In this months blog I want to focus on technique and why it is so important.
There is so much more to an Essentrics workout than meets the eye and when done correctly it makes the workout even better as we constantly rebalance the body.
In every class I talk about what we are doing and what muscles we are using. There is good reason for this - I want you to understand why you are doing what you are doing and to make sure you do feel it in the muscles we are working.
I wish our class had mirrors, so you can all see for yourself if your form is right and self-correct accordingly. It is sometimes hard to correct yourself when there are no mirrors.
As you know I do not go around the class and correct people (unless I absolutely have to!) I understand many people do not like to be corrected within a class and I would never name and shame you. I talk through the moves and when I do see people in class doing something slightly wrong I mention it. Most of you when I say how you should be doing things eg knees aligned with the toes in a plie, immediately change if you are not aligned, which is fantastic!
Doing some movements not 100% right is not critical with Essentrics as the programme itself has been designed with that in mind (no serious injury can be done). But it is important to try and do the moves as best we can with the correct technique which will benefit your body immensely compared to just going with the flow.
Good technique makes a great workout!
With that in mind, the 20 most common mistakes people make during an Essentrics class are:
Plies – A) as mentioned above, knees turned out and aligned with the toes (make sure your knee follows the position of the toes). In Essentrics we do plies not squats, in squats the knees and feet are straight ahead, the bottom is out the back and the body comes slightly forward. In Essentrics they are turned out as we do plies, back is upright and the body does not come forward. You just bend the knees, not only working your legs and butt, but also your core and posture! When your knees are not aligned you can cause issues with the tendons and ligaments around the knees, putting more pressure on them.
B) - the body must remain in an upright position. Many people tilt forward instead of ‘pulling up’. This could be for 2 reasons, 1 – they are going too low in a plie. Going too low can get your body out of alignment – especially when you lean forward, not to mention it can cause pain in the knees and strain on the back; 2 – you have weak core muscles, this can be improved in time, however when tilting slightly forward it puts your posture entirely out. So try your best to be in an upright position at all times.
C) - the legs in a plie are to be wide apart (ok not so you can drive a bus through it or as wide as a lunge), but wide enough to allow your spine to be straight and your body to be supported by your legs. A plie is not just bending, a plie is also the opening of your hips as your knees bend. Having your legs too close together will not harm you, but you are working more the calves and the lower leg rather than the quads.
Windmills – A) I know for some of you windmills can be confusing! But once you have mastered them they are fantastic for strengthening the back, so what goes wrong? When we are facing the front and come to the ‘slight rotation’, many use their hips to rotate or just use their arms instead of rotating the body and keeping the hips straight ahead. The idea is to keep those hips straight so we can work on strengthening the back. Whilst there is no damage to be done when doing this incorrectly, it is good to know how they should be done.
B) –the back is to be upright at ALL times. Instead of not ‘pulling up’ or ‘having a gold medal around your neck’ some people’s posture slackens. You need to constantly ‘pull up’, when turning towards one side and lunging. All you are doing is lunging and just bending the knee, nothing else changes, the body remains upright. Many people tend to lower their arms and their back when they reach forward, therefore putting a bit of strain on the lower back and not strengthening their backs or improving their posture.
C) – yep there is more! When doing a windmill from one side to the other, it is the opposite arm to the leg you are lunging. Again, this will not cause any harm, but it could cause you to be unbalanced.
Arms – A) when we are holding our arms out to the side and pulsing, we need to imagine that we are pushing against a wall, so you are reaching out to both walls from the centre of your body. You should feel a bit of tension in the arms as you do so. By doing this we are lengthening and strengthening the arms. Doing it right means you are getting maximum benefit from the exercise.
B) – keeping your shoulders down is a must. Why? Because having them up will cause tension and you may end up with sore shoulders (trapezius) like you get when carrying a heavy bag.
Lunges – just like plies, having the knee turned out and aligned with the toe so you are not putting any pressure on your knees. The other thing with lunges is having your arm above your head/ear - we have our arm above the head/ear in order to work through the reflex arcs down the side of your body, when the arm is lower than the head/ear we are no longer working through the reflex.
Caribbean Spine – this is the one where we tuck our pelvis in and under (like someone is trying to ‘pinch’ your bottom and you tuck under to avoid it). This movement targets the muscles in your lower back, when you release (stick the bottom out) we are arching the back. This also helps with the flexibility of the spine and we do both flexion and extension to re-balance the back. What I see a lot - is people not tucking their pelvis in and under, instead they lower their upper body down and back again. Unfortunately, this is not working the lower back muscles at all.
Lying legs – A) when lying on your side and supported by your arm, make sure your body is upright, no slouching. This will help you to have good posture.
B) – make sure you are not leaning too far forward, or too far back. Take time before joining the rest of the class if you don’t feel right. Leaning too far forward or backwards can put strain on your back and will mean your posture is out. It also means you are not in the correct position and will be unable to get the most out of this exercise.
C) – the shoulders need to be relaxed, if not it will cause tension (because you may be raising them without even knowing), if you get any tension in your shoulder on the supporting arm, then make sure you are upright as mentioned in number 11 above. If you get tension in the other shoulder then make sure you take it off the ground and just have it either resting on the leg that you are working or behind your back (having it behind your back will make sure you are not lifting your shoulders)
D) – oh there are a few here! Be sure to extend the leg out and away from your body, by pushing it out you are lengthening the leg and making the leg heavier to lift, by doing so we are eccentrically using the leg as a lever, this is what we are trying to achieve. (An eccentric contraction is the motion of an active muscle while it is lengthening under load. Eccentric training is repetitively doing eccentric muscle contractions - Wikipedia)
Shoulder Blast – making sure you are in a neutral C position (bottom tucked slightly under) with your legs and feet straight ahead. When we are in this position we are targeting the deep lower back muscles. Obviously when you are not in neutral C you are not targeting the lower back, nor are you fully stretching the back as we bring our arms around to the front.
Sit Ups – as you know, we do not do the normal sit up. It is important not to pull on your neck and force yourself up. In Essentrics, we only come up a small way, enough to engage the abdominals, making sure the back is on the mat. Keeping your head looking at the ceiling (as if you have a tennis ball underneath your chin) or alternatively crossing your arms behind your head and laying your head in your arms, this will make sure you are not pulling on your neck and will engage the abdominals.
Baby stretch – yes how we love this one to stretch out the buttocks. The ideal movement when we ‘twist’ is to rock the leg that is crossed, over towards the head and back towards the toes, rather than from one side to side. Twisting towards the head and toes stretches out the area we are targeting.
IT Band stretch – A) this is the one that is uncomfortable no matter how many times you do it. It also has to be done correctly to get maximum benefit from it. The main IT Band stretch we do is on the floor when we take one leg up and cross it over the supporting bent leg that remains on the floor. The leg going across is to be straight, ideally with a flexed foot. You take the leg that is crossed with the flexed foot down towards the floor and then you take it forward towards your head, so there are 2 movements here. Once you have done that we usually do it again (this does not mean taking the leg back to where you started from), so you are gradually bringing that crossed leg closer to the floor and closer towards your head.
B) – make sure that both of your buttocks are on the floor. When they are not, you are lifting one side off the floor therefore not getting a good stretch and also rotating the lower back which is not what we are wanting to achieve.
PNF stretching of the hamstrings (back of the leg) – whilst we do PNF stretching throughout the whole class, I wanted to explain it in the hamstring stretch more. This is also done mainly on the floor, supporting leg is bent. When you take the leg up, I say tension on (eg. hand pushing against leg and leg pushing against the hand (or band if you are using one), this is resistance, then I say “release”, so you release the tension from the leg, “relax” relaxing the leg then “stretch” and we stretch the leg (ideally straight) towards the head. Whilst people don’t usually do this incorrectly, they usually don’t understand what I am saying, so I thought I would put it in writing :)
I hope these guidelines help you, if you get the opportunity get in front of a mirror and have a look at your technique and self-correct if necessary.
If you are unsure, see me before or after class as I can definitely help. If any of the exercises are difficult, come and talk to me because there are always options and of course, if too easy – again come and talk to me as that is what I am here for.
I want you to get the MOST out of doing Essentrics and I want to make sure you are in perfect form, it makes my day/evening when I do a class and everyone is doing it correctly! To me that’s a sign of a good instructor :)
Most of all, remember - I am here for you!