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Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Becoming a Teacher, Madeleine Backlund, Pilates, Q & A | 0 comments

Questions for Madeleine 2

Questions for Madeleine 2


Dear Madeleine

I teach a young, male 27 years old client, with a severe shortness of hamstrings, back and hips.  We have done already lots of great work that significantly increased his mobility through the spine, hips and shoulders.  However the tightness is not letting go regardless of foam rolling, ball (small tennis ball under hamstrings) rolling, working the muscles at full range with leg springs (supine series on cadillac as recommended by physiotherapist – spinal flossing), etc He said his dad was this same but his physiotherapist and doctor didn’t confirm any inherited condition.

Where can you see it most:

  • roll down still only half way down with knees bend, flat lower back  (which articulates happily in abprep)
  • supine table top legs – very difficult to maintain and bring knees over hips is almost impossible (the spine stays supported though)
  • legs in springs on reformer, still have to use support under pelvis to keep the legs up

He’s got good abdominal strength on both levels, is it really possible that someone could be inherently so tight in the muscles (also add his lats to tight bits) that regular exercises would not give release (he also swims once a week x 50 laps).  This is no doubt a complicated case and I have tried a few different approaches but perhaps looking from outside would give an opportunity to see something I haven’t considered.   Please let me know what you think.


I see numerous imbalances when it comes to the human body. Don’t we all?

Yes, some people have very tight muscles…and men seem to have tighter hamstrings then women. There’s tight and there’s short. There’s a DIFFERENCE.

Generally if one muscle is tight on the outside of the leg, others are as well.

If TFL and ITB are tight, then Biceps Femoris (outside hamstring ) usually is as well.

If he has tight hamstrings, it’s probably because he is working with a muscle imbalance between:

  • the quadriceps
  • the glut muscles
  • the hamstrings

Is he shortening in the lumbar?

Clients with this pelvic placement usually have over active or shortened hip flexors.  When these muscles are shortened or over active they actually pull the hips forward causing an anteriorly rotated hip. In this scenario, the hamstrings are now overstretched. And here they feel REALLY tight. Think tight—NOT SHORT!

Is your client suffering from hamstrings that are overstretched tight from the pelvis dropping fwd?

Tight hamstrings are weak hamstrings!

Weak, tight hamstrings will develop a compensation pattern that overwork and strengthen the quads, in the end creating a muscular imbalance in the legs.

What job does he do? Does he sit all day long? Do you think he sits and allows the pelvis to drop fwd. hours on end?

Take a look at his gluteus? Are they under-active?  Most probably.

Strengthen gluteus. Make his gluteus the dominant hip extensors


Single leg-squats….. (Stand on one leg and then try to touch something which is lying on the floor diagonally just in front of you)… Assist him – hands on a bit, so he doesn’t fall over!

Work on getting the gluteus really much stronger than the hamstrings.

You really don’t want the hamstrings to do the work that the gluteus should do. Like running, jumping, squatting because with the hamstrings in an already over stretched state, they have to work so hard because they gluteus are inhibited by short hip flexors…and this will leave his hamstrings so tight and he will always complain of TIGHT hamstrings.

Like very tight strings on a guitar.

In this scenario you need to strengthen his hamstrings and then stretch them.

Strengthening has to come first—-So instead of more pull on the hamstrings, we want a “Reflex Release” of the hamstrings by:

  •     Activating the quadriceps
  •     Activating the gluteus
  •     While keeping the spine long

You mention he swims, a lot, so this will explain that he has very strong latts.

Is he a runner? A runner will often have strong quads and tight long hamstrings and run with a pelvis that is tucked under, because he is ‘pulling’ from the front and not rolling and pushing through his feet as he takes his strides.( Using the front part of his feet). That’s another scenario.

NOW, if you have established that his hamstrings are actually SHORT, there can be a numerous reasons for this:

  • Long hours sitting / driving. (Then lots of walking and then stretching is good)
  • Tension.
  • Back problems. Sometimes they become shorter due to a back problem. This is because the hamstrings are trying to stabilize the back. But Hamstrings can also be a contributing factor in back pain. There can be a vicious circle.
  • Lack of core strength. Here the Hamstrings take on the role of attempting to stabilize the trunk.
  • Poor coordination. The hamstrings do the work the Gluteus should be doing.

Here, stretching in itself is rarely that effective unless the other underlying factors are address as well.

But best of all, after having addressed all of the above; Single leg hamstring stretch (leg up on a chair flex and then lean slightly fwd. with a neutral back. You need to build here. We want STRONG and flexible hamstrings which takes dedication and lots of commitment.

If you’d like to ask Madeleine a question please email it to

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Posted by on May 15, 2013 in Body & Mind, Pilates | 0 comments

Pilates and Mental Health – Following Weeks

Pilates and Mental Health – Following Weeks

Posture is the key

It’s been a few weeks on since I last wrote about my experiences in delivering a Pilates class for a group of male addicts. The numbers have dropped because some of the previous residents have moved on most only stay between three to nine months.

I’ve learnt a lot more about their lifestyles and realised in myself that it’s hard to not let other people’s misfortunate or poor choices sadden you. Not in a pitying way, just in a way that makes you sad in your heart. I often arrive early to class and so spend some time talking with the men living there. Some are high, some are not but nearly all of them state that this way of life ‘is not me’. Several of them have lived out short prison sentences for theft or violence and often come from broken homes where a father figure was absent.

However, my role is not to be a counsellor, it’s to get them in tune with their body and this they do extremely well. One of the keys to addiction is the release of dopamine. If, as an instructor we can get them creating enough dopamine, along with other feel good endorphins such as serotonin, eventually these young men will have no need, or desire to synthetically produce them through drug abuse.

I was signposted to an interesting TED talk this week and it helped me in planning the next few sessions coming up our posture can possibly affect our hormones according to Amy Cuddy. So, I will continue to strengthen to back and I will continue to improve balance in the hope that this may give way to a positive hormone release!

Reference TED Talk

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Posted by on Apr 23, 2013 in Body & Mind, Pilates | 0 comments

Pilates and Mental Health – Week Three

Pilates and Mental Health – Week Three

And release…

It’s the third week in to my voluntary classes with a small group of men living with drug abuse additions. Personalities and group dynamics are starting to show, they keep coming back for more and they’re certainly keeping me on my toes! I’m astounded by the level of technique these beginners have: as soon as they’re on the mat, their eyes close and they completely zone into the movements.

Concerns of mine over the last few weeks have been that by encouraging deep inhalation through the nose, could this trigger a feeling or emotion linked to their drug abuse such as snorting cocaine. I figured the best way to find out was to ask them. It felt good to be able to actually acknowledge their addictions in a gentle way and know a little more about what/if they were struggling with something.

Luckily, the breathing techniques hadn’t been causing any negative reactions emotionally and I now know that I can continue to encourage breathing in the correct form. In time, this will help to reduces stress levelsby stimulating the Vagus nerve thus maintaining the correct balance in the parasympathetic nervous system.

A tip I’ve learnt from working with those living with mental health issues is not to ignore it. People can be open to talking about it and as a teacher this can really deepen your understanding of what they’re going through. A small class set up is also a highly beneficial environment as it allows people to belong to something- an element of human nature that we all have. We’re all on the same page when it comes to working with the quirks of our bodies.

Speaking of being open in class, it wasn’t just talking that was passed back and forth today. There were some rather gaseous exchanges in class today but, as they say better out than in…

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Posted by on Apr 16, 2013 in Body & Mind, Pilates | 0 comments

Pilates and Mental Health – Week Two

Pilates and Mental Health – Week Two

Two weeks in and going strong

Goosebumps, pure goosebumps. How many people can say their job does that? And the cause of these goosebumps I hear you ask: my first two weeks of delivering a Pilates class to a group of young men living with addiction to crack and heroin abuse.

My aim for these sessions is to deliver a class that is a welcome relief for those attending- pure body awareness: out of the head and onto the mat. Most people in the addiction world often have an extreme disassociation from the body. They may also be unfamiliar with knowing how to relax. As a result they often suffer with anxiety and then depression.  Because of this I have and will continue to begin the class lying down, the eyes soft but slightly open, resting in the constructive rest position. If you have not yet come across this term I would highly recommend reading Liz Koch’s The Psoas Book.

I begin in this position because the Psoas can have strong links to the fear reflex (pg. 37 of The Psoas Book).  Past conditioning/ experiences combined with the complexity of human nature can sometimes result in an unbalanced state of mental health. Therefore, “An understanding of the influences of the psoas muscle on skeletal balance, muscular tone and the health of the breath, nerve and viscera builds the foundation for comprehending the indispensable role the psoas plays in having not only a health physical life but also a healthy emotional life (pg. 35, The Psoas Book).

However, it’s not all serious stuff! I’ve also been including some standing Pilates, mainly with an emphasis on balance. This always gets lots of laughter, creating a real camaraderie in the sessions. Both weeks the participants have left saying they feel good which really, if I’m honest is all I want them to feel…for now!

Please note that attendees are not able to attend if they have ‘used’ that day. This is for the safety of both participant and others in the room.

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Posted by on Apr 9, 2013 in Body & Mind, Pilates | 0 comments

Pilates and Mental Health?

Pilates and Mental Health?

Pilates and mental health? Yes, we can help! As instructors we often work with clients in some form of recovery, usually from a physical injury or condition. The results that gentle activity makes available to these participants – peace, alignment, strength, vitality and fun, could be highly beneficial to people in vulnerable situations.

We hear a lot about how Yoga can help with wellbeing and mental health but what about Pilates? Surely is has just the same potential to teach profound body awareness to those living too much in their own heads, yes?

Well, over a year ago I began working with a homeless charity in East London who provided housing for vulnerable people. Within this, support for mental health and addiction issues were offered in order to help individuals to re-join the community.   Amongst those staying at this 24 bed hostel, many residents had been there for a long time and would continue to remain there but for some, it was a transitional place. Schizophrenia and OCD were just some of the mental health issues that were the everyday norm for those residing at the hostel.

I approached this hostel with the offer to teach a weekly class that could provide breath awareness, standing mobility, balance and basic core work (often chair based).

I won’t lie to you, – I was nervous; Nervous about what to teach, how to teach it, how to engage them- just about everything. As instructors, we can all become quite introverted and self-critical but this was another level of analysing my teaching style and ability- I didn’t know what to expect or how people would react to me.

However, as with most new classes we teach, it’s just a case of biting the bullet, trusting your instincts and being confident in your ability to teach a safe, effective class.

Since this initial class over a year ago, I have worked with a small group of regular attendees on a weekly basis. At first I kept the class short (35 minutes) but the participants were keen to extend this- each class then became an hour long.

This class became the highlight of my week and it’s quite possibly one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in. Seeing the profound changes from the very first session up to now has been incredible. The concentration levels of the group and the calmness they have compared to the start has really compacted how beneficial the right form of physical activity can be. In my opinion- there should be more things like this, accessible to everyone, everywhere.

Because of this belief, I’m now due to start a class for addicts at a different hostel in South London. Again, I’m nervous because now I’m challenging myself to work with a different set of behaviour patterns. However, I’m excited too and I want to share these teaching experiences with you, particularly if it’s something you want to do too. Check out my next blog to see how I get on!

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