Guest blog by Julieann Parker of Pilates by Ju
I have been teaching Pilates for a few years now and one thing is certain: everyone is an individual and everyone has their own skeletal/muscular patterns which are unique to them. The body always surprises me and what works for one person may not work for another, which is why I love my job as it’s a continual challenge and I learn something new every day.
As a Pilates instructor I am not trained to diagnose, but I look at what is happening to the body. As humans, we all have a skeleton with muscles surrounding the bones which allow us to move and function. If one set of muscles is overworked, they become tight. The tight muscles shorten and will pull the body in that direction. The opposite set of muscles will lengthen and become weak. As a Pilates instructor I look for changes in the muscles and work out how we can balance the muscle groups to improve posture, build strength, motor fitness, restore range of motion and co-ordination.
The clients I see range from people who want to do a little exercise to those who are keen to exercise regularly, and some individuals who are in pain or have mobility issues. I also have pregnant ladies in my classes and athletes, particularly those who train in repetitive single plain movements like runners, cyclists and swimmers (although I have taught cricketers, ballerinas and a cross country skier!)
The feet have so many small and intricate muscles in them all doing the important role of keeping us upright and allowing us to move. Depending on how we stand and move will affect how we use our feet and this will determine which muscles get stronger and shorter and which muscles get longer and weaker. To keep mobile and active it is essential that we look after our feet.
As an ex-swimmer I used to spend hours in the pool pointing my toes as I kicked. This meant that my calves got very tight, the muscles at the front of my shins were very weak and I couldn’t pull my toes towards my knees particularly well (dorsiflexion). This was fine whilst I was swimming but caused me many problems when I decided to start competing in triathlons which also included cycling and running. I had lots of physio and it was frustrating not being able to do what I wanted to do. I finally discovered Pilates which showed me how to stretch the tight muscles, strengthen the weak ones and enabled me to regain the balance in my feet, legs and pelvis.
As we age we start to lose muscle mass at a rate of 4% per year after the age of 35. Specific areas of concern are the quadriceps (front of the thighs) and anterior tibialis (the front of shins). The weakening of these muscles, especially the anterior tibialis, means that we cannot pull the foot into dorsiflexion as well as we used to. This then has a direct impact on the length of stride when we walk because we cannot get the foot into the right position as the leg extends behind us. As our stride length shortens, our balance is affected. Unless we work the anterior tibialis, quadriceps and gluteal muscles the stride length will deteriorate. But if we specifically work these muscles then current muscle strength can be maintained or improved.
Exercises that you can try at home to improve your muscle mass
- Standing or sitting, pull the toes towards the knees in a tapping motion. Then pull the toes to the knees and hold for a few seconds. This will strengthen your anterior tibialis muscle.
- Sitting, straighten your leg in front of you, bend at the knee and repeat. Standing, perform small squats holding on to something if necessary. These exercises will strengthen your quadriceps.
- Whilst doing the squats described above, concentrate on squeezing your bottom as you straighten up. Also try squeezing from the fold at the bottom of your bottom as you walk. This will strengthen the gluteal muscles in your bottom.
Find out more about the pilates classes offered by Julieann Parker OR if you have a foot problem then why not book in with Kenilworth Footcare. Call us on 01926 563555 or book online.