June 19, 2021   9:30am

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Is your “core” workout hurting your back?

If you’re working out, doing Yoga or Pilates, I figure you know what I mean by that “core” …

Having recently gotten off a long flight with a sore and tender back … and with my on-again off-again lower back pain (thank you prior bad computer-setup situation – bah!), I was interested to read this article called “Core Myths” that asked “Is your core workout hurting your back?”  It was recently in The New York Times Sunday Magazine and the writer, Gretchen Reynolds, reiterated what my Pilates trainer and my physical therapist have been telling me.  But, knowing how many times I’ve received bad advice from others less knowledgeable in the past, I wanted to be sure to pass this info on to you.

For example:

Guess what — it’s not just about strengthening the abs! That can, in fact destabilize your spine by pulling it out of alignment.

And — you know all those times your trainer told you “flat back” — well, not necessarily … you probably should instead be going with a small curve (be sure and watch the video that accompanies this story).

About those sit-ups — skip them.  “They place devastating loads on the disks.”

I passed this article on to my own terrific physical therapist, Natalie Barzana, who I go to weekly at ICE and asked her what she thought of the story.  Here’s her response which is worth reading:

“So, I read the article and I totally agree with it. Basically, exercise is shifting gears and focusing more on functional movement patterns. It is the realistic approach to human movement. Movement is dynamic and usually requires co-contractions (involvement of more than one muscle group). This article supports the idea that the core muscles are a group of muscles (not just a single muscle) which create a balance and support for the spine. In order to protect our spine while picking up a heavy box, playing recreational sports, or carrying a 20 lb toddler, we must be able to activate more than just the transversus abdominis. Therefore, specificity of training is very important. Choosing exercises that mimic natural movement patterns and focusing on the core as a unit of stabilizers all help to prevent common orthopedic injuries.”

And, of course, I had to get my Pilates instructor’s take on it because she’s totally knowledgeable and wonderful.  Here’s what Michelle Philips has to say:

“I was drawn to the comment about Pilates.  I feel Professor McGill painted an inaccurate picture of what the goals and intentions of Pilates truly are.  What makes Pilates so effective is that the workout is designed to not only work the transverse abdominus but ALL the “core” muscles.  Joseph Pilates referred to all of the abdominals and postural muscles as the “girdle of strength” and designed exercises to work not only the girdle but the entire body uniformly.  A uniformly developed body is a balanced body.  Pilates isn’t designed to work the “core.”  It’s designed to work the entire body (and mind).  Professor McGill stated how important it is to not only work abdominals but all trunk muscles to help prevent back pain and maintain a healthy spine; therefore, supporting the value in Pilates.”

If you’re working out and whether or not you have back problems now, I strongly suggest you read and watch this story.  An ounce of prevention and all that …


PS:  If you want to reach Natalie or Michelle send email to harriett@snoety.com

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