Woman holding a plank position on a yoga mat

Back pain: 3 pilates moves to alleviate back aches

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Pilates can build a strong core to alleviate back pain. Try these three expert-approved moves to reap the benefits. 

Over 80% of people working from home are experiencing back, neck or shoulder pain, according to charity Versus Arthritis. If you and your household are some of those people, you won’t find that stat surprising. While you may have always worked at a desk, many people don’t have the same ergonomic set up as they did in the days of office working, and others have simply spent longer days sitting down than ever before. 

There are many ways to help back pain, from strength training to stretching, so it makes sense that pilates, which combines both strengthing and lengthing, is known for being one of the best forms of exercise to alleviate aches

Pilates focuses on building stability around our core, otherwise known as the powerhouse, which has a huge impact on our spine,” explains Jess Schuring, founder of pilates studio Heartcore. “Pilates also focuses on creating more awareness around our breath, using the exhale to create strength through our transverse abdominals to engage and stabilise muscles.”

It’s also a great way to complement other training styles, such as running or HIIT, which “can compress the spine and lead to tightness in the hips and lower back,” Jess adds. So regardless of your work set up, everyone can benefit from back-targeting pilates training. Jess has shared her three go-to moves to strengthen and lengthen your core and improve back pain. 

Plank variations

“The most powerful way to strengthen the core while lengthening the muscles is the plank,” says Jess. “You can modify to make it more accessible by dropping to your knees or work into the smaller supporting muscles by doing a side plank or a rainbow plank, where you drop the hips from side to side. The isometric hold builds spinal support and deep strength from the inside out.” 

For increased stability, why not try training barefoot? By increasing your grip without shoes on, you’ll find it easier to hold positions and concentrate on keeping a strong core.

How to do a plank 

  1. Begin in an all fours position on your mat, with your wrists under your shoulders.
  2. Kick your feet back and tuck your toes under so that your body is one straight line from your head to your heels. 
  3. Squeeze your glutes and draw your belly button in towards your spine to ensure your bum isn’t sticking up and you’re not arching through your spine. 
  4. Draw your elbows in towards your ribs and push into all 10 fingers to make sure your weight is evenly distributed through your hands. 

Hold for as long as possible. 


Strengthening the glutes is a key part of building a strong core,” reminds Jess. “A lunge is an amazing way to do this, while at the same time creating space in the opposite hip flexor. In pilates we tend to do static lunges in order to remove impact on the joints and keep you grounded.”  

How to do a pilates lunge 

  1. Stand straight with your feet hip width apart and hands by your side. 
  2. Gently step your right foot forward and bend your front knee so it’s over your heel.
  3. Soften your left knee so it’s in line with your left hip.
  4. Squeeze your abdominals and glutes and press into your right heel while you hold the position.  
  5. To come out of the exercise, begin to straighten your right knee and bring your left foot back into standing.

Hold for up to one minute on each leg before repeating on the other side. 

Neck rolls

“When we sit down all day we have rounded backs and shoulders and compressed bellies. This super simple stretch will allow you to get rid of tension and is particularly good when you realise you’ve been staring at your screen as it marries movement with the breath while decompressing the spine and bringing awareness into the upper back.” 

How to do neck rolls

  1. Sit or stand up straight with your gaze fixed directly ahead. 
  2. Interlace your hands behind your head and let the weight draw your head forwards, bringing your chin to your chest as your elbows come towards each other.
  3. Exhale to roll your neck back up, allowing your chin to come towards the sky. 
  4. Roll your shoulders back and take your elbows out wide again. 

Repeat five to 10 times. 

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Images: Getty

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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