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Learn to Run week five: Which exercises are best for me?

Wow five weeks in! I was asked a fantastic question at this past class that gave me the idea for this blogpost.  How do I know which are the best running exercises for me? Of course!!!  We’ve created this conditioning class and taught you so many exercises but how do you know which are the best two or three exercises for you…just for you!  In the following words I want to begin to outline the way you choose the best running exercises.  Of course we have given you and gone over many other exercises, but this is the way to start choosing the best…Just wait until next week when we explore this further!

Well first of all, Every single person should be conditioning his or her feet! We are constantly spending our life in shoes disconnecting our feet from the earth and this is causing us to lose the pliability that we need to accept load.  SOOOOO Everyone before you run should do the following foot exercises.

First we spread the toes

Then we ask the toes to talk to each other

Then we lift the three middle toes

Finally we have the big toe splits

Now beside the feet how do I decide which are the best running exercises for me.  Should I do the planks or the squats? Should I work on cadence or mobility?  I only have so much time and I do actually want to run so what are the best running exercises for me…just me?  Well my friends the best way to find the best running exercises for you is to use the assessment tool.  The RUNITY assessment is the best way to assess what conditioning exercises you need.

best running exercises

Deep squat with thoracic extension

The first test is the deep squat with thoracic extension.  This test is figuring out two things.  How much hip mobility do you have, and how much thoracic extension do you have.   These concepts apply to stride length and upright posture in the running gait.  So if you do this test and you can’t get your pelvis below your knees then we need to work on your hip mobility.  Whereas on the other hand if you can get your pelvis below your knees, but your spine curls into a ball like shape then you need exercises that work on thoracic extension.  The videos of both possibilities follow.




So if its improved hip mobility you need.  The accelerated mermaid is for you!


If you need thoracic extension then the following exercise is for you!


Now the next test is telling us about the lateral stability of your hip socket.  This is the standing single leg squat. You can see in the picture to the right that to perform this assessment you will be standing on one leg and simply bending that knee.  If your knee wavers and falls in towards the center then

best running exercises

single leg squat  

you need hip conditioning exercises, but if your knee stays straight ahead but your torso folds in towards the leg then you need spine stability exercises.  Those videos are below!








Hip stability

Torso stability

Finally, the last test is looking at hip extension and elastic recoil in the body.  To perform the single knee bend you stand with your feet next to each other and bend one knee keeping your knees lined up you want to do your best to lift your foot past the midway point on the back of your thigh.  This picture of

best running exercises

single leg knee bend


this test is below.  Now if you perform it and you can’t keep your knees lined up then hip extension is what you are after, and if your knees are lined up just fine and you can’t lift your heel beyond mid thigh, then its time for you to work on the cadence drills with the metronome.  Check out the following videos for the hip extension exercises, and then in the next week’s blog post we will break down cadence as much as we can!






Hip Extension

Finally,  This is just the beginning of what you could do.  For more information please visit RUNITY’s website.  Use this blogpost as a beginning to feel your body and allow yourself to decide what you might need.  Next week we will review the assessment and exercises that go with each piece so that you can finish the class with a way to assess yourself and design your own conditioning program!  See everyone next week.


Taking the Plunge: Becoming a Pilates Instructor, Part 1

Become a Pilates InstructorAbout four years ago, I met a young man at The Pilates Studio.  He came to me with what his doctor called Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome.  He was nineteen and it was clear upon first glance that he had spent some time around free weights.  His shoulders were huge! After we chatted for a bit we discovered that the postures caused by this upper cross syndrome (a name I take issue with.) were affecting his college life in ways that he did not love.  I had him for just a few sessions and then I sent him off to Germany (semester abroad) with a foam roller and some good luck.  Who knew that becoming a Pilates Instructor would be part of his journey.

When he got back from Germany on the next break from school he came back with some other things to work on, and this is when I found out that his major had changed.  He was now pre-med. I thought this was a perfect choice for him. He was so thoughtful about his own healing process and he was very curious, wonderfully curious about theory and the thought process behind the movements that I was giving to him.  We worked together a few times and then I sent him away for another semester.

At the next semester break I saw this young man’s name in my schedule again, and I thought to myself. You know he should do the Polestar Pilates Comprehensive series.  He could pay his way through medical school, and gain skills in communication and education that will make him a better doctor in the future. It’s a win, win. I mentioned this to him on his next session, and he was so excited.  He signed up later that month and he was a great addition to the cohort.

During his journey toward becoming a Pilates Instructor, he gained knowledge of biomechanics, and arthrokinematics as they relate to movement, not to mention gained great practice in thinking in systems instead of body parts.  He spent times in movement labs thinking and practicing the different ways to communicate when teaching movement. He practiced using imagery and voice inflection. He also spent a great amount of time working on his own healing process.  All in all during the year and a half that he was in the course and then subsequently preparing for his exam, his worldview changed. And it is this worldview that is going to inform who he becomes as a physician, and I can’t wait to see how his career develops.

Learn to Run Week Four – Let’s extend the hips!

WOW! Four weeks!  How did it go?  In this class we explored hip extension for running. Coupling hip extension of one leg with the flexion of the other is how you find stride length safely!  Remember that first week when we taught airplane?  We mentioned hugging your knee as close to your chest as much as you can and then lengthening the standing leg long beneath you.  This is necessary to increase the stride length and thus bring the forward motion to the running technique.

This week Kay and Nate led you through the conditioning work, with an emphasis in the hip extension.  The two homework exercises that we have chosen for you this week are glute reeducation.  In this exercise you are looking for the bum muscles!  Gluteus maximas!  TO perform this exercise you will lay on your belly.  Curl the toes of one foot underneath.  Reach your heel to the wall beneath you.  Pull your kneecap toward you.  Send your hip to the ground, and finally feel that glute engage…You might even have to squeeze it to let your brain know that it’s available for action!  Tell your brain about your glutes!

The next exercise is designed to find both hip extension and hip flexion at the same time.  It’s the Plank to lunge!  Find your plank notice that this is the same position as glute reeducation minus the floor, or should I say hovering above the floor.  So your heels are still tucked underneath you.  You are reaching the heels away from you.  You are pulling your knee caps towards you and you are finding hip extension in your plank.  Then push with your hands as you bend your knees and send your tailbone behind you into a what I like to think of as the crouching tiger position.  Then with a small explosive force move back towards the plank and bring one leg forward into a lunge.  This is a very dynamic and active exercise, but you want to find the hip extension both in the plank and the lunge….Let me know how it goes!


High Kneeling integrating change in a Polestar Pilates Teacher Training

becoming a pilates instructorWhen you look at the Kneeling arm series on the Pilates Reformer you see an exercise that strengthens the muscles of the arms.  As students work their way through all of the versions of this exercise,  it’s true through resistance training, they are challenging all of the muscles of the shoulder girdle in all planes of motion, and thus the strength of these muscles will increase.  But is that all that is happening?

The kneeling arm series on the reformer requires dynamic control of the center and it also challenges the hip extension accompanied by knee flexion.  This exercise aids in Gait training…  That’s right this “arm” exercise could improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your gait.  And this my friend is why I love Pilates!

In a Pilates exercise you are never doing just arm work or leg work or core work.  (don’t get me started on the fact that the word core has lost all meaning)  In every Pilates exercise you are affecting multiple systems in the body.  When I am training Pilates teachers for Polestar Pilates, I am always asking what is this exercise doing for us, and once I hear my student’s initial answer, I always reply, “That’s true and now what else does it do?”  When we are talking about the kneeling arm series the answer to “what else?” is dynamic stabilization of the lower extremity in hip extension.  Or we’re helping people to stand.

Pilates Teacher Trainings are so much more than an education about fitness.  They are an education in function.  In the Polestar Pilates Teacher Training students learn to improve people’s lives through improved function.  If someone can do the kneeling arm series on the reformer they can climb down a mountain and catch themselves on a branch if they slip.  If someone can do the kneeling arm series on the reformer, then their tennis game or golf swing is surely going to improve.  If someone  can do the kneeling arm series on the reformer then it will be easier to get up from the floor in case of a fall…I could go on and on

So what should you take from this blog?  Pilates Teachers can help improve your life with exercises that do more than just one thing, and becoming a Pilates instructor gives you the ability to change the world for so many people!

Students of a Pilates Teacher Training Explore Pilates’ Animal World

Joseph Pilates observed animals as he developed his method.

He says in his book return to life, “true rhythm and control is observed both in domestic pets and wild animals – without exception.”

We were standing around the front counter at The Pilates Studio when we decided to create the following video.  At first we were laughing and joking and sure that we were to entertain you, but then as we looked further into the idea that Joseph Pilates observed animals as he was creating his work, we thought of something else.  He created exercises like the dolphin exercise not because he wanted to strengthen the posterior chain of all humans but because he saw the beauty of a dolphin moving through water.  He was recognizing the beauty in the world and wanted to return that beauty to the movement of human beings.

Sometimes when Students of a Pilates Teacher Training are studying movement we get caught in the minutia of the moment.  The hamstrings flex the knee and extend the hip, which releases the hip flexors through reciprocal inhibition.   Of course we can’t forget the stability created by the anterior oblique sling, which is initiated by pushing the palms of the hands into the vertical bars of the trapeze table.  It is this stability that allows the lumbar spine to articulate through each segment into flexion and so on and so forth.  But what happens when we watch a dolphin move?  How do our bodies feel?  What if we could move like a dolphin?  What if we let our mind’s eye travel to the ocean where a pod of dolphins is gliding through the water playing?

The cat lady in me was heartened when I read on the Internet “It has been said the Joseph Pilates thought that the cat was the supreme animal.”  Of course the Internet said it so it must be true.

But let’s think about the budding industry of cat videos.  What if Joseph Pilates was onto something?  It may be yet another way in which this brilliant man was ahead of his time.

After all, He did write, “Your body will be as supple as a cat.”

The beauty of animal movement is something that every one of us has admired in some way at some point.  Whether it is the gait of a dog chasing a truck, the breadth of the blue heron’s wings, or the precision of a swimming penguin.  Marveling in the movements of animals is not new to us.  However, accepting the fact that we are animals too, and imagining that we can be animals that move with the same agility, precision, and stealth of our very favorite animal heroes might be an interesting way of exploring movement.

What if we tried to imagine, “Why did Joseph Pilates call this exercise the elephant?”

When we think of the classic Pilates repertoire.  How many exercises were named after animals?  What might the inspiration have been? And then what might happen when we place playful hats on our heads and embody the animals that are the namesakes of the exercises?  We might just find an excellent way to further our exploration of this movement! And who knows it might be entertaining and a little bit silly too.

Kate’s Pilates Adventure: Seeing what the Pilates Apparatus can do

I felt great after my first day on the Pilates Apparatus, but man, my abs were sore! I arrived a few minutes early to my appointment to a bustling studio. There were a few other people on the reformers, cracking jokes and working hard. Everyone was in good spirits because we’re experiencing the first week of real warm weather after a grueling winter. Cathy led me directly over to the reformer, and we got started with leg presses that shifted the position of my feet to warm up. Again, I was struck by how clearly I could feel the natural articulation of my spine against the part of the reformer I was laying flat on. It helped me move with intention, and I could feel my pelvis and sacrum getting more pliable. While I was doing the leg presses, I confessed to Cathy that I felt guilty having told her last week that I wasn’t going to do any homework exercises she offered me.

“Let’s go all in this week,” I said.

We moved onto bridges, a backbend done with shoulders still on the floor and feet in table-top position, which might be my favorite exercise because it’s something I do often in my yoga practice but Cathy guided me through a vertebrae by vertebrae articulation of the spine that was really enlight

Combo Chair - Pilates Apparatus

Combo chairs one piece of Pilates Apparatus

ening. I could feel my abs working harder, and got a sense of how my pelvis, feet, abs and spine might all work together once I am more integrated.

“This is definitely homework for you!” Cathy told me.

After the bridges, I did some arm butterflies using the reformer arm pullies and tried not to think about how little upper body strength I have. Then I did a really fun exercise called Eve’s lunge, which is sort of like a runner’s stretch but the back foot pushed against a part of the reformer that moved.  Cathy worked me hard, because then we moved onto the Combo chair which looks like this:

And is a totally amazing tool if you’re looking to gain ankle strength and stretch out tight calf muscles. I stood with one foot on the part of the chair that you can push down, and practiced some achilles pumps which hurt so good. I knew it was just what I needed. We did a few different feet positions on this, and then moved onto to some supine stretching on the spine corrector, which looks like this:

spine corrector - Pilates Apparatus

Pilates Spine corrector, another piece of Pilates Apparatus

This is where I really found my abs. I did a series of what looked like simple sit-up like movements, but the expectation was that I would lean back over the rounded part, careful to press every vertebrae against it, and then curl back up with my chin tucked and my abs deeply engaged. It was so hard I quivered, and realized, as Cathy cheered me on, that this is just the medicine I need.

We finished the session using the floor reformer to do a few side splits, while Cathy talked me through my homework: more bridges, some ankle stretches using a ledge or the stairs, and a seated side stretch with my legs in “Mermaid Position.” My childhood dreams of being like Ariel from The Little Mermaid were finally about to come true! Perhaps this isn’t true, but in all seriousness, these exercises felt like things I could manage to work into my daily routine, and I left feeling strong and optimistic about a living a life inside of a body that had more mobility and less pain. Bring on week three, I am a Pilates machine!

Learn to Run Week 3: Condition to Run

Happy Mother’s day and Happy week three of The Pilates Studio’s Learn to run series.  My hope is that people are starting to feel the added strength in the tissues around the hips.  As well as the mobility in the hip sockets and thoracic spine.  In the next weeks we will begin to focus on hip extension and ankle mobility… But more importantly it seems like Everyone is getting in condition to r

un!  YAY!  You’ll see the videos for the home work below, but I also wanted to share with you this picture of the organized chaos of our conditioning circuits.  To me a great workout is when I see the smiles I saw today!


Happy Mother’s day and Happy week three of The Pilates Studio’s Learn to run series.  My hope is that people are starting to feel the added strength in the tissues around the hips.  As well as the mobility in the hip sockets and thoracic spine.  In the next weeks we will begin to focus on hip extension and ankle mobility… But more importantly it seems like Everyone is getting in condition to run!  YAY!  You’ll see the videos for the home work below, but I also wanted to share with you this picture of the organized chaos of our conditioning circuits.  To me a great workout is when I see the smiles I saw today!

Condition to Run!  The Pilates Studio

Four corners of getting into condition to run. Hip Strength, Rotational control, Thoracic mobility, and motor control.


You all are doing so well, and that simply makes might heart swell.  Maybe its mother’s day, or maybe it’s spring, or maybe seeing us all get stronger together just makes me so so happy…

Okay enough sappy stuff…Here’s your conditioning homework

There are four exercises this week.   First, as we continue to work on thoracic mobility and hip extension we have the lunge with the dowel (the broomstick works great too)  Remember reaching up into your arms as much as possible and at the same time pushing down into the knee!

Once we have the added mobility, we want to find the control of that mobility.  We can achieve this with thigh stretch and the added dowel.  Go for the shakes with this one!  How far can you go back?

Next we have the hip mobility exercise with the mermaid…We’ve been doing this one since the very beginning class because it is just so important for the mobility of the hip socket!

And finally for rotational control we have the side plank!  YAY!  (I type yay because the side plank is so hard but if you yell YAY every time you lift your hips, it feels slightly easier.)

And of course as always the more pliable your feet the better so please feel free to keep doing the foot exercises from the previous week’s exercises.

Read more about RUNITY here

Polestar Pilates Teacher Training: The Principles part 6 of 6

Pilates Teacher TrainingOkay, here we are at the final segment of the Polestar Pilates Teacher Training Principles.  This is the movement integration principle, or in other words, how the heck do we put all of this together?  If you are a fitness professional, imagine this scenario:  Someone comes into work with you, he is carrying a backpack on one side, which is practically pulling his shoulder to the ground.  He is standing on one foot more than the other, and one foot is practically facing to the side.  If we look at the sagittal plane, his kyphotic curve is huge, not structural but strategic, and he balances the weight of his ribcage by a pelvis that translates forward.

You as a caring and wonderful fitness professional proceed with a session that makes change.  He finishes the session and he is taller and standing even on both feet he looks strong and ready for the world.  As you are transitioning, he is delighted to schedule another session and needs to get his phone out of his backpack.  He then swings the backpack over the same shoulder sinks into the same hip and focuses on his schedule in his phone.  If you’re like me, at this point in the session you might even slap your forehead.

I have found myself as a practitioner wondering, how can I make the change stick.  How can I improve someone’s posture for more than just two hours every week.  And then I started teaching the Polestar Pilates Teacher Training and more importantly I discovered the movement integration principle of Polestar Pilates.   All of the wonderful work we do is nothing if we don’t integrate the entire body with all of the systems of the body.

A flexible muscle is only flexible if the nervous system knows that it’s flexible.  The belly is only flat if the digestive system is happy and healthy.  The body won’t heal unless someone can move pain free and be surprised by the experience.  All of these topics are covered in Polestar Pilates Movement Integration principle.  This is what makes Polestar Pilates teacher training more than just exercise, and what makes a Polestar Pilates Practitioner more than just a fitness instructor.  We are folks that can affect change in people’s lives, and if enough of us create this change in people’s lives then we will also be able to make this change in the world!

Kate’s Pilates Adventure: Day 1

Kate Senecal author/writing coach extraordinaire

I sprained my ankle for the first time when I was in eighth grade, then twice in tenth grade, another time junior year of high school and finally, after a misguided attempt at being a hurdler in track, spent the last two months of my senior year of high school on crutches with the same busted ankle. I identify this injury as the root of a series of structural and postural issues that has caused me a few decades of leg, lower back, shoulder and neck pain that I’ve managed with reasonable success via a consistent Iyengar Yoga practice, acupuncture and a few life-saving massages. For years my dear, old friends Katrina and Laurie have urged me to try starting Pilates with them at The Pilates Studio, so in the spirit of overcoming some of these issues once and for all, increasing my minimal core strength and spicing up my weekly workout rotation I took them up on their suggestion.

Since I have old injuries, I felt that starting pilates with the private lesson introductory package which includes three private sessions in four weeks for $180 would be best. I arrived to my noon appointment early, excited to have someone look at the way I move and design a series of exercises just for me. Laurie and Katrina greeted me warmly at the front desk, and set me up with the paperwork I needed to fill out as a new student. The studio is huge, full of natural light, fun looking contraptions, and people of all shapes and sizes working hard but looking psyched while doing it – sort of like a playground in a daycare center but for grown-ups. I immediately felt comfortable and ready for action. My instructor, Cathy, lead me over to a crazy looking bench/table fully equipped with bars, pullies and all kinds of straps. I liked Cathy right away – she has a warm face and a gentle voice – and she’s also a physical therapist, so I knew I was in good hands.  She asked me thoughtful questions about the ways I move my body, then talked me through some movement that would help her assess my functional mobility.

Cathy told me that I over pronate my feet, which means my ankles collapse in toward each other. This can cause all sorts of problems like bunions, ankle pain as well as knee and hip tightness. She also noticed right away that my shoulders are very tight and my trapezius muscles were very weak which is likely the reason I experience so much neck and shoulder pain. Finally, along with having minimal ab strength, Cathy noticed that I also have Lumbar hyperlordosis – which just means that the natural curve in the middle of my spine is exaggerated in such a way that it often looks like I’m sticking my belly out when I think I’m just standing normally.

Once it was clear what I needed to strengthen, Cathy brought me over to the reformer – another bench similar to what I sat on at the beginning of the session, but instead of having a top that spans the reach between all four legs, the reformer has a slat with wheels which allows you to move fluidly while doing strength building exercises. I laid down and put my legs up against a bar, and was instructed to push on the bar with my legs as if I was using a weight machine that targeted my quads, but to be careful to keep the natural curves of my spine pressed against the table and to not move my pelvis at all. This was exceptionally difficult despite the movement seeming so simple.

Cathy was clear in her instructions, and intentional about how many repetitions of things she asked me to do as well as what order I did the exercises in. Appointments are only 50 minutes, but I felt like we made good use of the time. I moved in a lot of different ways, and worked harder than I expected both because of Cathy’s expert instruction and the fact that all of the equipment we worked with really helped me in understanding what muscles I use (or don’t use) habitually for different kinds of movements. I could really feel the weak parts of my abs, and how important strengthening that area will be for correcting the hyper curve in my back. Cathy talked a lot about integrating my lower body with my upper body via my pelvis, and I was shocked at how clear is was that they moved in a disconnected way when I was doing the exercises Cathy asked me to do.

Cathy was optimistic that it would not take me long to gain the strength I need to get out of pain and achieve my fitness goals, and I feel ready to work hard. I feel so lucky that I get to be a part of the great community at The Pilates Studio, and can’t wait for my second appointment!

Learn to Run: Week 2

Wow! We are off to a great start!  It was so fun to see the progress of everyone in the second week of our Learn to Run course!  If you want a sense of the fabulous strengthening chaos that is our Learn to Run course check out the picture!  That is what a well used and satisfying studio looks like. My RUNITY teachers would be so proud of the fun we had!

Strengthening at The Pilates Studio

Fabulous strengthening chaos at The Pilates Studio

As promised today progressed a little from last week and we have different exercises that we want you to practice before next week.  First we have the foot exercises that are so important to the gait.  If we think of the foot as our spring through the air.  We need to train and condition the pliability of the plantar fascia (the bottom of your foot)  Every time your foot lands in gait the plantar fascia lengthens (eccentric contraction) and absorbs the shock of the road, and then like a spring it shortens to propel you forward…And even more mind blowing (for my geeky brain at least) the big toes and smaller toes act with different functions to make the gait efficient….Yet we spend our day in shoes that make our feet still.  So with that these are the videos of the foot exercises we did today!

First five toes lift and then spread out, and then lower down

The second foot exercise is lifting the big toe and then placing it down and lifting the four little toes

Then we lifted the three middle toes

And finally of course we have the big toe splits

After this we want to work the hip extension and elastic recoil of the hamstrings with the single leg kick.  Remember to do it slow and then to pick up the speed

And finally!  It’s time to do Plank to Star (a progression from quadruped to star by the way)

That’s it for this week…Remember keep moving between now and next Sunday.  We talked about several ways that you could progress your running…The infamous walk/run is the way to go, but the question always becomes how much should I walk and how much should I run?  I personally like to listen to my cardiovascular system.  I run until my heart says to stop, and then I walk until my heart says to go again…If you want more of a measure you can use a heart rate monitor. Run until you hit a certain heart rate and then walk until your heart rate comes down…However long that may be.  If you feel like your cardiovascular system is stronger than the tissues of the body, then your best best is to pick a two minute run…one minute walk schedule, and then increase that amount by 10 percent a week.

And that’s it for now! Until next week in our learn to run series