Muscle Madness: designing the Pilates body
The Pilates POWERHOUSE can be described anatomically as the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex which includes:
- 5 lumbar vertebrae
- two pelvic bones
- the sacrum
Also comprising the lumbo-pelvic hip complex are the 29 muscles that attach to those bony landmarks and are constantly working to maintain our body's center of gravity, stabilize us, or contract actively to produce almost every movement we make. But, what if some of those muscles are over-developed while others are neglected? What if the agonist/antagonist relationship of our muscles becomes unbalanced and some muscles constantly exert too much effort while others are lax? What if we don't train our body "uniformly" as Mr. Pilates intended through his exercise system, the Pilates Method? Well, muscular imbalance distorts the positioning of the bony landmarks seen above; creating poor posture, joint instability and pain, diminished strength, muscle pain due to trigger points and ischemia, nerve compression etc.
To understand pelvic obliquity, I introduce a solved Rubik's Cube. All of the segments and colors are perfectly aligned. The 3 vertical segments (w/ green being the front) represent the ideal positioning of the 3 main bones of the pelvis; 2 pelvic bones flanking the sacrum. The top left and right green stickers represent your left and right ASIS where muscles like the rectus femoris and tensor fascia latae find their origin. In your mind, rotate the right segment halfway forward so that the corner is pointing toward you. Do the opposite with the left segment; rotating it backwards halfway. The middle segment (the sacrum) remains stationary. Notice how the bony landmarks have changed and imagine the implication on the muscles attached to them. That's pelvic obliquity.
But the distortion doesn't just stop with the pelvic bones and sacrum. It also effects the lumbar spine. Imagine now that the top horizontal segment represents your lumbar spine and rotate it halfway in a clockwise diretion. What I can't perfectly illustrate with the Rubik's cube is how your lumbar spine will simultaneously and flex laterally to the left, creating a functional scoliosis. In your mind, think about all of the muscles that attach to your lumbar spine and how they're effected by the movement of their bony landmarks (iliopsoas, lumbar erectors, quadratus lumborum, multifidi).
Pelvic Obliquity & Pilates
In Pilates, pelvic obliquity might present itself in many ways:
- apparent leg length discrepancy - very visible in closed chain exercises such as the Footwork Series on the Reformer where the "longer" leg may initiate most of the movement but stay slightly bent at the end range of the carriage while the "shorter" leg straightens or hyper-extends.
- limited lumbar articulation on the side of the "shorter" leg - during the Rollup on the Mat or Roll Back on the Cadillac, you favor one side of the spine.
- lateral flexion is challenging on the side of the "longer" leg such as Side Sit Ups on the Short Box or Kneeling Mermaid on the Wunda Chair.
- lateral rotation is more challenging in the direction of the "longer" leg such as Twist on the Short Box or Wunda Chair.
- lack of stability while standing on one leg - when performing exercised like Going Up Front on the Electric Chair with the "shorter" leg on the pedal, the hip of the "longer" leg will sink toward the floor.
Observing our client's movement patterns informs us how to train them effectively. Then, Pilates becomes more than just a great workout. We can skillfully utilize Mr. Pilates' system of exercise to "restore the body" as he claimed and client's end up getting "more bang for their buck". Not only do they look better, but they feel better in their body because of restored posture. Mr. Pilates' Method is such an intelligent system that offers us all the tools we need to achieve this. It's our job to assess the individual needs of our clients based, not just on their personal fitness goals, but what we see with our trained eyes.
In Part 2 of this discussion next week, I'll list the major muscles that are effected by pelvic obliquity and categorize them into 2 groups:
- Weak/ Long/ Overstretched muscles that need strengthening
- Tight/ Short/ Facilitated muscles that need lengthening
Plus, I'll include effective Pilates exercises to help bring "uniformity" to the lumbo-pelvic hip complex.
Rock Your Powerhouse!