Head of reformer Pilates, Tony Diamond, explains the simple fixes you can make to move pain free and feel stronger than ever
How would you describe your day at work? Likely the word ‘active’ would be low down on the list. Spending eight hours a day in your office chair – now known as the modern ‘sedentary lifestyle’ – may seem comfortable, but it’s surreptitiously become a leading cause of injury. Sitting for long periods at a desk, not using your abdominal muscles and switching off your lower back is now linked to all sorts of aches and pains. That and the creaking neck you have from staring at a screen all day.
Thankfully, you needn’t quit the corner office for career in the great outdoors. Instead, you need to acquaint yourself with the stirrups and straps of the Pilates reformer. It is one of the best curative and preventative pursuits you can do in the gym to injury proof your body and help you to move pain free all day, no matter how long you spend sat in work. You can’t do bicep curls or booty-building pulse squats every day.
The Low Down On Fixing Back Trouble
The problem: As mentioned, sitting for long periods causes your core and back muscles switch off and your hamstrings to shorten. This loss of support and muscle imbalance can mess with posture and result in serious pain. You may not be worried now, but with one in 10 suffering with a bad back, taking action now is the smart choice.
The fixes: Start with ‘The Barrel’, which is basically a cushioned arc on legs that can be adjusted to fit any height. The user can then begin to experience a supported back bend, which, as the opposite movement to sitting all day in a chair, is the ideal remedy. Groaning, grunting and maybe some light swearing is encouraged as you settle into the position, but you’ll finish having relieved the pressures of sitting hunched over all day.
From there you can advance to the ‘The Quadraped Series’. It may sound complicated, but it’s not. Don’t worry. Using the reformer in this way you can fire up the lower abdominal muscles, teaching them to engage and support your lower back, easing unwanted pressure. The fact it may well unearth the final, bottom two abs of your six-pack is also a welcome bonus…
On your knees with just one blue spring (this is the resistance) to begin, place your hands either side on the frame. Set up with your shoulders directly over your hands and scoop your stomach in. Exhale and draw the carriage towards your hands with control. Engage your core to resist the spring and return to the start of the rep under control while breathing in. And relax. Your now two exercises closer to being pain free.
A Crick Fix For A Sore Neck
The problem: Long hours spent at a desk, hunching and staring at a computer can leave the neck and shoulders with a constant ache. This is caused by the upper back being over stretched and, if you want to get nerdy about it (which we’re assuming you do), leads to the trapezium muscle being constantly in a state of contraction.
The trapezium is the muscle that attaches at the base of the neck and spans across your upper back connecting to the upper spinal cord and attaching to each shoulder blade. The problem comes when your shoulders start to slump forward – as they do typing at a keyboard all day. This places intense pressure on the trapezium to hold your shoulders in place, leading to constant pain or discomfort and even tension headaches. We’re getting one just thinking about it.
Pilates can help re-align the shoulders, drawing them back and firing up the rhomboids, which are little muscles responsible for the retraction of the scapula that helps to lift your arms. When the scapula retracts the trapezium can release, allowing you a long overdue sigh of relief.
The fix: ‘The Scapula Series’. Climb on to the reformer with knees on the carriage and taking the straps in each hand. Keeping a long spine, draw the carriage towards you by engaging the muscles around the shoulder blades. Keep your fingers long and lengthen your arms by your side. Exhale to draw the carriage towards you and inhale to release. By engaging your scapula the tight trapezium can relax and the pain you experience while sat at your desk will subside.
A Little Extra Goes A Long Way
But the positives of Pilates aren’t exclusive to sedentary office workers. Those who pride themselves on their fitness and would happily share with you their bench press PR – whether you asked them to or not – can benefit. In fact, injury prevention should be a concern for any active person, from the recreational to the professional athlete.
The problem: While those who run, cycle or squat should be rightfully applauded they’re also susceptible to strained hamstrings. The hamstring is the long muscle that runs from your knee to your backside. The most common reason for a strain is simply that the muscle is not supple enough. Most active people will stretch the hamstring during a warm down, however, for most it’s a token effort. No, that two second touch of your toes doesn’t count, we’re afraid.
If you’re serious about staying fit then you need to be just as serious about stretching the muscle as you are about contracting it with weighted reps. Again, Pilates provides a solution.
The Fix: Femur Arcs or Leg Circles. On the reformer lying on your back place the feet into the straps. Ideally start with a comfortable resistance anything between one red and one Blue upwards. Challenge yourself to keep your back in your natural curve and extend your legs up perpendicular to your body. Slowly with complete control, circle the legs as expansively as you can without moving the spine. Bring the legs back together to repeat. This can be practiced in both directions. Work this into your training plan and you will be able to head to the squat rack safe in the knowledge you’ll lift with limited risk of injury.
There’s a reason so many professional athletes include in in their regimen. Yes, the contraption looks convoluted, but with guidance it can not only undo the damage of weeks spent slaving over spreadsheets, but also unlock untapped performance in the gym. There is more to working out than cardio and weights. Come and find out.