We tested the APPI Pilates method, which focuses on curing ailments like lower back pain while increasing overall fitness
This past weekend I headed to the Wimbledon branch of APPI (Australian Physiotherapy and Pilates Institute) to try my hand at their unique form of Pilates. Created ten years ago to rehabilitate those with lower back pain and injury, the main focus of APPI is improving spinal mobility and core and lower limb flexibility. While it is very similar to the traditional Pilates methods you're probably used to, there are a few key differences that make the APPI method more practical, effective and useful not only for lower back pain sufferers, but general fitties as well.
All APPI instructors are trained physiotherapists. This means they have a medical understanding of the body and are able to identify your specific strengths and weaknesses and tailor your practice so it's most beneficial to you. Every new student undergoes a 30-minute one-to-one assessment with the instructor to evaluate posture, balance and overall fitness. Once they have a grasp of this, the instructors create bespoke training plans.
During my assessment, instructor Mel points out that I'm a 'rib flarer' - I thrust my chest and bum out so my back forms a backward C-shape. She was quick to say nothing is wrong with the way I stand - it's natural and comfortable to me - but it could be contributing to my dull lower back pain and weak core strength, as my abs are stretched out instead of engaged. To correct this, she told me to imagine I have springs connecting my ribs and hips. As soon as I do, I can feel my abdomen shrink and the pressure on my lower back diminish.
When I tell her I have stiffness in my neck and shoulders, Mel tells me to imagine my head is a helium-filled balloon floating away from my body. This strengthens the front of the neck, which is very important for people who sit at a desk all day, like me. I try it and immediately my head feels lighter and the tension releases. So far, so good - and we've haven't even started the workout yet.
Mel also has me do a few exercises, like standing on one leg to do heel lifts, and finds out that while my legs are strong and flexible, my bum is quite weak. With these insights in mind, we move upstairs into the training room for my session. Lower body work focuses on strengthening my glutes using the Reformer machine (a common piece of Pilates equipment that uses springs and pulleys for resistance), while we target those flared ribs and stiff neck with yoga-inspired moves for the back, like arching on all fours.
Once the session is finished, Mel gives me 'homework' - moves like the bum-strengthening side leg lift, that will target my personal weaknesses - instead of trying to sell me an unecessary package. It seems like she genuinely wants me to get stronger! Best of all, her insights have really hit home, as I feel like I've had a genuine fitness breakthrough. As an avid runner, I would have never suspected a weak bum was to blame for my sore lower back or poor balance. I've also noticed a real difference in the appearance of my abs just from holding my ribs down instead of poking them out. I left with a spring in my step and their intermediate DVD in hand, ready to kickstart my training. If you're looking for help with that sore back, or simply an update to your fitness routine, it's time to check out the APPI.
APPI has three branches in London (Wimbledon, Hampstead and Kilburn) which offer a range of classes, such as rehabilitative Pilates, Pilates for fitness and pre- and post-natal courses. Not in London? Bring the APPI Pilates method to you with their range of DVDs, £16.99 each. For more information and to purchase online, visit www.appihealthgroup.com or call 0845 370 2774.
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