Lower back pain isn’t fun. Sitting at a desk all day and cranking away at a computer can cause issues like back pain even if you work out regularly. And, considering 80% of people suffer from this problem at some point in their lives, according to the American Spinal Decompression Assn., I know I’m not alone on this.
So I had to adjust my workout: I tried yoga, stretching, acupuncture, chiropractic care, deep-tissue massage, and even steroid injections – all a temporary fix for a larger problem that even I couldn’t pinpoint. And then it happened. The solution to the lower back pain I’d been looking for… Pilates. Yes, guys, I said Pilates.
I know there are a lot of men out there that are all about basketball, tennis, and long-distance running. But if you need to switch up your fitness routine due to an injury or issue, read on to see what three key benefits you’ve been missing.
1. Strengthen Your Core
As a member of Equinox, I was entitled to a complimentary 1-hr session. In my 9 years as a member, I’d never taken advantage of it but figured it was time. I set my session with an instructor named Emily Hopper. Upon entry to the studio, she greets me with a warm embrace and proceeds to go through my physical history with me. I explain to her my back problems, and she lights up and explains to me that “by strengthening my core in safe ways, it will help to relieve back pain.” I keep an open mind because I don’t know how the workout is going to make me feel. We stretch and warm-up my muscles to alleviate any tightness prior to our start, and immediately get to work on engaging my core on the reformer.
A series of sit-ups and leg lifts gets me moving with focused instruction from Emily to get the full benefit of each exercise. The program then takes me to a series of weight resistance exercises targeting every muscle in my legs while concurrently engaging my arms for a total body workout. The burn is high at this point. The hour has flown by, and some final stretching leads to a completed session.
2. Improve Mental Clarity
The next morning when I wake up, I’m not as stiff as I usually am. My mind is clearer and I’m feeling less creaky than normal. Maybe this is the answer I’ve been looking for. Looking to explore the workout further, I start researching a few different places that offer it close to my home. Some use the traditional reformer in a group setting, while others mix up the workout with a combination of running and weight training to give you different variety. Who doesn’t like a nice mixture of yoga and spinning, if that’s your thing?
3. Develop Flexibility and Control of the Body
I decide to try a group class at a studio near my home a few days later. I sign in and explain that I’m a neophyte to the workout. An adorable blonde named Leslie Karpman, greets me and tells me to “expect a 45-minute sweat session that will send me off in an awesome endorphin rush, a stronger body, tight abs, and a sexy booty, she later describes as ‘Pilates on crack.’” I explain my lower back issues to Leslie, and she tells me that her class is “super-focused on strengthening the butt and core, and she keeps a close eye on the men during the lunges to be sure their hip is not rotating, which causes a problem in the low back on the opposite side.”
The machine at this studio is different and targets heavier weight with a faster transition for a higher impact workout. It’s not traditional Pilates but rather a cross-training workout that incorporates the benefits of Pilates while making you sweat and work hard. I commence the workout and find myself falling and stumbling while trying to keep up with the class – a class mixed with both girls and guys. Leslie never takes her eye off me and always checks to make sure my form is correct. She also happens to be pushing everyone to fight the urge to go fast and focus on proper form and slow and steady movement.
“Guys often come into class having had little to no experience working on balance and coordination, and tons of low back problems, which is generally caused by tight hamstrings, hips that are out of alignment, and the biggest culprit, a lack in glute strength,” she says. I finish the class and am covered in sweat. I was hooked.
My back doesn’t hurt as much and the results have been transformative. Whether you’re looking for a more classical approach or high intensity, the combination of benefits from both methods has given me the balance not only in my body, but sharper mental acuity. It’s the equivalent of a runner’s high with the ultimate euphoria settling in when you least expect it.
One More: Pilates and Sports
Pilates is even being embraced by professional athletes in both the NFL and NBA. “Pilates is something different. It doesn’t involve a basketball. You don’t have to run a million sprints, and you still can get a full body workout from it. I think Pilates is an incredible workout. I come out drenched every single time!” said Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls in an interview with People magazine.
I’ve been on a schedule of twice a week for the past 2 years with both Emily and Leslie, and have never looked back.