Taking a few cues from Pilates exercises can keep simple tasks from leading to injuries

September 22, 2006|By Richard Seven | Richard Seven,McClatchy-Tribune

Not long after she qualified in her age group for the Alcatraz Triathlon last year, Lori Sabado reinjured her troublesome ankle - while cleaning the kitchen.

Sabado is in great shape at 50 and understands how the body works, hurts and heals. She supervises physical therapy at the University of Washington Sports Medicine Clinic. So while embarrassing and requiring surgery, the injury was a teachable moment: She was not 27 anymore.

Another lesson: You can get sore or even injured doing those daily chores. A 2004 survey commissioned by a pain-reliever company found that 85 percent of Americans suffered muscle soreness after do-it-yourself projects.

Each day, in fact, backs tweak, muscles ache, ankles sprain. Gardening, that soothing pastime, is high on the list of activities that cause stealth injuries. It even makes the young and in shape sore. That's partly because of the repetition and locking into one position and awkward movements that aren't part of our daily routine. Part of it is that we don't take the tasks seriously enough to pay attention to proper form.

It's true that being in decent shape will usually spare you from those aggravating aggravations. But it's easy enough to throw out your back for three days when you bend down to tie your son's shoes.

We can learn a lot from Pilates. It emphasizes posture, body awareness and the correct way to generate and support movement. In Pilates, everything stems from the core, or "powerhouse." By strengthening the core muscles and lengthening the neighboring ones, you can achieve better posture and stabilization.

Brooke Siler, a New York Pilates instructor, took on the idea of translating the exacting Pilates workout into our everyday lives in Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge (Broadway Books, $17.95).

"I cleaned houses for years," says the Manhattan-based Siler, "and I was in phenomenal shape. I was conscious of my form mopping the floors. I had to be so I wouldn't hurt my back. I'm tall [6 foot], and mops didn't fit me."

She got the idea for her book when she saw how quickly her clients would abandon the rigid principles and perfect posture she demanded during the workout. Siler addresses in her book the four core motions integral to life: standing, sitting, carrying and lifting. She shows us the right - and wrong - methods for a number of activities, from pumping a bicycle tire to lifting boxes to sitting at a desk.

Siler also shows how to infuse Pilates exercise into those mundane life movements. She employs what she calls "metaforms" that remind us about proper form. She had to relearn one Pilates principle, however, when she was giving birth to her first child. The doctor was saying push, push, push, but she instinctively found herself pulling in, "the Pilates way."

Siler understands it's OK to slouch here or there. Just don't do it most of the time.

Here are a couple of her other tips for doing chores:

Mopping the floor --With your feet parallel, turn your body to the side. Stretch the oblique muscles as you push the mop and focus on strengthening them as you pull the mop back and come into the upright stance. Pay attention to how far you can stretch without moving your feet, resting your weight on the handle or putting pressure on your knees.

Carrying kids around --Switch sides often to avoid overdeveloping and shortening muscles in one side. Keep the child slightly toward the front of your body when you carry him or her on your hip. This allows the shoulder girdle to remain straight.

On-the-job training

Shirley Archer, a health and wellness instructor, used to work as a Wall Street attorney, so she knows all about how office work can sneak up on you. In Fitness 9 to 5 (Chronicle Books, $12.95), she offers 75 exercises you can perform at work. The obvious one is taking the stairs (leave the elevator to those who need it), pushing down with each step to work the glutes and legs. Working on the Ball: A Simple Guide to Office Fitness (Andrews McMeel, $9.95) focuses more on the cubicle. Instead of sitting on a chair and letting your back round and your abs go lax, sit on a stability ball.

The key to stability-ball exercises is keeping and focusing on balance, which will engage several key core muscles as you sit.

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