Personalizing Pilates' Q&A Blog – by Sherry

July 12, 2012

How to Sit with Lower Back Support

Hi everyone,

Our bodies are designed to move, they are not designed to sit for long periods of time.     One of the things that happens when we sit is that we lose the inward, lumbar curve of our lower back.    When this curve is lost, our posture suffers, we slouch and we put tremendous pressure on the discs of our lower back.     If you happen to have osteoporosis, a herniated or bulging disc, sciatica or any sort of lower back pain, it is absolutely critical that you have this lumbar curve in your spine at all times.     

The problem with sitting is that very few chairs have proper lumber support.   Even the ones that claim to have support, don’t have enough of it so we still slouch to a certain degree.

How NOT to sit

How NOT to sit

In the photo above, you might think that this is an okay way to sit because my back is supported.    But here’s the problem.   Look at my lower back.   It is flattened and there is no lumbar/inward curve in the spine.   If you have a herniated disc, osteoporosis or sciatica, sitting like this (or slouching even more) is going to make the problem worse.

Here’s what I show all of my clients.   It’s the proper way to sit with support.   It will feel a little “rigid” at first but it will quickly become comfortable.

First, you will need a good-sized bath towel.    Fold it in half lengthwise.   Start rolling it up until it’s a cylinder and secure the ends with elastics or duct tape.    When it’s finished, it should be 6 to 8 inches in diameter.     Now sit in your chair and wiggle your hips all the way to the very back of the seat.    Lean forward and place the roll behind your navel in the curve of your lower back.    There!   Now when you sit, your lower back has the lumbar curve in it but it is supported by the towel.     You’ll notice in the photo below that my spine is more vertical when compared to the first photo.   I’m not leaning back.    When sitting correctly, you should be able to draw a vertical line from the earlobe, through the shoulder to the hip.   In this photo, you can do that.   In the photo above, the line is not vertical at all!

How to sit properly using a lumbar support

How to sit properly using a lumbar support

You can buy a lumbar roll instead of using a towel, but make sure it’s big enough.   Many of the ones that I’ve seen are only 3 – 4 inches in diameter which is not big enough for an adult.

Remember if you have questions, add a comment here or email me via the website (on the right).  And I’d really appreciate it if you would check out the workouts that I have on my website.    There are even special workouts for osteoporosis and herniated discs that teach you how to strengthen your abs while keeping the lumbar curve intact.

Cheers,

Sherry

August 18, 2009

No Pelvic Tilts,please!! How to have a strong lower back!

For many years, starting in the early 80’s  I taught aerobics.  One of the things that I remember clearly when teaching abdominal work was to do a pelvic tilt and press the lower back down to the mat so that it flattened.   We always said that you should do this to protect your lower back.     Even Joseph Pilates wrote that the lower back should be flattened when doing exercises. His reasoning was that when we were a fetus, our spines were rounded like a C and this was the proper curve for the spine – this was the prevailing wisdom in the 1930’s.

Sadly, we were not only misleading people but we probably hurt more than a few people as well with this cue.   

Over the years, we have learned that the lower back should have a natural inward curve to it.    It should not be flat.   When you are lying on your back, there should be two places in your spine that do NOT touch the mat – the back of your neck and your lower back.   The inward curve in the lower back is critically important for a strong and healthy spine.   Think of it like the foundation of a tall building – when it is strong, the rest of the building is strong and solid.    Doing abdominal work with the lower back flattened overstretches the small muscles that support this area of the spine and it creates weakness.   Worse, it can lead to herniated discs, sciatica, lower back pain and other spinal problems.

When doing Pilates, it’s really important to have what we call a “neutral pelvis”.   This position of pelvis is defined by 3 bones – the two hip bones and the pubic bone (see below).

two hipbones and pubic bone

 

When you are lying on your back, these three bones will form a level plane when you have a neutral pelvis.   In this position, there will be an inward curve in your lower back and it will NOT touch the mat.   It’s hard to see in the photos below, but there is enough space that I can slip my hand underneath my lower back.   It’s not flattened.     In the second photo, you can see that the three bones are level and you could balance a cup of tea on my hands and it would not spill.   (In a pelvic tilt, the tea would be slopping into my navel!)

neutral pelvis

 

neutral pelvis with hands

If you have any sort of spinal condition (such as sciatica, a herniated disc, osteoporosis) it is absolutely critical that you work in a neutral pelvis position.   Flattening your lower back will cause you pain and can make your condition worse.   My neighbour had one herniated disc at L3/L4 and managed to herniate a second one by doing ab work with a flat back.

All of my downloadable workouts include an Ab Tutorial that teaches you how to find and hold a neutral pelvis.  All abdominal work is done with this position so that you are strengthening the foundation of your spine in it’s optimal position.     Check out the workouts that I have available (my website is on the right side of this page!)   

If you are not sure which one is best for you, email me and I’ll help you!

Take care,

Sherry

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