Right around the time I hit my heaviest weight, I started having horrible back issues. If I stood too long, if I wasn’t sitting up straight at my desk, I’d feel this deep ache in my lower back. I’d rotate my hips forward and the pressure in my lower back would grow intense, as if someone was slowly adding iron plates one at a time until I’d break down crying from the pain.
There were a few different interpretations by my care team: I had, after all, gained weight, so perhaps my body was still adjusting to carrying the lbs. According to my acupuncturist, Chinese medicine would say that my back issues were related to my reproductive issues and my kidney energy. One of my chiropractors, who is also a functional-medicine specialist, was considering the implications of adrenal fatigue and weakness in my lower back. And my other chiropractor used a MyoVision scan of my back to show me further proof of said weakness. (More on my experiences with chiropractic care later.)
The workouts I have been doing haven’t specifically focused on the core. I don’t go into the gym thinking I’m going to work my abs. But my plan is fat loss. I’m not targeting areas — I’m working on the big picture. If you’ve been following Survival of the Fittest by my coworker, Jen Sinkler, you’d know she doesn’t put much stock in working one muscle, but rather, encourages people to include multijoint exercises into their workouts. (Multijoint exercises, sometimes called compound exercises, require more than one muscle and more than one joint to do the work. It’s faster, and gets your heart pumping. For examples, see “The Best Exercises You’re Not Doing” in the May 2010 issue.) As in many weight-lifting movements, engaging the core is important for proper form.
Yet, I was thinking my back could use more concentrated attention, if only a few times a week. Back issues run in the family, too, so if genes were going to play a part, I felt like I needed to do everything I could to lessen the pain now and start reversing it. My aunt has successfully used yoga to help her back pain, so I added a class when I could. Our gym also has a Pilates studio, and chiropractor #2 said both yoga and Pilates could provide a lot of relief.
A few years ago, I took a gyrotonic class for a story I was writing. The instructor had me try strengthening exercises on the studio’s expansion system, and the added guidance and resistance from the machine really challenged my body. Afterward, I felt taller, and immediately had less tension in my neck and shoulders. With Life Time’s Pilates classes on reformers, I was hoping for similar results, as well as a good workout.
On the Reformer
If you’re new to Pilates at Life Time Fitness, you start with one-on-one classes with a certified instructor (generally, from the schools of Peak Pilates or Stott Pilates). Once your sessions are complete, you can move on to group classes, with five or six other students. Classes run about 50 minutes.
When I started my sessions in March, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had been doing T.E.A.M. Boot Camp three times a week since October, so I figured Pilates would be a slow, relaxing workout. I assumed I had plenty of strength built up from Boot Camp, and the Pilates classes would be a cakewalk. Of course, that was before I was introduced to the Power Circle. Or the hundred. Or anything with the short or long box (the lead image on the Life Power Pilates site is how the long box is used).
Like any new action, my muscles were a bit confused. Some of the exercises were familiar, like planks, only now I was extending the carriage (the black platform that glides in the frame of the reformer) with my feet and taxing new muscles. Pictured below, my instructor, Kimberly, corrects my form to keep my back flat.
Some of the same sentiments I have for yoga translate to Pilates: the fluidity of movements, the connection to breath, the focus on coordination. When I’m pushing myself in Boot Camp, I’m often so worried about making it through the workout that I forget to check in with my body and be deliberate with my movements, to tighten my core, and to time my breathing. (Inevitably, I feel fatigued much quicker when I’m inattentive.) I’m reminded of those important factors each week in Pilates, and that consciousness transfers to my other workouts.
One of the best parts of all this consideration for my core: my back issues are fewer and farther between. Combined with losing weight, chiropractic care, yoga and Pilates, I’m feeling my stronger and have had fewer incidences of back pain. And feeling better has encouraged me to keep with it, so in another six months, that aching pain will be a distant memory.