Health

Pilates and your hips

The alignment makeover: Work smarter not harder

Selena DeLeon

Sunday, September 30, 2018

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This is the third in a four-part series that will look at the use of Pilates for alignment of the body.

TODAY we continue our alignment makeover series, which is designed to help you to understand how the body can function better if it is in its optimal position.

The foundations serve the whole structure, and looking at the holistic effect of the body and, its interconnected systems, we can appreciate how the feet, ankles and knees would bear significance to the position of the pelvis.

Some people have an uneven pelvis and, for many years, don't even know. The rotated pelvis, the hike upwards on one side, the forward or backward tilted pelvis, and the swayed back can even originate from psychological patterning developed from very early childhood.

Very tall people who were shy of their size may have unconsciously pulled themselves into a curved shape, tucking their pelvis forward and rounding down in their shoulders. These assumed positions take root in our psyche and our bodies have to work around the space that is left. The mind very efficiently translates this position as abnormal, kicks all of the other limbs into a compensatory position to deal with the imbalance, the nervous system takes root, and presto! You have yourself an injury. Not ideal, right?

So let's see if we can outsmart the body's patterns, retrain the joints and nerves, and get one step ahead of our better half — the brain. Slow and stealthy will be the name of the game, as well as practise, practise, practise.

There is a wonderful method in our Pilates repertoire that you can use at home to check if you have an imbalanced pelvis. You can begin by lying on the floor on a mat, flat on your back, in a place where you can situate your heels about four inches away from the edge of a wall. Reaching your legs long from your heels, judge whether you are able to touch the wall with your heels equally. If you have to reach more into one side, then there is the evidence of a discrepancy. Of course, this can vary in people who have congenital leg length differences, but it serves as a fairly good indicator for the hips in general, to detect whether you have developed a hip hike, or if your pelvis is out of whack.

The focus of our method is always length over distance, so the reaching action for the shorter side will be the focus for correction, if you fit this profile. Working leg circles in Pilates trains you to reach the leg while moving it around in the hip socket, which releases overly tight ligaments and muscles and improves strength in the weaker sets. Slow and steady wins this race.

Lying in this position, if you place a broomstick or a level, across your pelvis you may notice that one side is higher than the other, which indicates that the pelvis could be twisted on one side, possibly from an overly tight hip flexor or psoas.

You may also notice if you are void of a small space between your lower back and the floor, this is typically called a flat back, and is caused from overly tight hamstrings and glutes. The trick for correcting this type of pelvic tilt is stretching the hamstrings, by pulling the leg in towards the chest.

The Pilates method has a strong foundation in improving mobility and strength in the hip joint, making it rehabilitative for many persons as well as extremely effective for females who are keen to tone their lower bodies. A word of advice is to never stretch if it doesn't feel good, only go to where your body intuitively tells you it can.

If the space between the lower back and the floor is greater than a hand's width, then there is excess space, and this might indicate that you have over-tightened hip flexors or iliopsoas, which can be caused from prolonged sitting. Another cause of this is overworking the quads in the gym, which pulls the pelvis forward excessively. If you are hitting it hard in the gym and feeling tight hips or pain in the low back on leg days, you need to be checking your pelvis for proper alignment techniques.

Working out smarter will balance the training of the back of the legs to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings for improved pelvic stability; include Pilates for lengthening out the tight muscles in-between the heavier workouts.

In the case of an uneven pelvis, the Pilates method can help you discover if you are too tight in one area and overstretched in the other. Due to the pelvis being the midpoint between the upper and lower body, you are likely to have imbalance effects being felt along the entire chain, either above, up into the neck or below, translating back into the feet.

Take your alignment seriously, and watch how your body becomes the most efficient vehicle for your best self everyday.

Selena DeLeon has been a personal and group fitness trainer for 16 years. She recently transitioned into the world of Pilates and has a studio in Kingston called Core Fitness, where she helps people to move and live better.

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