Some popular Pilates exercises can put strain on the low back in men with typical postural imbalances. However, when modified with male bodies in mind, these Pilates exercises can be safe and helpful.
The Roll-Up is rarely performed correctly. Most students use momentum to accomplish the move–either to please their instructor or because they feel they must, even though it causes them pain. Because of core weaknesses, many clients overuse the psoas in almost all flexion exercises.
Modification: The Half Roll-Down With the Pilates Mini Ball. In place of the roll-up, have the client begin by sitting on the mat with a mini ball behind his spine. If the client has tight hamstrings, have him bend his knees. A more flexible client can extend his legs (as shown). Arms are extended in front of the client, activating the scapular plane.
Cues: Inhale to prepare, and on the exhalation slowly roll the spine, staying in a C curve, over the mini ball. Hold for a few seconds, inhale, and on the exhalation slowly return. Activate the transversus abdominis by drawing in first before you move, then the rectus abdominis as you start spinal flexion. Keep the scapulae open, and do not let the head lean forward.
Bridging is an excellent Pilates exercise when performed correctly; however, many students hyperextend the spine owing to lack of strength or poor understanding.
Modification: Bridging With the Pilates Mini Ball. Have the client place a mini ball between his knees. This helps stabilize the pelvis by activating the adductors, which in turn activates the pelvic floor and gives greater focus to deep muscles like the pyramidalis.
Cues: Inhale to prepare, and on the exhalation slowly peel the spine off the mat into a low bridge. Keep the spine lengthened rather than hyperextended. Focus on the hamstrings and adductors and hold a few moments in a stabilized bridge. Inhale, and on the exhalation lower the spine by articulating one vertebra at a time.
The Corkscrew can easily create low-back strain in someone with very tight hamstrings, weak abdominals and tight paraspinals. In addition, a man’s quads are generally larger than a woman’s; with gravity pulling the weight of these muscles toward the floor, this Pilates exercise becomes difficult for many men to do correctly.
Modification: The Corkscrew With the Pilates Mini Ball. Have the client place the mini ball under his tailbone. This decreases the strain on the hamstrings, allowing the low-back muscles to relax. (With this modification, you may see a male client extend his legs above his hips for the first time ever!)
Cues: Inhale to prepare. On the exhalation, with legs extended, slowly circle the legs to the right, maintaining control of the core and focusing on the oblique muscles. Do not let the abdominals lift up. (If they do, it is a sign that they are getting tired and it is time to stop.) Repeat to the left, doing only as much as the core can handle.
In addition to these modifications, the following two exercises are particularly beneficial to male Pilates participants:
The Side Plank activates more core stabilizers than any other exercise. This move engages the deep transversus abdominis and oblique muscles. Have your client start on his elbow, aligned from shoulder to hip to heel.
Cues: Inhale to prepare and exhale, holding this position and breathing deeply for up to 10 seconds. Be sure to lift up and out of the shoulder. Repeat on the other side.
The Psoas Stretch, while not a Pilates exercise per se, is essential for any athletic male client, especially one who runs. Exercises and other physical activities are often performed incorrectly, causing the psoas to become short and tight owing to overwork. This stretch releases the psoas and low back. Have your client place the mini ball under his tailbone and bring the right knee toward the chest.
Cues: Slowly extend the left foot on the floor, to the point of stretch, but not pain. Hold for at least a minute, and repeat on the other side.