Why do you exercise? To get your booty to a bulbous perfection? Is it to achieve the 6-pack-ab beach body? Or is it something more holistic like to live in a healthy, pain-free body that functions optimally?
I hope it’s the latter but there’s no talking to young people. I know – I used to be one. When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s, I just wanted a certain look – thin, toned, uber-flexible. I didn’t care about spinal health. I was going to bend in half and sweat my guts out in Bikram to attain this look. On my bike ride to my studio, I see studio after studio after studio filled with millennials and younger damaging themselves right and left.
Now at my wise 48 years of age, I solemnly shake my head. No, young ones, this is not the way. Being able to do the splits in all directions and hold full bridge with straight arms til the cows came home is not going to give you the longevity you will seek twenty years from now. In fact, I now have a little arthritis and stenosis in my cervical spine from those young years of self abuse through extreme yoga and Pilates.
Now, I’m all about spinal health.
Correct muscle function.
Can you get down on the ground, then get back up? Can you sit in a chair and stand back up without using your hands? Reach that top shelf to put your tea cups away?
Can you give yourself a pedicure?!
I’ve done my own nails this whole year and check out the position I get in! I want to be able to do this in 20+ years if I need. See? Function!
Some people do have to do the splits for their job – professional ballet dancers and gymnasts, for instance. And some people have a natural flexibility from birth. But if you’re not in that category, forget about that extreme flexibility. It’s not necessary or even good for us. Do you think cavemen did the splits? It’s not necessary or advisable for humans except for that tiny percentage of us who are acrobats or professional dancers.
Of course we want our muscles to be supple. We want agility. But what we really need is functional flexibility like when you want to file your toe nails. I remember when my dad was in his 80’s, there was no way in hell he could reach his feet to put on his shoes and socks. He wasn’t even close. That is functional flexibility – being able to do the things the human body is meant to do. Walk, run and jump, crouch down, climb and reach.
I work with clients my age or older all the way into their 80’s. I don’t have anyone in their 90’s yet but I’m waiting! As my friend and teacher, Shari says, the point of exercise is to create an environment in your body where muscles function naturally, as intended. Yes!
This is my focus in how I teach Pilates now. I want you to be able to do the things you want, without pain, for the rest of your life. You’re not doing a teaser or the star or mermaid for the Instagram picture (Guilty:/) You do those exercises so that you can, fill in the blank – keep up your love of trail running into your old age, swing the golf club without pain in your lumbar spine, pick up your two year old grandbaby or get down on the ground to play with them.
My uncle Frank is about to turn 91 and is sharp as a tack but he has such a hump back that his head points down to the ground all the time. His cervical spine and the muscles in his neck and upper back have deteriorated so much that he can’t look straight ahead, even if he wants to and he wants to! He won’t listen to a word I say and can’t hear me anyway, but if he had caught this postural issue even ten years ago and put in the work to keep the neck and back muscles strong and supple he wouldn’t be in this situation.
And my husband! He’s tall, handsome and smart. He has it all – including forward head posture and a budding hunchback. He’s in his 50’s and can still change this. Don’t be like uncle Frank! I am on a mission to change this if I can just get him in my studio! If you run into him, ask him why he doesn’t do Pilates when his wife has an amazing studio nearby ready and waiting for him:)
My quest is to create bodies that are healthy and functional enough to stand up tall, be able to look straight ahead with your shoulders on your back, climb stairs and run to catch the bus, bend down to pick something off the ground and lift a heavy grocery bag into your car.
Why do you exercise?