Does Pilates really strengthen the back?
Favoured by celebrities and sports people alike, Pilates has become the fitness craze. Its celebrity fans include Madonna, Sigourney Weaver and Liz Hurley.
Pilates is named after its founder, Joseph Pilates, a German-born sportsman who devised the exercise method 75 years ago, initially to improve strength.
He started in New York. Word spread and Pilates was soon having actors and athletes among its clientele.
Today, an estimated 25million people take regular Pilates classes in the US and more than one million in the UK.
Pilates has been considered one of the best techniques to improve back pain and posture.
Pilates focuses on a muscle called the transversus abdominus, located deep in the abdominal area.
The method consists in drawing in the navel toward the spine while lifting the pelvic floor.
Professor Stuart Mc Gill, specialised in Spine Bio-mechanic at the University of Waterloo Ontario, Canada, is one of the most thought-after expert and consultant in back pain relief considers that this way of working the muscle can actually affect the back: "If you hollow in, you bring the muscles closer to the spine and you reduce the stability of the back."
Mc Gill even states that “this idea of sucking in the navel is highly problematic and it is a myth. When you measure the role of that muscle, you do not want to suck it in, you simply want to stiffen the abdominal wall”.
Professor Carolyn Richardson of the University of Queensland's department of physiotherapy, has recently shared her concern on how the fitness industry has made techniques as conventional stretching and warming-up exercises so popular.
"I've found that for the fitness industry, it's a poor instruction that is often misinterpreted or carried out badly," she says.
"It is easily done incorrectly by people mistakenly holding their breath or sucking in so far that they round their back."
The problem is that most of the time the correct muscles aren't really worked and, over time, the back becomes more vulnerable.
Exercise programmes such as Pilates that promise to prevent or eliminate the dull, persistent ache may have seemed the best and easiest solution for a lot of people. But they can prove to be a recipe for disaster.
People have come to me or fellow practitioners after having seriously injured their back during Pilates’ sessions.
"Unless it is tailored to an individual and taught correctly according to their back diagnosis, it can cause injury."
A safer and more efficient way is to stiffen your abdominal wall.
How do you do that?
#1 Stir the pot
Lying down positioning your elbows on a Swiss ball,
Your legs are stretched backwards, you feet wide apart,
Stiffen the back and the lower part of the spine,
Swirl your elbows around in circle.
15- 20 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
#2 The Bird dog
Position on all fours and flex the spine up and down by gently lowering down and rounding up your lower back.
Once you have done that a couple of times, you will identify the neutral position (somewhere between lowering down and rounding up) which is the less stressful for your lower back.
Then extend the right arm forward and opposite leg backwards moving above the hip and the shoulder.
Hold the posture for about 10 seconds,
Release the cramp by sweeping the floor with your hand and knee.
Back up again with all motions taking place at the hip and shoulder. Hold your back stiff.
10 times and change arm and leg.
You can do 3 sessions
“Sucking in” the stomach to strengthen the core abdominal muscles has proved an inadequate method to prevent back pain. A strong back results from a combination of strong muscles in the buttocks, spinal area and shoulders and not just a well-developed core area.
The recent scientific conclusions about Pilates have also been extended to other type of exercises, such as yoga An American study, conducted last year, found that while a gentle yoga class seemed a good practise, some more vigorous types of yoga and classes led by poorly qualified instructors potentially made back problems worse.
To conclude: Exercise classes, such as Pilates and yoga, are not bad per se and may even be very good. However, it is very important to understand that the cause for back pain suffering is different from one people to another and the exercises need to be tailored to the individual.
Some yoga exercises which are fine for most people could prove wrong for you.
If you are suffering from back pain, it is advisable to consult a specialist that can help you identify the appropriate movements and what to avoid before jumping in the first exercise class.
Get action now and register with us and start the pain free life you really deserve.