The upside down cat

The upside down cat is perhaps the most awesomeness back health exercise.

There are lots of exercises that are good for everyone, but so often the devil is in the detail. This exercise is ONE of the exercises that suits just about everyone. It works as a ‘rehab’ exercise for people managing lower back pain (you’ll need to do it regularly and often).  And works as a warm-up for further exercise if you’re hale and hearty.

The upside down cat will be familiar to anyone coming through White Dog Studio.

It is a fantastic and safe way to bring mobility and day to day strength to the spine and surrounding muscles. It incorporates movements that are fundamental to our teaching of Pilates and, in later videos, I will show progressions that are more challenging.

A simple squat

A simple squat and a more detailed squat emphasising your Glutes

There are two videos in this post.

This video suits folks who are new to the studio and still getting their head around the fundamentals of safe squatting. Squatting is SUCH an important life skill, forget the times tables, if you can’t squat right, you won’t be able to sit into or get out of a chair, car, couch or onto a toilet. A lot of people have pain in their hips, back or knees when they squat and it is always a great relief for me as an instructor and for clients when thee simple principles help to reduce or remove that pain. NB: my clever use of white socks on a gray mat to highlight the alignment of my feet.

This next video is a little more detailed. The same fundamental principles apply, but here we introduce more details that will help to make the all important and often ‘unfelt’ gluten start to play a greater role in the squat action.

Front, back and sides

Front, back and sides with extra spice and extra dogs.

Join me for a quick, effective and challenging midline or core stability workout.

Each round is 20 seconds, each round adding challenge. Work to your own ability and repeat the level you can achieve or keep adding layers with me to the end.   You can obviously build to longer holds on your own as well.

A simple backbend sequence

Backbends come in a all sorts of shapes and intensities. This sequence walks you from some simple hip and shoulder opening movements into some basic but very effective backbend postures.

These postures should be approached with patience and respect. Done properly, backbends are fantastic exercises for lower back stiffness and pain, done too much, too quickly or before being suitably warm they can compound or create pain in the back of the body.

Front, back and sides

You’ve been doing this in class for a while – here’s why we do it: this set of exercises is everything you need for your core all in one – it works your abs, your glutes, the side of your body, and the back of your body, against gravity and from within (as a result of you willfully engaging your muscles). What we love is that because it’s simple anyone can do it, and at the same time everyone in class s equally challenged because you all work to your own capacity. 

Lots of people come to WDS because they say they want a stronger core: this set of exercises will give you just that. That’s why we make you do it so many times!

The Flying Nike – or Salabasana, or the body arch…

Anyone who has attended a mat class at WDS will be familiar with this position. We call it the flying nike, mainly because it seems more romantic than the translation of Salabasana )the locust) or it’s gymnastic name the body arch. 

It’s a great exercise for switching on the poster chain or back of the body. With practise it will help to ‘relax’ or quieten the hip flexors and stretch/open the chest.

The most important thing when starting to work with the opposition is to ensure the lower back is not doing all the work for you. If it is you will usually end up with soreness and a perhaps a sharp pain in the lower back when in the position. 

The critical ‘cues’ are:

 – to press your hip creases down. If you are not sure whether this has been done, try to put your fingers under the hip crease… it should be impossible.

– lift your legs and chest up AND away from your centre.

As you become familiar with the position, ‘cues’ to consider are:

-trying to work towards straighter legs (there is a bent leg version, but the knees are bent to 90 degrees)

– trying to draw the inner things closer together

Rolling like a ball – a Pilates exercise to stretch the lower back and a ‘prep’ version.

Rolling like a ball is the name of a deceptively simple looking exercise in the classical pilates repertoire.

It is useful for anyone that sits for long periods – whether that is in a desk or ona bike or in a  car.

The first video in the sequence shows a stretch that prepares your body for the exercise. This stretch, or ‘prep’ combines beautifully with the Cobra push up (video link) for general spinal health. In fact there are few ‘pairs’ of exercises/stretches I could recommend more highly for basic spinal wellbeing.

The video sequence extends the stretches to much more advanced exercises, all of which have Rolling like a ball as their root.

On the Blog I have gone into greater detail regarding muscles involved in the exercise, the benefits of the exercise and the progressions.

Rolling like a ball does three things very effectively when done correctly:

  1. it stretches the muscles of the inner thigh (the adductors and in particular the longer and larger of these muscles that work in unison with your hamstrings and hip flexors) and the muscle of the posterior (back) hip, your gluteals and deeper gluteals; Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus medius, Piriformis and quadratus femoris to more specific.
  2. Stretches the muscles of the lower, middle and possibly the upper back. When you are able to get a smooth, even roll in the movement (no square or flindstone wheels) muscles all along the spine are stretched and massaged by the movement. In particlaur the Qaudratus Lumborum. This muscle has twin aspects, sitting either side of the lower back (the muscle originates on teh transverse processes or sticky out side bits of all 5 lumbar vertebra and the bottom rib) when the muscle shortens or contracts it draws the bottom rib towards the posterior or back rim of the pelvis (the muscle inserts here and without getting tooooo nerdy, there is a significant interconnection between Quadratus Lumborum and Gluteus Maximus well supported in the emergent evidence regarding Fascia)
  3. This is my favourite aspect of the exercise. The abdominals. Trying the movement you will notice after a few repetitions that there is some abdominal work involved in generating the force necessary to roll ‘up’ onto your sit bones.

This is definitely not the easiest or most effective way to strengthen the abdominal wall.So here’s the rub. 

Much of Pilates work is focused on hardening (strengthening) the abdominals. This is important and for people who are generally weak and new to movement it is very important to develop stability in the abdominals, Glutes and lower back. However, once that has been established there are layers of subtlety available for those interested.

II’ll expand on this more in an upcoming post; in brief, if your abs are ‘hard’ which usually means a lot of activation in the Rectus Abdominus or the oft instagrammed six pack then this exercise will feel like there is a ‘block’ between your ribs and hips. A chunkiness to the ‘roll’ The ability to soften and fold the abdominals at the belly button crease becomes necessary and this action is paradoxically as much about strength as a body hollw hold. In this case though the strength needs to be supple, and driven by deeper abdominals. Specifically the Transversus Abdominus the fibres of which run in a generally transverse direction or around the body like a corset. 

If you have done any of my classes you will know that I frequently emphasise this, particularly in Stretch classes when we are forward bending or in twisting poses. 

I have created a series of short videos that start with this exercise – and a preparation version for people who find their lower back too stiff for the movement – and progress to much more dynamic and challenging versions.

As the sequence proceeds, the exercise moves from a gentle stretch of the lower back to a rolling squat (deck squat) and handstand preparations, and finally to full handstands.

Cobra Push Up

The Cobra push up, Bhujangasana (Yoga) or swan dive (Pilates) as taught at the White Dog Studio.

INCREDIBLY useful for reversing lower back pain, hip pain, leg pain, buttock or gluteal pain even nerve pain in the toes. You can expect to do these in class whenever you are in the studio.

Find out even more about reducing Lower Back Pain here