FF 10: ‘Tone up for health’ with Katrina Morton

Our own Super Chiropractic Angel Katrina is her usual inspiring self as she shares how Pilates can help us get the most out of chiropractic care. She describes the what, where and how of Pilates and the connection between movement, exercises and the breath.

Intro: Flourishing Families with Dr. Dorte Bladt, the Switched On Kids chiropractor and her passionate friends sharing the secret of inspiring wellness to help your families thrive.

Dorte Bladt: So you’ve got Family Chiropractic’s dynamo at the podcast today. Super duper matriarch, Katrina Morton. Welcome, Katrina.

Katrina Morton: Thanks, Dorte.

Dorte Bladt: Basically, just to start with, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Katrina Morton: I have been at Family Chiro now for 15 years.

Dorte Bladt: 15! I haven’t managed to get rid of you yet.

Katrina Morton: No, no. And I have got four grown-up children. I’ve got three grandchildren with one on the way in February, so we’re all very excited about number four. I have worked here and seen so much go on through chiro so, over the years, I’ve done Pilates and so I thought I’d like to be a bit more involved with Family Chiro instead of just being on the front desk. So a few years ago I became a Pilates instructor and between chiro and now Pilates, it’s giving our patients a great opportunity to really have a good future with their supported spines.

Dorte Bladt: Very good. So just tell us, what is Pilates?

Katrina Morton: Pilates is a series of exercises that are performed on a mat. You can do it on a reformer that I do mat Pilates and it strengthens the whole entire body with supporting the muscles around the back, the core, your bottom and your hip. So with chiropractic aligning the spine and now with Pilates strengthening these muscles around the spine, you end up having very good posture and a lot stronger body.

Dorte Bladt: That’s good. So how does Pilates differ from – I don’t know – maybe doing weights at the gym, which would also, I suppose, strengthen the body and the spine?

Katrina Morton: Yeah, it does, but with Pilates, you actually are not relying on weights to strengthen you. You actually are relying on your own body weight to do it. So as we strengthen each muscle, instead of workout at the gym you might be doing weights and you strengthen the bicep, with Pilates it’s all slow and controlled. Say you were working on your arms, you’re actually strengthening the entire arm muscles, so it’s not just focusing on one muscle. You’re actually learning to focus on all your muscles and so you will strengthen all the muscles.

Dorte Bladt: Also while you’re strengthening your biceps, you’re working through the core, working through other muscles there.

Katrina Morton: Yeah, because of the breathing. You see, the more you breathe – the deep breaths, it gives you better lung capacity which then, in turn, helps strengthen your core muscles which then help all the stabilising muscles. So you’ll end up not just having a strength workout, you are actually doing a bit more of a mind-body workout as well.  That’s a big difference from other exercises. They just do a physical side whereas with Pilates you actually do pretty well mind, body and soul.

Dorte Bladt: I have many years of doing Pilates but I always remember that rib and hip connection. Can you explain what it is that a Pilates instructor would mean by saying that?

Katrina Morton: When people lie down… so do this at home, everyone. Lie down on a mat and just lay there and you’ll notice your ribs are popped up. So as you breathe, you just breathe through your tummy and it pops your ribs up but in Pilates, we want you to breathe within your lungs, not using your abdominal muscles. So with your rib and hips, you bring it all down together and you tighten your lower tummy muscles. So between your chest and your pubic bone, you want all your muscles to be tight and contracted and flat. So if you imagine you’re on the floor and you’re drawing your muscles – all of your muscles – down towards the spine. That’s the rib-hip connection, keeping your torso tight. Imagine Glad Wrap being wrapped around your torso, that’s how you should feel.

Dorte Bladt: Basically, when people are lying on the floor and they’re lying flat, and you say the ribs are popping up, what they want to do is bring the ribs not necessarily towards the spine but down towards the hips but also towards the spine.

Katrina Morton: Yes, correct.

Dorte Bladt: Now, if you’re in this position, and I always wondered about that when I first started Pilates and people will say, “now, bring both your arms up above your head without letting the ribs flare.” I remember thinking “that is the best tummy exercise” when you’re bringing your arms straight up above your head and down again because you want to automatically flare that chest. And you look down and you think, oh, “I didn’t know I had my… Where did those ribs come from?” But when you do the contraction that you’re talking about, you’re doing very little movement elsewhere but you’re really contracting through the stabilising muscles.

Katrina Morton: Yes, because Pilates is all about slow and controlled. So if you wanted to try anything at home, lie on the floor, take your hands to the ceiling, take your legs up to the ceiling, draw down on all your tummy muscles towards the ground and feel your tummy contract.

Dorte Bladt: Okay. I feel like a dead bug.

Katrina Morton: That’s exactly how you look.

Dorte Bladt: Great. Thank you.

Katrina Morton: But it’s a very, very, very good exercise.

Dorte Bladt: So what inspired you? What is it? Five years ago? What inspired you to start doing the teaching of Pilates? I know you’ve been doing it for a long time.

Katrina Morton: Well, yeah, I have been doing Pilates. You know, I started in my 40s when children were all grown up and I thought it was time for me to do something. So I had a taste of Pilates and I just loved it because I didn’t have to bounce around the gym. I didn’t have to walk into and have 50, 60 people in the class. Then a few years into it, working here at Family Chiro with everyone wanting doing their best to get the spine and the hips and the shoulders and neck all working, I thought what better way than to help the patients as well is to become a Pilates instructor, which I’ve absolutely loved every minute of. Now, I feel like I’m also helping the patients. It’s not just about the girls being chiropractic. I can help as well to heal these people and make them stronger and now the years have ticked by and I’ve got a great following of people who come to my classes and they even inspire me because Pilates isn’t about an age thing. You can be a senior, you can be a young mum, you can be whoever you want and you can start doing Pilates. I’ve got 65-year-old women in my class and they inspire me because they are so super strong.  It’s amazing to see the results in the few years of doing it. I also get great pleasure of watching my pupils become super strong.

Dorte Bladt: Super strong and that determination of people just like “that’s what I’m doing. I’m going to get better.”

Katrina Morton: Yes. They love a challenge. I find that the mature aged women actually are probably better than the young ones because they really do love a challenge.

Dorte Bladt: So what is the biggest win you have experienced with your classes?

Katrina Morton: I think just watching them grow, watching them strengthen. Even themselves, they sit back and think about when they first joined the class and how weak and pathetic their abdominal muscles were and they couldn’t do anything. Now they can plank and they can push up and they’re super strong. They can go and play with their grandchildren on the weekend and nothing bothers them. They can crouch down. They can jump up. I think it’s just inspiring watching the pupils just come in and…

Dorte Bladt: Is there one particular person that stands out that you would say, “wow, this person has really outdone themselves.”

Katrina Morton: Yeah, I would actually. She is a little woman but she is my 65-year-old. She’s the one that inspires me. She has just become so super strong that I think if there was a competition of planks I think she would win. She’s better than me.

Dorte Bladt: That’s amazing.

Katrina Morton: She is super, super strong so it’s wonderful to watch.

Dorte Bladt: I realise that this is not a class and we can’t really do this. But if you were to, say, give some suggestions or some advice to people that are listening, are there some things that they can do?  I mean, one thing is obviously showing up to your class, but if they’ve got little kids at home and it’s too difficult to find time, is there something that you would advise for them to do that would make a difference?

Katrina Morton: Absolutely. There’s so much you can do at home. Everyone has a lounge so all you have to do is stand in front of that lounge, even if you’ve got a baby – put the baby up in front so you’re carrying it. That will give you a few little extra kilos to carry and you crouch down, so your legs are just a little bit wider than your hips, and your feet are just slightly turned out, and then all you do is go down and just tap your bottom on the lounge, and then stand up, squeeze your bottom, do it again. Do that squat maybe, if you can, 25 times and build yourself up to 50 times.

If you’ve got a doorframe, which we all have, take your hands on that doorframe and stand up on your toes, squeeze your bottom, use your calves and then just come back down flatfooted and then repeat that 25 times. Build that up to 50 times. You can do pushups on a wall. Just stand there a little bit out from the wall. Have your hands at chest high and just push up and down. If you feel like that’s too easy, get on the floor and do some pushups. Everyone knows how to do a plank. Again, it’s one of those things you just tighten that tummy if you’re on your knees or your toes.  Just do it for a few seconds or a few minutes, whatever you can manage, but everyone can do something at home.

Dorte Bladt: I’m just going to go back to “so everyone knows a plank”. They might all know it…

Katrina Morton: But we don’t really know.

Dorte Bladt: Yeah, we don’t. So if you were to describe it again. It’s much easier when you’re actually watching it, but the arms would be where?

Katrina Morton: Your elbows are directly under your shoulders.

Dorte Bladt: So you lie down on the floor.

Katrina Morton: Yes. Lie down on the floor and be on your tummy. Then put your hands together and place your elbows under your shoulders and lift your body up and you’re on your toes.  So your bottom has to stay flat and you’ve got that complete plank.

Dorte Bladt: So you’re straight.

Katrina Morton: Yes, nice and straight.

Dorte Bladt: Nice even line from your feet to your shoulders.

Katrina Morton: Yes.

Dorte Bladt: I suppose the thing to remember with this is – don’t look at your hands and don’t look at your bellybutton.

Katrina Morton: Yes, don’t look at anything. Again, it’s what I said before. It’s about drawing that bellybutton in towards the spine. So as you’re in that plank series… and you can be on your knees. You don’t have to actually be on your toes. So you can still be on your knees, but it’s about drawing up your tummy towards your spine and breathe. Don’t hold your breath.

Dorte Bladt: Breathe… slowly but controlled.

Katrina Morton: Yes.

Dorte Bladt: So with these exercises that you’re talking about, the one thing that I have experienced as a difference… over the last 25 years or 30 years, however long it is I have been a chiropractor… a long time, the change in people’s postural control with the fact that we’re sitting so much more. This is not just in the last little while. This obviously has been going on for a hundred years, but that thing with Pilates that I really like is the potential to focus on the pelvic floor. I think we’re forgetting the pelvic floor because it’s not a muscle that you can do bicep curls with, but doing – like you were talking about the pushup on the wall or planking or whether you were doing a squat. If you’re saying holding your tummy in, one thing is holding your tummy to the spine.  Another thing is drawing up, so contracting the pelvic floor. Do you agree with that visualisation?

Katrina Morton: Absolutely. We all do forget about pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is just, as Dorte said, pulling up those muscles as tight as you can and contracting them. It’s something you can do sitting. You could be in the car and at the red light. That’s something you do. You can pull in your pelvic floor. This is for men and women. It’s not just for men. It’s for the women and the men as well. So you draw it up. You hold it as long as you can. You tighten those low tummy muscles and you can get a super, super strong pelvic floor by just doing that every day.

Dorte Bladt: I guess it’s not even just that whole pelvic floor thing. It’s remembering that the pelvic floor is connected to your breathing. It’s remembering that the pelvic floor is connected to your bottom muscles and to the lower abdominal muscles. We just forget that we don’t have separate bicep muscles. It’s all connected and it all works and it all stabilises.

Katrina Morton: That’s why I think I love Pilates so much is because when you are in the class, you are working every single muscle you own, and that includes the pelvic floor. So the people who do Pilates would actually have a super strong pelvic floor. That’s the one really big bonus about Pilates, especially post-baby, that would be a wonderful exercise class to go to would be Pilates.

Dorte Bladt: So how soon after having a baby can you do Pilates?

Katrina Morton: As long as you get that clearance from your doctor after that 6 to 8 weeks and you feel you’re ready for it. Yeah, you have to get that medical clearance from your doctor, but yes, you can start, because Pilates is something that can always be modified. Whether you’ve got an injury or you’re doing rehabilitation – there are thousands of exercises in Pilates and so it can always be modified for your personal need.

Dorte Bladt: Yeah. When you were talking about modification, I remember reading years ago about how Pilates actually started.

Katrina Morton: Yeah. Joseph Pilates started it back in 1920. He was actually doing it for the First World War. He was starting to bring in – for the injuries and the poor soldiers that had injured themselves in battle – so he started these exercises to help rehabilitate the men back to some sort of strength and good health, but then he started to realise that these exercises that he was doing actually ended up… well, after the war, he then started his own studios and he started to help people to prevent injuries and that’s another reason why it’s good to do Pilates. I found out here, with chiropractic, they help stabilise everything, and then with Pilates, we’re also doing the same thing because one of the biggest benefits of Pilates is to help stabilise the spine. So with chiropractic, getting the nervous system working properly and all your organs working properly, then in Pilates we’re also trying to strengthen every muscle so that we’re stabilising what the chiros are doing and so it’s a perfect marriage.

Dorte Bladt: You talked about reformer and that’s not what you do, but am I right in that this particular person that started it, he was taking springs from beds and doing resistance training?

Katrina Morton: Yes

Dorte Bladt: That’s fantastic! But that’s a good thing about Pilates. You don’t actually need equipment.

Katrina Morton: No. Exactly. That’s why it’s good to do anything at home. You don’t actually need any equipment to actually strengthen yourself. Use your own bodyweight, or you young moms out there with babies, use your babies. Use your babies as a weight.

Dorte Bladt: So when we have this young mum with a six-week-old baby, it’s okay. She can come to Pilates, but how do you manage having a class with a mum with a little one?

Katrina Morton: Oh, it is quite amusing. The other women in the class love it because the little ones are very, very cute, but they are funny, because I’ve got a little toddler in one of my classes now and mom just gets a super workout because he’s over sitting on her head or sitting on her legs or sitting on her abs and so she has to work twice as hard as anybody else, because that little toddler is about 12kg and it’s hilarious. He thinks it’s hilarious and gives us all the giggles. So it is beautiful to see the moms bring the children to Pilates because they can actually use the child in Pilates too. So it’s fun to use them as a weight.

Dorte Bladt: I was going to say, yeah, it’s a tough dumbbell to hold on to.

Katrina Morton: Yes. Moving a lot.

Dorte Bladt: So you would be okay with mums bringing in little ones?

Katrina Morton: I think it’s a fabulous way for mum. I know how hard it is. You have a child and you’re at home. How do you get to classes without your children and you haven’t got a babysitter? That’s why I will always encourage my mums to bring the babies. I don’t call them a mums-and-bubs class. It’s all about the mums. The babies are more than happy to play with toys or lay on the floor or whatever, but I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for a young mum to get her body back into shape, get her muscles nicely tightened again after giving birth and having her baby with her.

Dorte Bladt: Let’s just say that a mum comes in and she has a young one. She’s never been in before, she’s never done Pilates before. How do you work with someone that you potentially could have something to do, so some stuff going on but you don’t necessarily know?

Katrina Morton: I often – you know, particularly if it’s a chiropractic patient – I will always discuss everything with the chiro first and see what the background of this person is, but if it’s just a young mum who’s decided to come to a Pilates class, I usually get them in 10 minutes earlier than anybody else so I can give them that one-on-one time of literally explaining how Pilates works, how today don’t push yourself too far, let me know if you’re feeling anything a little bit odd and I’ll really keep an eye on that particular pupil for the day, but it’s one of those -I only have small classes. I think it’s better to have a small class and then you can all get those one-on-one techniques right. Often you can go to a big gym.

That’s another difference between Pilates and a gym. You might have 50 people in the class. How can a gym instructor really keep their eye on you? Whereas I like to keep my classes very personal. I really get to know how that person’s body is reacting to all my exercises. If they’re good, I start to intensify them and if they need a little bit extra rehab, then I can modify it just for that particular person. That’s what I like about Pilates. You can just always fit everybody into your class.

Dorte Bladt: So you can always make each exercise easier or harder.

Katrina Morton: Absolutely.

Dorte Bladt: That would be a challenge if you’re teaching in a big class because I have often… I like going to the gym, as you know, but looking around then they say, “now, do this particular exercise,” and I’m looking at people thinking, “oh, my goodness, I should give you my card because you will be hurting very soon.”  Because we do a particular abdominal exercise that is just beyond the strength and capacity of that particular person.

Katrina Morton: Exactly.

Dorte Bladt: Injury will tend to happen, I think.

Katrina Morton: Oh, I look at the gyms and think that, too. I’ve got friends that will go, “oh, I’m going to the gym for the very first time.” And then they can’t walk or breathe or do anything for the next five days because they haven’t had that personal, I suppose, first lesson of “take it easy, let’s work out what you can and can’t do.” That’s what I like about my classes or any Pilates classes I’ve been to as well. They give you that personal touch.

Dorte Bladt: What about pregnancy?

Katrina Morton: I believe… sorry, I didn’t have the opportunities, like the young mums of today have got opportunities to do any class they want to do. I would have loved to have had Pilates in my life pre-conception, pregnancy and then post. I didn’t really discover it until I was in my 40s but I love the fact these mums today can do whatever they want. So I would definitely suggest – get into it now. Definitely keep it going. There are proper pregnancy Pilates classes out there. I personally don’t do them but I know there is a lot in Newcastle that you can do and it really does help with the pregnancy.

Dorte Bladt: Could people come? I realise it’s not a pregnancy class but could they be part of your class or would you suggest they go to someone that specialises in it?

Katrina Morton: No, I have had a few pregnant girls in my classes. Once again, you just modify what you do. You might bring a big ball in, you might bring different equipment in for a pregnant girl, because of course, they can’t lie on their backs like everyone else can, so you just modify it and they can still do a very good workout even though they’re pregnant.

Dorte Bladt: Can’t quite protect the stomach just the same way.

Katrina Morton: I can’t quite do that.

Dorte Bladt: Right. So what else do I need to know?

Katrina Morton: Well, there’s so many benefits of Pilates. If you’d like me to tell you what some of the benefits are, we could really run through a couple of those.

Dorte Bladt: Absolutely.

Katrina Morton: Because it is amazing how Pilates can actually benefit the body. It definitely improves flexibility. It increases all the strength in your abdomen and your bottom and hips and it improves your posture outside. The most important, it improves the stabilisation of your spine and also, I love it because it will always help to prevent injuries because your muscles are so lovely and strong that it automatically will already start to prevent… so if you’re into sport, you should actually be doing Pilates so that you can enhance your sport performance.

It’s just such a good thing because it increases your lung capacity, your blood circulation – so you got your heart pumping and also too, it’s just once you get into Pilates and you really get the breathing down pat, it’s so good. It’s relaxation for the neck, the shoulders, and the upper back as well. So it just takes care of the whole body. It just works for everyone, men, women to do Pilates.

Dorte Bladt: Excellent. I remember talking to a colleague of yours a few years ago and she was working I think as a Pilates and yoga instructor for a professional sports team around here.  Big blokes, strong blokes. She was saying it was hilarious to get them to do Pilates and yoga in that 1) they had absolutely no idea and 2) they couldn’t believe how weak they were in their core because they are so strong! They use their muscles in certain ways and – supposedly, this is just what she told me – she said the benefit was just amazing because they increased their flexibility, they increased their core strength, they increased their stabilising strength for the strong muscles.

Katrina Morton: Absolutely. Well, I have men in my classes and some of the men have come because they’re losing their core strength and they want to surf, and they want to continue surfing until they’re old.  So they have found the improvement is just unbelievable in their core strengths to actually jump on a board. I was given an opportunity through a friend that she owns a big CrossFit gym.  So these are big, strong, superwomen in my eyes. They can lift weights. And she said, “could you please come and do a Pilates class with these group of women?”

I think they looked at me and thought, “She’s in her 50s.  This won’t be hard.”

It was hilarious because those girls could not believe how hard Pilates is. I was so much better and stronger, even though physically they looked so much stronger than I am. They actually do not have glute strength. Their abdominal under muscles are just so weak. So their core is so weak, their bum is so weak, and yet they are so super strong, but it’s the internal muscles…

Dorte Bladt: They use the active ones.

Katrina Morton: Yeah, they use all the external muscles – your six-pack muscles, if you want to say it, but they have no inner strength. So that was hilarious. It was an eye-opener for them.  They realised then they need Pilates to actually become super CrossFit people.

Dorte Bladt: Yeah, to get the whole health. So how do people find you?

Katrina Morton: Well, because most people do know me through Family Chiro because I have been here for so long now, so if you really do want to find me, I am at Family Chiro at Charlestown. So please look me up and please come and join me in one of my classes. I think you will really love it and you will get so many benefits from it. I just couldn’t live without it.

Dorte Bladt: Excellent and just to go through your name and your business name?

Katrina Morton: My business name is Tone Up Pilates and my name is Katrina. Just give me a ring here at Family Chiro and I’m sure I can fit you into one of my classes. It would be lovely to have you in one of my classes because I’d love to see you get the benefits that I’ve had.

Dorte Bladt: Excellent. Thanks for your time, Katrina.

Katrina Morton: Thanks for having me, Dorte.

Outro: The opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the guest and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Family Chiropractic or the host.