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A Beginners Guide to Pilates

“With body, mind and spirit functioning perfectly as a coordinated whole, what else could reasonably be expected other than an active, alert, disciplined person?” 
-      Joseph H. Pilates 
May 4 is Pilates Day, the perfect time to celebrate this popular exercise form designed to stretch, strengthen and balance the body. If you’re new to Pilates, here’s a guide to what it is, what the benefits are and why so many people are doing it. 
What is Pilates? 
Pilates is a form of exercise that involves a series of movements with names like The One Hundred, Criss-Cross, Scissor Kick, Elephant, and the Swan that are done in a specific order, either on a mat or on a piece of equipment called a Reformer. 
The History of Pilates 
According to the Pilates Method Alliance, Pilates was created in the 1920’s by Joseph H. Pilates. As a German national placed under forced internment while living in England during the outbreak of WWI, he created a series of original exercises done on the floor, known as “matwork,” which he taught to fellow camp members. The concepts and exercises he developed were based on more than 20 years of self-study and apprenticeship in yoga, Zen and ancient Greek and Roman physical regimens. In later years, he began devising equipment to create spring resistance to help rehabilitate injured internees who were struck with wartime disease and physical injury. 
The Main Benefits of a Regular Pilates Practice 
Michael Fritzke and Ton Voogt are internationally recognized Pilates presenters and certified Pilates Teacher Trainers who each have more than 25 years of experience in the fitness industry. Together, they co-founded ZENIRGY, a company created to promote health through innovative workouts, products and educational programs. They are also the creators of the TRIADBALL, a product that’s ideal to help build core strength during Pilates practice. 
Fritzke and Voogt describe Pilates as a “very complete and versatile form of exercise that can be used in conjunction with physical therapy or a stand-alone full-body workout, or as general conditioning and alignment for professional athletes and performers.” Because it’s a form of general exercise and conditioning it allows you to “mold it” to be exactly what you want it to be. They list the top benefits of Pilates as:  
·     Increased strength
·     Increased mobility and flexibility 
·     Improved posture 
·     Improved body awareness and control 
Common Misconceptions About Pilates 
Read below to find out how Fritzke and Voogt debunk common misconceptions about Pilates. 
      Myth: Pilates is like yoga on equipment
      Fact: Pilates and Yoga are two different modalities that complement each other but are not the same.  
      Myth: Pilates is for women only
      Fact: Pilates was created by a man, for men who were in the military. It provides a great workout for both men and women. 
      Myth: Pilates is a form of physical therapy
      Fact: Although it can be modified to help people with any physical injury or limitation, it isn’t physical therapy. 
      Myth: Pilates is for dancers only
      Fact: Although the movement form can be extremely helpful for dancers, it’s for everyone from professional athletes (including NFL and MLB players), to people with severe limitations – and everyone in between. 
How to Get Started 
Although private or semi-private Pilates lessons are more expensive, Fritzke and Voogt say that it will pay off and they encourage anyone looking to get started to find a local Pilates studio in their area. If you’re not ready for private lessons just yet, check out Pilates books and equipment that can help you get started on your own, or visit Pilates Method Alliance to learn more. 

READ MORE Amy Bowman, OPTP Staff Writer - May 3, 2019

How to Choose a Foam Roller: 3 Features to Consider

So you’re going to get a foam roller? Seems like an easy enough decision to make. I mean, it’s a simple piece of foam, it can’t be that hard to figure out. But then you start looking at all the options out there, seeing the many different varieties. Pretty soon, it can become overwhelming.

Trying to decide which foam roller is best for you isn’t as easy as you might think, but it’s important. Choosing the right roller will help ensure effectiveness, usability and compliance. After all, if it doesn’t feel right you won’t be motivated to use it…and a roller that goes unused doesn’t provide much benefit!

In this article, we’ll look at three keys to consider when picking a roller, helping you break down the options. As follows, we’ve identified what we feel are the three most important factors; density, size/shape and construction.

  1. Density
Arguably the most important choice to make regarding your new foam roller is the density. You might also hear this referred to as the compression, firmness, cushion or “give,” which all mean the same thing. Generally, rollers can be broken down into three density categories; soft, medium or firm.

Soft density rollers have more “give” or cushion to them. They’re designed for those who are looking for more comfort as opposed to the deeper massage of firm and standard rollers. The soft density produces a massage that is gentler on the muscles, making it ideal for users with sensitive muscles or those who simply prefer a less intensive massage.
These rollers have a medium firmness. Their universal quality makes them ideal for both self-massage and exercise. They provide just enough firmness for deep massage while still having moderate cushion. Their medium density also serves nicely as stable props for use in core strengthening exercises such as those performed in Pilates and yoga.

For those seeking a deeper, more intense massage, firm density foam rollers are the answer. Athletes and highly active individuals often have tight muscles that can benefit from the penetrating nature of these rollers. Firm rollers are great at breaking up even the most constricted fascia (the interconnected web surrounding the muscles), a process known as myofascial release.  

  1. Size and Shape
There are also many different sizes of foam rollers on the market. While the majority are the traditional full-size round cylinders, many other sizes and even different shapes exist. Let’s take a look at some of the more common sizes to see how each lends itself to certain uses.

Standard Full-size
When most people think of a foam roller, this is usually what comes to mind. The typical full-size roller measures approximately 36” length x 6” diameter. This size is versatile for a variety of uses, including massage (ideally larger muscles groups like hamstrings, quads and the back), physical therapy and general exercise. Due to their three-foot length, these rollers are perfect for any type of exercise where you lie on the roller with it positioned vertically along the spine, such as Pilates or related core strength and balance movements.
Shorter Length
If you’re looking for a more portable roller, perhaps one that is travel size and you can take with you to the gym, physical therapy clinic or Pilates studio, consider a shorter length. Most shorter rollers have the same diameter as a traditional full-size (6” or thereabouts) but feature a shorter length; typically either 18” or 12”. In addition to the benefit of portability, they also make it easier to target certain muscle groups. The shorter rollers are ideal for targeting more precise areas such as calves, IT Bands or glutes.

Smaller Diameter
A smaller diameter roller — typically 4” — means that it will be lower to the floor and more stable. This is often important for physical therapy patients, aging users or those with a compromised sense of balance. Being lower to the floor means that it provides a safer, more stable feeling. It’s also easier to control while using for massage.
Ridges or Bumps
Need a little something extra? Some uniquely designed foam rollers offer protrusions for those that like a more invigorating massage or simply want the ability to target precise areas. Rollers with ridges, bumps or points can provide a deeper penetrating massage that breaks up fascia in even the most tight, compact areas.
Flat Half-size
There are a variety of foam rollers that lend themselves nicely to balance and core strength exercise. Although they come in a range of shapes, a typical size is a 36” length x 3” height that is cut in half the long way, making it rounded on one side and flat on the other. This shape is useful for physical therapy, Pilates, yoga, Feldenkrais® and general core strength exercise.

  1. Construction
Not all foam is created equal. Believe it or not, there is a fair amount of engineering that goes into the development of a foam roller. The way it is constructed helps determine its longevity — and primary location of use — important considerations to make before purchase.

Rollers built with an open-cell construction, while suitable for massage and exercise, tend to break down much faster than closed-cell rollers. You’ll typically find open-cell rollers at your local big-box store and, while inexpensive, there are higher-quality closed-cell options available at affordable prices. Closed-cell foam rollers offer the durability you expect from a foam roller and are available in two types of foam; EPP and EVA.

EPP Foam
Rollers made from EPP foam beads are high quality but still relatively inexpensive. They’re versatile and suited for users of all levels. Because they offer a nice combination of durability and affordability, they make a great starting point for the average person while still being effective for the more advanced user. EPP rollers are designed to last much longer than open-cell rollers, though they do not offer the supreme durability of EVA foam.

EVA Foam
Rollers made from EVA foam deliver unmatched durability. These “professional strength” foam rollers are built to withstand the type of heavy, repeated use often found in gyms, clinics or Pilates studios where many people are using them throughout the day. The at-home user can also benefit from the longevity of these rollers, having confidence in knowing they will hold up for a longer time than any of the other foam types.

As you can see, there’s a bit of thought required before making your foam roller purchase. But put the time in up front and you’ll be rewarded with a roller that suits your comfort level and intended usage, motivating you to use it with consistency. Start with the big three features — density, size/shape and construction — and you’re well on your way to making the perfect selection.

Ready to browse all the options? View OPTP’s extensive selection of foam rollers, including the densities, sizes and foam types mentioned in this article.

READ MORE Josh Crane, OPTP Staff Writer - June 12, 2018

Pilates Method Alliance Conference: Definitely Epic

The 17th Annual Meeting of the Pilates Method Alliance, held October 25-28, lived up to its claim of being “One Epic Pilates Conference.” From the amazing Indian Wells, California venue to a packed agenda, we take a look back at some of the event’s highlights.
A Fusion of Sport and Pilates
As an ESPN play-by-play announcer for Major League Baseball and college basketball, Jon Sciambi might not have been the typical keynote speaker for a Pilates conference. But as someone who finds balance in Pilates and connects it directly with athletics, he was the perfect fit.  
First introduced to Pilates by pitcher Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs, Sciambi realizes the importance of the mind-muscle connection and sense of control that Pilates brings. As he puts it, “It helps me understand how, why and what is actually making something move and fire.” Understanding the anatomy of functional movement is definitely relevant to any athlete.
Sciambi addressed his philanthropic work as well, which involves fundraising for ALS, a condition he has personal experience with and for which he strives to bring awareness. He related this important mission to the work of improving lives through exercise, noting that “Carrying around the knowledge and ability to improve someone’s physical state is a powerful currency.” His message was inspiring, and the relationship of Pilates and sport is certainly one that will continue to gain momentum.    
A Wealth of Knowledge
Additional speakers from many different backgrounds also shared their knowledge during the event. In fact, over 50 presenters from around the globe provided expertise and insight over the course of the four days.

Eric FranklinAmong the many professionals in attendance was mind-body guru Eric Franklin. His famous Franklin Method® uses dynamic imagery, anatomical embodiment, and reconditioning movement exercises to improve how the body functions. Eric has a background as a dancer, and he has provided training to Olympic athletes and professional dance troupes such as Cirque du Soleil.

Elizabeth LarkamAnother mind-body movement educator and practitioner that presented was Elizabeth Larkam. Sharing much in common with Franklin, she also has a background in dance and has worked with Cirque du Soleil. She has created Pilates protocols for orthopedic, spine, and chronic pain diagnoses, and collaborated with physical therapists to help wounded soldiers using Pilates techniques.

Centered Book
Madeline Black, author and educator, also shared her insights at the conference. Madeline coaches and mentors advanced teachers, raising the level of education and quality in the Pilates industry worldwide. Madeline lives and works at Studio M in Sonoma, California, and is the author of the popular new book, Centered: Organizing the Body Through Kinesiology, Movement Theory and Pilates.

A Host of Cool Products
PMA 2017 wasn’t just about the sharing of information; it also spotlighted some of the industry’s best and most innovative Pilates products. Exhibitors ranged from studios to apparel to props. There was truly something for everyone who strolled through the exhibitor hall.    
OPTP brought many of its exclusive Eric Franklin items to the conference so that attendees could see firsthand the tools of his Franklin Method that he discussed in his presentations. The ever-growing collection of Franklin Method products provides users with tension release, efficient movement, and relaxation. Franklin is also the author of 13 educational books for both professionals and individuals, including the recently released Grow Younger Daily, as well as The Art & Science of Cueing, a guide for Pilates educators featuring mental imagery techniques.

Franklin Method Products
Also exhibiting was the popular ActivMotion Bar®, perhaps one of the most innovative products to capture the attention of the Pilates world in recent years. The bar features internal ball bearings that shift during movement, producing instability for a challenging workout on a mat or reformer. The 4-foot, 4.5-pound version, offered exclusively from OPTP, is the most popular ActivMotion Bar for Pilates. There is also an exercise manual developed by ActivMotion inventor Derek Mikulski featuring more than 40 Pilates, rehabilitation, and golf exercises using the bar.

A number of discs, balance boards, and similar products were also showcasing their applications for Pilates. One of these effective tools for developing strength and balance was OPTP’s Pro Rotating Discs™. With many versatile uses, the discs can help educate hip rotators, increase core strength, and improve range of motion. The rotating 11” diameter discs have their own instructional DVD, “Movement Techniques for Rotating Discs”, developed by the previously mentioned Elizabeth Larkam.

Pro Rotating Discs
Already Excited for 2018
Between all of the amazing speakers, motivational messages, and great products, it was hard not to be inspired by the PMA conference. And of course, the luxurious setting of the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa didn’t hurt, either. Even though we’re still awestruck by the experience, we’re already looking forward to next year…we can’t wait to see what 2018 holds in store.

READ MORE Josh Crane, OPTP Staff Writer - November 6, 2017

The 3 Most Common Running Injuries & How to Treat Them

Whether you run to reduce stress, beat the clock, or attain a leaner figure, it’s a lifestyle that’s hard to give up…even in the face of injury.

Over one-third of runners sustain at least one soft tissue injury over the course of a year.1,2 The following three types of injuries are some of the most common, and ones that you’ll likely experience at some point if you haven’t already. But don’t fear, we’ve identified therapy products for each condition to help expedite the recovery process.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)
ITBS is an overuse injury that presents itself in up to 12 percent of runners each year, and it is the most common cause of lateral knee pain in running athletes.4 Significant risk factors include downhill running and an abrupt increase in running distance, pace, or frequency.

One of the best ways to tackle Iliotibial Band Syndrome is through myofascial release with a foam roller. Foam roller therapy is an essential aide for several running injuries, including ITBS.3 If you’re new to foam rolling, it can be a bit overwhelming as foam rollers come in all shapes, sizes, and densities. This page provides a brief introduction to foam rollers to help you get started.

Once you’ve found your roller, take advantage of the many educational resources out there that will help you use it. Foam Roller Techniques by Michael Fredericson, MD features color illustrations and clear, step-by-step instructions to effectively massage and stretch a runner’s most important muscle groups, including the IT Band. Check out the video below and see how to massage the IT Band and other sensitive areas with your roller.

Shin Splints & Ankle Sprains
About 10-20 percent of all runners experience a bout of medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), or shin splints, at some point during their career.8 For inflammatory conditions like shin splints or ankle sprains, ice, rest, and orthotic shoe inserts are commonly prescribed.

Kinesiology taping, however, offers additional options for pain modulation and return to function. Unlike conventional tapes, SpiderTech® kinesiology tape has the same weight, thickness, and elasticity as human skin, allowing it to work naturally with the body’s own sensory system to reduce pain and provide natural stability. It’s available in more than a dozen pre-cut applications, including designs for the ankle as well as a foot arch and calf combo.  

Another way to address shin splints, ankle sprains, and calf strains is with the OPTP SlantTM. This pair of lightweight foam wedges allows for simple stretching exercises. Their 18-degree incline is ideal for stretching the hamstrings and calves to help with tight fascia and strengthening of the tissues in this region.

Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is the third most frequent injury among runners.5 It is characterized by inflammation in the long tendon at the bottom of the foot, which stretches from the heel to the toes. Although the etiology of this condition is controversial, several risk factors, including high body weight and reduced ankle dorsiflexion, have been associated with increased incidence rates.6 Research suggests that conducting tissue-specific plantar fascia stretching several times a day helps alleviate and prevent pain due to chronic plantar fasciitis.7

With a cradle design that encompasses the foot, the Stretch-EZ™ is a unique stretching aide that assists with plantar fasciitis, as well as calf, thigh, hip and low back strains and injuries. By inserting the foot into the cradle and pulling back, it produces superior dorsiflexion of the toes that stretches the plantar fascia. Since the Stretch-EZ features multiple strap loops, it allows you to safely and easily control each stretch.Half Balls

A lot of runners are told to use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball for their plantar fasciitis. While this can be a viable option, there are plenty of products out there designed specifically for massage of the foot. These Half Balls are the ideal texture and firmness for that purpose. The flat bottom ensures they won’t roll away during use, making it easier to target specific areas for a better massage and stretch of the plantar fascia.

Back Up and Running
Perhaps you’ll be one of the fortunate ones who’s able to steer clear of these running injuries. But if not, you now have some basic knowledge to guide you on the path to recovery. Hopefully, with consistent use of the right therapy tools and a mental approach grounded in patience, you’ll be back out on the pavement and trails before you know it.

* For your safety, always consult with your healthcare professional before starting any type of exercise or stretching program, especially if you have any health concerns. Products mentioned in this article are intended to provide therapeutic relief but do not guarantee cure of condition.

1 Buist I, Bredeweg SW, Lemmink K, et al. Predictors of running-related injuries in novice runners enrolled in a systematic training program: a prospective cohort study.
Am J Sports Med. 2010; 38(2):273-280.
2 Rauh MJ, Koepsell TD, Rivara FP, et al. Epidemiology of musculoskeletal injuries among high school cross-country runners. Am J Epidemiol. 2006; 163(2):151–159.
3 Fredericson M, Weir A. Practical management of iliotibial band friction syndrome in runners. Clin J Sport Med. 2006; 16(3):261-268.
4 Fredericson M, Wolf C. Iliotibial band syndrome in runners. Sports Med. 2005; 35(5):451-459.
5 Ribeiro AP, Trombini-Souza FT, Tessutti VD, et al. The effects of plantar fasciitis and pain on plantar pressure distribution of recreational runners. Clinical Biomechanics.
2011; 26:194-199.
6 Riddle DL, Pulisic M, Pidcoe P, et al. Risk factors for plantar fasciitis: a matched case-control study. Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery. 2003; 85A (5):872-877.
7 DiGiovanni BF, Nawoczenski DA, Malay DP, et al. Plantar fascia–specific stretching improves outcomes in patients with chronic plantar fasciitis: a prospective clinical trial with two-year follow-up. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2008; 88:1775–81.
8 Hubbard TJ, Carpenter EM, & Cordova ML. Contributing factors to medial tibial stress syndrome: a prospective investigation. Med Sci Sports Exercise. 2009; 41(3): 490-496.

READ MORE Josh Crane, OPTP Staff Writer - July 31, 2017

Tools to Improve the Practice: ActivMotion Bar®

The Bar and its Activating Functional Mobility book provide a host of effective exercises for physical therapy patients

When I first picked up an ActivMotion Bar®, I was instantly intrigued. So many ideas came into my head, I spent a few hours testing it out and I was instantly hooked. I brought it to work the next day and started integrating the Bar into the exercise programs of many of my patients – those dealing with balance issues, those with trouble correcting scapular dyskinesia, post-ACL reconstruction patients learning to use full knee extension and maintain their stability in standing, and patients learning to stabilize their entire bodies by connecting their scapula, trunk, and pelvis with dynamic movements.
Incredible Sensory Feedback
I use a wide variety of techniques and tools to facilitate and correct functional movement patterns, and I was surprised how the Bar not only fit into each patient’s exercise program but how much better it was than other tools. ActivMotion Bars provide the feedback that our patients need to be aware of and self-correct dysfunctional movement patterns. As we all know, self-awareness plus quality feedback provide the best environment for learning. The sensory feedback provided by the Bar is almost more accurate than we as PTs can be with our own eyes and movement assessment skills. It is more sensitive and more tactile, as a slight hike of the shoulder or a dip of the hip into Trendelenburg can cause the rolling steel weights to shift and let the user know that they’ve lost their stable position. In addition, it gives them feedback when they’re doing the exercise correctly, as they can feel the weights become stable, but not static, inside the Bar. I enjoyed seeing my patients respond quicker, become more motivated, and enjoy their exercise programs more when using the Bar. I soon saw many of my patients carrying the Bar around the clinic and asking to use it even for exercises that had not previously involved the Bar.
Creating a Comprehensive Program
When I was approached by ActivMotion and OPTP to come up with a manual for how to apply the Bar to the field of outpatient physical therapy, I felt challenged in creating something that would accurately represent the Bar and all of its capabilities. How do I build a systematic functional exercise program for something that is so dynamic? We collaborated, and eventually came up with a system of three different ways to use the Bar; the first two using the Bar for facilitation and the third using the Bar for eccentric resistance. I brainstormed daily in the clinic and compiled a list of exercises, then categorized them in to the three cardinal planes of motion (sagittal, frontal, and transverse) to provide a comprehensive program of corrective functional movements. The result is Activating Functional Mobility: A Guide to Rehabilitation Training with the ActivMotion Bar.
Breaking Down the Exercises
The exercises are divided into sections that each address a common area of instability: Scapular instability, trunk instability, and hip/pelvic instability. Having to hold and stabilize the Bar actually makes every exercise a scapular stability exercise. We commonly refer to the “core” as simply trunk and lower body stability, but it is important to include the scapula as it is the proximal attachment of the upper extremities to the trunk. As there is no inherent joint space or ligamentous stability in the scapulothoracic joint – only muscle attachments – nearly all stability here relies on muscular control. Within each section (scapular, trunk, and hip/pelvic) there are 9 different exercises: three levels of exercises in each of the cardinal planes of motion. From here we can start our patients with a beginner level exercise in any of the planes of motion and progress them from using the Bar to provide tactile feedback to assist with stabilization, to using the Bar for dynamic resistance and eccentric loading of the joint stabilizers.
Beginning Level Exercises: Introducing Balance & Proprioception
The beauty of the ActivMotion Bar lies in its versatility. The beginner level of exercises in each section of stability involves using the Bar pressed against the body to physically create a closed-chain connection between the body and the Bar. The tactile feedback of the Bar’s connection to the body as well as the tactile and auditory sensations of the rolling steel weights shifting as the patient strives to find equilibrium help to stimulate the patient’s proprioceptive systems and facilitate a correction of that movement through increased self-awareness. The beginner level of exercises involve keeping the Bar parallel to the floor and are more isolated movements focused on gaining static stability through tactile sensation. A hook-lying bridge while pressing the Bar into the hips is an example of a beginner level sagittal plane exercise. Using the Bar to anchor the upper extremities to the trunk and facilitating symmetry in the hips and pelvis is great for correcting common deviations of lumbar extension, asymmetrical hip extension, and muscle imbalances between sides.

Intermediate Level Exercises: Increasing the Core Stability Challenge
The intermediate level of exercises in each section of stability involves moving the Bar with the body, while also maintaining a parallel position of the Bar to create balance. Exercises in this section require more stability than the beginner section as the patient now has to work to control their body and the Bar together in more active, dynamic movement patterns. The intermediate level progression of the hook-lying bridge is the side plank hip swing, in which the patient maintains a stable forearm side plank with the Bar balanced on the top leg and flexes and extends the top hip. Maintaining a balanced position of the body while moving the top leg and Bar together dynamically improves hip and pelvic stability in individuals with gait deviations. The patient can hear and feel the weights in the Bar shifting if they don’t maintain neutral hip abduction, and they are simultaneously working on trunk and scapular stability to keep their balance.

Advanced Level Exercises: Dynamic Moves, Full Range of Motion
The advanced level of exercises in each section of stability involves tipping, tilting, or swinging the ActivMotion Bar to create dynamic resistance throughout the full range of motion and provide eccentric core muscle activation at the end ranges of the movement pattern. Patients can feel and hear the active resistance shift within the Bar, and use this as feedback to create a rhythm and sequence the movement correctly. As patients tip, tilt, and swing the Bar, the resistance shifts to the end of the Bar and creates an eccentric force resulting in even greater contraction of the major core muscles as they work to control the increased weight. In Activating Functional Mobility, the advanced level sagittal plane hip/pelvic stability exercise is the static lunge with overhead sidebend. The sagittal plane muscles are working to maintain a stable position of the lower extremities, while the trunk and scapular muscles activate dynamically to tip and tilt the Bar and create a sense of dynamic instability for the lower extremities. This exercise could also be considered an advanced frontal plane stability exercise for the trunk and scapular stabilizers.

An Excellent Method of Corrective Exercise
In nearly every exercise performed with the ActivMotion Bar, users are truly required to stabilize their entire body, making the Bar a very effective and efficient tool for facilitating functional movement patterns in corrective exercise. Capturing the benefit of these traits, Activating Functional Mobility contains an overview on the science behind facilitating stability and proprioception in the human body. It also contains information regarding the unique aspects of the ActivMotion Bar, and instruction on cueing fundamentals to assist you in helping your patients use the Bar to its fullest potential.

READ MORE Nicole R. Bushong, PT, DPT, RYT-200 - June 1, 2017

3 Amazing Pilates Props You Need to Try

When Joseph Pilates first administered his exercise regimen in early 1900s Germany, it was practiced mainly by soldiers returning from war. Much has changed since those beginning days, but the method continues to be admired by many all over the world. More and more people today are discovering the benefits of Pilates, an exercise discipline that inspires focused, controlled movements.   

Advances in Pilates equipment have provided us with fresh new exercises, as well as creative challenges for existing ones. While the following three props might not have been part of Joseph Pilates’ original vision, they might be just what you need to spark motivation and take your workout to the next level.

1.    ActivMotion Bar®
What is it?
The ActivMotion Bar is a unique piece of fitness equipment that was developed by personal trainer and strength and conditioning specialist Derek Mikulski. At first glance, it may seem just like any other weighted bar you’d find in the gym. But once you pick it up, you quickly realize that’s not the case. Weighted ball bearings inside the bar shift back and forth, creating instability as well as a very intriguing sound. The shifting weight challenges and activates your core muscles during exercise, with some studies revealing as much as a 173% increase in core engagement over traditional fitness tools.

What makes it amazing?
Unlike other props you may have used during Pilates workouts, the ActivMotion Bar is constantly moving, providing continuous feedback regarding your positioning, areas of weakness, and imbalances. Being that it requires more strength and stability to operate, the bar forces you to become aware of your body and engage muscles you may not otherwise use in order maintain controlled balance.

How do you use it?
The ActivMotion Bar can be used during either mat or reformer workouts. Half roll-down variations where you either attempt to keep the bar stable or tilt it from side to side are just one of many moves that work nicely with this unique tool’s design. The bars come in several weight and length variations, though the 4.5lb ActivMotion Bar is ideal for Pilates. A book by Derek Mikulski, Activating Functional Mobility, explains in more detail how to use the bar and demonstrates exercises for Pilates, therapy, and golf.
ActivMotion Bar ExerciseActivMotion Bar Exercise

2.    Stretch Out Strap™
What is it?
The Stretch Out Strap is a woven strap with multiple loops designed to help you get a good stretch, promoting flexibility and range of motion for major muscle groups. While the strap was originally intended as more of a pre and post-workout tool (warmup before athletic event or stretching afterward for aiding in injury prevention), Pilates and yoga enthusiasts have found that it’s perfect for use during an exercise routine as well.   

What makes it amazing?
The simplicity of the Stretch Out Strap’s design makes it incredibly easy to use, and the multiple loops ensure that people of all different sizes can make it work for them. The multiple loops also allow for a wide variety of exercises, bringing a new twist on familiar movements. For those who might not be quite as flexible, the loops enable them to perform movements more comfortably and effectively; movements that may have been more difficult or otherwise not possible. Another benefit: The small, lightweight strap is easily folded up and placed in a bag for taking to the studio.      

How do you use it?
Traditional Pilates movements integrate nicely with the Stretch Out Strap. The strap assists in exercises that lengthen and strengthen the body, helping build greater control and awareness of movement. The classic spine roll is an example of a move that is enhanced with the strap. By placing your hands in the strap loops at holding them taut above your head while performing spine rolls, you make this move more challenging and obtain additional core strengthening benefits. Moves such as this, along with many others, can be found in Angela Kneale’s exercise book, Stretch Out Strap Pilates Essentials.

Stretch Out Strap Spine Roll 3Stretch Out Strap Spine Roll 2Stretch Out Strap Spine Roll 1

What is it?
The two-sided design of the SMARTOLLER foam roller is unlike other foam rollers on the market. With both a flatter side and a rounder side, it provides the ability to easily make any exercise less challenging or more challenging. Like traditional full-length rollers it measures 36” in length, allowing you to fully lie on it to perform a wide range of exercises. The unique two-in-one roller is the creation of physical therapist and certified Pilates instructor Stacy Barrows.   

What makes it amazing?
The SMARTROLLER offers the same benefits of tension release, self-massage and increased flexibility that traditional foam rollers do, but its dual-sided design takes things one step further. Used with the flatter side down it is ideal for balance movements, while placing the rounder side down provides a more challenging, dynamic workout. In addition to Pilates moves, the SMARTROLLER can also be integrated into training principles of the Feldenkrais Method®, a sensorimotor learning approach that promotes higher states of body awareness.

How do you use it?
Since the SMARTROLLER offers both a traditional rounder side as well as a flatter side, you can choose your level of challenge. For those who are less experienced, exercises can be performed with the flatter side down for increased stability. A simple flip to the rounder side down results in more of a core stability challenge. Exercises such as the abdominal curl-up (pictured with the spine resting comfortably along the flat side) are excellent for core strengthening. This is just one of many possibilities demonstrated in Barrows’ SMARTROLLER Guide to Optimal Movement, an exercise manual designed for diverse ages and abilities.

SmartRoller Sit Up

Keep Evolving
Pilates, both its exercises and equipment, continues to evolve. As we learn more about health science, the practice will only further be enhanced by a deeper understanding of the body and new tools designed to promote strong, efficient movement. By adding products like the ones mentioned above to your routine, you, too will be able to evolve; mixing things up and adapting to your needs as you progress. 

READ MORE Josh Crane, OPTP Staff Writer - May 31, 2017

3 Foam Roller Exercises You Need to Try

Sure, the word on the street is out that foam rollers are great for self-massage, myofascial release, reducing muscle soreness, and increasing flexibility. But how many times have you thought about using a foam roller during exercise, as opposed to preparation for it or recovery from it afterward?

Magical Versatility
The foam roller can actually be used to perform a wide variety of exercise movements. Who knew? Turns out that a lot of folks in the Pilates and yoga scene did. In these disciplines, the roller is often used to create an instability that challenges the core, promoting strength and balance. Other movements use the roller in ways that increase flexibility and range of motion, such as stretching exercises. Like many fitness products, foam rollers hold possibilities for movement that are nearly endless, limited only by the imagination. But if you’re not feeling terribly creative, don’t worry…we have three great exercises demonstrated below, just waiting for you to try.    

Exercise #1: Toe Taps
This classic Pilates mat exercise is a great way to integrate the core and lower body. Adding the foam roller provides an extra balance and stability challenge, providing even further core engagement. When done slowly with precision, you can really feel the deep core muscles being worked.

How to Perform:
  • Lie vertically along the length of the roller as pictured
  • Rest your hands along the ground for stabilization
  • Keeping both feet together, pull your knees toward your chest as shown
  • Slowly, with focused control, lower one leg at a time until you tap your toes on the floor
  • Return to starting position, then continue to alternate lowering each leg
Description: Foam Roller Toe Tap Demo 1Description: Foam Roller Toe Tap Demo 2

Exercise #2: Push-Up Combo

Push-ups have been long regarded as one of the best exercises you can do for building upper body strength. This spin on the classic takes it to the next level. A great training and conditioning or general fitness exercise, it adds a “pike” component to challenge your core as well as your upper body.

How to Perform:
  • Begin with your hands placed on the roller in push-up position, feet close together
  • Perform a standard push-up
  • Roll the roller in toward you and perform a pike
  • Roll the roller back out away from you, extending into the top position of a push-up
  • Slowly lower yourself back down into starting position, then repeat 
Description: Foam Roller Push Up Demo 1

Exercise #3: Abdominal Crunch
The basic crunch is not an extremely difficult move. But performing crunches while balanced lengthwise along the roller makes for a much different experience. The instability of the roller requires more balance, making it an effective move that promotes a broader range of core activation.

How to Perform:
  • Lie vertically along the length of the roller as pictured
  • Place your hands behind your head
  • Slowly curl upward using your abdominal muscles
  • Don’t go too far forward; keep tension on the abs and avoid straining the neck

Looking for more?
Ask your fitness instructor if he/she is aware of more ways to use the foam roller in your exercise routines. Pilates instructor and integrative health coach Angela Kneale also has some great exercises for the foam roller in her books PRO-ROLLER Pilates Essentials and PRO-ROLLER Pilates Challenge. And don’t forget the plethora of foam roller exercise videos out there that can help you put that roller to good use. With so many ways to use the foam roller, you’re sure to enjoy all the creative challenges that it offers.

READ MORE Josh Crane, OPTP Staff Writer - May 31, 2017

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