One half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year and at any given time there are 31 million people in the U.S. experiencing lower back pain. (1)
Why is this? Why is back pain such an epidemic? There are a lot of contributing factors, but the BIGGEST reason is poor posture. Many will argue that the human body wasn’t made to sit in a chair all day- yet most of us do, hunched over computer screens in office chairs that are marginally supportive at best. Hence- numbers like 31 million sufferers.
In Pilates, we combat the challenge of poor posture by teaching exercises that deal with proper alignment of the spine. These movements define and help with proper posture and strengthen the muscles that support the spine. The goal in every Pilates class is that you’ll carry the movements and exercises from class into your everyday life. The focus is building a strong center (you can see more about the 7 principles of Pilates in our post last week).
We have seen many members come into CBRC facing back pain, and through work with Pilates classes and individual training have been able to strengthen their core and alleviate their pain. We even have several members who were on waiting lists for disc surgery who, after dedicated work in Pilates classes, were able to cancel their back/neck surgery. One of our members who came into Pilates class with a herniated disc was able to skip surgery and now plays tennis on a weekly basis!
Here are the basics of proper posture, as taught in our Pilates mat classes:
First off- remember that the goal of this exercise is strength.
We start by practicing the deepening of the abdominal wall, what we call the Abdominal Scoop:
-Draw your bellybutton in and up to engage your abs
-Shoulder blades should be relaxed down your spine
-Collarbone is open
-Spine should be as long as you can make it, pulling up as if there was a string attached to the top of your head and simultaneously pulling the base of the spine downwards
-Keep your lower back in “neutral spine” – the natural curve you would have if you were in a standing position
Maintaining this posture throughout your daily life- working, driving, sitting, standing- will go a long ways towards reducing your back pain. Working through Pilates movements, in mat class, on the Reformer, or with some of the other tools, will train your muscles to stay in this proper posture, even when you aren’t thinking about it.
As we mentioned last week, one of the common misconceptions about Pilates is that it’s all about stretching- the stretching during class involves lengthening muscles as you strengthen them, but Pilates is really all about strength. Joseph Pilates, inventor of the Pilates method, trained the German Army during WWI, was an outdoor enthusiast, skier, diver, gymnast, circus performer, and boxer. He believed that strengthening your core can and will help your accomplish whatever your fitness goals are. We agree- and we use Pilates to try and help reduce the number of back pain sufferers as much as possible!
We wish you good health,
~Columbia Basin Racquet Club