How I beat Back Pain with Pilates: Week 4

Monday

Class today was great. Difficult, however, as I had to battle through a bruised rib which sucked. But I made no excuses.

For some reason I found it quite hard to concentrate today. About 3/4 of the way through, I had to try extra hard to keep my levels of concentration up. Pilates is a lot to do with mental concentration and focus as it is physical movements. The first couple of classes I ever did were more exhausting for me mentally than physically. I find that you really have to be in a clear-headed state before going to class or starting your own practice. If not, then there’s a good chance the quality of your physical form will be compromised, thus negating the point of the exercise in the first place.

Amy reckoned that my alignment was much better and has improved a lot since three weeks ago, which is encouraging. She also thinks I’m ready for one mat class a week now, too. It’s important to get the mat class skills nailed, because that really is the basis of Pilates work. If you’re strong on the mat, then you’ll be strong on whatever piece of equipment you try.

The hardest part of Pilates I find is learning the position of ‘correct alignment’. The value of having a teacher watch you is in their eyes – they can see when you’re aligned. At home it’s harder as you’re practicing solo. It’s important to check in with a teacher regularly to make sure that you’re not developing bad habits from solo practice.

My schedule now: homework – 5/6 days a week

one private class a week

1 – 2 mat classes a week

Additional exercises have been given to me for my homework – 2 Teaser variations; the one leg and double leg respectively. This should be fun! My homework sessions are going well – just about able to complete the whole session without burnout, although by the time I reach double-leg lower lift, at reps 4 and 5, the burn is strong!

Joe Pilates showing The Teaser

4 weeks in and I’m really enjoying the classes. Pilates is not like other physical disciplines that I have tried in the past. For one, a main focus is on isometric contraction, which takes a certain level of body-awareness first. With weightlifting for example, it’s very easy to get into and do yourself damage because of poor form, lack of body-awareness or using too heavy a weight etc. But with Pilates, the exercises don’t work unless you have perfect form. So in order for you to benefit truly from it, you must work hard. Work hard to pay attention to your movement. Work hard to contract and connect the correct muscle groups. Unfortunately, the contemporary school of spandex practitioners have removed the ‘work-hard’ aspect of Pilates practice, and I can’t help but wonder what actual physical benefits these people gain from an absence of work ethic. It also goes to show – humans prefer shortcuts, demonstrated by the fact contemporary Pilates is far more popular than the authentic, break-a-sweat-school.

Outside of class, I have been trying to carry forward the lessons I have been learning. Paying as much attention as possible during my everyday life to my posture and trying to become aware of my laziness with slouching etc. Progress is showing! Aches are becoming less and less after slacklining and exercise in general. I don’t feel massively stronger yet, but I do feel a little more coordinated every time I practice my homework and class exercises.

Wednesday

  • My hip flexors were fried trying the teasers on the long-box! And my lower back. Instead, my lats and deep abs should have been tired! The reason for the former is that I am not activating my glutes enough, and not activating the lats to take the strain out of my lower back. Learning a new move is like learning a new skill; first few tries will be uncoordinated, after 30 or so repetitions, you start to navigate the process with a little more familiarity.
  •  My hamstrings were still fried from the long-box Pull Straps 1 and 2.  My core was stronger and more stable, but instead, my upper body started to twist (shoulder instability) – Nooo! ‘Hugging the tree’ and ‘Shaving the head’ exercises were good – it’s important for me to pay attention to my right shoulder on both, as it drops if I don’t pay attention to it.
  •  Pull-ups on the chair were much easier with two hands. Amy said try one hand, but holy shit! It was impossible. No leverage whatsoever. And she did it, making it look easy – I concluded it’s because she’s so much lighter than me!!  She also said that I need to pay attention to my posture, outside of class.
  • Co-ordination on backstroke was not so good.
  •  Did a deep stretch on the short-spine massage. Amy helped me to get the stretch. It was terrifying, but to my surprise, my body and back coped well – no ‘pings’ or pain, but still a lot of fear! Overall, a great session with alignment and strength improvements in certain areas. Still a lot to master though – Pilates is really the epitome of the carrot and the stick, at least that’s how it feels!
  •  Continuing with homework – going well, including the new teaser exercises. Feel pretty spent by the time the repertoire is complete, but it’s getting there. Finding it hard to engage my shoulders/lats and back muscles to hold my torso steady in the balanced teaser position.

Check out the next post for Week 5 to see how I encounter a disastrous upset to my rehab journey!

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