How I beat Back Pain with Pilates: Week 6

December 2011 – I think I love Pilates for the reason that it is so strict. You either get it, or you don’t, which is what I need right now for my back to get better – perfect form. Flow yoga is so free, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, I think it can be a little unnerving, especially with a sports injury. I like playing around with it on my own, because I know my limits and can adjust myself accordingly. I have enjoyed learning the flow yoga, but ‘flowing on my own’ is my preferred choice now. I have one more class with my teacher before Christmas, and will continue to practice what I’ve learnt on my own, but for the New Year, I think I will just remain with Pilates.


  • Another great session!  Amy pointed out that I like to lock my elbows and knees in certain positions. Today was the first timethat I felt what it was really like to engage my inner-thighs. This was during the ‘100’, after I unlocked my knees. Yet again, the 100 took another turn towards increased difficulty! As soon as you stand corrected in an exercise, you can’t help but wonder what on earth you were doing before your correction…
  • Did the ‘Russian Splits’ on the reformer, which I honestly found terrifying! Not only considering my freakout last Thursday with my back pain episode, but also because I haven’t put myself into the positions this exercise required for over a year! Perhaps you can understand my less-than-keen attitude to put my body into flexion positions that six months ago would have spelt tragedy. But somehow, I managed it. Amy helped me with the stability in a couple of the positions – one being a lunge with your front leg on the moving carriage, back leg stationary, no hands! Just as well I have been practicing lunging in my yoga flow during the week, otherwise this could have been tragic! This set of positions really did highlight my inflexibility. The better I get every session, the more I realise how far I have to go! Amy said – referring to this exercise – ‘This is how I got really flexible,’ as she went down into full splits. I winced in amazement, wondering if that would ever be me…?
  • Used the chair again this week. I did a step-up exercise on it, literally performed as it sounds. I’m more stable in my left (stronger) leg step-up motion, than my right. In fact, my right side was so bad, I asked for a redemption card! I couldn’t get any leverage whatsoever from just tensing my right glute and trying to lift myself into a step-up motion. So I pushed off my straight left leg, which made it a touch easier. Amy said she didn’t want to see any ‘limp-wristed’ slackline habits this time! Instead, by engaging the lat muscles, the arms were to be lengthened and straight, hands included! I felt more like a scarecrow doing the exercise, but this is Pilates! Balancing is about core engagement and muscle usage, not relaxing the body to find the point of equilibrium.
  • Amy showed me a wicked exercise at the end of the class, which is now officially my longlining training method for the home – back against a wall, standing up. Feet about 2 feet from the wall. Arms raised laterally with backs of hands against wall, pressing lightly into it. By engaging the lat muscles, you should be able to hold your arms up without tiring out your shoulders; the lats should do the work. Then the same can be repeated, but with the thumbs pointing down, palms facing the wall, to highlight what shoulder engagement should feel like. I thought it was a great exercise to increase lat endurance when not on the line, and to train the brain into finding the lat connection so that it is used when walking lines over longer distances. I explained to Amy that longlining was about conserving energy, which she understood. But there is conserving energy by being lazy and balancing by relaxing the body, which does you no favours with strength and stability. Or, there is balancing the body by effort, which takes time to increase the muscular stamina, and over time will conserve energy thanks to muscular endurance, doing you favours for your stability and strength. Point taken!
    So straight after class I went out and rigged a 30 meter, and played with engaging the lats whilst walking. It was tricky at first, as I was concentrating a lot on the rear part of my torso. I was burning out quite quickly, purely from muscular fatigue. Balancing by being lazy is just too easy. Balancing with muscular effort is now the goal. That way, you move with ‘dignified’ grace! Just like a tightrope walker. Grace can be deceptive; it looks relaxed, but it is actually quite strenuous and tiring for someone who mimics it and has not trained. Ballet dancers, for example. Graceful, but super strong! Same principle for longlining. Here’s to increasing my muscular endurance!
  • My teasers on the long-box were the best they’ve ever been this week. I was actually engaging my back and abs, resulting in no hip-flexor burn-out. Until the last set! That was tough, with an added chest press on the end, like last week. By that point I was fried but it’s getting there.
  • Still haven’t mastered the breathing technique; breathing in to the ‘back’ of the ribcage. I still breathe into the front of my chest, causing a raise in my ribcage, which as Amy so eloquently demonstrated, throws your body out of alignment as your ribs rise up. Something to be practicing over the course of the week. Apparently Joseph Pilates didn’t teach people to breathe. The technique of breathing into the back was something that came later, and really is the only method available for breathing and not losing your connections. It feels very constricting when I do it though. You have to be able to relax the space that your breathing into, whilst keeping muscular contraction everywhere else! Coordination, again.
  • Amy also mentioned about the rhythm of the exercises, especially the mat work. ‘Eventually,’ she said ‘You should be reaching a flow-pace, moving from one exercise straight into the next.’ That was a little embarrassing to hear, as I currently take at least a couple of breaths between each exercise! My goal now is to link them all together and not to rest until the very end (difficult!).
  • We chatted a little about the genius of Joseph Pilates, and Amy told me just how knarly he was as a teacher. Apparently there is a youtube video showing a student on his first lesson, then again six months later, and Amy reckons the transformation is incredible! Hunted out the video, and yes, it does look brutal. Joesph pushes the man pretty hard. 6 months later, you can see the improvement in his form, but not so much in his bodily stature. That’s probably to do with the bad quality of the video. But it seems that Pilates will make you as strong as you need to be, but not necessarily ‘sculpted’ from what I can see. I’m sure it varies with person to person but I think you need weights as an added extra for sculpting. The Pilates body is a lengthened, leaner and toned one, for sure. But ‘ripped’? Not really.

Check out the next post, Week 7, to see me get stumped on a Teaser variation!


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