Back It Up

In the past, I have shared injury prevention tips to ensure safe workouts. Today is about a strategy during workouts to maintain a strong back through the phases of your exercise program.

Unfortunately, I see clients come to my classes with pre-existing back issues more often these days. As a thorough teacher, I’m curiously inclined to dig deeper so I understand what we are working with. What kind of back pain is it? Strain from an activity? Have you had surgery? Are you seeing a doctor for your symptoms? Are you a gym rat, play sports, prefer the silence of running alone or are you inspired by a group atmosphere?

Let’s eliminate some of the guesswork altogether and take these following steps to sharpen up your vertebrae knowledge in your next workout.

1. Stabilize.

The term “powerhouse” is used in Pilates and for good reason. The entire musculature system of our trunk includes abs, back, hips and the pelvic floor all working in synchronicity. A misconception is that your core is just referring to your abdominal muscles. Visualize this when you hear your trainer say “keep your core tight, or suck it in,” connecting from the top of your ribs to the bottom of your pelvis and imagine your tightening a corset around your middle as you breathe laterally, that my friends are the powerhouse.

2. Pay attention to your tuck.

Standing up against a wall or laying on the floor, you can practice this simple movement. Pull your navel in and back towards your spine. At the same time, as if a string is attached to your belly button, lift in and up through the crown of your head.

I teach my Pilates clients lying on the floor, a trick I call “rock the marble.” Imagine a marble at your pubic bone and rock it gently towards your navel and get it in the hole. Be cautious though — the opposite applies when you’re squatting and you need your neutral back form to perform a deep knee bend. Being cognoscente of your natural lordosis (aka back sway) and what you were born with, and you’ll have a better understanding of how much and when you want to engage your pelvic tilt.

3. Drink lots of water.

Why do I mention this is almost every post regarding your body? Because dehydration can cause a series of unpleasant occurrences. H2O helps lubricate your joints and maintains the natural cushions in our skeletal system. Back swelling creates uncomfortable aches, so sip up during your workouts.

4. Stretch out those hamstrings.

Remember the song Dem Bones, “the head bone connected to the neck bone……, back bone connected from the hip bone……” One affects the other and the other and so on. Tight hamstrings are the culprit to lumbar strain (low back pain.)

Imagine a rubber band pulled so it’s stretched to a full extension. What you have when it’s not stretched is a short band. Consider your hamstrings in that recoiled state, as that short muscle pulls on your glutes and sends your pelvis into a backward tilt. That tilt will start to diminish your natural lumbar curve. The cushion in your spine you were born with was planted there for a reason, guarding your back during tasks. Taking a moment or two to stretch out will be a game changer.

5. Train smarter and stay in control.

There are so many genres of fitness and some may be more low impact than others. It’s the high impact ones that you want to maintain a level of focus and control during. Become an expert on your posture and technique, correcting yourself throughout your sport. Classes that focus on intervals, sprints, jumping and swinging weights around tend to put more stress on your back. Consider what’s in your power versus the power of gravity and take control. Don’t allow quick all out moves to become thoughtless. Whatever you’re doing, pulling, pressing, lateral, horizontal, be aware of your actions and direction your moving in.

Try this exercise if you are having back pain:


Put your head, shoulders and back against a wall. Bend until your knees are at 90 degrees. Hold for a minute and repeat.

This helps strengthen your abs and hips quads — all those powerhouse muscles you need to improve back health.