Back pain is one of the most common discomfort people feel on a day-to-day basis. This can be from tightness or weakness, bad posture, or combinations of these. Other times it is related to injuries. There is also a link to women feeling more back pain when premenstrual especially if their pelvis is more anteriorly tilted which puts even more pressure on the lower back. Lifestyle choices play a huge role in releasing this discomfort, strengthening the body, and stretching necessary muscles to aid in good posture and feeling strong and mobile. In Pilates you learn about good posture to have more desirable movement patterns, so when you sit, stand, walk, move, work, eat, exercise, and the like you do so with awareness and with better posture. Pilates is often recommended to those with back pain because it strengthens the “core” and addresses the whole body keeping you in balance. Pilates also focuses on stretching and strengthening the hips. This also takes the pressure off the lower back.
If you are looking for an exercise to help release your back pain, consider doing the following 15 exercises 3-5 days a week. They may look easy but with good alignment and posture, they can prove to be challenging. Focus on doing at least 8 repetitions of each exercise and move with control. The more you commit yourself to do these exercises the better and stronger you will become and more out of pain you will feel. These exercises have been recommended to you with the expectation that you understand the principles of Pilates and have done them with your instructor before.
Exercise 1 and 2: Pelvic Tilt (Imprinting the lower back into the mat) into Pelvic Curl.
When doing the Pelvic Tilt the imprinting is used to mobilize the lower vertebrae and stabilize the spine. The Pelvic Curl is articulating the spine to the top allowing the whole spine to get a stretch. If this causes pain, it is best to hinge the spine up. Often weak glutes and hamstrings cause lower back pain. The Pelvic Curl works both these muscles in the movement.
Exercises 3 and 4: Single Leg Lift into Leg Changes.
Stabilize the abdominals and move one leg independently and then simultaneously both legs. This strengthens the core which can hopefully help with backache with time.
Exercise 5: Dead Bug
Take the right arm back towards the wall behind you while simultaneously extending the left leg long, keeping the foot off the floor. Inhale to return to the starting position. Then change sides. Keep your abdominals tight and engaged to strengthen the core and back extensors.
Exercises 6 and 7: Gluteus Stretch and Happy Baby Stretch
This stretches the gluteus muscles and the inner thighs (and possibly some hamstrings).
Exercise 8: The Clam in Side-Lying Hip/Gluteus Work
Keeping your hips stable, lift your top knee to form a diamond shape while keeping the feet together. This exercise strengthens the muscles that lift the leg away from the midline of the body. These are the hip abductors known as your gluteus which assist in keeping the pelvis stable. If the gluteus is strong this will help take pressure off the back.
Exercise 9: The Cat Stretch
This exercise stretches the lower back and works the abdominals and the upper back. Move from the neutral of the spine into lumbar flexion and then into upper back extension.
Exercises 10 and 11: Rolling-like-a-ball and Seated Mini Roll-Ups
Rolling-like-a-ball stretches and massages the spine while working the abdominals. Seated Mini Roll-Ups stretch the lower back and works the abdominals.
Exercises 12 and 13: Kneeling Lunge Hip Flexor Stretch and Hamstring Stretch
Both stretches help release muscles around the hips which takes the pressure off the lumbar spine.
Exercise 14: Bird Dog
This is a full-body exercise that works the front line and backline of the body while stabilizing through the pelvis.
Exercises 15 and 16: Basic back extension (modified with legs open) and Swan Prep (modified with legs open)
Both exercises aim to strengthen the upper back and stretch the front line of the body. A strong upper back will help back pain. Think length through the spine as you articulate up on an inhale.
When doing these exercises consistency is key! May you enjoy the benefits that these exercises give you.