About three and a half years ago, my lower back and I fell out.
I had no intention of falling out with my lower back, but it had other ideas.
I would maintain that my lower back started the disagreement, but, were you to ask my lower back, it would probably say that it was my poor posture and rubbish hiking technique that was the spark for the whole argument.
I was on holiday (it couldn't happen at a convenient time, like when I was at work, could it?), and I started getting severe pain in my lower back - to the point where I couldn't stand still or walk about for more than about 15 minutes before I had to start bending and flexing and generally making a spectacle of myself. So I saw a specialist, and after some maintenance work he suggested I do some exercises to help build my core strength up to better support my misbehaving back.
As luck would have it, I have a friend who is a Pilates instructor. So I had a chat with her, and signed up to her class.
It was probably the best fitness decision I have ever made.
I didn't really know what to expect from a Pilates class. My friend, the Pilates instructor, is about as fit as you can possibly be without actually being a fiddle, so I presumed it wouldn't be very easy. And I was right. But it was excellent, both for my irascible back and for my sailing fitness. Here's a few reasons why:
- It is designed to build core strength, which we all know is very important for sailors and non-sailors alike
- A lot of the exercises work muscles through static holds and small movements around static holds - much like in sailing. For instance, your quads are in a relatively static hold when you're hiking, but you are moving them a little as you help the boat through the waves. Pilates exercises replicate these kind of movements
- It improves flexibility (and god knows I need to improve my flexibility)
- The routines are balanced, so you build muscles that sailing doesn't exercise, helping to keep your body stable.
I know a lot of people recommend Yoga for sailors, and I've no reason to disbelieve this idea, but my complete lack of flexibility means that Yoga looks a bit beyond me at the moment. And besides, I enjoy Pilates and feel like it directly relates to the kind of fitness I need for sailing.
If you're thinking of doing Pilates then I recommend you go for it. Here's a few tips for beginners:
- Bring a towel. I know most of you would anyway, but, as I've mentioned before, it is a thing easily forgotten. It can be used to help with some of the stretches and moves when you first start out. And anyway, a no lesser resource than The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy recommends you carry one at all times.
- Don't wear shorts, wear tracksuit bottoms. I promise this is not from personal experience. However, my friend (the Pilates teacher) told me that she hates when guys turn up to class in shorts as you never know what you might catch a glimpse of. Remember, you'll be bending and flexing and waggling legs in the air, and much as you might expect the rest of the class to admire your unmentionables, it isn't always the case.
- Do attend a proper class, at least at first. Getting proper form is essential, and it is much easier with a professional to show you and correct you. I also find you push yourself harder in a group.
- ...But do get a book or DVD to help you practice at home. I don't do Pilates as much as I should at home - I tend to do sailing-related workouts instead. But I have found it very useful to have a book as a reference and to use for the occasional home work out that I do. This is the one I used, and it works for me, but there are loads of booksand DVDs around that are probably just as good.
Finally, if you're a guy and you think Pilates is more of a girl thing then I recommend you give an intermediate class a go. Trust me, it's tougher than it looks.