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Exercise of the Month: STOTT PILATES® Reformer for Back Care

When your back is in pain, it can affect the mobility of your entire body. Back care is an essential part of overall body conditioning.

While traditional crunches strengthen the outer layers of the abdominal musculature, they bypass the deep support structures of the back. This can place the lumbar spine in too much flexion and may even contribute to future back pain.

Instead, you should train the deep stabilizers of the lumbar spine, which is a major focus of the STOTT PILATES® Movement System.

STOTT PILATES helps develop body awareness, which is necessary to recruit and strengthen the deep stabilizing muscles. It also emphasizes effective breathing patterns, a tool that can be used to manage back stress.

STOTT PILATES builds core strength by engaging the deep pelvic floor muscles, which in turn work the transversus abdominus. This affects the positioning of other structures in the lumbopelvic region, providing support for the low back.

This Exercise of the Month is presented by Merrithew Instructor Trainer Ariel Lim, founder of WITH PILATES in Seoul, South Korea.

Here she demonstrates a Reformer-based STOTT PILATES exercise for back care. This exercise focuses on abdominal stabilization and upper body strengthening, taking the pressure and stress off the low back.

Make sure you get the go-ahead from your health care professional before trying this exercise if back pain is something you already suffer from.


Read the full transcript of the video below:

Hi my name is Ariel Lim. I am a Merrithew Instructor Trainer specializing in STOTT PILATES.

I am going to introduce you to a basic Reformer exercise for back care. We are going to do Back Rowing Prep No. 1, Plow.

Plow is a good Reformer exercise for strengthening the back muscles without extending the back. It’s also great for clients who have kyphosis. The movement is in the shoulder joint.

First of all, set the Reformer machine at gearbar 2 and stopper 2 for shoulder range of motion. Attach one spring. Check that the length of rope is correct.

Sit up tall on the sitz bones and maintain a neutral spine and pelvis.

Make sure the head, shoulder, rib cage and pelvis are stacked on top of each other and gaze straight ahead. The legs should be adducted and parallel. Plantar flexion of ankle.

If the pelvis has a posterior tilt, flex the lumbar spine. Bent knees will help with sitting up tall. If the pelvis is still not vertical, sit on one or two Foam Cushions or a Padded Platform Extender. Check that there is no tension in the body to start.

The starting position is really important. Hold a strap in each hand. Check that the wrist is straight and not bent. If you want better grip, fold the strap over itself or use Foam Grip Handles.

Hold the strap at the knees so there’s some light spring tension to start. Inhale to prepare, maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis. Exhale, keeping the wrist long and extend the shoulder without losing neutral.

Imagine someone is shooting a photo of you. Hug in the abdominals and keep tall. Feel like your sacrum is heavy and your torso above the waist is light like a silk scarf. Keep breathing smoothly as you open the shoulder girdle wide.

Check that the elbows are not hyperextended and cue for a slight softness at the elbow. Sometimes clients will extend back, which means the latissimus dorsi extends the spine. Cue more abdominal connection between rib and pelvis, and focus more on lengthening the spine. Also reducing the range of motion may help. If it’s still difficult, lower the spring tension to 0.75 or 0.5.

Keep growing tall and imagine you are rowing a boat. Think about having light shoulders and heavy hands. Moving down and back, down and forward.

Eye connection is important when communicating and teaching. The instructor should stand where the client can see them. Check three-dimensionally around the body, examining that the scapula is flat against the rib cage and there is no winging or anterior tipping.

Changing the direction of the palm will help open the shoulders. Also try to teach different positions of the palm. It is good for the balance of muscles around the shoulder.

The erector spinae and abdominals work isometrically to keep the spine neutral. Obliques prevent rotation of the torso.

Hip flexor and lower back muscles work isometrically to keep pelvis neutral. Posterior deltoid, latissimus dorsi, teres major, triceps concentrically extend at the shoulder and return eccentrically.

The scapula stabilizer dynamically stabilizes the scapula and adductor, and the leg muscles work isometrically to hold the position.

If the client has difficulty with this exercise, the Mid-Back Series is an alternative Reformer exercise to try. It’s less challenging for the client’s balance and back muscles since it is done in a supine position. An imprinted pelvis can help the client build abdominal strength. By lying down on the carriage, they can also maintain optimal alignment of the spine.

I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you. Gamsahamnida

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