Mind & Motion

Jonathan’s Hundred

Posted in Fitness Tips, Health by Meghan Pickrell on February 17, 2012


It’s Friday… ahhh. Here is a little inspiration for the weekend. My client Jonathan is modeling the hundred for us in this little video I shot this week. Doesn’t this make you want to go to pilates? Have a wonderful weekend!

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Class vs. Private Instruction

Posted in Fitness Tips by Meghan Pickrell on October 10, 2011

A lot of times clients ask which would be more appropriate: classes or privates. Todays post gives a little breakdown of the differences between a group fitness session and a private session. I teach both but have spent most of my time teaching privately until recently.

Private Session: A private pilates (or personal training) session should be tailored to you! That’s right, smile, you get all of the attention. Because of the intimate nature in this setting, focus is spent on achieving your personal goals, correcting postural imbalances specific to your body, and toning up areas that need strength for you. Cues from your trainer or practitioner will be specific and will help you perform the exercises optimally. The pace of the session will also be suited to your needs. You may need to slow down and really focus on the sequencing. Or, you may be someone who needs to really start moving!  Point blank – you and your practitioner will direct the flow of the session together to create the perfect session for your body.

Class: A big bonus of taking a class rather than a private session is that it’s generally less expensive. This can be a huge bonus. There are other incentives as well, however. In a private session you are mainly being told what to do. This can be great for someone who is unsure about the movements, timing, pilates apparatus, or even their own body. In a class you won’t receive as much specific information. However, it can be great for a client who needs a bit of autonomy. Because your teacher is no longer lurching over you for the entire hour, you can decide where and how to direct your focus. This can be a great platform to work on the specific cues  that you have received in private. This is where we see how much you have learned. You can see this as well… and it’s often times rewarding to feel that you have figured it out alone.

Although my group classes are very small (the smallest I’ve seen in Los Angeles) I like for clients to interchange privates and classes. This way they get the best of both worlds. If you are interested in a pilates program and are not sure what would be best for you, please comment. I will try and help!

It burns when it’s working!?

Posted in Fitness Tips by Meghan Pickrell on April 23, 2011

I couldn't find the grandpa and kid. boo.

So do remember the old commercial for aftershave depicting a grandpa and his grandson? The grandfather is standing in the bathroom with his 10 year old grandson teaching him how to shave. The young child watches and mirrors his elderly grandfather with curiosity. Post shaving the Grandpa, takes out his aftershave and rubs it onto his face exclaiming, “It burns when it’s working!!!” (Now repeat this is in a Jewish NY accent – it’s funnier) The child is somewhat horrified.

This commercial always made me laugh. The grandpa is funny- he takes his shaving very seriously. The child is innocent, taking it all in. But it also leads to an interesting question – does burning mean that it’s working?

Most of the time in our workout we are trying to connect to something visceral in the experience. Sometimes that comes in a feeling of the burn. A burning sensation is due to a build-up of lactic acid during a short strenuous exercise. It is also thought that muscle burning, particularly post-exercise is due to microscopic tears in the muscle which are then repaired and strengthened (hence your muscles become larger and stronger).

I believe that the feelings of muscle burn can be charted on a bell curve. Those who are low tone (don’t have much muscle tissue) won’t feel their muscles working as much. This is primarily due to the fact that they don’t have a lot of tissue. Those at the top of the curve have enough tone and tissue to actually feel their muscles working- hence, feeling the burn. However, because our body is so smart and adaptable you start heading down the other side of the curve. At the other end of the curve, the muscles have strengthened, adapted to a specific exercise and burning feelings will diminish (this is why we would increase the weight if necessary).

Depending on where you are on the curve for that particular muscles group in the context of an exercise will determine how you feel your muscles. Basing exercise effectiveness on a feeling is tricky. A burning feeling can be good if you are keeping good form and are focusing on how you are moving the joint. Burning is not necessarily helpful if you are so fatigued that your form is compromised. At that point you are teaching the body a negative pattern. You may feel the burn which could be great. You could also be performing a perfectly effective exercise without much sensation. The focus should be on how you are performing the movement, the burning is a result. Get it?

Exercise effectiveness should be based on the body, how it’s reacting to varying forces and the intent of the exercise. Remember the feelings are a result, not the intention. The intention is to move through space. The more you understand gravity, weight and counterbalancing forces, the more you will understand how your muscles should respond. Remember, you may or may not feel the burn.

Demand More From Your Trainer!

Posted in Fitness Tips by Meghan Pickrell on February 6, 2011

A frustrating component of my profession is that fitness trainers rarely having ranking. We do not belong to the corporate model which encourages hard work to move up the ladder. Someone who was recently certified can charge just as much as someone who has been in the industry for 20+ years (and they usually do, so beware).

The other frustrating component is that the public usually doesn’t know the difference. Because of the lack of education to the public a novice fitness enthusiast may not know if they are getting their monies worth. This can be particularly true if a “celebrity trainer” has an amazing marketing team. If a trainer gets one celebrity to endorse them, they are suddenly the new fitness guru of Los Angeles… even if they have very little education. I have had clients come to me who were pushed too hard during their workout and were left injured, unfortunately. Let me tell you something, even though People may disagree, celebrities know just as much about a safe and effective workout as you, most likely!

My vision is to push the fitness industry to a new level. Training programs should be 2 years at the minimum. After all, it’s your body! Seriously, that is probably the most important asset that you have. I would want an educated attorney to get me out of a law suit. I would also want an educated teacher to teach my how to move, stretch and strengthen. Probably even more so. I’d rather have my money go, than my body. The more you are educated, the more you can demand from your fitness routine. The Anatomy Coloring Book http://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Coloring-Book-Wynn-Kapit/dp/0805350861 is a wonderful tool to begin to understand the mechanics of your bones, joints and muscles. It’s actually pretty freaking fascinating. Please check out my past blog on What to Look for in a Pilates Teacher https://mindmotion.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/what-to-look-for-in-a-pilates-teacher/ to understand which questions to ask your trainer. Good luck!

Are you getting what you want?

Posted in Fitness Tips, Inspiration by Meghan Pickrell on October 18, 2010

I went to a group exercise class last week. It was one of those ballet barre type classes, which are so popular at the moment. The class consisted of mat exercises using props such as hand-weights and a ball. Most of exercises were basic callisthenics with elements of yoga (and pilates?). We worked each area of the body individually until it burned- badly.

Not to get off topic but, I want to explain something that you may not know. Sensations such as post-exercise soreness do not necessarily lead to muscle hypertrophy. This means that there is no scientific evidence to support the notion that because your muscles are sore, they are getting stronger. Not only that, but if the goal is too tighten your tush to the point you can no longer walk- you’re not even serving your body in a functional way. So then the question is raised- are your needs being met by your workout? And, more importantly, what are your goals? This is something you should think about when attempting an exercise routine. It may be something you haven’t thought about before. If it’s any help, here’s what I want from my exercise practice:

1) I want to be engaged. I need to be engaged in my exercise time or else it’s BORING. There are many ways to keep me engaged: learning complex movements, moving to music, or having a teacher cue me about the specifics of a movement. I need to be learning or feeling something new in order to feel satisfied by my workout.

2) I want my heart rate to go UP. I love the feeling of going uphill, my heart accelerating with each step. I know that increasing my heart rate helps with cardiovascular and metabolic health. Plus it helps me better digest fats, burn calories and keep stress at bay.

3) I want to better my posture. Dealing with scoliosis, the two sides of my back tend to fight a little. Getting on the pilates apparatus, looking in the mirror and connecting to my alignment, plus keeping appropriate muscles strong help me to stay pain free!

4) I want to stretch. The simplicity of stetching helps awaken all of the sensory feedback mechanisms in the muscles. I love the feeling of a good stretch session. My mobility increases and I feel agile.

5) I want to stay strong. I want to be able to perform the tasks of daily life with ease. I want my trunk to support me for long periods of time, whether typing at my desk or standing on my feet.

I may not work on all of these aspects in each workout but I try to keep my workouts balanced around these ideas. The class I tried above didn’t need my particular needs which are usually met by a good pilates workout. Not only do I feel good, I know I’m serving my body well and as a result I don’t think I look half bad. You may not know what you want from your workout only that you need to keep yourself in shape. I would encourage those who are unsure to try different avenues. Workouts and training should be based on what you want to achieve. Feel free to comment with questions. I can try and asses if you are getting your needs met.

Test Day

Posted in Fitness Tips, Health, Inspiration by Meghan Pickrell on October 10, 2010

So, as most of you know I’m working toward my Master’s in Kinesiology. This is a bit of a rigorous process – prerequisites, classes and of course RESEARCH. For my thesis I’m working with this device called the Vivometric LifeShirt which is basically a sci-fi vest, fitted with all kinds of sensors, wires and electrode hook-ups. The LifeShirt measures over 100 physiological features at any one moment. Everything is recorded onto a small chip (much like a memory card) which is then transferred to the computer where I can analyze the data. At this point I can observe all vital functions (such as heart rate) over a period of time.

I’ve decided to measure co-regulation with the LifeShirt. What I’m observing is any synchronization that may occur (physiologically) between me and a client during a typical pilates session. The questions I’m asking are: do heart rate increases or decreases coincide between individuals? or respiratory rate? or autonomic nervous system shifts? Basically, do I influence changes within the client? Or are changes purely as a result of the exercises… It will be interesting to find out what happens.

Part of my research entails a gamut of tests which measure my reaction to stress. While wearing the LifeShirt I recently went through psychological and physical testing. The video above is of me performing a “one repetition maximum” test while wearing the LifeShirt. My lab partners were testing the amount of weight I could press as a measure of strength. I only had to press out and extend my knees one time. But if performed correctly more weight was added. I think I pressed up to 275lbs? This was huge for me as you can see in the video. Enjoy watching me give it my all!

Where is your focus?

Posted in Fitness Tips by Meghan Pickrell on August 12, 2010

Have you ever been walking down the street thinking about a concern or problem? Basically, you’re worrying, right? You are searching for the answer which doesn’t seem clear. You mull over all of the possible solutions in your head, none of which feel quite right. The more unclear the solution, the harder you think about it until, WHAM! you trip over a crack in the sidewalk, something quite obvious to anyone paying attention…

We are always deciding where to direct our attention. As a teacher one of the most challenging aspects of my job is to engage the client. Otherwise known quite simply as “focus,” it can be difficult to assess if the client’s attention is even in the room. In his book, “Attention Control Training,” Nideffer discusses ways in which our focus can be directed. He breaks up focus into two intersecting dimensions: direction and width. The width ranges from broad to narrow and the direction ranges from internal to external. Your focus could be directed to something broad and internal, broad and external or narrow/internal, narrow/external. When you walk down the street and miss the crack in the sidewalk, unfortunately your focus is internal. You are so much inside of your head that you missed an apparent crack in the cement and gravity reminded you of this defect.

We use all four of the dimensions at different times depending on our task for the moment. When it comes to motor behavior it is interesting to notice how people tend to direct their focus. Sometimes those with a prevalent internal focus can notice so much detail and sensation within themselves that they loose the overarching movement. However, those who tend to be externally focused can loose the specifics of the movement. I find a client balanced when they can direct their attention in all four ways. When I start to notice imbalances I ask questions (sometimes quite literally, “Where did you go?”). For my “externalists” I direct them to something specific about their body. For my “internalists,” I direct them to the environment or the apparatus.

In the context of exercise, when in a broad/internal focus you may be focusing on different sensations within the body such as muscles firing, or imagining how to perform a task correctly. When in a narrow/internal focus your mind will shift to part of the body and its purpose in the movement. An external/broad focus is appropriate when playing sports, watching your opponents or a ball. An external/narrow focus would be helpful when trying to score a goal.

When you’re exercising next notice where you tend to place your focus. See if you can shift it to different areas. All four can be appropriate depending on the task. And remember, for your safety, look out for those nasty cracks in the side-walk!

Exercises to Support Lower Back Tension

Posted in Fitness Tips by Meghan Pickrell on June 24, 2010

I recently wrote this article for Livestrong.com. Once the editor reviewed it, he had some revisions so the published version is quite different. Anyway, I figured I would post my original article on Mind & Motion.

It’s very challenging to write a general set of exercises designed to “treat back pain,” which was my original assignment. As a practitioner I find that helping people to understand alignment, body-mechanics and a sense of weight is very individual. These concepts plus conditioning usually help people better understand the root of their pain.

You can try these series of exercises at home. If anything is uncomfortable, please don’t continue. This list is quite general so if you are having chronic back pain seek out advice from a professional somatic practitioner. I may take a client through some of these exercises if they are complaining of back pain to see how the body responds. Please feel free to comment with any questions. Thank you!

Finding Alignment
Lying on a cushioned floor with bent legs, feet flat about 1.5′ from your trunk, notice which parts of your back come into contact with the floor. Ideally, your sacrum, mid-thoracic and head should be grounded, creating a “neutral” spine. Nudge around and feel the ground. If you are unsure about your alignment an anatomy book is a good reference. Your spine should have the natural “S” curve shown on an anatomy chart. Make sure your lower back and neck are lifted away from the ground. Lie in this position for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Pelvic Rocking
Once you have your spine aligned and symmetrical see if you can begin to gently rock your pelvis, using your feet and legs for support. Without moving your feet in space, gently pull your feet toward your rear. The pulling sensation should gently rock your pelvis forward so that your tail bone grounds. Then press your feet away from your rear. This should lead to an opposite movement in the pelvis, allowing your mid-back to ground. Repeat this rocking forward and backward about 20 times.

Spine Twist
Come back to the neutral position. From there try and rock side-to-side. Keeping your knees bent, gently lean your legs to the right and left so that your opposing hip lifts toward the ceiling. Move slowly. Creating a gentle stretch and rocking motion is more important than distance. Your knees should not touch the ground. Make sure you upper back and shoulders stay grounded. Repeat 20 times.

Glute Stretch
Crossing one leg over the other at the knee, gently lift both legs toward your chest. Grab hold of your knees with your hands. Keeping your pelvis grounded if possible, gently pull the thighs toward to your chest. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Lying with bent knees in the neutral position, lift one foot off of the ground. The thigh will lift until perpendicular to the floor. The shin should be perpendicular to the thigh. Hold the pelvis stable as the leg moves through space by grounding the mid-spine and sacrum. Lower the leg and repeat on the other side. Alternate 10 times. Once accomplished with this movement, start with both legs in space and lower one to the ground at a time.

Hamstring Stretch
This exercise involves a prop such as a towel or exercise band. Starting in the neutral position, place one foot into the band. Straighten the knee and lower the leg to the ground. Hold onto each side of the band with both hands. Holding the pelvis stable, lift the straight leg until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg. The front of the leg should contracted. Hold the stretch about 2 seconds and then lower the leg to the starting position. Repeat 10 times on both legs.

Lie in the neutral position, this time with straight legs. Notice your breath. See if you can allow your inhalation to move down toward your belly. Inhale for six counts and exhale for six counts. Gently rotate your legs in the socket, internally and externally so that the toes touch and then fall apart. Repeat for about one minute creating a rocking motion in the legs. If any of these exercises cause pain do not continue and seek professional help. These exercises are intended to increase mobility and decrease muscular tension in the back.

The Importance of Range of Motion

Posted in Fitness Tips by Meghan Pickrell on June 14, 2010

Hey! So, I’ve been busy since my last post. I have my first article published on http://www.livestrong.com. Livestrong is a website that publishes thousands of articles on health and fitness. I am now a published author, which is exciting. Please check out my article: http://www.livestrong.com/article/145905-importance-of-range-of-motion/

I hope it’s helpful. Have a wonderful day!

A Form-ula

Posted in Fitness Tips, Pilates by Meghan Pickrell on April 28, 2010

After continually exercising with a personal trainer, it can sometimes be daunting to head into the gym for a solo workout. The job of a trainer or exercise specialist is to educate, motivate and cue specifics on form. In the fitness world we refer to “form” as the position of the body and limbs during a specific exercise. Keeping a particular alignment or “form” when performing a movement can increase muscular load, producing maximum results and reducing potential injury. It can be difficult to sense specific positions. Consequently, a trainer will often cue a client, making sure the body is balanced and supported. So, the question is raised: without an external perspective, how can you tell if you’re keeping the correct form? There are several tools you can use as feedback in the absence of a trainer.

The Mirror:
It sounds obvious enough but using the mirror can help you check your positioning. If you often work with a trainer ask for feedback on appropriate alignment. Notice in the mirror if you’re performing what they are describing. Let them help you while observing yourself. This way you can start to notice potential patterns. You will then know what to look for while exercising alone.The visual information provided by the mirror will help tenfold over trying to simply sense the movement internally. Remember, two senses are better than one when working toward proper alignment.

Your Hands:
If you do not have access to a mirror, you may need to resort to other senses in order to understand your alignment. Feeling for bony landmarks with your hands will give you information about your positioning. For example, when performing exercises while laying on the floor check to see how your pelvis is situated. Place your hands on either hipbone to help you determine if both sides are symmetrical. The hands can provide further information about how the bones are positioned.

The Environment:
Working with a structured piece of equipment (such as a pilates reformer) will often get you situated into the correct position. The more your body is in contact with the tactile environment, the more you will be able to feel your alignment. While lying down, you have the ground to give you feedback, while sitting you have the chair, etc. You are always in contact with some part of the environment (thank goodness for gravity!), provides feedback about your weight. Make sure you are sitting or standing symmetrically and balanced. The more understanding you have of the skeleton the more such feedback will serve you.

These tips will help you understand ways to check your alignment while exercising alone. Start with the mirror, your hands and a piece of structured equipment in order to receive feedback thus maximizing your workout.