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6 Components to building a strong back- PART 2

4. Take a deep breath

Learning to breathe efficiently is an integral part of our Pilates practice. By learning to breathe effectively, we will be rewarded with improvements to our posture. There are a staggering amount of 16 muscles involved in the process of inhaling and exhaling. The diaphragm, a large sheet-like muscle that lies at the bottom of the chest cavity, is freed up, its function optimized and space for our internal organs increased. Another muscle that assists in breathing is a deep stabilizing muscle in your lower back. The amazing QL attaches onto your ribcage, your pelvis and the vertebrae of your lumbar spine and assists in both inhalation and exhalation. There are a few different techniques we use, from diaphragmatic breathing to rib breathing amongst a few others, and I am sure you have heard your teacher talk about them in class. These techniques are tools that can be used in different ways to get the most out of an exercise, be it to aid movement or to increase strength or to improve mobility.

Breath can relax us, energize us, help clear our minds, keep us focused and increase awareness. In addition to the muscles mentioned, we can also rely on our abdominal muscles, the TA, the internal and external Oblique to aid in expelling all the air out of your lungs. In order to improve the flow of oxygen and increase the capacity of your lungs, we learn to fully expand the ribcage (Lateral rib breathing). The internal intercostals contract when we breathe out forcefully while the external intercostal muscles aid in pulling the air back into our lungs. Breathing correctly also means that your body and your muscles are supplied with the oxygen they need to function effectively. Focused rhythmic breathing will increase your circulation to ensure the optimum amount of nutrients are carried around the body and as you are creating space for your ribs to expand, you will find yourself sitting a little bit taller thus allowing your spine to reorganize itself.

5. Stay hydrated

We all know that it is important to stay properly hydrated for lots of health reasons, one very important to us Pilates lovers is the health of our spine. Many studies have proved this to be the case, so I would like to give you the lowdown.

The 24 vertebrae in our spinal column are separated by 23 discs, each of which require optimum hydration levels in order to act as effective shock absorbers as the cushioning ability of the discs is based on their water content. If your discs are not fully hydrated, they are no longer soft and spongy. They shrink, become hard, and may even slip out. We can all imagine that bones grinding together will lead to pinched nerves and lots of pain. Water also keeps your cartilage strong and joints healthy. [2, Page 88 - 96]

Water makes up about 60 % of total body mass. Losing as little as 2 % of water already leaves us in a state of mild dehydration. It is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine, that in order to maintain optimum hydration levels in healthy adults we should be consuming 6-8 glasses (approx. 250ml, 8 fluid oz) of water to replace daily water losses. [4] Active individuals should be consuming 5-7 ml per kg of body weight four hours prior to exercise.

6. Perform full body movements that can be applied to real life experiences

Stability, balance, strength and flexibility are required, whether you enjoy spending your time on the golf course, playing a game of tennis, squash or you are just quickly turning your head to look over your shoulder, bending down to pick something up off the ground, lifting your little one up onto your hip. All of these movements may not require much thought as you are doing them instantaneously, but a lot of muscles need to work together to create movement that does not put strain on your back or leave you prone to injury. Pilates brings focus to each movement pattern and enhances both balance and stability. I like to work from the feet up with my clients, which is why a lot of focus is given to doing your Footwork on the Reformer. Paying attention to your standing alignment and foot placement stabilizes the base of support, while weight-shifting exercises promote better balance. Enabling our bodies to apply good motor programming for healthy movement patterns is a result of working on balancing your muscles and aligning your core. Pilates exercises work to create muscle balance, flexibility, core alignment and proper spinal mechanics.

Let’s take a look at what the research says. Does Pilates enhance your ability to move with more ease in everyday life? In this controlled study by the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation [7] , three groups, one Pilates group, one Yoga group and one Control group of 30 participants in each were assessed over the Course of 8 weeks. The study concluded that the Pilates group was most effective for improving functional movement. What’s unique about Pilates is that you don't need to be fit to do it, or strong or have any other particular skill level. It is safe to participate in, can be adapted to suit everyone and for these reasons is easy to maintain practicing throughout your life. And of course if you do, the improvements to the quality of your life are significant. While both Yoga and Pilates improve your mental wellbeing also, Pilates was shown to also lead to increased energy levels, emotional well-being and reducing muscular aches and pains according to the research. What's not to love? And how much of a time investment does it take before you should see these changes? The participants performed functional movements for 1 hour, 3 times per week for 8 Weeks. You'll find part 1 here:

References for Part 1 & 2:

  1. Suraj Kumar, Tarun Kumar, Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, December 2014, on “Efficacy of of core muscle strengthening exercise in chronic low back pain patients”

  2. Jane Paterson, Teaching Pilates for Postural Faults, Illness & Injury,, 2009,Elsevier Ltd

  3. June A. Kloubec, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research:, March 2010 - Volume 24 - Issue 3 - p 661-667

  4. Wolters Kluwer, ACSM Resources for the Personal Trainer, 2010, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Third Edition

  5. Pilates for Improvement of Muscle Endurance, Flexibility, Balance, and Posture, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: March 2010 - Volume 24 - Issue 3 - p 661-667

  6. Study on “The effect of a three month, low-load- high-repetitions group-based exercise program versus pilates on physical fitness and body composition in inactive women”.

  7. The effects of Pilates and yoga participant’s on engagement in functional movement and individual health level, Eun Ju Lim1 and Jeong Eon Park2,*, Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, Published online 2019 Aug

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