Author: Heidi Meyerholtz

Pilates Instructor, Seattle Athletic Club Downtown

Can Pilates Make You Taller?

Can Pilates really make you taller? According to SAC member Lenell Nussbaum the answer to this question is yes!

Lenell began Pilates a couple of years ago. She experienced regular back pain due to scoliosis and decided to give Pilates a try.

“The biggest change is that my back is no longer a pain issue. The by-product is that I am taller!” said Lenell.

Pilates works in several magnitudes – twisting, bending and extending – to strengthen the “powerhouse”, the muscles that support your spine. More space between the vertebrae is created by working and articulating the space in these magnitudes, thus lengthening your spine, improving your posture and in essence making you taller.

“I have ‘powerhouse’ muscles that didn’t know they were supposed to be the powerhouse. Really now: muscles on the front side of my spine? I was confident my gene pool had omitted them. Although I have always preferred doing things that I do well, it was clear I needed to do something that was difficult for me: find these muscles and engage them.”

Pilates exercises are specifically designed to reach and engage the “core” or “powerhouse” muscles. Exercises such as spine stretch forward on the mat, short spine on the reformer and push the pedal down on the wunda chair strengthen the muscles surrounding the spine, therefore creating support for the spine allowing you to stand more erect. The extra space created by stretching the spine will actually lengthen the spine and reduce pain caused by poor posture or weak muscles.

“My favorite aspect of Pilates is hanging upside down by my ankles! It offers my crooked back great relief. It feels like gravity is finally on my side. I also like short spine, where is get to turn upside down on the reformer. If gravity helps me stretch the spine, apparently the exercises help me strengthen the muscles in between to retain some of the space. I’ve located several of those muscles I didn’t know I had. We’re getting to know each other.”

Lenell has grown 1.5 inches since starting Pilates and is now living pain free!

Pilates for Back Pain

Why is Pilates good for back pain? For anyone suffering from general backache to acute pain, Pilates can carry an important role in relieving pain in your back.

I think of Pilates as intelligent, corrective exercise. Pilates exercises your body as well as your mind. It can change the shape of your body. You may not even realize some of the ways you may be moving that are causing stress on your spine. Pilates specifically focuses on and addresses the intrinsic issues that can lead to back pain including poor posture resulting in asymmetry of the muscles, lack of core strength and inflexibility. Pilates teaches you to become more aware of your body and helps to break the bad habits that are contributing to back pain.

Proper alignment of the spine is crucial to back health; when alignment is off, uneven pressure on the spine results. Strengthening weak areas in the body is a major component to good posture. If you sit with your shoulders rounding forward, or tend to stand leaning into one hip, your posture is suffering and you are causing unnecessary strain to your spine and hips. A good Pilates instructor alerts you to these imbalances and then creates a program focused on creating symmetry in your body, allowing you to move more efficiently.

Another primary cause of low back pain is lack of strength in the inner abdominal muscles. This weakness causes the lower back to sway forward and tightens the muscles that cause pain. A good Pilates program focuses on strengthening the “core” muscles that support the spine. Strengthening the “core” goes beyond the outer abdominal muscles. The “core” consists of the inner abdominal muscles that create a flat stomach and hug and protect the spine. Creating this “inner” strength is crucial to back health.

Flexibility also contributes greatly to how your back feels. Your spine carries the ability to twist, move from side to side, and bend forward and backward. When you develop core strength you have the support to build flexibility in your torso, your hip flexors, and your hamstrings (back of legs) safely without putting strain on the spine.

One great aspect about Pilates is that you can work at your own pace with your instructor to increase strength, flexibility and alignment. Working towards these goals of symmetrical alignment, strengthening your core, and creating flexibility in your body can help you live a pain free life.