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Pilates uses resistance training and a rotation of 500 exercises to work the body's midsection, improve muscle tone, balance, coordination, posture, and mental focus.

I have a weak core! How can I make sure my lower back is comfortable and pain-free during mat Pilates?

Halle Clarke (New York, NY) on Nov 9, 2011
This is a fairly common problem. I will first answer how you can strengthen your core when lying down. When you are lying on your back with your legs in the air, take a moment to make sure your back feels firmly connected to the mat. It sounds like you may need to bend your knees in order to get your back flat. If so, bend them as much as you need to. Then on an exhale, lift your head in your hands and sink your navel to your spine to deeply engage all four layers of the abdominal muscles. Now see if you can straighten your legs a bit. Only straighten them as far as you can keeping your back down and relaxed. Just bending and straightening your legs may be all you can do for now. Once your legs are straight or almost straight you can try slowly lower your legs to the mat. Go slow and only a few inches so you can really feel what is happening. As soon as you feel your back lift off of the mat even slightly , STOP, back up until your back is down again. This is as low as your legs should go for the entire abdominal series! If you start to feel a strain in your back, then you have missed the moment when your back has started to rise off the mat. Again, lift your legs a bit higher. As you get stronger you will be able to lower your legs closer to the floor. I can't know without seeing you, but it also sounds like your hamstrings ( back of the legs) may be tight so when you lift your legs your psoas (deep hip flexor in the front) has to work extra hard and this pulls your back up. Try doing some breathing into some hamstring stretches before class. Also some low back stretches. See if that helps! The teaser is an advanced exercise that usually starts on your back and ends sitting up into a "V" shape. For weaker cores it is best to first be able to sit up with the knees bent and the feet on the mat. As you sit up you can place your hands behind your thighs are really roll up one vertebrae at a time. Once you can do this without your hands, then progress to starting with the feet off the ground but the knees bent. That should keep you busy. I always suggest a few private sessions. Even if its just once or twice. A good instructor will be able to see exactly what you need and how you should progress each exercise. Good luck! Halle Clarke zeel expert NYC
Daniel Loigerot (New York, NY) on Sep 21, 2011
As a modification, place your hands in a V shape under your bottom to support the lower back. Also, reduce the range of motion and keep the knees slightly bent.
Maytal Rozensher (Sant Monica, CA) on Dec 3, 2011
Always be conscious of your body and know your personal modification needs. Talk with the instructor before the class and have them suggest these changes for you. That's the hard part of the mat "classes" - while they seem more cost effective (in the short run) and at least get you doing the exercise, you're doing somewhat of a disservice to yourself because you may need more attention than can be given to you in that class setting. Never work through pain! It's best to omit an exercise and join again on those that are safe for you. Simply based on the information you've given, I have following suggestions: The 100 - bend your knees to a 90° angle (you'll find your back is flatter in this position), once you're ready you can eventually lengthen your legs to the ceiling (you can soften your knees) - make sure your hips are down. This will help you focus on your stomach so you can strengthen it to start expanding your range of motion (ex. lowering your legs away). Double-Straight-Leg-Stretch (in the Series-of-5) - you have the option of placing your hands under your seat, but keep the same idea in mind: only lower your legs to your ability. If you're back is arching, don't go as low. The Teaser - legs are at a 45° angle - perhaps an Assisted Teaser is best for you (this requires the instructor) or you can do a Teaser "prep" - keep your legs bent on the ground and practice rolling up your upper body with the legs staying down. Eventually reaching one leg up (in line with the bent one's knee) and rolling up. Remember: compensating for the sake of achieving the motion of the exercise defeats the purpose of the work! It won't happen overnight, working in the smartest and most efficient way will yield the most effective results. Do your research: find out the education background of your instructor. Not all Pilates is the same. While various forms of Pilates are good, from my experience those with a DIRECT Romana's Pilates certification are the best teachers and will give you the best results.
Lynda Lippin (New York, NY) on Nov 15, 2011
Assuming you are in a beginner or mixed level Pilates class, there is no reason why exercises such as teaser and double leg lower/lift should be showing up (but that's my opinion). What you need to do for now is work with your structure, smaller and closer to center until you are stronger. And a small arch in your lower back is NOT necessarily a bad thing. Keeping your knees bent instead of straight when your legs are up and making sure you can breathe comfortably at all times will help you avoid compression of your lower back into the mat. Focus more on lengthening your spine and less on shoving your lower back down (really!). Think about pulling your abs in and up around your whole torso like a corset instead of just shoving your back down. I have a video about this issue of Pelvic Stability on youtube: In a private lesson you could get some good pointers on form and breath that you could then take back and use in the classes. If that isn't feasible, check all of my videos on youtube and try to incorporate that info into your classes. Another great free resource is