When looking for an exercise-based solution to back pain, it can be overwhelming to try and filter through all of your options. It seems as if there are new fitness options popping up every week. There is something to be said for new scientific discoveries leading to a greater understanding of our physiology. There is also a reason certain exercise styles have lasted over time. Pilates is one such style of exercise that has stood the test of time.
WHAT IS PILATES?
Pilates is one of those “tried and true” activities that has been around for a long time. It was created by Joseph Pilates just after the turn of the 20th century. It became popular in the dance community as an effective method to help rehabilitate injured dancers. It helped them maintain their muscle tone when they were unable to dance. Pilates exercises emphasize proper alignment and deep core strength. Developing core strength is key in providing your back with the support that it needs to move towards being pain-free.
HOW DOES PILATES WORK?
Pilates uses a combination of small, controlled movements to create stability in your body. These exercises are done on cushioned floor mats or on exercise beds called Reformer machines. Unlike more fast-paced exercise options, Pilates is performed at a slow and steady rate. The benefit of moving in this way is that you will learn to switch on those hard-to-access muscles. Pilates is one of those things that might not feel very difficult in the moment. However, the next day you are bound to notice muscles you maybe never even knew you had.
When you are performing your day-to-day routine, you probably move around without paying too much attention to what your body is doing. This can also be true of many cardio activities and even strength building exercises. What ends up happening that is your dominant and larger muscle groups take over. Over time, those muscles get stronger while your smaller muscles stay weak. Here is the catch: you trade stability for mobility in parts of your body that perform a greater range of movement. Such as you back. So having those small muscles strong and firing at the appropriate time is a necessary component of back health.
HOW DO I START PILATES?
Lucky for you, there are Pilates studios everywhere. Check out your local studio for class times and membership options. If you have a particularly temperamental back, you may want to consider doing a few private classes to start. A qualified Pilates teacher will take the time to walk around and correct your form during class. However, a private session will allow your teacher to give you on-going and individual attention. When looking for a studio, ask about small class sizes. If your local gym offers Pilates, enquire about the student-to-teacher ratio.
WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT DURING A PILATES CLASS?
Every class will vary depending on the teacher but it is fair to expect a gentle warm-up, the main exercises and some cool-down stretching. Some teachers like to pick a theme for their class—such as core strength—and focus on that part of the body. Talk to the instructor before class and let them know the specifics of your back problems. Pilates instructor training programs put a lot of emphasis on understanding human anatomy so your instructor should know proper modifications. However, you know your body best and should never do anything that feels painful. You can always ask the instructor for assistance during class too if you are unsure of what muscles are supposed to be working.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PILATES MAT AND MACHINE?
When Joseph first started teaching his method, he used a deconstructed bed. The springs created the resistance he was looking for to help build muscle strength over time. Not only that, more springs could be used to create more resistance. So his design offered scalable options depending on what muscles were being worked. That was the very first Pilates machine. Modern designs are a more updated version of the original design. They have multiple springs to change resistance levels, a sliding platform on a track, as well as a few ropes and pulleys. All of these features can be used solo or in combination to target the right muscles at the right time.
Mat Pilates follows the same principles of resistance only using resistance bands and your bodyweight. Pilates mats are thick and provide ample cushioning for your joints. Sometimes light weights or medicine balls are used for added strength building. Whereas Reformer machines can be big and bulky, mats take up less space. The exercises you do in a mat class will be just a beneficial as a bed class. There is also the added bonus of being able to do mat Pilates at home. However, whatever style you choose to practice is really just a matter of personal preference.
However you decide to begin, it will not take long for you to feel the benefits of a regular Pilates practice. Looking for other solutions? Check out Lower Back Pain: 5 Causes & Treatments.