Therapeutic Pilates: Pilates Exercises for Lower Back Pain

At some point in our lives, we can experience lower back pain.  Lower Back Pain In a majority of cases, LBP can be significantly reduced or completely relieved with Pilates.  At Archer Pilates, we want to give our clients the knowledge and body awareness to work in the studio and out to manage this throughout their everyday life.

The combination of deep abdominal strengthening, postural awareness, and release and stretching exercises that we teach at Archer Pilates, is extremely effective in the prevention and treatment of LBP. However, it is also important to apply the techniques taught in Pilates into your everyday life.

Pilates Exercises for Lower Back Pain

The Neutral Spine position that is taught in Joseph Pilates Philosophy and emphasized in every Archer Pilates class, is used as the most functionally ideal or “perfect” posture for our bodies. The curves in our spine are used to create stability and mobility for taking on the weight and pressure of our bodied in our everyday life.  The strong focus on the core (deep abdominal) strength, creates stronger support muscles for the spine. By implementing these techniques into your everyday life, you begin to fix the problem at the cause, rather than only treat the symptoms.  Which is what we focus on, everything begins from the core.

The following exercises are some we do in almost every class.  And we emphasize your form and create body awareness so that you can utilize these principles on your own as well.  Form equals function, so when your form is best, you can really take advantage of every exercise to support your spine, and assist in lower back pain.

1.Pelvic Tilt or Imprinting

This simple but effective exercise gets the deep core muscle switched on and builds strength in the support system of the spine.

  1. Lay on your back in Neutral Spine (relaxed back muscles and natural curves, we call it out “lady bug tunnel”), knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. As you exhale, lift your pelvis, and think about “tilting” your pelvis back to flatten your back or “imprint” your spine. This is the perfect time to Kegel and engage your transverse abs, the deepest part of your abdominals. These are also known as your pelvic floor muscles.
  3. Inhale at the top, and as you exhale, you will slowly articulate your spine, roll back down one vertebrae at a time, flatten your back, and tilt your pelvis forward once more, to end in your neutral spine.

2. Chest Lift

This is an exercise to strengthen your core, which will support your lower back.

  1. Lay on your back in Neutral spine, knees bent, feet flat on the floor and hands behind the head. Pelvic floor and other core muscles engaged.
  2. Exhale as you lift your head and chest as you imagine pulling in your belly button into your spine (not doming toward the ceiling), and making you’re your pelvis is still (not tilting toward you.)
  3. Inhale to lay your head back down.

If you want to take this to the next level, you can lift your legs into table top, or move into hundreds.  Which can be done at all levels: legs bent, legs in table top, or legs in 45 degrees.

3. Supine Spinal Twist


Rotation helps to stretch the back muscles and controlling this movement also helps to strengthen the oblique muscles to further support the spine.

  1. Lay on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor in your proper grounding form with your arms stretched out to the sides.
  2. Keep knees squeezed together (you may want to use a towel under your lower back if you feel any pain keeping your spine in neutral), slowly take the knees over to one side, keeping shoulder blades in contact with the floor.
  3. Breathe out pulling your navel into your spine and drag the knees back to the center.

Repeat the exercise 3-5 times to each side, alternating sides.

You should try and hold the stretch position for 10-15 seconds so that your body can really get into the stretch.


4. Hamstring and Hip Flexor Stretch

There is a strong correlation between LBP and tight hamstrings and hip flexors.  Our instructors at Archer are very well versed in tight hip flexors, so we know how they can affect LBP! Stretching these muscles helps to immediately relief tension in the back and continued stretching over time will help improve the posture in the lower back.

Hamstring Stretch

  1. Lay on back. One leg bent (foot flat on the floor) and other leg lifted straight towards the ceiling. (Use a towel or resistance band to hold leg up if you feel you need the extra support to get deeper into the stretch)
  2. Try to keep your leg as straight as possible, but keep a microbend if needed. Pull your leg towards you as much as possible without twisting, until you feel a stretch throughout the entire back of your leg.
  3. Keep breath flowing and try to relax, use every inhale and exhale to go deeper into your stretch.

Hold for 15-20 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.

Hip Flexor Stretch

  1. Kneel on ground with one leg forward (foot flat on the ground). Lift tall in the spine and keep the navel pulling into your spine, then tuck the pelvis under (opposite to poking your bottom out).
  2. You may start to feel a stretch in the front of the hip. Bring your weight forward at your own level to feel if you can handle a deeper stretch.


5. Roll Backs

Moving the spine using the abdominal muscles as done in this exercise, helps to not only stretch and relieve tension in the back muscles, but also helps to strengthen the core and abdominals.  You are strengthening your spine, and also creating more mobility as well.

  1. Sit tall with the legs bent comfortably out in front and feet on the floor, hip bone distant apart, so your pelvis has the room to tild forward. Hands placed on the back of the thighs.
  2. Exhale, scoop your belly and begin curving the spine starting from the tailbone, rolling backwards until arms are straight and the whole spine is curved in a C-shape. You should feel as though the navel is the furthest point pulling backwards.
  3. Hold there and inhale. Exhale and bring the body forward, keeping the C-curve, until shoulders are over the hips, then stack the spine up to a straight, tall position. Repeat 6-10 times.

Tip: Try to keep the pelvic floor lifted and each vertebra lifted off one another throughout the entire exercise, rather than a sinking feeling into the curve.  You want to make sure your shoulders are pulled away from your ears, so your lower lat muscles are engaged fully.


6. Kneeling Arm and Leg Reach

This exercise works the entire stabilizing muscle system for the torso, and every part of your body should be engaged, for a full body workout.

  1. Kneel on all fours, making sure your wrists are under the shoulders, the knees are under your hips, and the spine is in neutral.
  2. While keeping your torso still and balance, reach one arm forward and the opposite leg back keeping the finger tips and toes on the ground.
  3. Lift the extended arm and leg off the ground, keeping the navel pulled into your spine help stabilize the torso. Make sure you do not lean into your stabilizing arm. Hold for a few second before bringing the hand and leg back down and to the start position.

If you’ve had to readjust, you will know if you have moved the torso during the exercise. This is an oblique exercise as well, as they are the parts of your core that are stabilizing you to not lean into one side. Try to correct this with each repetition. Repeat 3-5 times each side.

If you find it too difficult to control the torso and spine when lifting the arm and leg, you can omit the lift until you have the strength in the core, or do the entire exercise but with arms and legs separately.

Progression: Plank

As always, it is recommended to consult your doctor or specialist before beginning a new exercise program if you do suffer from LBP. Depending on the cause, some exercises may not be advisory. Please contact us at Archer Pilates if you have any questions or concerns about any of the exercises, or just for any additional tips on using Pilates in your everyday  life!