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Sometimes we can get a little discouraged with the parts of our body that do not seem to improve in Pilates as fast as we would like. For me, it is my lower back. It's difficult, but crucial, to constantly pull your belly button to your spine to activate your deep abdominal muscles throughout the exercise. Sometimes I forget to concentrate on this which causes some soreness after a class.
The strain in my lumbar spine, or small of my back, could possibly be caused by tight hamstrings or I could be overextending my lower back by forcing my legs to straighten. Weak ab muscles and tight hip flexors could also be the culprit. If I stay consistent in modifying the exercises below, my lower back actually feels strengthen and unstrained after a Pilates workout.
1. Keep the spine neutral- (using the natural curvature of the spine) is the only place where the muscles can work safely and effectively to support the spine in all movements.
In neutral spine, we work the transverse abdominis, this muscle spans from the front of your belly to the connective tissue on each side of your spine. This is quite often an overlooked muscle, and it’s generally weak. It’s also difficult to access properly unless you are working with an experienced instructor who will know how to cue for proper muscle activation. You can continually connect with those muscles as you focus on the exhale of breath through each movement.
2. Be careful with Roll-up movements- motion that moves from laying flat to sitting up.
This Pilates motion can cause lower back pains and injuries when done repetitively and with tight hip flexors and weak core muscles. By jerking yourself up repetitively to try to accomplish this exercise, you can really damage your back over time.
Use a mini ball at your lower back to help support the spine as you roll into it only half way down, or, use a stretch band looped around the feet to give yourself a little bit of tension to go up and down easily. Make sure to keep your arms long and not pull yourself up with your arms, but use the rolling action of the spine and deep abdominals.
3. Laying on Stomach movements- like swimmers, “Superman” pose, laying on long box on stomach
While doing these exercises, only lift gently and maybe even just one leg and arm at a time, making sure to draw the abdominals up off the mat. These movements, lifting the arms and legs too high, can cause the back to hyperextend and cause excessive disc compression. Also, keeping the neck alignment in neutral will keep strain off the lumbar spine.
4. Teaser movements- advanced movement requiring you to come up into a V - sit movement.
If you don't have strong and developed transverse abdominal muscles then you will not be able to properly execute this advanced movement. You will strain the lower back when rising up into the V-sit with your legs straight.
When the class does this move, instead, bend your legs grabbing under your thighs as you gently rock yourself forward and then up into a balanced position.
As your hamstrings and hips loosen up and your abs become stronger all these Pilates moves above will start to feel easier. Easier on your back that is; Pilates is always going to be a killer on your abs, which is why we love it so. Also be careful to work within your range of motion when doing the exercises and only straighten and/or lower the legs if the low back can remain glued to the mat or carriage.
Don’t be discouraged if you have lower back pain or strain, but DO let your Pilates instructor be aware so they can help make adjustments and cue moves to help strengthen your core and loosen your hamstrings.
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