One of the most significant changes to the landscape of our work environment has been the direct result of the COVID 19 pandemic. A study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science found that people are sitting an additional 7.8 hours per week – since the pandemic started. More people than ever in history are now working from home even after restrictions were lifted. Working at home involves many challenges, including protecting your spine while hunched over a laptop or scrunched on the couch. Fortunately, there are many ways to protect your back and your productivity. Support spine health while you work with these tips from BoneSmart Pilates.

Take Steps to Reduce Stress

Stress can wreak havoc on your life, but it can also make chronic pain more challenging to manage Stanford Medicine points out that easing stress will reduce pain, so taking steps to de-stress is worth the effort. Eliminating work-related stress starts with creating a comforting and inviting home office space. De-stress your workspace by cleaning up clutter, storing scattered paper records, and adding natural lighting. Having a space that is clean and organized supports clear thinking and productivity.

Take Walks to Reduce Stress Further

Step away from your computer or to-do list at lunch or quitting time. Taking a walk is a great way to relax and clear your head. If you have a pet, it’s an even better reason to keep you and your buddy healthy and your bonds strong. Consult a Walk Score map of your community or the area near your office to find the best walking spots.

Though your work setting is one factor that creates stress, getting enough sleep, exercising like the walks I mentioned, and mental stimulation are also critical.

 

 

Work on Proper Posture

Protecting your spinal health means more than avoiding injury; maintaining proper working posture protects your back.  For good posture, stand tall with your shoulders positioned back and down in a relaxed manner and your chin parallel to the floor. While seated, aim for a 90-degree bend at your knees and elbows with your spine long and straight.  A healthy spine position reduces strain on your muscles and joints and can even make you appear taller and more confident.

 

 

 

 

Make a Reminder Poster

Using a free online tool to design a poster or vision board, like the one I created above, is a fun and effective way to remind yourself of good postural habits and practices.

These tools offer a range of templates you can customize to suit your preferences, allowing you to add your own text and photos. You could include tips for maintaining proper posture while sitting or standing, exercises to strengthen posture-supporting muscles, or even inspirational quotes to encourage mindfulness about body alignment. Place the poster in a prominent spot where you spend much of your time, like your workspace or living area. This visual cue reminds you to adjust your posture, cultivate healthier habits, and reduce the risk of discomfort or strain.

Invest in Creative Furniture

If your current office setup is not conducive to good posture, consider changing things up. An ergonomic chair, or even a desk with adjustable height, can make a world of difference for your seated posture. Many work-at-home professionals swear by standing desks. My son even installed his own. This could help you avoid the effects of “soft tissue creep” that occurs with sitting for prolonged periods in a slumped posture.

Try sitting on a physioball as an alternative to a chair. It promotes movement and better posture, which is great for your spine. It’s also easy to shift forward and drape back over the ball to relieve back strain, as seen
in this stretch here.

Perform Spine-Safe Exercises

Strengthening your spine is one way to improve posture and prevent back pain. Dr. Stuart McGill is a renowned Canadian spine expert who has developed the Big 3 top exercises to prevent back pain, which I demonstrate in this video. I look forward to advancing my spine assessment skills by immersing myself in coursework with him this spring!

Other activities that strengthen your core muscles can also minimize pain. Swimming and cycling are excellent examples of low-impact exercise that is spine-safe and healthy; however, if your goal is improving bone density, don’t let swimming or cycling be your primary choice. They don’t build bone.  Walking and hiking are excellent options for building strength, maintaining or building bone density, and promoting healthy circulation. Practicing BoneSmart Pilates can improve your strength, mobility, posture, balance, and bone density while relieving chronic stress and tension.

Enjoy Regular Movement Snacks

Our bodies crave movement. One of the worst things we can do to our body is sit unmoving for prolonged periods. Something known as “Soft tissue creep” occurs. That’s when our connective tissue reshapes and adapts to that cashew posture position you’ve been adopting. The body erroneously thinks it needs to “stabilize” you in this new faulty posture by adapting and reorganizing connective tissue.  Studies show that “movement snacks” – bite-sized spurts of exercise throughout the day – can be just as effective as lengthy sweat banquets.

 

In addition to reducing your risk of health complications, consider these perks:

  • Better sleep
  • Bursts of mood-enhancing endorphins such as dopamine and serotonin
  • Increased longevity
  • Clearer thinking, learning, and judgment

To prevent prolonged sitting, set a reminder on your computer every half hour and enjoy a regular 5-minute movement break.  Even hourly will help!

What should you do?  Play a favorite song and dance like no one’s watching.  Do some squats, heel raises, or counter push-ups.

Enjoy a BoneSmart Burst™, a 5-10 minute curated movement snack, easy to incorporate into your day, that’s bone-safe, and will help prevent you from getting the dreaded Dowager’s hump, that exaggerated rounding in the upper back.

 

Seek Care for a Better Back

Severe back pain can impact your ability to work, no matter how many precautions you take or adjustments you make to your work-at-home routine. Be sure to seek medical guidance if your back pain doesn’t resolve. We want to rule out any underlying causes that might manifest as back pain.

Healthy Back for Life

Spine health is serious business. If you work from home, especially if you sit for long periods, you must take care of your back. Use the tips I’ve shared today to help your back remain mobile and healthy throughout your life.

 

In the comments section below, let me know which tips made a difference for you!

Do you have some tips that I haven’t mentioned?  Please share!

 

 

 

 

 

Have you ever contemplated getting studio Pilates equipment for your home workouts?

What if I told you that you may already own something that lends itself wonderfully to Pilates work? This month I’ll share with you a Pilates workout that I designed to be performed on…an Ottoman!

Perhaps you don’t have the money or inclination to purchase big Pilates equipment for home use. Well I’ve discovered to my delight that my padded ottoman is the perfect surface for so many Pilates exercises. Here’s a way to do some Aging Strong Pilates® in the comfort of your home and notch up the level.

The video below is my personal quick and dirty ~15 min workout that I do in my bedroom before or after a shower about 2-3x a week. I do it in my underwear for maximum skin to leather traction so I have good grip and don’t slide. Some of the exercises are extremely challenging so proceed with caution. They are safe but difficult, so listen to your body and proceed at a level and pace that matches where you are today.

At the end of this blog post I’ve included a full written list of the exercises so you can print it and repeat on your own with your choice of music.

Note: Your ottoman should not be on wheels or have a base that swivels.

My ottoman has a slope to it. Depending on the direction your lying on it, the slope can make a particular exercise easier or harder. If your ottoman is sloped, try and drape yourself on it in the same angle I do in the video. I demonstrate the exercises at the angle that facilitates each movement.

For example, for the beginning chest lift core series I’m positioned on my back with my buttocks on the low edge and the lower tips of my shoulder blades at the top of the slope. This is the easier orientation but you’ll see quickly that it is by no means “easy”. If your ottoman is level, that’s fine as long as it has nice padded edges so it doesn’t dig into you. If you choose not to do it in your underwear then add a shelf liner to the surface so you don’t slide.

This workout includes all ranges of motion, Flexion (just from Extension (back bending) to Neutral (straight line) so it’s safe for conditions where flexion is contraindicated) Rotation, Side Bending, and Extension. I incorporate wonderful stretches after working the muscles in all these planes of motion.

I have to admit this is one of my favorite routines. It’s a Bad A_ _ Core workout that energizes me and makes we feel worked in a short amount of time!

The planks are extremely challenging but if you have stiff feet or bunions that make it difficult to curl your toes under for planks on the floor, having your feet elevated makes that part actually easier since you don’t have to tuck your toes under. Remember, the more leg you have on the ottoman, the easier it will be, so position yourself wisely.

 

The two sections that I do face down (opposite arm and leg reach, swimming and swan) are great for strengthening the muscles that strengthen the hips and support good posture. Firing those upper back muscles has the added benefit of stimulating bone growth in the spine.

 

Here’s a full list of the exercises so you can repeat them on your own with your favorite music. Note that as you see in the video – you don’t have to do a lot of repetitions to make it count. If you want to get feedback from me on your technique, purchase a 30 minute online Skype session and I’ll ensure you’re moving safely and effectively!

Go slowly. Be Precise. Breathe. Have fun!

Ottoman Pilates Exercise List

On your Back (face up)

  • Big X Stretch
  • Chest Lift Series
    • Center
    • Oblique twisting toward the lifted tabletop leg
    • Advanced: knees lift, lift, lower, lower, alternating lead leg
  • Finish with Big X Stretch to lengthen the abdominals

On Your Belly

  • Opposite Arm leg reach (ottoman under pelvis and belly)
  • Swimming
  • Final extension hands interlaced reaching toward feet-rotating head as you breathe w/ease
  • Child’s pose/Rest position (knees open wide if you have osteoporosis or herniated discs)

Side Lying

  • Leg lifts (bottom foot on floor, top leg lifts and lowers) Waist positioned at middle of ottoman
  • Side Kick top leg, keep hips stacked vertically.    Shift body so hips at middle of ottoman
  • Hover body parallel to floor and hold (head in line with spine)
  • Top leg lifts and lowers
  • Side-Lying Stretch (shift yourself so it’s comfortable for you, grab top wrist with bottom hand)

Repeat above on the other side

Face Down

  • Planks (first with lower thigh and shin on ottoman) Hold position
  • Add pushups if desired
  • Walk further out so less leg on the ottoman-increased challenge
  • Side Plank (one on each side-move slowly and hold/breathe)

Face Down

  • Swan (begin with breasts/chest hanging over the front edge, hands on the floor, feet on floor against base of the wall) Activate core and legs then Inhale as  you rise, Exhale as you lower
  • Child pose/rest position

 

 

This is when your butt muscles basically forget how to fire correctly.  How does this happen?

It’s actually a common problem today. People are spending inordinate amounts of time sitting behind their computers, driving their cars, sitting on couches etc.  Sedentary, lifestyles often driven by work environments, tend to be more the norm than the exception these days. 

With all this sitting, the muscles around the hip joint experience something called “reciprocal inhibition”. That’s when the muscles in front of the hip, your hip flexors, become short and tight from being in that shortened position of sitting and the opposite muscles, the butt muscles, are neurologically inhibited and become overstretched, weak and inactive.

Why does this matter to you?

Well besides developing a saggy weak butt that’s beginning to head south, there’s another concern.

Your Gluteus maximus, your largest butt muscle, is your strongest hip extensor and external rotator muscle. If it’s inhibited from doing it’s job, the Piriformis muscle-a smaller external rotator, may have to jump in to take up the slack.

If the Piriformis muscle does more than it’s designed to do and over fires you can get something called “Piriformis syndrome”. This is when the Piriformis muscle becomes irritated and inflamed and may press on the sciatic nerve. This can result in sciatica which is pain, numbness and tingling down your leg.

In general you want to avoid gluteal amnesia because you don’t want other muscles jumping in to take up the slack, as that can result in injuries.

How do you fix it?

First you need to stretch those muscles in front of the hip that are short, tight and inhibiting gluteal action. Then you want to strengthen those gluts!

Watch the video for the exercises that combat gluteal amnesia, normalize the relationship of the muscles in front of and behind the hips and get your glutes firing!  You can fast forward to the 2 min mark to see just the exercises or watch from the beginning and see the explanation with visuals.

 

Does your back bother you after a plane trip? Learn an insider tip from a physical therapist. Teresa Maldonado Marchok PT and certified Pilates instructor uses an inflatable miniball on every flight she takes. It’s small enough to fold into a ziplock bag and keep in your purse. Once at your destination, you’ll have an exercise prop with you for core work and more. This tip is also a spine saver to use in a chair or in your car!

Stuart McGill, a professor at the University of Waterloo, has influenced my approach as a physical therapist and the exercises that I give to my Pilates clients to best address their needs.
It seems like the word “core” is ubiquitous, tossed around like grass seed. Who hasn’t heard the admonition that you need a strong core!  There’s certainly an endless array of exercises out there that target the core, some causing more harm than good. In my last blog post, “Ditch the Crunch”, we examined the negative effects of sit-ups and crunches and explored an interesting alternative.
Today we’ll examine a great starting point for improving core stability. In light of scientific evidence, the safest approach to improving your core and enhancing spine stability is through exercise that emphasizes endurance over strength.
The following exercises known as the McGill Big 3, emphasize neutral spine posture with abdominal co-contraction and core bracing to create stiffness and promote endurance. Think of it as creating your own internal corset of support. These 3 research-based exercises are an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to approach their core work with safety and proven efficacy.  If you are de-conditioned, experience back pain or just want to avoid back pain, these exercises are for you!  Watch the video at the bottom of this post to see the exercises in action.
The Stuart McGill Big 3 exercises are:
  • Curl Up

  • Side Bridge

  • Bird Dog
I would insert that the side bridge demonstrated in the video below can be difficult if your shoulder girdle isn’t strong and stable. If that’s the case, just de-weight your hips slightly if able, and over time with repetition, you’ll get stronger and will be able to lift your hips higher off the ground.
You’ll see me in the video below cueing to hold the position for 6-8 seconds. This timing targets endurance. Typically endurance is built first with repeated sets of relatively short holds-no longer than 7-8 sec’s. This is based on recent evidence indicating rapid loss of available oxygen in torso muscles contracting at these levels. Short relaxation of the muscles requires oxygen. The endurance goals are achieved by building up reps rather than increasing the time/duration of each hold. (McGill et al., 2000)
Important note: you should not experience pain with any of the above exercises. Watch for spine deviation or loss of neutral. Maintain excellent technique.
In a future blog, I’ll address the spine, hip and leg stretches that best accompany these core stabilization exercises.
References:
McGill, S.M. 2007,  Low Back Disorders: Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation, 2nd edition 12: 213-235
McGill, S.M. et al (2000), Lumbar erector spine oxygenation during prolonged contractions: Implications for prolonged work. Ergonomics, 43: 486-493
McGill, S.M. (2006) Ultimate back fitness and performance,  Backfitpro Inc. (www.backfitpro.com)

Aging Strong Pilates Volume 2 is at the printer right now and I’m so excited to make these workouts available to you!  This DVD is a brain body challenge with 2 efficient workouts ~ 25min each, for when you’re tight on time!  In addition to standing weight bearing exercise and core mat work, It includes a bone building stomping dance and a bonus posture coaching section. If you have all 3 of my DVDs, you’ll have a workout for every day of the week!  Pre-order by 8/19 and enter code FREESHIP to get Free Domestic Shipping!

Sakinah Salahu-Din hails from Ohio and has been a dedicated and consistent user of my DVD – BoneSmart Pilates® Exercise to Prevent or Reverse Osteoporosis.

“My daughter asked me to share this feedback with you because she’s watched my transformation and felt it was important enough to share with others.  I am 71 years old and was having arm and neck problems when I started using this program in January 2016.  The shoulder and neck pain affected me to the point that I could not do certain exercises without modifying the range of motion or making the resistance band less taut.  About two months ago, however, I was able to do the resistance band exercises with full range of motion, with stronger resistance and remarkably, with no pain!   
I like the fact that BoneSmart addresses pain or weakness in arms, hips, back, and knees which is what many people my age have problems with.  I also like that the program is set up in a way that I can break it into parts.  For example, I do the resistance band upper body program and the hip blaster 3 days a week and MAT exercises 2 days a week. I’ve gained strength and flexibility and am very pleased with this program and the positive results that I am experiencing.

 

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No matter your stage in life, keeping fit is essential to doing the things you love with ease, power and grace. In this class, you’ll increase body awareness and learn healthy functional movement strategies grounded in science. Expect improved posture, injury prevention, coordination, core strength, flexibility and balance with crossover benefits to your daily sports and activities. This class is appropriate for beginner to advanced intermediate levels. If you have low bone density, weight bearing exercises are incorporated and safe mat variations will be offered. 

View Video Preview of class Here

Please bring your own mat.  Various small props are used to enhance your movement experience. Also bring a resistance band and 9 inch inflatable ball if you have them. Balls are offered free of charge to new participants. Low allergy/low latex 5 ft resistance bands are available for purchase in class for $10. Free video links will be made available for participants to encourage consistency of practice. The instructor, Teresa Maldonado Marchok, is a licensed physical therapist, certified Pilates instructor, former professional dancer and ambassador for American Bone Health. She believes exercise should be challenging yet fun so bring a flexible mind, open heart and be prepared to laugh!  For more information email  teresa@bonesmartpilates.com.


To foster a safe, cohesive and consistent environment, drop in sessions are not permitted, however a trial class at no initial cost  
for newcomers is allowed if the class is not full already.

With 55 people in attendance and a long wait list, Teresa shared her key secrets to Aging Strong and included plenty of science, practical demonstrations from volunteers in the audience and a rousing dance that got everybody up and moving. “It was both helpful and fun, I brought 5 friends and they all raved about it!”  ~Katy D. “Your presentation was great-like Live Dr. Radio!”  ~Mercy F. “I am shocked how slumped I was sitting & immediately am sitting straighter” ~Elayne M. See a Sneak Peak of Aging Strong in Action IMG_1860

Save the Date: FREE Workshop April 20

Aging Strong

When: Monday, April 20 7:30PM  Free but call to reserve a seat 650-988-9800 

Where: East West Bookstore, 324 Castro St., Mountain View                                                                                                    

              
Learn how to strengthen your body and reduce your risk of falls, simply by changing the way you move. If you have spine issues, bone loss, or just don’t feel as strong or steady as you’d like, this interactive workshop is for you. 

Teresa Maldonado Marchok, PT, is a licensed physical therapist, certified Pilates instructor, and representative for the national organization American Bone Health. Her award-winning DVD, BoneSmart Pilates®: How to Prevent or Reverse Osteoporosis, is helping people worldwide. A free inflatable exercise ball and handout are included only if you register by Apr 19. Call 650-988-9800