This past weekend the Pilates Academy International held its very popular Anatomy, Biomechanics and Posture Analysis course at the Instructor Training headquarters at Pilates on Fifth in New York City. The course was taught by Katherine Corp and Anna Hillengas, and was well received by the participants, a great group comprised of Pilates instructors and people who wish to become a Pilates instructor from New York, Philadelphia, Japan, Sydney and Spain.
My favorite part of the course is the Posture Analysis, as this is the point in the course where the somewhat “rote” memorization of anatomy and biomechanics comes to life in three dimension. Suddenly the students discover their own postural abnormalities and can link their own posture to a muscle/group of muscles that are tight or loose, too-strong or too weak, or over/under-developed. …And then there’s the “EUREKA!” moment, in which students realize WHY they’ve been having problems with a certain exercise or group of exercises.
Natural Curves of a Healthy Spine
Take, for instance, the case of excessive kyphosis of the thoracic spine. While the thoracic spine is supposed to have a slight curve posteriorly (see picture right), the curve can become excessive, as in the picture below (see picture below). In this type of posture, the muscles in the FRONT of the shoulder, the pectoralis major, minor, and anterior deltoids are usually tight, while the muscle in the back of the shoulder girdle, the middle & lower traps and the rhomboids, are usually long and weak as well. The muscles in the back of the neck, the cervical extensors, however, will usually be tight. While every case is unique, just by looking at the posture, you can assume that exercises like Breast Stroke and Swimming will be very difficult, if not impossible to perform with a great deal of success IN THEIR ORIGINAL PILATES FORM! It is the job of the Pilates Instructor to find a way to work around the initial postural stumbling blocks so that clients can perform Pilates safely (click here for our safety videos on Ultimate Pilates Workouts.com). We suggest modifying exercises to start upright, or lying at the edge of a bed (or a Cadillac) to work the extensors just to bring the spine into a more neutral alignment.
Another example is the case of excessive lordosis of the lumbar spine. Similar to kyphosis, the lumbar spine has a natural curve, but its curve is anterior (see picture right). However, the curve can be excessive, as seen in the picture. For these individuals, oftentimes the external obliques are usually weak, while the hip flexors are very tight. In the back of the body, the hamstrings are relatively long while the erector spinae are short and tight. People with lordosis who do Pilates have to be very careful with exercises like The Hundreds, Double Leg Stretch and Teaser, as it will be difficult for them to maintain a strong connection in their abdominal muscles against the weight of the legs. We suggest starting with seated exercises like Half Roll Down or Obliques Roll Down, and doing supine exercises with the legs in the air with the legs in Table Top, or knees bent. For more suggestions about Pilates exercises for Lordosis, we suggest you check out one of our Pilates Instruction Manuals or our training videos on Ultimate Pilates Workouts.com.
Vertical, Posterior Tilt and Anterior Tilt of the Pelvis
And finally, just not to leave any postural deviation out, there are those with the flat back posture. These individuals distinctly do not have curvature in the lumbar spine, and the pelvis is in a posterior tilt as well (see picture left). In terms of muscles, tight hamstrings are usually rampant, so don’t expect your client (or yourself, for that matter), to be able to sit right up on the sits bones with the legs outstretched in front…. It might not be possible!! Be prepared to modify the start positions of all Pilates exercises that start seated with the legs straight, such as Spine Twist, Spine Stretch Forward, Saw, etc. Additionally, the abs may be a little short and tight, so exercises such as Swan Dive, which involve full extension of the spine and lengthening of the abdominal muscles, may be challenging.
It’s actually easy to do a postural assessment on most people, but keep in mind that our abnormalities or affectations are not so big that it’s the first thing noticed. Don’t try to make yourself (or your friends, for that matter), “fit” into one of the scenarios that we’ve included here. We’ve mainly included them because it’s oftentimes much easier to understand something when you think of it in terms of extremes, and that’s what these cases are. For example, Kimberly and I both have scoliosis (but our spines curve in opposite directions…), but it’s not so severe that it’s ever kept us from doing anything. It merely explains why Katherine tends to roll to the right while doing Rolling Like a Ball, while Kimberly rolls to the left!
You, too can do a quick postural assessment that will help with your Pilates prowess. In our search for pictures of different postural abnormalities/affectations, we came across a site that gave a how-to for postural assessments, and it’s quite thorough! As we are not big fans of re-inventing the wheel, we just thought that we’d link to it! Here is the link for “How do to a Standing Postural Assessment”: http://mindbodyfitness.suite101.com/article.cfm/how_to_do_a_standing_static_postural_assessment.
In a final note, learning Posture Analysis gives people watching a whole new meaning!! Try sitting at a Starbucks and doing a quick posture analysis on by passersby, or even a postural analysis on the person standing in front of you at the bank or at the supermarket…… Happy watching!