Blog

Pilates and Back Pain

 

By Devra Swiger

As a young woman of about 26, I began to suffer from crippling back pain. I had no idea what caused it, but all of a sudden, the pain was so sharp and crippling that I could barely walk. I ended up seeing chiropractors. Physical therapists, doctors and just about anyone who claimed they could fix back pain. The diagnosis was almost always over-training, and no one really had a good answer for me. This continued off and on for many years until one day I discovered Pilates.

I was teaching a range of fitness modules including step aerobics, water fitness and cycling. I tended to be a gentler and more cautious teacher due to the fact that I had been injured and I didn’t want anyone to go through what I was going through. At the time, I was also a freelance writer and I often wrote articles for fitness journals. One day, the idea of writing an article on Pilates came to me. I knew very little about Pilates, but I was open to learning. This was the late 90’s and at that time there were not nearly as many studios or teachers in the United States as there are today. I interviewed the owner of the only Pilates studio in Charlotte, NC and I immediately fell in love with the method. I then began my own personal journey of learning the Pilates method.

Now 20 years later, I have my own studio and I practice Pilates regularly. My back pain is gone and when I do get the occasional spasm, I know what to do.

I have had great success working with clients with back pain. Everybody’s pain is unique and how we deal with it is also very personal. By working with clients and finding which movements may cause the pain and which movements help to relieve it, we can put together a program. In larger group classes it is nearly impossible to fix everyone’s back pain with the same series of exercises.

Back pain can result from many causes including aging, poor posture, old injuries etc. Trying to address and fix the problem involves doing a series of movements on the various pieces of Pilates equipment and then finding a program that the client can do at home. The client and I then decide how many Pilates sessions a week the client should do taking into consideration time, money and availability. I always give daily homework which can be done in just a few minutes.

Back pain is extremely common these days and given our lifestyle with cell phones, computers and commuting by car, it is getting to be even more common. Even people as young as 15 or 16 suffer from extreme back pain. It’s no longer the disease of old people.

I swear by Pilates as I feel as if it saved me from a life of back pain. My goal in life is to help others find relief from back pain through the Pilates method.

The Benefits of Private Pilates

I have been teaching Pilates for a long time and I have seen a lot of changes along the way. Some of these changes are good and others not so good. For example, although large group classes are great and allow for more people to do Pilates on a regular basis, they don’t really help the student learn the form necessary to benefit from Pilates. In a big group class, the beginner can easily get lost in the shuffle. If the teacher has not been teaching long, she may not be equipped to handle this. After all, everyone in the group needs the teacher’s her attention even though some need it more. It can get very complicated.

There are many benefits to starting a Pilates journey with a few private sessions. Even as few as five or six can make a huge difference. Here are a few examples of what one can expect from a one on one session with an experienced Pilates instructor:

  1. The first few sessions will be focused on learning the equipment, understanding the Pilates principals and setting on a path to meet some of the client’s goals. Pilates is different from other forms of exercise in that the technique requires a bit more concentration and focus. If the client puts more into it from the get-go, the benefits are considerably higher.
  2. Even after the first session, the client gains a much larger understanding of the method. I teach both large groups and private sessions and I can see a big difference between what students get out of a private session and what they get from a large group class. Even though my teaching is very similar in both groups, the private will gain a much deeper understanding of the movement because the entire class is focused on him or her.
  3. So much of Pilates requires control. As a matter of fact, Joseph Pilates did not name the method after himself, rather he called it Contrology or the science of control. In a group class – even one taught by the most experienced instructor – the pace will be faster and less controlled than in a private.
  4. The equipment is important in a Pilates session. I remember a large group class where a student did not know what the straps were. The class was several minutes into the exercise when I realized she was frantically looking for something called ‘straps’. There isn’t always time in a mixed level class to teach everyone about the various components in each of the pieces of equipment so one must assume that they already know it. Sometimes NOT knowing can also be dangerous.
  5. Safety is crucial in all exercise, but especially when working on equipment that has springs. Things can and will go wrong if the teacher is working with many students at the same time and if the student does not understand the equipment. For example, in a group class we were getting ready to do Short Box which requires that both feet are in the loop which keeps the person from falling off the box onto the floor. In the back of the room, a student didn’t hear my cue and was about to lean back when I caught her. In a private session that would never happen.

It’s true that private Pilates is more expensive than group classes. However, one does not have to exclude the other. When I first began teaching at a large studio, the requirement was that each student had to take anywhere from 5 to 10 private sessions before being allowed to join a group. That requirement has been suspended in many studios because the competition is no longer requiring it. Market forces have made studio owners change the way they teach.

For a truly safe, effective and way more fun session, taking a few privates before or along with group classes will make a huge difference in your Pilates journey.

How to Stay Motivated with Exercise

Devra Swiger doing Pilates on the reformer
Thinking about starting an exercise program is all fine and good unless all you do is think about starting an exercise program. How many times have you or someone you know decided to start a brand new fitness program only to quit after a few weeks, or worse, never start at all. The truth is that most people don’t stick to exercise programs and all those beautiful fit people you see at the gym or the Pilates studio time and time again are in the minority. Yep.
How does one find the motivation to start a program and stick with it day after day and year after year?

woman performing exercises on the pilates chairScheduling is everything:
How many times do you get out of bed and say to yourself ‘Gee, I don’t have time to brush my teeth or take a shower’? Probably not very often (or let’s hope so for the sake of your friends, family and co-workers). We are all actually pretty good at setting aside time as long as it is for things we like, but not as good for things we don’t like. That is why finding an exercise program that works well for you is the best solution. Don’t enroll in hot yoga because your friend’s ex mother-in-law swears by it. Do something because it’s fun and doesn’t seem like exercise. Also, set aside some time in the day whether it is first thing in the morning (my personal favorite time), lunch time or after work. Whatever works within your schedule is the best time. Continue reading “How to Stay Motivated with Exercise”

Why Moving is Good for You

(and not the kind that requires boxes)

I have been teaching all kinds of fitness since 1992. It all began after my youngest daughter was born and I was at a play group with other young moms. At the time, I was living in Taiwan and had many friends who, like me. were living there as ex-pats(foreigners working in a country outside their own). A Japanese mother asked me how I stayed managed to stay in shape and when I told her I just did exercise she then asked, ‘Why don’t you teach us what you know?” And that is exactly how I got started. For several years I taught a variety of fitness classes to people from all over the world.

We returned to the States in 1997, where I began to teach all sorts of fitness including step aerobics, Spinning, aqua fitness etc. About two years later, I decided to exclusively teach Pilates and went into training. I felt that Pilates more than any other kind of fitness was beneficial to everyone. I also felt that I had been doing something sort of like it all along.

So now it has been 26 years since I went to that fateful playgroup and was talked into to teaching exercise to the other ex-pat women in our group. Since that time I have learned that exercise is simply good for you in more than one way. The best thing to treat minor aches and pains, depression, sluggishness, weak muscles, tightness etc. is some sort of exercise program.

Now it gets interesting. What is a good exercise program? The answer is: It depends. As a fitness professional who has worked with over 1000 people over the years, I get that question at least once a week. I have yet to change my answer. It depends. It depends on many factors such as your schedule, your current fitness level, where you live, your finances and most importantly, what you like to do. No matter where you live or how much disposable income you have, if you don’t like doing something you ain’t gonna keep doing it.

As a Pilates instructor, I tend to get people who were turned off to exercise early on or never really enjoyed jumping out of bed and onto the treadmill at 5 am. Some tell me that they have never once in their lives had the urge to work-out. Yet they still came to me for Pilates thinking that maybe just maybe this will be something they would enjoy. Most of the time they do. The movement helps them to conquer chronic aches, pains and tightness while it does wonders for depression and anxiety. One client came to me about a year ago claiming that not only did she hate to exercise, but everything she tried made matters worse. Walking, stretching, weights, swimming – none of it helped. I told her if we could just get her to move more than before then she would probably feel a lot better. I kept her routine simple and manageable. I was right. She still hated to exercise, but at least she admitted that moving more made her feel a whole lot better.

To conclude, it’s healthier to move than not to. For those who don’t bounce out of bed at 5 am for a 10 mile run followed by 90 minutes of hot yoga, try gentle stretches and a nice paced walk. Take the stairs. Park further away from the entrance. Find something you love doing, make it a part of your routine and just get moving.

Try your first Pilates session at Ab-solutely Pilates – a private home studio nestled in the heart of Huntington Beach CA.
Contact to book

Why do Pilates?

There are as many forms of exercise these days as there are flavors of ice cream. That may be an exaggeration, but not by much. When I was a kid, exercise was pretty straight forward: You went to gym class, ran around the neighborhood with your friends and rode your bike just about everywhere. Now it’s a bit more complicated than that. First of all, most adults don’t run around the neighborhood (maybe they do, but that’s another topic) and exercise has to be fit into very tight schedules. People are busy with work, family, social activities etc. Most people don’t have a lot of time to just exercise. So for that reason, exercise needs to be productive.

So what makes for that perfect work-out? In all fairness, there really isn’t just one ‘perfect’ way to work-out nor are results instantaneous (wouldn’t that be nice?) A person has to really like what they are doing or they won’t stick with it. Most people also want to see some results and that means not only looking better, but feeling better too. A great work-out would include some cardio, strength training and flexibility exercises. It should also be varied and fun and be adapted to the level of expertise as well as the body type of the participant. In other words, the work-out would be individually designed for the participant. Now that’s pretty darn perfect.

huntington beach ca pilates

So why Pilates? I tell my clients that Pilates has both strength training and stretching along with a big dose of body awareness that helps the client with many other activities.

  • Do Pilates twice a week and see your golf game improve.
  • Practice Pilates once or twice a week and run faster and you are less likely to hurt yourself.
  • So not only does Pilates help to strengthen your body, increase flexibility improve posture; it also makes you do everything else you do better.

Pilates is also one of the best anti-aging work-outs there is. Nothing ages a person more than poor posture. Botox is nice, but great posture is even better.

There isn’t really a perfect work-out, but Pilates comes closer than anything else.

Try your first Pilates session at Ab-solutely Pilates – a private home studio nestled in the heart of Huntington Beach CA.
Contact to book