Words: Robin Kendall
Our bodies are meant to move in all planes of motion: forward-and-back (sagittal), side-to-side (coronal) and into and out of rotation (transverse). However, in day-to- day life we tend to move only in the sagittal plane, neglecting the other two ranges of motion which can result in our spines becoming inflexible and stiff. Below are 7 exercises to redress the balance, strengthen and stretch the back muscles, encourage flexibility and promote spine health.
Get the best out of these exercises by using the Pilates Breath which connects into and engages the deep stabiliser (core) muscles – abdominals, pelvic floor, psoas (located in the lower lumbar region of the spine, extending through the pelvis to the femur), multifidus (a series of muscles attached to the spine), and the transversus abdominis (the deepest of the 6 abdominal muscles extending between the ribs and the pelvis, wrapping round your waist from front to back) – providing 360- degree spinal support and stability.
The Pilates Breath is a lateral breath; it’s a deep inhale through the nose into the sides and back of the ribcage and an exhale out through the mouth as if blowing out candles on a Birthday cake – whilst pulling the front abdominal wall back to the spine, the pelvic floor muscles up and back towards the spine and the waist in.
THE ROLL DOWN
Objective: To stretch the back extensors and increase range of motion of the spine in forward flexion.
Stand in an upright position – imagine a brick wall behind the back of your head, ribcage, pelvis and heels – with your legs in parallel and hipwidth apart -think size of a tennis ball between the ankle bones -keep your arms in line with your body, palms facing inwards.
Exhale allowing your chin to lower to your chest and leading with the head start to peel your spine away from the wall articulating down towards the floor one vertebra at a time. Your head and arms are heavy – they hang from your neck and shoulders.
Exhale as you reverse the move rebuilding your spine back up against the wall to the start position. 3 repetitions.
Important note: Knees are soft or bent.
THE SIDE BEND
Objective: To lengthen and mobilise the spine in side flexion.
Stand in an upright position as you did in the roll down, imagining being sandwiched between two brick walls. Place one hand behind your head, elbow bent out to the side and the other arm alongside the body, palm facing inward.
Exhale as you gradually arch your spine to one side – think of reaching up and over a massive beach ball so you lengthen your spine upwards and over rather than compressing or shortening any area of the torso.
Exhale to reverse the move returning to the start position. 3 to 4 repetitions each side. Important note: Your weight is evenly placed through both feet and the pelvis doesn’t move
SPINE TWIST SUPINE
Objective: To lengthen and mobilise the spine in rotation
Lying on your back with your arms extend out from the shoulders in a T position, palms facing upward. Legs together in tabletop – hips and knees at 90 degrees.
Inhale to move legs and pelvis as one unit to one side.
Exhale to return to the start position. 3 – 5 repetitions each side. Important note: Initiate the move from the abdominals and obliques and whilst your lower body rotates your shoulders are relaxed and the shoulder blades remain on the mat.
Objective: To lengthen and mobilise the spine in extension.
Lying face down with the head aligned with the spine, arms straight alongside the body palms pressing against the legs and legs together.
Inhale to lift the upper trunk away from the floor.
Exhale to lower upper trunk without touching the nose to the floor. 5- 10 repetitions.
Important note: Keep your head aligned with your spine, abdominals engaged and pelvis still.
Objective: To lengthen and mobilise the spine through articulation.
Lying on your back in a neutral spine position, legs in parallel with knees bent, feet placed on the floor and arms alongside the body palms down.
Exhale to tilt the pelvis towards you – imprinting your lower back on the mat– and roll the pelvis and spine up towards the ceiling one vertebra at a time.
Exhale to reverse the move, rolling the spine and pelvis down back down onto the mat one vertebra at a time returning the spine and pelvis to the start position.
Important note: Your hips stay level as you articulate up and down and maintain legs in parallel.
THE CHEST LIFT
Objective: To lengthen and mobilise the spine in forward flexion
Lying on your back in a neutral spine and neutral pelvis position with legs parallel, knees are bent, feet hip width apart, fingers interlaced behind the head and elbows out to the side.
Exhale to lift head and chest – allowing the lower back to soften down into the mat but maintain a neutral pelvis.
Exhale to lower chest and head returning to the start position. 5 – 10 repetitions.
Important note: Keep your head aligned with spine when lifting into flexion, rest the weight of your head in your hands and maintain legs in parallel.
Objective: To stretch the lower back and aid relaxation
Kneeling with the legs together, sitting on the heels, chest resting on thighs and arms reaching forward on the floor shoulder width apart and palms down. Breathe freely relaxing the back, neck and shoulders
Perform these exercises 3 times a day – morning, noon and night – to give your spine some love.
Robin Kendall is an experienced mat and reformer pilates teacher. With many years of experience, Robin’s classes are dynamic and challenging, with a strong emphasis on technique, control and focus on the body/mind connecting through breathing. Robin is based at East of Eden in Walthamstow, London. East of Eden offers over 100 classes a week with classes ranging from yoga, pilates, and barre, available both online and in person.