Did you know that 31 million Americans experience back pain at any given time? The most common cause is muscle strain often related to heavy physical labor, lifting or forceful movement. Other causes may be from bending or twisting in awkward positions or standing or sitting in one position for too long. Core weakness significantly increases your risk for back injury. Fortunately, the majority of back pain can be great reduced or eliminated entirely by a focused exercise plan to strengthen the core muscles of the body.
What is the Core?
When many people think of core, they think abs. In reality, your core is a complex series of muscles, extending far beyond your abs, including everything besides your arms and legs. The core includes the traverse abdominis (TVA), erector spinae, obliques, glutes, and your lower lats. These muscles work as stabilizers for the entire body and are incorporated in almost every movement of the human body.
Once upon a younger version of me's time, I was an avid runner. I ran every day, miles and miles. By my mid 20s, my activity started to take their physical toll on my joints and muscles. My left knee started to hurt after every run. Then it hurt even after a long walk. It got so bad, that on a trip with my husband to New York City, I had to make multiple trips back to our hotel room to ice it from all the walking. I was only 27 years old. So I started weight training and yoga hoping any gains in strength and flexibility would alleviate the pain. But before long, I added to low back pain to my list of ailments. My runs got shorter, my workouts less intense. This went on for several years until I discovered Pilates.
Pilates literally CURED my knee and my back. I had always gravitated to more cardio-intense workouts (think HIIT) so my first reformer class was a change of pace, but certainly not any less intense. We started with an abdominal warm-up, and with the instructors coaching, I realized I'd been doing IT ALL WRONG. I didn't realize you could do ab work without eventually feeling strain in your low back. (DUH says all you fitness experts out there). After 5 minutes I'm like, "Are you kidding me? This is the warm-up?". My abs were on FIRE. We went through a whole body work-out on the reformer that was difficult but felt great at the same time. Another combination I never knew was possible during a workout. I left completely hooked.
I was amazed at how quickly my body responded to Pilates. Within 3 months, the back and knee pain that had plagued me for years had completely disappeared. I added miles to my runs and found that my body rarely fatigued, even on long runs. More importantly, Pilates acutely increased my awareness of how I move my body all day. Whether I'm driving my car, running, or loading groceries, I'm constantly thinking of my movement mechanics.
Simply put, I've stopped groaning "arrrgh" when I roll out of bed. And for us Pilates enthusiasts, that's what it's all about.