To gain more success from your Pilates workouts


Having taught Pilates for over ten years, I thought of 8 simple things that would help my clients have a more successful Pilates session.

1.) you must relax. Relaxing is the first step of every Pilates workout.

2) you must focus. The mind is the one that builds the body.

3) you must breath correctly. You must breath from your diaphragm while doing the Pilates exercises. This kind of breathing works out the muscles found between your ribs.

4) you must have a good body posture while doing the Pilates exercises. Having a good posture enables you to exercise the skeletal muscles which in turn ensures a good body posture all day long.

5) center your body. That way you will protect your tense areas and avoid workout injuries.

6) you must coordinate your movements with your breathing and keeping a good body posture.

7) you must do fluid movements done with grace and control. They also must be done right.

8) you must increase the strength of your muscles gradually. Having a good stable position while working out is a must. You should do only the exercises for which you have the strength.

In the next several weeks, I am going to post some personal testimonies from my existing clients.  I thought it may be interesting to hear from some of your friends and colleagues on how Pilates has affected them.  Enjoy!

June 27, 2010 · Connor dawson · Comments Closed
Posted in: Injury Prevention

Knee Pains

Last week, the subject for my blog was WEAK HIPS. One of the nearest joints closest to the hips are the knees. The best way to prevent a knee problem (or recover from one) is to maintain a healthy weight and improve the flexibility and conditioning of the knee’s stabilizing muscles so the joint is less vulnerable.

The most common knee ailment women experience is a stretched or torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The ACL is a short band of ropy connective tissue that extends from the back of the thigh bone (femur) to the front of the shin bone (tibia). It prevents hyperextension and excessive rotation of the knee joint and stabilizes the knee. Symptoms include a popping sound in your leg or a feeling that something has snapped in your knee. Then there’s the pain, rapid swelling and the feeling that your leg is buckling when you put weight on it.

Tears to the ACL–as well as other types of knee injuries–can be, well, a real pain. Regardless of the specific problem, a sore or injured knee directly interferes with your quality of life because this joint is the basis for our mobility. An injury can also put the rest of the body in danger by forcing you to compensate for your weakness.

Doing exercises for the muscles surrounding the knee joints will help with giving strength to the knees. Keep one simple rule in mind… no deep knee bends if you have weak knees or pain in the knees. Wall squat is a good exercise to strengthen the major muscles in the front of the thigh. While you perform the wall squat look at your hip, knee and ankle alignment. Make sure the knees are not rotating inward or outward, but just pointing straight forward from the hip bones. Keep weight to your heels and this will transfer the workload to the thighs and buttocks.

Bridging is a great exercise for the hambstrings, the opposite muscle groups to the quadriceps or the thigh muscles. Sidelying leg circles on the reformer will aid in the pelvis stability and the inner and outer thigh muscles as well.

Flexibility plays an important role in the health of your knees. All it takes is for the quadriceps or the hamstrings to be tight, and the knee joint can take take the brunt. Make sure all Pilates or workout sessions follow with adequate stretching. Here’s to healthy knees!

June 20, 2010 · Connor dawson · Comments Closed
Posted in: Injury Prevention

Weak Hips

I ponder about the next subject for my blog, and decided nothing would be more applicable then to write about injuries that I see in myself. Having done a half marathon recently, my mind gravitate towards the lower extremity..the hip.

So, this week, let’s focus on WEAK HIPS! Let’s see if you have weak hips. Do a single-leg squat. If your knee collapses further inside than your big toes, it’s time to strengthen the hip abductor and flex muscles.

During activities like walking or running, your foot rolls inward when it hits to ground. To maintain proper alignment, your knee and lower leg roll too. Everybody does this to a certain degree, it’s natural body mechanics. Whether your foot rolls a little or a lot depends on your hips. If the muscles are weak, they can’t stabilize your legs, resulting in greater rolling. Which could then lead to .. KNEE PAIN. Weak hip muscles shift the strain onto your knees to keep your lower legs in alignment. This increase your risk of irritating these muscles and tendons.

I’ve successfully helped clients to stabilize the pelvis and strengthen the surrounding hip muscles using the “leg circles” on the reformer. The same exercise can also be done on the trapeze table and in a sidelying position. The mat Pilates exercise called the “side kicks” are also a great way to strengthen the hip muscles and support the pelvis. Bridging is another phenominal exercise used for improving stability in the hip and pelvis. Bridging is also great for spinal articulation (another blog altogether!)

Certain exercise injuries go hand in hand..get one, and the other’s not far behind. Find out what problems you’re at risk for and how to head off future aches and pains. You have heard the phrase “the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone.” Well, that’s the reson one injury puts you at risk for developing another. Everything is “connected”. Let’s talk about KNEE PAINS next time.

June 13, 2010 · Connor dawson · Comments Closed
Posted in: Injury Prevention

What should I do besides Pilates to get the most well-rounded fitness routine?

This is a frequent question… Well, deciding how much and what type of exercise you do will depend largely on your goals.  Pilates is a conditioning exercise and is  great for toning.  While it is challenging, it is not a cardiovascular exercise like walking, running, biking or swimming.

The most recent guidelines for physical activity, published at, recommend that adults do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity such as walking or moving on a cardio machine.  For greater health benefits and addressing issues like weight control, it is suggested that aerobic activity should be increase to at least 300 minutes a week. 

Pilates is wonderful and addresses many of fitness issues like core strength, flexibility and balance, but make sure you do not replace cardio days.

June 6, 2010 · Connor dawson · Comments Closed
Posted in: Uncategorized

Breathing and Pilates

When we breathe effectively, oxygen flows into our blood which flows through our muscles. More oxygen in the muscles equals more relaxed muscles. The more effectively we breath in Pilates, the more we can release those tense muscles “trying to help out” in our exercises.

Think of it like this.. your muscles need oxygen right? So, when you hold your breath, you stop getting oxygen in your lungs that go to your heart. The oxygen level in the blood drops, your muscles need more oxygen, the heart then pumps faster. This is like running, your muscles need more oxygen so the heart takes over and pumps faster.

Holding your breath, not breathing properly will also cause you to speed up your movement of the exercise. This tend to shorten the range of motion (ROM) which in turn interfere with the efficiency of the exercise and/or can possibly cause injury to your body.

Exhaling is just as important since it rids our body of bad air. Another good reason to focus on exhaling while doing Pilates is focusing on our secondary breathing mucles, our abdominal muscles. By fully exhaling, you are also performing a full abdominal contraction. Even without flexing our trunk, when we deflate our torsos, the rib cage and abdominal cavity drop. This releases the surface abdominals and activates our transverses abdominus, which is a key core muscle supporting the abdominal wall.

Just remember, breathing and muscular stabilization should occur before movement for safety and efficiency…for all of you type A uber-anxious people out there!

May 23, 2010 · Connor dawson · Comments Closed
Posted in: Uncategorized

Basic exercises that will help your awareness with using your abs and not your hip flexors

Basic exercises that can help increase your awareness and set the foundation for abdominal strength and body mechanics that balance your abs and hip flexor use:

Half Dead Bugs: In half dead bugs, we use the abdominal muscles to stabilize the pelvis so that we can feel the subtleties of the hip flexors at work. In half dead bugs, we also try to keep our big muscles, like the quadriceps of the thigh, out of the exercise as much as possible. Lying on your back with arms extended to the ceiling and knees bent into tabletop (90 degrees bent at the hips and knees). Take breath in to prepare. As you exhale, slowly lower the right knee towards the floor while keeping the lower back and abs engaged. The goal is to be able to lower the knee (not the foot) towards the floor without arching the lower back. If you are able to successfully complete the lowering of the single knee, progress to lowering both knees to the floor.  Again, the focus is core stabilization. Limit your range of motion of the knees until you are able to sustain stability through your abs and back.

Chest Lift: Chest lift engages all the abs but it feels more like an upper-ab exercise. In it, we stabilize the pelvis in a neutral position (slight arch above your bum and tailbone pointing towards your heels) and move just the upper body in isolation. Your hips and legs should stay still and do not grip. If the hip flexors start to get over-involved, you might have a sense that your knees want to pull toward your chest, or tightness in the groin and thigh. Lying in a supine position (face up towards ceiling) with knees bent and feet on floor. Breath in to prepare for the exercise. As you exhale, slowly lift the chest, neck and head off the floor, fixing your gaze towards your knees. Keeping the tailbone down and pelvis neutral, pause for a moment and take another in breath. As you exhale, roll back down to a supine position.

Roll Back (supported or unsupported). This exercise invites a deep abdominal scoop.  As you begin to roll back (supported by holding onto springs or theraband), you might sense a point where the hip flexors want to grab the movement. As you roll down, the hip flexors will have to do some stabilizing, but try to maintain a focus on rolling down and controlling with the abs. Thinking of getting some space between the top of the thigh and the lower abs can help. Sit nice and tall on your bum, take a big breath in. As you exhale, roll down to a nice deep scoop through the abdominal. Right there, you should feel your abs!  Make sure the head does not jutt forward, the scoop is in the stomach and not in the neck. Pause, take in breath. As you exhale, roll back up and restacking your vertebras one and at time in to a nice tall seated position.

As you work with increasing your awareness of the relationship between the abs and the hip flexors, you will discover that there is reciprocity in terms of one set of muscles doing the stabilizing of the trunk or pelvis while the other set moves. What we want to achieve is muscular balance, better functionality, and ultimately more choices about how we move.

May 16, 2010 · Connor dawson · Comments Closed
Posted in: core strength, Injury Prevention

Working your Abs and not your Hip Flexors

First, the hip flexors are a group of muscles that bring the thigh and trunk of the body closer together. You use your hip flexors in many daily activities like walking, stepping up, and bending over.. Obviously, we need our hip flexors. But we usually don’t need them as much as we use them in ab exercises.

Here is the problem: When we exercise to target the abs, as we do in Pilates, we do exercises that decrease the distance between our thigh and trunk. Now the hip flexors are a strong group of muscles, and they try to take over. So we end up working our hip flexors more than our abdominal muscles! This is one of the ways that you can do 500 situps and not have a single one of them truly target your abs. The same kind of situps where you put your feet under something that holds them down and do a whole bunch of situps with an almost flat back… you’re using mostly hip flexors.

So how do you not use your hip flexors? The answer isn’t simple. A lot of us have to work on the hip flexor habit constantly. For one thing, you can’t really leave the hip flexors entirely out of most ab exercises. They are still an important part of the picture. The idea is to get the abs involved as much as you can and to keep the hip flexors from taking over.

Our first thing is always “awareness”. When you do Pilates or other ab focused work, put your attention on your abdominal muscles. Start to figure out for yourself what feels like abs and what feels like hip flexors. Over tucking the pelvis can trigger the hip flexors to work overtime.

Low back pain and soreness in the groin area may be signs that you are weak in the abs and overusing your hip flexors. Another clue is not being able to keep your feet and legs down when you do a sit up or roll up. What’s happening there is that the abs aren’t strong enough to do their up-and-over contraction, but we’ve told the body to get the trunk and thigh closer together, so the hip flexors take over and the feet fly up. Tight hamstrings play a role too. Next week, I am going to give you basic “abs” exercises and help you focus on working your core and leaving out the hip flexors.

May 9, 2010 · Connor dawson · Comments Closed
Posted in: core strength, Injury Prevention

Posture and Alignment Exercises

Begin Standing.  Stand with your feet and legs directly under your hips.  Your legs and feet are parallel, and your knees are pointing forward, straight but not locked.

Balance Your Weight.  Adjust your body so that your weight feels like it is falling directly through the middle of the foot.  You should feel equal pressure of your weight between the big toes, the littles toes and your heels.

Engage Your Core Muscles. Lightly pull your abdominal muscles in and up.  As you do so, you engage the pelvic floor as well.

Drop the Tailbone.  Activating your core will allow you to drop your tailbone directly down toward the floor.  This is a “neutral spine” position, where the natural curves of the spine are present without tucking or hyper-extending (sway back) the pelvis.  If you do have  slight sway to your lower back, be sure to engage your lower abdominals and slightly tuck the pelvis, or tilt the pelvic bone forward.  This works just the oppositve if you have a flat back and/or a posterior tilt to your pelvis.

Relax and Open Your Chest. The chest is not caved in and not thrust out, just resting easily.  There is a small point at the bottom of your sternum, and that, like the tailbonoe, should be pointing straight down.  In a sway back posture, however, the rib care will most likely protrudes forward.  In this situation, you need to pull the ribs towards one another and slightly tuck the pelvis, redirecting the tail bone to pointing down towards the floor.  Over time, with core strengthening, posture alignment exercises and body awareness, a sway back individual will see drastic improvement with reference to lower back pain and posture.

Shoulders Down, Broad Back. Allow your chest to drop and open as your back expands.  As this happens, your shoulders drop away from your ears and your shoulder blades slide down your back (i.e. like pinching the grape, but with engagement through your abdominals so that your ribs don’t protrude forward).  You are cultivating a posture whereby your core is holding you up, not your shoulders!

Head and Neck.  The head and neck are now completely supported by the core and easily supported above the shoulders.  Stand sideways to a mirror and drop your gaze downward.  Out of your peripheral vision, you will notice that your head shift slightly forward of the spine.  The same goes with lifting your gaze upwards to the sky, the neck extends and the head will tilt upwards as well as the chin.  Your gaze should be straight forward as this keeps the head in line with the spine and the neck muscles from overworking.

Let’s Review the Line Up.  If you were seen from the side, your body part should line up like this:

                         ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, ears

I suggest going through this posture checklist as many times as you can during the day.  It is an especially good exercise to do once you are warmed up, or even after a workout, when your awareness is heightened and core well engaged.

May 2, 2010 · Connor dawson · Comments Closed
Posted in: Injury Prevention

Pilates and your posture

Pilates is all about moving efficiently. What makes Pilates so important with respect to posture is that Pilates trains us to develop and use “core strength”, rather than holding our posture with superficial musculature.

Using the deep core muscles of the abdominals, back, and pelvic floor to support our posture. This allows the shoulders to relax, the neck and head to move freely, and relieves stress on the hips, legs, and feet.

Most of us know good posture when we see it, and we are inspired by how free and strong it makes a person look, but there are so many reasons to attend to ones posture. I think it is worthwhile to take a moment to get really motivated.

Benefits of Good Posture:


      *      pain relief throughout the body, including back and neck pain, hip pain, leg and foot pain

     *     improves muscles function

     *     allows us to move efficiently

     *     increases range of motion

     *    takes pressure off of compressed organs

     *     improves circulation

     *    creates a trimmer appearance

     *    radiates an attitude of confidence

Good posture is taken much for granted with a younger person. As we age and have gotten wiser, we all know how important good posture is to our bodies. In future blogs, I will give you an alignment checklist so that you can work on improving your own posture.


April 24, 2010 · Connor dawson · Comments Closed
Posted in: Injury Prevention

Pilates Method celebrating its first decade on October 15, 2010. Its past, present and future!

On October 15, 2010, Pilates Method will celebrate its 10th Anniversary! I have so many people to thank. My husband, Alan, and son, Connor, who are always so supportive financially, physically and mentally. Without them, I am not who I am today. I am forever grateful for my clients. They mold and shape me daily into the instructor that I am today.

I want my first blog to be a little about the past and a lot about the future. I was attracted to Pilates as a discipline through my sister-in-law, Roxann Dawson. Roxann was an actress and played the role of “Belana Torres” on Star Trek Voyager. She had her child, Emma, through caesarian section and needed to get back in shape for those tight fitting outfits that her role required for her to wear. She took Pilates five days a week and supplemented the cardio workout with the elliptical. She looked fabulous! I had to ask.

At the time, the nearest Pilates studio was Denver, Colorado. I had no other way to receive training unless I was willing to travel to either coast. I became particularly interested in receiving training through Elizabeth Larkam. Elizabeth worked with doctors and physical therapists at the Center for Sports Medicine at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital. While director of the Saint Francis Program, she developed Pilates protocols for rehabilitation of a number of orthopedic and spine diagnosis. It happened to be that she was one of the main educators for Polestar Education. Polestar Education focuses on anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and motor control and integrates research in orthopedics, sports medicine and movement science. I traveled to and from the west coast every 6 weeks for training and a year and half later, completed their courses.

October 15, 2000 I worked with my first paid client at my very first studio in the Coca-Cola building, located at South 25th and Capital Parkway. I started with 2 reformers and 1 chair. The Studio was a small room on the second floor of the building. I outgrew the space within three months. The Lincoln Journal Star did a fantastic article which gave the Studio a huge boost. I have been at the current location for the past 9 years.

Pilates has helped me personally with my own fitness goals. As a Pilates professional, I must keep up with my own training. I need to be able to model grace, strength, flexibility in my own body. Setting aside time for my own practice is one of the ways to keep me connected to the work itself so that it doesn’t become rote. I give myself assignments for my teaching. I designate an exercise and an equipment for the week. This forces me to find a modification or variation of the exercise that works for many different bodies. I use my creativity to vary exercises, for instance, changing the body’s relationship to gravity while performing the same movement.

My clients are all different, from 13 to 79 years of age. They come from all walks of life and they all have different limitations and goals. Majority of my 65 clients are women and about 10 men. If these clients only know how much I have learned from them. How they have inspired me and affected my life, both personal and professional, in such a positive and profound way. I am grateful for my clients and for their openness towards me. My original three clients: Nancy, Cary, Ellen. They have all been wonderful and supportive to me and to the Studio. They have become more than clients to me. They are my mentors, my role models and my friends.

I am forever inspired by new ways to teach, new clients, new research, new exercises and new props. The beauty of teaching Pilates is that it demands that I, the teacher, use my creativity and intellect to tailor each workout so that it is a perfect fit for each client. Ultimately, this will help my clients find balance in their own lives. This is what keeps me at my best.

April 16, 2010 · Connor dawson · Comments Closed
Posted in: Pilates Method Studio