Lock Joints? Don’t Lock Joints? What Do We Do?!
If you’re going to have strong arms and legs…you’ve got to be able to work with straight arms and legs. In Pilates, it’s common to “soften” the elbows or knees…but that’s only a modification for beginners with hyperextension or forced “quadding”, as I call it (when some pushes the kneecap backwards fully from the quad with no resistance from the hamstrings and popliteus. Eventually, we must take our clients out of “soft” joint modifications and get them to fully straighten their elbows and knees. True strength comes from working our muscles completely.
Now, does this mean they “lock”?
Yes and No.
We actually do want our clients to lock their elbows and knees, but how they do it is essential. They must lock with strong muscles balancing each other around the joint. We need to teach our clients to use their muscles lock the bones in place. We don’t want our clients to lock by jamming bone into bone.
Muscles can lock bones.
Bones ought not lock each other.
Ah! So, one is dynamic stability and the other is compression! It always comes to this! We must train muscles to do their jobs in balance with each other. This is not easy. It takes the teacher understanding how the body works and the extreme patience from both the teacher and client…because creating this dynamic stability takes time. “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, they say, and balance doesn’t happen in one repetition or session or week or month…truly…who knows when it will develop. It just takes practice and patience.
Here’s a minor bit of the functional anatomy of it all:
The quadriceps are the accelerators of knee extension (straightening the knee). That means it is the muscle that makes the knee straight. The hamstrings are the decelerators of knee extension. That means they slow the quadriceps down so the bones don’t smash. Well…this only happens if the hamstrings actually engage. If you “quad” and smash the knee cap back, then the hamstrings can’t do their job. (Yes, yes, the hamstrings main function is the flex the knee, but…remember that all muscles have more than one function. In fact, the hamstrings are the accelerators of knee flexion while the quadriceps are the decelerators of knee flexion. Hamstrings make it happen, quadriceps keep the knee from snapping and smashing the knee capsule.)
Take an exercise like The Footwork Toes on the reformer. When your client presses the carriage out and extends her knee, the main effort is the quadriceps to straighten the leg, but without the hamstrings, the knee cap smashes down. Stopping at soft knees does, indeed, stop the smashing, but does nothing to strengthen the quadriceps and teach your client how to use his/her leg in motion. In fact, it will create relatively weak quadriceps, hamstrings, popliteus and more. But aren’t we supposed to be making strong legs? We have to find full extension without hyper-extension from a balance of quadriceps and hamstrings (these are primarly, but they are not the only ones involved in stabilizing the knee) ostensibly locking the knee joint with a balance of muscular contraction. We must find “end range” of joints with the balance of muscular action.
How does one develop this? Well, in Footwork, as a solid example, as the teacher, alert your client. When she smashes her knees say something like “Did you feel that when you straightened your legs, your knees smashed into position?” The usual response is “No”. And that’s understandable. your client is used to smashing and doesn’t even realize it. So, this is half of the battle. You now say “Do it again and let me know what you feel”. Now, they are aware of their movement…now you can teach. Whether they smash again or not, cue this “As you press away on the footbar, work to use the back of your leg, your hamstrings, as much as the front of your leg, your quadriceps. We’re looking for a balanced strength of your leg. Do the same thing when you bend your knees and resist the springs in. Front of leg and back of leg working together.”
This way they have something to work on! Find this in every leg exercise. Work to straighten the leg completely…with balance.
Those with hyper-extended knees will stop short or go too far more often than not. Stay patient and encouraging…develop balance.
Same thing with elbows. There is a balance that needs to be developed that can be found through opposition: Reach the shoulder blade back (just enough to be balancing on the back of the ribcage) and the hand forward. This opposition will ultimately allow for a “locked” elbow with great strength. If the elbow continually hyperextends, then the lost action is the shoulder drawing back.
Whenever we’re looking to stabilize a joint…working on a stable surface is ideal:
For learning how to straighten a leg with balance, sitting up on a mat is great. With legs outstretched, have your client “soften” her knees. Then have her press her heel into the mat strongly with a softened knee to activate her hamstrings. Then have her maintain the pressure of the heel while drawing her kneecap up her thigh which is engaging the quadriceps. The effort of keeping heel down and knee cap engaged ought to work to straighten without quadding or hyper-extension.
For learning how to straighten an elbow with balance, lying down on a mat is great. With knees bent up and feet flat on the mat, have your client reach her ams up to the ceiling right over her shoulders. She ought to lift her shoulder blades off of the mat and start with softened elbows. Then ask her to keep reaching her fingertips to the ceiling, but draw her shoulder blades onto her back, into the mat (note that I did not say “down her back” or “away from her ears”…these cues are not proper ways to stabilize the shoulder blade…even though many of you have been taught this…I apologize, but they are compressive cues rather than stabilizing…and we can talk about this another time…please ask me to explain.)…so she must draw her shoulder blades onto her back and into the mat. If she is reaching up and drawing back equally and opposite…her elbow joint will become straight with strength. With mighty effort, balance and control…very mindful and active.
Well…these are not quick fixes, but they are extremely strengthening and balancing!
We’ve got to work through our muscles finding the end range of motion for both extension and flexion of joints. Full Range of Motion is what we’re going for. Stopping short at “soft” knees or elbows does have an element of control and consciousness and is import for beginners, but intermediates need more…we’ve got to work for balance of strength (and stretch) to give our clients the most!
As always…please ask me questions and let this be the beginning of a discussion, not the end or a monologue. I hope this information is helpful! Try it out on yourself first…and then your clients when you feel comfortable with it. And please feel free to request a topic for me to write on. I really enjoy your input! Enjoy!!!
Here’s what’s coming up:
To register, contact Melissa at www.njyogazone.com
Archival Mat & Standing Exercises
There are many more versions of Mr. Pilates’ exercises than we see today. Many Pilates teachers have never been taught many of these variations, modifications, and combinations of multiple exercises in one! Fascinating, challenging and all the rest! These versions should not just live in the memories of those of us who had access to them years ago. They ought to be living, breathing exercises for those who need modification or challenge! Experience this material, then teach it so we never lose track of these great exercises!
Sunday, August 7, 2011
9:00 AM-11:00 PM
2101 Ocean Drive
Avalon, NJ 08202
Shoulder Girdle: A Delicate Balance
The Shoulder Girdle is a complex system. When I first started teaching, all I knew was “pull your wings down” and “crack a walnut”. The more I study biomechanics, the more I know there’s very little down and no cracking. It’s a delicate balance of bone, muscles, ligaments, tendons…and constant reassessing. Dynamic Stability is what we’re looking for. Let’s spend time studying where we’re going with the shoulder girdle and how to get there in Pilates. We’ll take time with anatomy and biomechanics, Pilates exercises, common ailments and all of your questions. Take a moment to review what you already know before the workshop…then we can grow from there.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
11:30 AM-1:30 PM
2101 Ocean Drive
Avalon, NJ 08202
Shoulder girdle from Gray’s Anatomy.
Creative Spine Corrector
The Spine Corrector is one of the most underused yet extremely versatle pieces of equipment designed by Mr. Pilates. In this workshop, you’ll learn how to transform your Spine Corrector into one of the most useful pieces of apparatus in your studio! You will learn how to do and teach an entire flowing workout/ session on the Spine Corrector as well as how to use just a handful of exercises to enhance a full workout. With over 40 exercises, there’s a lot to work on and discover. You will also learn how to organize the exercises, how to position the clients on the apparatus and where to be spot and cue the exercises as the teacher. It’s surprising how special and important you’ll find the Spine Corrector.
Shari Berkowitz teaching the Creative Spine
Corrector Workshop in Barcelona
Sunday, August 7, 2011
2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Pilates for Seniors
There are many more versions of Mr. Pilates’ exercises than we see today. Variations, modification, combinations of multiple exercises in one! Fascinating, challenging and all the rest! These versions should not just live in the memories of those of us who had access to them years ago. They ought to be living, breathing exercises for those who need the modification or challenge! Experience this material, then teach it so we never lose track of these great exercises!
Workshops in Your Studio:
If you are interested in my teaching workshops and/or semi-private sessions for your teachers at your studio, please contact me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com I’ll be thrilled to put together a program with you for your needs!
While my vocabulary is classical Pilates, the principles behind my teaching and workshops apply to every style of Pilates.
We have countless topics to play with within technique workshops of classical Pilates and teaching skills workshop that apply to all!
If you’re in NYC and want a Pilates session e-mail me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com
And I’m at Purchase College (Near White Plains/Westchester, NY) on Thursdays.
If you’d like a workshop and/or semi-privates at your studio, e-mail me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com I travel all over the world and would be thrilled to come to you!
If you’d like to set up a meeting on the phone or in person to ask questions about teaching or building/maintaining your business, e-mail me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com
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