Christi Allen Franchini edited by Amanda Altman
Forget momfail! You can take care of baby and^ yourself with this super-quick self-care routine that will help you build strength and awareness not an achin’ back! While we can’t promise you’ll feel like you’ve had a full night’s sleep, this Magic Circle series can be done anytime, anywhere, even if nap time ends up being catnap time. Is there anything you can’t do, Momma?
One night, I was in the nursery holding my baby girl, swaying from side to side, and for some reason, I decided to take my awareness and concentration off her and onto myself. I did a body scan, and holy moly, was quite surprised to find myself standing with horrific posture! My pelvis was thrusted forward, I was resting my baby on my protruding stomach, and my head was forward and down.
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As I brought my pelvis back, engaged my hips properly and pulled my stomach in and up, my lower back audibly popped back in place. My arms felt lighter and so did Baby Mikayla. But I couldn’t maintain it.
I did Pilates the entire time I was pregnant. I was super strong and had the easiest, most beautiful pregnancy. Labor, well, that was a different story. Things did not go as planned, and my natural, drug-free labor intentions culminated in a C-section after 16 and one-half hours. Could that have something to do with my lack of abdominal strength? It’s likely. But I’ve also taught many pregnant women and moms in my 14-year career, and know that these poor habits of how we hold our children develop, no matter the delivery process. Thank goodness these little bundles of joy slowly gain weight, allowing our bodies to adjust to carrying around those extra pounds!
This workout came out of necessity to keep myself strong and out of discomfort when doing what I love most: holding and loving my baby. The routine is done standing, to give you the strength and awareness to hold your bundle so that your lower back is strong and protected, your neck long and loose. It’ll help you connect your arms to your powerhouse so that you are holding baby with your body, without your arms “hanging off” your neck. You’ll develop a strong sense of standing and swaying from side to side while keeping your legs under your body, instead of shoved up into your back. Your tummy will get stronger to support your back, arms and neck.
I’m not only a new mom at the age of 40 and a Pilates instructor, but a studio owner, too. After a glorious, but short, maternity leave, I was right back to work. Time has become an incredibly sensitive subject; balancing being a mom and teacher, running a business and taking care of myself is no easy feat. That’s why this routine is short, sweet and to the point. It can also be done anywhere, anytime nap time, anyone?
It’s important to use resistance to help connect to the right muscles. Here, I’m highlighting the Magic Circle because it allows us to pull together the root of the powerhouse (the pelvis-leg connection) that needs work after baby, but also because when the hips are working properly, the stomach and the back automatically do, too. As a bonus, using the Circle in lieu of apparatus saves you time there’s no adjusting equipment. For those of you with access to apparatus, check out the corresponding exercises, which allow for the same resistance work but add a bit more challenge.
I do this routine at least three times a week, but the more often you do it, the better it is for you. To really make it work for you, you have to take the strength and awareness you’re developing and apply it! Check out the “Dos and Don’ts” sidebar (on page 66) for a better idea of how you should be holding baby (in the carrier, carrying that awful car seat) and while pushing the stroller. Cheers to your precious angel. But now it’s time to take care of his or her precious mommy—that would be you.
SEATED MAGIC CIRCLE BETWEEN THIGHS
PROPS: Magic Circle, sturdy chair
PURPOSE: wakes the powerhouse; strengthens the leg- to-pelvis connection; opens the chest; stretches the neck while strengthening the upper back.
SETUP: Sit with your sit bones at the edge of a chair, heels together and toes apart. Place the Circle between your thighs, just behind your knees. Stack your hands behind your neck, so your pinkies are under your occipital bone (lower part of your head). Widen your shoulder blades across your back, wrapping them toward your armpits.
1. Begin to draw your sit bones together, engaging your pelvic floor (or kegel) muscles.
2. Sq ueeze the Circle using your inner and outer thighs, deepening in your low belly, then your lower back, upper back and under your ribs; expand your ribs wide, providing support for your shoulder blades and connecting your arms to your torso.
3. Press your neck into your hands, and press up with your hands into your neck and bottom of your head, imagining that a string is lifting you to the sky.
4. Open your legs, resisting the Circle, keeping lift and length in your body. Do 6-8 reps, breathing naturally throughout.
TIPS: Keep the work out of your hip flexors: If the crease in front of your hips is tightening, check the position of your pelvis; you may need to sit forward or backward of your sit bones. Keep your sternum relaxed—not elevated—to maintain the proper arm connection and decrease neck tension. As you squeeze, visualiz
e your inner thighs pulling in, and outer hips reaching long and around.
MODIFICATION: Place your arms on the chair by your sides, and/or your feet in parallel, knees in line with your hips.
ON THE APPARATUS: Pumping (2 springs)
STEP 2 ON THE APPARATUS STANDING MAGIC CIRCLE BETWEEN THIGHS
PROP: Magic Circle
PURPOSE: same as Seated Magic Circle Between Thighs, but also reinforces the oppositional strength used for correct posture while standing.
SETUP: Same as Seated Magic Circle Between Thighs, but stand tall, with your knees soft and weight slightly forward in your feet.
1. Repeat steps 1-3 of Seated Magic Circle Between Thighs while standing.
2. Open your legs, resisting the Circle, keeping lift and length in your body. Do 6-8 reps, breathing naturally throughout.
TIPS: You want to feel the back of your arms wrapping forward into your armpits, allowing your neck and upper traps to be long and loose. Imagine that your inner thighs are acting like a zipper pulling up, lifting the energy of your sit bones while allowing your outer hips to reach down, long and around.
MODIFICATION: Place your hands on your hips or at your sides.
ADVANCED: Extend your arms to your sides at shoulder height.
ON THE APPARATUS: Going up Front (2 springs)
STANDING MAGIC CIRCLE AT ANKLES
PROP: Magic Circle
PURPOSE: wakes the powerhouse; strengthens the leg- to-pelvis connection; reinforces the oppositional strength used for correct posture while standing and swaying from side to side
SETUP: Stand tall, with the Circle between your ankles and hands on your hips.
1. Begin to draw your sit bones together, engaging your pelvic floor muscles.
2. Shift your weight to your right leg, staying lifted out of that leg.
3. Sq ueeze the Circle using your inner and outer thighs, drawing the energy into your pelvis, then your low belly, lower back, up the back of your spine into your bra line and out the top of your head.
4. Release the squeeze, resisting the Circle and reaching your leg down and away, while staying lifted and strong in your body. Do 6-8 reps, breathing naturally throughout, on both sides.
TIPS: When shifting onto one leg, avoid “dropping” down into your leg and hip socket, which jams the leg into the hip socket, ultimately teaching the leg to work from the back, not the hips. Stay lifted and wrapped, and use oppositional energy to reach down into the floor while pulling in and up toward the sky.
MODIFICATION: Hold onto a pole, or even a broom handle, for balance.
ADVANCED: Place your hands behind your head.
ON THE APPARATUS:Going Up Side (2 springs)
PROP: Magic Circle
PURPOSE: strengthens the arm connection, so the arms are sitting on the “shelf” of the ribs instead of “hanging off” the neck, to provide the proper support for carrying SETUP: Stand tall, with your heels together and toes apart, and your weight slightly forward in your feet. Place the Circle in between your palms at hip height.
1. Imagine that there’s another Circle between your legs— squeeze it with your hips.
2. As you take the energy “in and up” into your upper back, squeeze the Circle with your arms, wrapping your shoulder blades down and wide into your armpits.
3. Resist the release of the squeeze, keeping the in and up sensation. Do 6-8 reps, breathing naturally throughout.
TIPS: Remember to think “hips”—this root of your powerhouse is vital for setting the stage for the strength of the back, and the arms working from the body. Keep your chest open—avoid collapsing in your sternum. Finding a relaxed position of the sternum gives the stomach the ability to go in and up, connecting the upper and lower body.
ADVANCED: Do the exercise with your heels lifted.
VARIATION: Add pulsing.
ON THE APPARATUS: The Hug (arm springs at end of Cadillac)
ON THE APPARATUS
Learning how to hold your baby and yourself is a crucial part of staying injury free and feeling good. Maintaining a strong center is the key to total-body stability; it’ll help you keep your legs under your body, support your arms and stand tall. Here’s what to do—and what to avoid.
• Focus on evenly distributing your weight among both legs.
• Keep your inner thighs “zipped” together and up.
• Pull your abdominals in and up, and into your upper back.
• Allow your breath and ribs to expand to your back and sides.
• Keep you neck pulled back and up.
• Stack your ears, shoulders and hips.
• Stand on one leg while pushing your hip out to the side.
• Push out or tighten your abdominals to create a place to rest baby.
• Allow your arms to hang off your neck.
• Sink your chest down.
• Hang your neck down and forward.
MAGIC CIRCLE INTO STOMACH
ON THE APPARATUS
PROP: Magic Circle
PURPOSE: strengthens the arm connection, so the arms are sitting on the “shelf” of the ribs instead of “hanging off” the neck, to provide the proper support for carrying, especially to the front
SETUP: Same as Standing Magic Circle Arms Front, but place one of the Circle pads against your upper stomach and ribs, hands stacked on the opposite pad.
1. Repeat steps 1-2 of Standing Magic Circle Arms Front.
2. Resist the release of the squeeze, keeping the “in and up” sensation. Do 3-4 reps, then switch the placement of your hands (top hand goes under), and do 3-4 more.
TIPS: Be careful not to brace your stomach into the Circle. Pull your stomach up into your back, which ties the ribs tight. Keep your sternum relaxed, and the opposition of your outer hips wrapping down and around, with the rest of your energy used for zipping in and up.
ON THE APPARATUS: Boxing (arms springs at end of Cadillac)
STANDING MAGIC CIRCLE ARMS SIDE
1. Squeeze your imaginary Circle between your hips, taking the energy of the “in and up” into your upper back, allowing your ribs to widen.
2. Sq ueeze the back of your arm down to squeeze the Circle, keeping your neck long.
3. Resist the release of the Circle, staying long and strong in your body. Do 6-8 reps, breathing naturally throughout, on both sides.
TIP: Make sure your hand is not initiating the squeeze— this would take you up into the front of your arm, then into the front of your shoulder and into your neck.
MODIFICATION: Rest your opposite hand on your hip.
ON THE APPARATUS: Long Back Arms Side (roll-back bar at end of Cadillac)
It’s important to use resistance to help connect to the right muscles. Here, I’m highlighting the Magic Circle because it allows us to pull together the root of the powerhouse (the pelvis-leg connection) that needs work after baby, but also because when the hips are working properly, the stomach and the back automatically do, too.
PROP: Magic Circle
PURPOSE: strengthens the arm connection, so the arms are sitting on the “shelf” of the ribs instead of “hanging off” the neck, to provide the proper support for carrying, especially to the side
SETUP: Same as Standing Magic Circle Arms Front, but place your palm, thumb in, on the Circle at your hip bone, at a 45 degree angle in front of you. Keep your elbow lifted, shoulder resting down your back. Extend your opposite arm to your side, with your elbow in front of your shoulder line and wrist below your elbow.
MAGIC CIRCLE NECK STRETCHER
PROP: Magic Circle
PURPOSE: stretches and strengthens the neck and spine SETUP: Same as Standing Magic Circle Arms Front, but place your palms under one Circle pad in front of your ribs, and rest your chin on the opposite pad.
1. Squeeze your imaginary Circle with your hips, moving the “in and up” energy into your upper back.
2. Holding the Circle still with your arms, draw your chin down against the pad, imagining that the back of your neck is pulling back and up.
3. Deepen your stomach to resist the Circle while lifting your head to the starting position. Do 4-6 reps, breathing naturally throughout.
TIPS: Avoid pushing your head forward and down—pull your neck back and up. You will feel your stomach lift and your spine stretch.
ON THE APPARATUS: Neck Stretch with Push-Through Bar (top spring; push-through bar on outside Cadillac)
ON THE APPARATUS
Stamina AeroPilates Magic Circle
Gratz Combination Wunda/Electric Chair and Classic Cadillac in Aluminum ($2,575 and $4,275, respectively; www.pilates-gratz.com)
ON THE APPARATUS 1.1
ON THE APPARATUS 1.2
PURPOSE: opens the front body; strengthens the arm connection to the body; stretches the neck
SETUP: Stand tall, with your heels together and toes apart, weight slightly forward in your feet and arms shoulder¬width apart in front of you at chest level.
1. Repeat step 1 of Magic Circle Neck Stretcher.
2. Inhale, and begin to pull your arms down and back, initiating the movement with the back of your arms while keeping your ribs wide.
3. Continue to inhale as your arms pass your body. Feel like you are pressing yourself through a doorframe—keep your ribs knitted together and wide, your stomach in and sternum relaxed.
4. Keeping your neck stacked on top of your shoulders, turn to the right, then to the left.
5. Exhale, pushing your arms back to the front. Do 4 reps, reversing the direction of the neck turning each time.
TIPS: Make sure not to press your hands through space, since the more you use your hands, the more energy will get trapped in your chest and neck. Turn your neck from your neck—not from your eyes and face. Use the same strength and awareness you used during the Neck Stretcher exercise.
MODIFICATION: Press off a wall.
ADVANCED: Lift your heels.
ON THE APPARATUS:Kneeling Chest Expansion (roll-back bar on Cadillac)
CHRISTI ALLEN FRANCHINI is a first-time mom to her five-month-old baby, Mikayla. Her first “baby,” Pilates in Paradise, located in the Florida Keys, is 14 years old and now has four locations: Ocean Reef, Key Largo, Islamorada and Marathon. Franchini’s fitness career started in personal training and mat-based Pilates in 2000. In 2002, she was introduced to classical Pilates and fell in love. She traveled to NYC to study with Romana Kryzownska and received her certification two years later from Romana’s Pilates. She continues to study the classical method from distinguished teachers from all over the world, either traveling to them, or bringing them to her studio. Every year, Franchini hosts multiple workshops; this December, she’ll be hosting the Pilates in Paradise Classical Conference 2016. For more information, visit www.pilatesinparadise.net/classicalconference.
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