Bringing Valuable Information from Research to the Pilates Studio
by Karen Clippinger, M.S.P.E.
My workshops can be characterized by the practical application of information gained from scientific research to the given Pilates topic. When developing a new topic, I usually spend 50 to 100 hours reading related research, and I also periodically refresh my “regular topics.” The challenge is that there are a limited number of well-designed Pilates-specific research studies. So, instead, the goal is to find good general studies that address any new findings in terms of muscles that need to be strengthened, muscles that need to be stretched, and technique issues that foster prevention of, or improvement of a given medical condition. These findings can then be translated to Pilates by designing a new exercise that targets the desired muscle, adjusting a classic Pilates exercise to more specifically target a given muscle or technique issue, and altering the design of the Pilates workout as a whole to address key research findings. I think the success of my work relates to being able to translate this information in a manner that is effective in helping the instructor or client be able to “experience” the exercise or understand the exercise in a more specific manner that results in improvement.
I will provide two examples of how research can be used to fuel Pilates, one using a more general principle and the other focusing on specific muscles. The first example relates to working with scoliosis. Research related to modeling of the spine, exercises to improve scoliosis, and effective surgical procedures for scoliosis suggest that countering the rotation that commonly accompanies the lateral curvatures of the spine is important. So, I have used this general principle to devise exercises on the mat and Pilates apparatus that not only work to open up the lateral curvature, but also “unwind” the spine. Many clients who have the classic right (convex) thoracic curvature will tend to slightly rotate their upper spine to the right. So, in terms of technique, when performing novel or classic Pilates repertoire, care must be taken to rotate the upper torso slightly to the left to achieve a neutral position (if needed), while stabilizing the pelvis so that the rotation occurs in the desired region of the spine.
The second example involves the shoulder complex. Some research shows that the classic response to many different shoulder problems is increased activation of the upper trapezius, as well as decreased activation of the lower trapezius and serratus anterior. This is often evidenced by your clients excessively “hiking” their shoulders and shoulder discomfort when bringing the arm overhead. A body of research has evaluated the electrical activity of muscles during various exercises to determine which exercises appear to be more effective than others for a given muscle. The push-up plus (going slightly past the regular push-up in the “up position” so that the shoulder blades are pulled toward the front of the ribcage) is one exercise that has been shown to be effective for strengthening the serratus anterior. This muscle is vital for allowing the arm to be raised overhead without excess elevation of the shoulder blade, and related exercises on the Pilates apparatus or mat can be used not only for strength, but to help your client become more aware of how to activate this muscle for optimal shoulder mechanics.
I recently returned from teaching workshops to some wonderful instructors in Australia, and I hope you can join me for one of my upcoming workshops that integrate research into practice as listed on the BASI website under Advanced Education such as:
Hip and Knee Biomechanics on the Pilates Reformer – January 7, 2017 in Costa Mesa
Unwinding Scoliosis – January 8, 2017 in Costa Mesa SOLD OUT
Walking Biomechanics and Pilates – April 22, 2017 in Chicago
Promoting Healthy Aging with Pilates – April 23, 2017 in Chicago
Shoulder Biomechanics and Pilates: The Basic Five – May 6, 2017 in New York
Low Back Pain & Pilates: Extension-Based Programs – May 6, 2017 in New York
Sacroiliac Function & Pilates Program Design – May 7, 2017 in New York
Karen Clippinger holds a Masters Degree in Exercise Science and is a professor at California State University at Long Beach where she teaches Pilates, anatomy and other dance science courses.