by Juli Kagan, RDH, MEd
Hold the journal in one hand so you can read it, and place the other hand on your lower belly. Go ahead; just do it. Now, give a nice big cough or sneeze. Feel it? The transversus abdominus muscle, sometimes called the transversalis, is being activated. It is one of the main muscles of the stomach area used for anterior, posterior, and spinal support. It originates on the spine, and unlike most muscles, does not have an insertion on bone, but on the linea alba in the center of the abdomen. It is akin to a girdle wrapped around your lower middle. If conditioned, the muscle creates a sleek, long, functional front. (You know the transverses. It's the muscle that lies over the "pooch" women get when feeling bloated.)
If you think repetitive sit-ups are the answer to a strong transversus and tight rectus abdominus, you're on the right track. But there is a new exercise method that really gets these muscles working! It's called Pilates.
If you're like the thousands of hygienists who suffer chronic back, shoulder, or neck ailments, then Pilates should be considered as an exercise option. It focuses on conditioning the transversus and rectus abdominus and other muscles of the core, and powerfully aids in back and interior stabilization.
Pilates is a full body system of specific sequenced exercises performed on the mat and specially designed equipment. The method is centered around the concepts of awareness, balance, breath, centering, concentration, control, flowing movement, and precision. The principle goal of Pilates is to uniformly develop the body and mind.
It actually isn't new — just popular again. The Pilates method has been around since World War I. As a child, Joseph Pilates was plagued by asthma, rheumatic fever, and rickets. He became obsessed with the frailties of the body and was determined to overcome his afflictions. He devised the Pilates method, merging Western forms of physical studies with Eastern forms of exercise. While in an internment camp in England, his compatriots followed his routine. The Pilates-based exercises spread like wildfire when none of the Pilates' trainees died during an influenza epidemic during the war. He guided patients who were bedridden, using springs from under the bed to provide resistance and pulleys like leather or rope to add length to the extremities.
Joseph Pilates immigrated to the United States and opened a studio in New York in 1926. The routines he taught — mostly to dancers such as Balanchine — haven't changed much. Today celebrities such Madonna, Julia Roberts, and Hugh Grant — even the San Francisco 49ers — have made Pilates part of their exercise repertoire. It blends the elements of yoga, boxing, gymnastics, and tai chi. Like any art or mind-body discipline, it requires a mind-body connection. It works from the inside out so participants develop a greater understanding of the body.
Pilates emphasizes the transverses abdominus muscles, known as the "powerhouse" in Pilates speak. Pilates theorized that when these muscles were underdeveloped, all other joints and muscles in the body were under strain and prone to injury. For example, when you don't sit properly in the dental chair, you end up getting cramps in your shoulders, back, or neck because you're calling on other muscles to assist in what the primary muscles should be doing. This puts the body in a much-compromised position.
There are two versions of Pilates: mat work and apparatus exercises. The mat work exercises is what most people are familiar with as it is commonly offered and cheaper than the apparatus exercises. It works with your own body providing the resistance. The apparatus exercises use springs and pulleys, which provide a challenge. All apparatus exercises are used to attain the highest level of body harmony and health.
We tell our patients about the importance of replacing missing teeth. Why? Because when teeth are missing from the balanced environment of 28 to 32 naturally functioning teeth, other teeth are overused and higher demands are put on them. We lose all harmony, function, and balance when teeth are missing.
When the muscles of the powerhouse are conditioned, you are much more aware of your posture and you will have muscle and core strength to power through your treatments. Your back and body will be erect and possess a sense of alignment, harmony and accord!
Here is an example of a Pilates exercise called The Hundred. This is the first exercise in the series of the mat workout. It gets the circulation going and warms up the body. Pull your belly button to your spine. This gets really challenging when you are lying on your back, holding your head up, lifting your legs to a 45-degree angle, gently pressing your knees together, and keeping your heels together and toes apart. Add breathing into your back and ribs and through your nose for a count of five and exhaling out the mouth for a count of five, for up to 10 sets while pumping your arms vigorously by your sides.
But we all know that hard work pays off. Your body will look forward to working out, because Pilates pulls all the elements of a sound exercise program together: flexibility, strength, power, endurance, and focus. You will not feel tired and sore after doing Pilates. You will feel energized and ready to face daily tasks with vigor and vitality.
Pilates is particularly beneficial for back weakness because many exercises are done in a supine position. This allows the body to work without the forces of gravity on the joints and muscles. Every exercise can be easily modified if an area is vulnerable or weak.
Pilates will enhance all other exercises such as running for endurance, weight lifting for strength, or tennis for balance and control. It is common for people to feel taller after just one class, and students have been known to "grow" after many sessions. The exercises, when executed with precision and control, create a longer spine.
One thing about Pilates is for sure — you will be more aware of your posture. That's a really good thing for hygienists who are known to have ubiquitous back trouble! So, go work your core like never before!
Juli Kagan, RDH,MEd, is a classically trained certified Pilates instructor and also teaches clinical dental hygiene, periodontology, and preventive dentistry at Broward Community College in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. She also teaches instrumentation and clinical application for the periodontics department at Nova Southeastern University. She can be reached at (561) 305-5854 or by email at [email protected].