Pilates-Inspired Routine for Travelers

Help your clients by providing them with special exercises to use on vacation.

By Laurie Leiber, MPH
May 28, 2008

Pilates instructors everywhere will soon
say goodbye to many of their best clients for all or part of the summer. Peak
travel months can be quiet ones for Pilates studios because many of the people
who can afford private Pilates instruction can also afford to explore the
world. How you prepare for this inevitable summer exodus has implications both
for the well-being of your clients and for the health of your practice. While
clients are away, you want them to retain the strength and tone they’ve worked
so hard to build. When they come home from their adventures, you want them to
return to your practice.

Learn why it’s so important for clients to continue Pilates when
they’re traveling and what special exercises you can recommend for them en
route and at their destination.

Travel Is Rough on Bodies

Taking a trip has the potential to create
several distinct physical challenges for your clients. Simply getting to a
vacation destination—whether by plane, train, bus or car—often involves
extended periods of immobility.

While the incidence of travelers developing dangerous blood
clots, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT), is still relatively rare, the risk
doubles after sitting immobile in a plane, train, bus or automobile for 4 hours
or more (WHO 2007). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
recommends that travelers stay hydrated, wear loose-fitting clothing and make
an effort to walk and stretch their legs and arms at regular intervals to
prevent DVT (CDC 2007). While only 1 in 6,000 people experience travel-related
DVT (WHO 2007), hours of inactivity associated with air travel—first in the
airport waiting lounge and then on the plane—leave many travelers achy and sore
before their vacations have even begun.

On a recent trip, I took a 2-hour bus ride to the airport,
arriving 4 hours before departure for a 5-hour flight. With my history of neck
and back problems, I feared a major flare-up if I simply sat motionless in the
boarding lounge before belting myself into an airplane seat for several more
hours. I started experimenting with Pilates-based exercises that I could
perform right there, either standing or sitting. By the time I boarded the
plane, I had field-tested 12 moves (see the sidebar “Pilates for Travelers”).

The physical challenges do not necessarily end for your clients
when they arrive at their destination. They may pursue vacation activities—such
as hiking, bicycling, sailing or horseback riding—that place unusual stresses
on muscles and joints, and maintaining their exercise routine away from home
may prove difficult to impossible.

Anticipating the exercise needs of your traveling clients will
help them enjoy their vacations and stay in shape. It will also reinforce the
positive, supportive relationship that will bring them back to your studio at
summer’s end.

Seated Exercises

What can your clients do when they are
virtually held captive in boarding lounges at the airport? They can perform
these seven exercises that all begin with the following sustainable seated
posture:

  • Place feet flat on floor, parallel, a few
    inches apart.
  • Sit up on sit bones.
  • Tip pelvis to bring it vertical (neutral spine
    position).
  • Drop shoulders away from ears and lengthen back
    of neck.
  • Breathe in, and on exhalation, draw in
    abdominals, engaging the core.

Figure-Four
Stretch.
Place one ankle on top of opposite knee. Hinge
forward at hips, keeping spine neutral. Hold for 15–30 seconds, feeling a deep
stretch on outside of hip. Repeat on other side.

Seated
Twist (Not for People With Disk Problems).
Keeping knees and
hips facing front, reach around to one side with both hands and hold onto back
of chair. Breathe in. On exhalation, rotate rib cage and look over back of
chair while keeping as much length in spine as possible. Hold stretch for 10–15
seconds. Return to start position and repeat, twisting to other side.

Shoulder
Shrug and Roll.
Inhale as you lift shoulders up toward ears.
Exhale as you roll shoulders back and down, opening chest and letting shoulder
blades come together. Continue sliding shoulders down the back, away from ears.
Repeat 3–5 times.

Neck
Stretch 1.
With chin slightly tucked, let right ear drop
toward right shoulder. Hold stretch for 3–4 breaths, letting weight of head
stretch left side of neck. Gently release stretch and repeat on other side.

Neck
Stretch 2.
With chin slightly tucked, drop forehead toward
right shoulder as though looking under armpit. Hold stretch for 3–4 breaths,
letting weight of head stretch back of neck on left side. Gently release
stretch and repeat on other side.

Rock
the Baby.
With right hand on left elbow and left hand on
right elbow, hold folded arms out in front of chest. Draw right elbow as far as
you can to the right to stretch outside of left shoulder. Draw left elbow as
far as you can to the left to stretch outside of right shoulder. Repeat 2–3
times on each side.

Seated
Swan.
Place hands on lap, tuck chin and look down at sternum.
Slowly raise chin, keeping gaze straight ahead as head comes up. Press hands
into thighs and continue lifting head, gently lengthening and arching upper
back. End with gaze overhead and slightly behind you. Slowly return to start
position and repeat.

Standing Room Only

Waiting to clear airport security is just
the first of many times travelers stand in line in the course of a trip. Even
with Disneyland’s FASTPASS®
service, visitors must do some waiting, and the smart tourist queues up early,
before the doors open, at popular museums. Your clients will be ready to make
good use of waiting time with these standing exercises.

Footwork.
Stand with feet parallel, 2–3 inches apart, balancing weight
equally on both feet. Come up onto balls of feet, and slowly lower heels to
floor, keeping weight centered. Repeat 8–10 times.

Prancing
in Place.
Use same start position as in exercise above. Come
up onto balls of feet. Lower one heel to floor while keeping other heel raised.
Alternately press one heel up as other heel comes down to floor. Repeat 12–15
times.

Knee
Lift.
Keeping hips level, raise one knee until thigh is
parallel to floor. Maintain neutral spine, and balance in this position 15–30
seconds. Place foot back on floor and repeat balance on other side. (You can
also balance on standing leg, slowly raising and lowering knee, touching toe to
floor.)

Roll-Down.
Bring chin to chest and slowly roll down, one vertebra at a time until spine is
flexed forward, arms hanging toward floor. Bend knees slightly and roll up,
stacking vertebrae one at a time, bringing head up last. Repeat 2–3 times.

Lunge.
Stand with right side next to a seat or sturdy piece of
luggage for support. Rest right hand on support, bend right knee and extend
left leg behind you. With weight on ball of left foot, reach left heel back to
lengthen leg. Level hips by sending right sit bone toward floor. Hold stretch
15–30 seconds. Repeat on other side.

A Good Offense

While being sensitive to clients’
privacy, do ask them if upcoming vacations might include any unusual physical
challenges. Someone who is going to learn to sail will spend a lot of time
gazing up into the rigging to check the direction of the wind. Teaching this
client a series of releases for the neck will equip him to balance those hours
of neck extension, possibly saving himself considerable discomfort. If a client
plans to take a bicycle tour—an increasingly popular way to see different
countries—discuss how she will find a neutral spine position while in the
saddle, and review stretches (especially for the quads, hamstrings and chest),
as well as the mat version of the Pilates swan. Horseback riders will
particularly benefit from pre-trip training of the adductors

Foot Spa for Travelers

Virtually all tourists can appreciate a
little TLC for the feet, whether they spend their vacation hiking through the
woods or standing on marble museum floors. I teach a series of foot exercises I
call the “foot spa.” Teach your traveling clients the following foot spa
exercises or other portable footwork, and they’ll think warmly of you every
evening as they soothe their aching feet.

Foot
Spa Stretches.
Sit on bed or floor with shoes off, right leg
extended.

  1. Slowly point and flex foot 10–12 times.
  2. Circle foot around ankle 4–5 times in each
    direction.
  3. Point toes of right foot and slowly write half
    the alphabet.
  4. Squeeze toes of right foot as though making a
    fist with the foot. Release. Repeat 3–4 times.
  5. Repeat the sequence above with the left foot.

Foot
Spa Tennis Ball Release.
Standing or sitting with shoes off,
place tennis ball under one foot. Roll ball from heel to ball of foot, pressing
gently to release plantar fascia in arch of foot. Stop and press ball into any
particularly tender spots, holding for 20–30 seconds or until area releases.
Repeat with other foot.

Fundamentals Travel Well

Clients accustomed to working out on the
Pilates apparatus won’t be able to duplicate their routines on the road.
Fortunately, most of the mat repertoire requires little more than enough floor
space to stretch out. Adding a towel over thick carpeting is adequate padding
for most exercises.

If you teach primarily on the apparatus, offer to spend time
teaching or reviewing mat exercises so clients can fill the Pilates void when
away from home. People sometimes think apparatus exercises are inherently
superior to mat work, but after more than a decade of doing Pilates, I still
find basic mat exercises challenging and useful. Assure your clients that
focusing on mat fundamentals is an effective way to maintain core strength and
reinforce their mastery. Learning a few intermediate or advanced mat moves
should instill appropriate respect for the exercises forming the foundation of
the Pilates method.

Before you wish clients “bon voyage,” prepare a “cheat sheet”
describing a customized set of six to 10 mat exercises. Familiarity with your
clients’ alignment will inform the design of their “to go” workouts, allowing
you to select exercises that are appropriately challenging while addressing any
specific needs (maintaining strength, adding flexibility, adapting around
injuries). Emphasize the importance of quality over quantity, and include a few
key cues to support correct form. You can also teach the seated and standing
exercises described in this article, making modifications as needed. Then give
clients a copy of the bookmark (see the sidebar “Pilates for Travelers”) to
slip into reading material they’ll be taking along.

Note: Now
that you’ve equipped your traveling clients with tools they can use for a fit
vacation, it’s time to pull out that list of people who have been patiently
waiting to get on your schedule.

Laurie Leiber, MPH, earned her master’s
degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley, and
trained as a Pilates instructor with Balanced Body University at Turning Point
Studios in Walnut Creek, California. She teaches at Center Strength in
Berkeley, California.

References

Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention. 2007. Health
Information for International Travel 2008
(Chapter 6). Atlanta: U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.

World Health Organization.
2007. WHO Research Into Global
Hazards of Travel (WRIGHT) Project: Final Report of Phase I.
Geneva:
WHO Document Production Services.

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Laurie Leiber, MPH

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