Core Strength Minus the Neck Pain
I joke with my personal training clients and Pilates class participants weekly about how I’m going to write a book titled “I Did a Zillion Sit-ups And All I Got Was a Sore Neck”. Have you ever felt that way? If so, you are not alone.
Let’s face it…deep core muscles and the rectus abdominous (“6-pack muscles”) are lazy and will call upon any other muscle in the vicinity for help when they are asked to work. I see it every day. A person is working hard doing crunches, leg lifts, decline sit-ups, etc…and yet they feel more work in their upper back/neck, low back or hip flexors. Why? Incorrect form. That’s all there is to it.
So how did Pilates fix my technique and form? Here’s the top 3 ways…
1. Breathing Exercises
It all starts with Pilates breathing. It is nearly impossible to engage and maintain abdominal muscle contraction when your belly keeps expanding every time you take a breath. At Foundation Fitness Briarcliff, we begin each Pilates class with a lateral costal breathing practice where we teach our bodies to breathe into the ribcage without expanding the belly allowing you to build intensity in your abs without doing ONE crunch! We also practice pairing breath with movement to add additional intensity.
Next in “line” is POSTURE! When the shoulder blades and pelvis are not in proper alignment the exercise you are performing is more likely cause injury and less likely to have the intended effect. If you are trying to do an abdominal exercise but your pelvis is in an anterior tilt then you will likely only feel your low back doing the work. In our classes, we provide demonstrations, tons of verbal cues and hands-on corrections when appropriate to help the participant perfect their alignment.
Finally, it’s consistency. Once you get the breathing and the alignment down then you’ve got to do it regularly. I’ve been doing 2 hours of Mat Pilates weekly for the past 5 years and I have never had a stronger core, better posture or less upper back/shoulder pain and I’ve completely eliminated migraine like tension headaches. One DVD here or there is always better than nothing, however, for real results that you can see and feel requires constant effort. If I skip a week for vacation, I always notice those old bad posture habits creeping back in and I know it’s time to HIT THE MAT!