and advise you on balancing movement and structured rest.

Pilates is great for back pain because it can be tailored to your level of ability and you can progress at your own rate. A balanced Pilates class will find and challenge areas you need to work on: The flexibility of joints and muscles, balance, body awareness and control. You will work on your posture and alignment of joints, improving your sense of how to hold yourself well when not moving. Your core stability,  the deep muscles in your torso which should work at a low level all the time, will improve to help you maintain an aligned posture. Recent research has shown that Pilates can improve bone health, therefore reducing your osteoporosis risk. For our older clients, your risk of falling is reduced through improved balance, but if you are unlucky enough to fall, you will have reduced your fracture risk by doing Pilates.


Our clients have long known the benefits of Pilates for their back pain. I wanted to share some feedback we received from clients recently:

I managed to do the Chicago marathon, which was a complete medical miracle as I literally couldn’t walk with the pain two weeks previously. The consultant can’t believe it either so I had another MRI Scan on Monday – with the results coming next week……

I have to say I was unsure about Pilates before as I always wanted to go to classes that got the ‘sweat on ‘! There are massive benefits for all ages groups – whether you are sporty or not.

“Having suffered lower back pain of varying degrees for many years my frustration with it increased in line with my interested in cycling.  I decided to seek a long term solution which came in the form of Pilates.  This increased my core strength providing more stability in my back and worked wonders on and off the bike including eliminating my pain.”

The best time to start Pilates is now. Whether you have never had low back pain or had it frequently, the sooner you get started, the sooner you can reduce the number of episodes of back pain and if you do get pain, you can reduce the duration and intensity of it. You may even manage to prevent it all together.


Take what you learn in your Pilates class and apply it in how you move every day. This will make a huge difference in how quickly you progress your practice and you will notice far more benefits than practicing for your one or two hours of Pilates a week.