Back to the Mat

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I wanted to amp up my cross-training routine with some dynamic strength training?

Yeah.  That never happened.

A couple of days before New Year’s, when I threw out my back, I had convinced myself that I had a bout of sciatica and that I would be back to myself in a few days.

I had dealt with sciatica before.  When a car accident caused me to injure my left knee at 17, I began to put too much strain on my lower back in my ordinary day-to-day activities.  This led to sciatica, and regular visits to the chiropractor for electro-stim and back cracking throughout my later teens and early twenties.

What finally alleviated the pain and kept it from returning was a regular practice of Pilates.  I had discovered Pilates one night when I was up late studying in my second year of law school.  It was officially late enough (or early enough) for infomercials to air, and when Mari Winsor took the screen, I was sold.  You mean I can strengthen my back, flatten my tummy and improve my flexibility all while laying on a cushioned mat on the floor?? 


I practiced three to four times per week for seven years, but now I take about one class per week.  Pilates influences the way I stretch and focus on my core during other exercises, but running regularly and staying on top of my strength training has been time consuming, and Pilates has taken a back seat.

I’m not sure that necessarily has anything to do with my current condition. 

After initially injuring myself, I took five days off from exercise entirely.  By then, the pain had largely subsided.  It no longer radiated down my legs and I could walk and do most things as I normally would.  On the sixth day, I took a yoga class and used an elliptical.  On the seventh day, I ran a mile and a half.  On the eighth day, I saw my doctor who told me that I could do any physical activity so long as it did not cause any pain.  On the ninth day, I ran.  On the tenth day, I used an elliptical.  On the eleventh day, I ran.  And on the twelfth day, I saw a physical therapist who told me that I shouldn’t be doing any of these things.

I was so frustrated.  I had finally gotten back in to a routine after a forced week off.  I was excited to start half marathon training.  And here was someone telling me that I needed to stop.  That I needed more rest.

I panicked at first.  Because, let’s face it, I’m a basket-case when I can’t exercise.  Right, El Profesor? 

I took it easy that weekend. 

I listened and took another two weeks off from running.  But in the meantime, I needed to find a way to keep myself together and to help strengthen my lower back and core.

So I went back to the mat, as I had done many times before.

On Thursday, I returned to running.  I’m running easy these days and probably won’t add speedwork or hills for a few more days.  But I am still planning to run the NYC Half in March, and I am putting in the miles necessary to get me there.

During the two weeks that I took off from running — and now on my “rest days” — I have been practicing Yogi-lates for about an hour and ten minutes per day.  My total workout time on these days is about an hour-and-a-half, if you include the time that I spend foam rolling after exercising and stretching. 

These are some of my favorite exercises for stretching and strengthening my lower back and core:

Cat-Cow Stretches

Bird-Dog Stretches

Clam Shell


High Plank

Low Plank

Side Plank

Side Leg Lift

Pilates Roll Ups (knees bent, if necessary)

Pilates One Hundred (knees bent, if necessary)

Bridge Pose

Downward Facing Dog

Upward Facing Dog (my current favorite)

Pigeon Forward Fold (another favorite)

Figure Four (super easy to do at my desk so I find that I do it throughout the day)


For more information, check out these posts:

Yoga Workouts to Relieve Back Pain (Women’s Health) 

3 Ways to Relieve Lower Back Pain with Pilates ( <– can’t believe I’m linking to this, but it’s a good resource

My little disclaimer:  I am not a doctor or medical professional; nor am I a certified personal trainer.  The information provided in this post is a description of my own experience and opinions.  What works for me may not work for you.  If you are interested in beginning a new exercise routine, please contact your physician.


One thought on “Back to the Mat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s