In our modern society, most people are suffering from back pain at some point in their lives. However, often, back pain can be minimized or completely solved and
avoided by just doing Pilates regularly.
Pilates back strengthening exercises are very different from what many people think of when being told to strengthen their back by exercising.
There is the common misconception that you need to go to the gym working out on back extension machines like bodybuilders do. Whilst these exercises do actually strengthen the back, they only work the surface muscles. Also, they may cause a lot of damage when done incorrectly.
However, you need very little to work your back muscles effectively and to strengthen them inside-out.
Here are a few simple exercises that you can easily do from the comfort of your home. This is just a small selection, but done regularly, these exercises will improve your back considerably.
Mat / floor exercises
This exercise promotes the flexibility and stability of the spine throughout its length as each vertebra is involved in the curling/uncurling movement.
- Start off lying in a relaxed position with your feet firmly on the floor, parallel and hip-width apart.
- Rest your arms beside your body, palms down, or, if comfortable, take them above your head and keep them relaxed and open. Make sure the upper back is not arched.
- Take a deep breath and breathe out whilst starting to zip up and slowly curling the base of your spine off the floor until you have reached the top position.
- Breathe in and out as you lower and lengthen the spine back onto the floor.
- Repeat and aim to complete five cycles.
- Be careful not to curl up too high. You should only rise to the level of your shoulder blades.
- Also, sometimes, there is a muscle imbalance, which means that one side tends to dominate. So try to come down in a central position.
- Finally, try to keep the pressure through your feet equal to avoid getting cramps.
Sliding down the wall
This exercise helps you lengthen the base of your spine and achieve the correct angle of the pelvis to the spine – perfect for a good posture and less back pain.
- Start off leaning your back against the wall with your feet parallel, hip-width apart and around 15 cm away from the wall, without forcing your head back onto the wall.
- Take a deep breath and breathe out whilst slowly bending your knees and sliding down the wall until your thighs are about parallel with the floor.
- Breathe in whilst sliding back up keeping the base of your spine lengthened.
- Repeat 5 to 8 times.
- Be careful not to slide down too far. Your bottom should not be below knee level.
- Also, don’t let your tailbone lift off the wall.
- Make sure your feet stay parallel, with the heels on the floor, and don’t roll inwards.
This exercise targets the core and abdominal muscles and helps to stretch and relieve tension in the back muscles whilst promoting correct alignment.
- Start off lying on your back in relaxed, neutral position with your legs angled, releasing your neck by slowly rolling your head from side to side. Place your hands on top of your thighs.
- Take a deep breath and breathe out whilst slowly curling up moving your hands up your thighs.
- When reaching the knees with your hands, hold that position for 5 to 10 seconds.
- Breathe in whilst slowly curling back down.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times.
- Be careful not to let your stomach pop up.
- Also, make sure you stay in neutral position with your tailbone down on the floor and lengthening away.
Resistance band exercises
This exercise is great for stabilizing the core while strengthening the muscles of the arms and shoulder. It is perfect to alleviate back and shoulder pain.
- Start off lying on your mat with your face down, keeping your legs together and placing the resistance band under your upper abdomen. Hold one end of the band in each hand with your hands and elbows down on the mat beside you.
- Take a deep breath and breathe out whilst lifting your chest off the mat and stretching your arms out to each side pulling the band so that your arms and shoulders form a straight line.
- Breathe in and slowly release your arms folding them again whilst lowering the chest to the floor.
- Repeat 10 times, have a short break and do two more sets of 10.
- Be careful not to overstretch your arms, they should be in a straight line.
- Also, make sure there is no slack in your band during stretching as otherwise you won’t get the full benefit.
This exercise helps you strengthen your core and arm muscles. It is also a perfect exercise to ease and prevent back and shoulder pain.
- Start off standing tall with one foot on the middle of the band, holding the ends of the band with the arms by your side.
- Lunge back with the other leg and keep your foot at a 45-degree angle with your leg straight.
- Take a deep breath and breathe out whilst slowly lifting both arms out to the side stretching the band. Keep your arms straight and hold them in lifted/straight position for a few seconds.
- Breathe in and slowly lower your arms to the starting position.
- Repeat 6 to 10 times switching legs each time. Have a short break and do two more sets of 6 to 10 repeats.
- Make sure you keep your back straight throughout the exercise.
- Be careful not to rush through the exercise. You should control your movements so your muscles get worked inside-out.
Standing chest expansion
This exercise promotes a better posture as it works and tones your triceps, lower and mid-back and your shoulders – ideal for easing stiff shoulders and back pain due to sitting for a prolonged period.
- Start off standing tall with both feet on the middle of the band, parallel and hip-width apart, holding the ends of the band in each hand with your arms by your side.
- Take a deep breath and breathe out whilst pressing your arms behind you keeping them straight. Hold them in that position for a few seconds or for as long as feels comfortable.
- Breathe in and slowly bring your arms back down to the starting position.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times, have a short rest and do two more sets of 5 to 10 repeats.
- Be careful not to overstretch. There should not be any pain during the exercise.
- Make sure you keep your body straight throughout the exercise.
Balance ball exercises
This exercise targets the whole range of core muscles whilst promoting pelvic stability and improving balance – a great way of tackling imbalances and improving core strength.
- Start off lying on the ball with your head down slowly rolling forwards until you can place your forearms on a mat, with your feet and lower legs on the ball.
- Engage your core and check that your back and legs are straight.
- Take a deep breath and breathe out (repeat as necessary) whilst holding the plank position for 30 seconds.
- Slowly roll back on the ball until you can kneel in front of it.
- Repeat 2 times.
- Make sure you keep your back and legs straight. There should be no sagging in the lower back.
- Be careful not to lose balance when rolling into the start position and back. Keep your core engaged to support balance.
This exercise recruits a number of muscle groups and promotes core stability as well as back and hip flexibility. Performed regularly, it can prevent back injuries and ease back tension.
- Start off kneeling with your right leg immediately next to the ball, the left leg stretched out away from the ball. Put your hands behind your head without interlocking them.
- Take a deep breath, engage your core and breathe out whilst leaning over the ball to your right.
- Take a deep breath and breathe out whilst slowly returning in upright position leaving your hands behind your head all the way through.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times, then change sides and repeat another 5 to 10 times.
- Be careful not to lean over the ball too far as you may lose balance.
- Make sure your core is engaged throughout the exercise to support the side-bent.
This exercise focuses on the back of the body and is ideal for strengthening all groups of core and postural muscles, not only promoting a stronger core, but also an improved posture.
- Start off lying on the ball with your face down keeping the chest off the ball and your back straight, with your arms hanging straight down beside the ball. Keep your feet a bit more than hip-width apart and tuck in your toes.
- Take a deep breath, engage your core and breathe out whilst raising your head, chest, arms and legs off the floor so your body forms a straight line, with your thumbs pointing toward the ceiling. At this point, only your hips should touch the ball with the rest of your body lifted off the ball.
- Hold this position for a few seconds.
- Take a deep breath and breathe out whilst slowly returning to the starting position.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times.
- Be careful not to lean forward too far or you may lose balance.
- Make sure you keep your core, glute and buttock muscles engaged to be able to fully control your movements.
This exercise mobilizes the full length of the spine and promotes segmental control of the stabilizing muscles. Not suitable if you suffer from neck or back injuries!
- Start off lying on your back in a relaxed position.
- Engage your core, lift one leg up at the time toward the chest, straighten them at a 90 degree angle to the floor with your feet pointed.
- Take a deep breath, engage your core and breathe out whilst lowering your legs toward the chest, then rolling back until your feet touch the floor behind your head.
- Take a deep breath and breathe out whilst slowly rolling back into the starting position, one vertebra at a time.
- Repeat 5 to 8 times.
- Make sure you perform your movements in a controlled manner and stop if you feel pain.
- Be careful not to roll onto your neck – neck, shoulders and arms should be relaxed.
Back leg pulls
This exercise improves stability and the strength in the shoulders and upper back. It also increases hip mobility and stretches the hamstrings.
- Start off lying on your back, then extending the arms below the shoulders so the elbows are straight but not locked and the body in a straight line.
- Take a deep breath, engage your core and breathe out whilst tightening your muscles.
- Take another deep breath and kick one leg up towards the ceiling maintaining your alignment with your shoulders relaxed.
- Exhale whilst slowly lowering the leg back to the floor, lightly touching it before going up again.
- Repeat 5 to 8 times on each leg.
- Make sure your hips stay up and you body stays aligned throughout the exercise.
- Be careful not to let your bottom drop.
This exercise aims to stretch and stabilize the spine, sides, inner thighs and hamstrings and is also great for increasing the flexibility of the hip flexors.
- Start off sitting with your legs in front of you in an open position so that they are a comfortable distance apart, keeping the knees soft and toes pointed.
- Take a deep breath in and sit tall with your arms up to your sides and parallel to the floor, palms facing the floor.
- Exhale rotating your body to the left facing your left leg, reaching down with your right hand towards the outside of your left foot. At the same time, stretch your left arm out behind you as high as possible whilst keeping the shoulder blades down.
- Take a deep breath and breathe out whilst slowly returning to the starting position in reverse order.
- Repeat on the other side, then repeat 5 more times on each side.
- Make sure your buttocks stay on the floor and your neck stays released throughout the exercise.
- Be careful not to bend too far, you should not experience any pain.
Consistency is the key
Each of the described exercises is perfect for promoting a healthy spine. However, as with everything, you will only get the full benefit when performing them regularly. Ideally, you should try to do at least three of the exercises a day, maybe alternating between them.
You will soon notice improvement – your stabilizing and spine supporting muscles will get stronger, your spine will feel more flexible, and you will be less prone to back pain due to sitting for long hours.
But just a word of caution: If you are new to Pilates and have never tried any of the exercises, it is highly advisable to book an induction with a qualified instructor first. Also, if suffering from back injuries, you should always consult your physiotherapist before trying any type of exercise.
Having taken all of this into consideration, performing Pilates back strengthening exercises at home is a perfect way to maintain a healthy spine.