David Higgins of TenPilates: It"s prehab NOT rehab that is the key to a healthy body

Think back pain is normal It is not – and you CAN end it, says TenPilates founder David Higgins – but it's prehab NOT rehab that is the key

We Brits have a reputation for suffering in silence. But while our stiff upper lips are a source of national pride, our reluctance to speak out could be costing us our health.

A staggering 80 per cent of British adults suffer frequent back pain, a study revealed recently.

And doctors believe the number could actually be closer to 90 per cent, but that a taciturn 10 per cent never bother reporting their pain.

Instead they suffer in silence under the impression that back pain is inevitable – even normal – and the rest of us walking wounded suffer with them.

Prehab, not rehab: The right sort of regular exercise can prevent back pain from starting, says David Higgins of TenPilates

Prehab, not rehab: The right sort of regular exercise can prevent back pain from starting, says David Higgins of TenPilates, right

It's not just a personal cost that's paid either. A study by The Work Foundation found recently that back and neck pain account for almost half of all absences from work and 60 per cent of permanent incapacity in Europe.

The cost to society is upwards of 240bn each year – and that figure doesn't take into account the cost (and the misery) to the millions who are not in such severe pain that they take time off work, but whose quality of life is dramatically reduced.

But the truth is, while many are resigned to their suffering, it isn't inevitable – and it is certainly not normal.

David Higgins, founder of London's top pilates studio, TenPilates, says there is another way – and it's pain-free.

'The majority of those suffering back pain every day could find relief through exercise, massage, and physiotherapy,' he says.

'But the best way to prevent it long-term is 'prehabilitation': using the right exercise to ward off pain before it begins, rather than attempting to fix it after the event with rehabilitation.

Should back pain already have struck, the same practice will help lessen the pain – and prevent further injury.

We should look at our bodies like cars, and carry out regular 'body MOTs', he says.

'You get your car checked out once a year to make sure it doesn’t just stop working one day.

'If it doesn’t get what it needs, it starts coughing and spluttering – and ultimately, it won’t turn work.


key to exercising safely is knowing how a movement or exercise should feel when it is done
right – and TenPilates instructors are trained to
achieve this.

The reformer bed-based classes – dubbed 'absurdly effective' and 'buzzed-up pilates with a difference' – have a maximum of 10 people in
each class, four in a beginners' class, so instructors can
respond to each person's specific needs.

Instructors have extensive
experience and top fitness and health qualifications – and must
go through the TenPilates training scheme too.

The 55 minute
classes, different every time, are designed to be fun as well as hard work. The
music is loud, but is just as likely to be a 70s disco mix as the latest
club tracks. With with the classes changing every time and infinite
exercises possible using the beds, weights and pilates rings,
the diversity keeps things fresh.

tried to create a bespoke class that will help clients work out in an
educated way,' David says.

'The upper and lower back get a good work
out, as well as the tummy, legs and arms.

we make sure everyone knows what they should and shouldn't be feeling.
The small class size means we can help each person individually, helping
them isolate the correct muscles, and teaching them to activate the
right ones properly.'

'Just as it is with your car, if you keep on top of maintaining your body in good form, it is easier to prevent things from going wrong than it is to fix them afterwards.

The problem is, David says, is that many of us who are making the effort to exercise are moving the wrong way.

'If you don’t function and move the right way, your body can give up – especially the back,' David says.

'You don’t realise it is happening, then one day it just goes on you and you can’t get out of bed.'

In his pilates studio David sees dozens of new mothers who suddenly experience chronic back pain and seem baffled that picking their baby up 'just once' could have caused such a severe injury.

But, he explains, they must understand that it isn't the 'one time' that caused the injury – it was the countless previous occasions they had bent to pick up their baby awkwardly – the last time is just the straw that breaks the camel's back.

So what can we do Along with regular exercise, David is passionate about the idea that keeping moving is the key to a healthy body.

'Our sedentary lifestyles play a huge role in the way we feel,' he says. 'Most of us are either sitting at a desk for 12 hours a day, and lying down for six, or eight if we're lucky.

'Think about it,' he says. 'How often are you actually standing Half an hour on the Tube, if you don’t get a seat An hour at the gym, perhaps

'Our bodies are meant to be standing and moving. Eventually, if we're constantly sitting, the stresses and imbalances of the unnatural position mean our bodies just give up.

'Over a period of 10 or 20 years, everything becomes weaker and imbalanced – and eventually breaks down. That leaves us weak and prone to injury – especially in the lower back.'

The solution is to strengthen the muscles that are weakened by periods of prolonged sitting, or put under strain from repeated awkward movements, and to elongate those that have become painfully tight so that we are better able to cope with the stresses our lives put on our bodies.

David warns against people with back
pain launching themselves into improvised exercised regimes that could hinder rather
than help with performing successful prehab.

Expert guidance: It's crucial that people exercise safely - the wrong sort of movement can exacerbate back pain instead of helping to prevent it

Expert guidance: It's crucial that people exercise safely – the wrong sort of movement can exacerbate back pain instead of helping to prevent it

'Often starting a new exercise routine without proper guidance means we are not being taught
to use our bodies properly or learning how to exercise properly,' David

'Lifting weights
without proper coaching or when certain parts of the body
– especially the core – is not strong enough to support the back, can
do more harm than good.

'You get people who go on a big health kick all of a sudden – they get motivated, they go to the gym,' he says.

'But much of the time, young, inexperienced gym instructors prescribing the programmes don’t know what they’re dealing with.

tell people to lift weights – but what they're getting their clients
doing is very likely not prehab – it's just doing movements.

means people could well be moving the wrong way and lifting weights
unsafely – and could eventually end up making the back pain even worse.'

Here David suggests some simple exercises we can all perform daily to prevent back pain:

LEG CIRCLES Good for switching on and strengthening your glutes, which will in turn help your protect your lower back.
on side, hand on bottom. Bottom knee is bent underneath you, top leg is
straight and hovering about 4 or 5 inches off the ground. Keeping top
leg straight, pull it back a little, squeezing the buttocks at the same time
so you feel that contraction. Hold the squeeze on the
bottom and draw a very small circle in the air with the leg for one
minute. Reverse and circle the other way. Swap sides.

Pull your top leg back a little and engage the glute before drawing your imaginary circles

Pull your top leg back a little and engage the glute before drawing your imaginary circles

ROLL BACK To get the lower spine working correctly and mobilised
on the floor with straight legs and straight spine. Arms should be
extended in front of you. Keep looking straight ahead. Count ten seconds
as you roll from the seated from seated position as you roll back to
rest your head on the floor. Feet are not allowed to lift up. As you
roll down, allow a nice curve – a C-shape through the spine.

Keep your feet on the floor as you roll back, allowing a nice C-curve in your spine

Keep your feet on the floor as you roll back, allowing a nice C-curve in your spine

Keep your feet on the floor as you roll back, allowing a nice C-curve in your spine

THE GLUTE BRIDGE To wake up and strengthen the glutes
on back, flat. Knees bent, feet flat hip on floor. Arms by side. Put a
belt or something similar around your legs and knees so it gives you enough
slack to pull your knees apart. Keep the tension in both cheeks – squeeze your bottom.
Slowly roll and lift your bottom up and off floor. Roll up to the top, then back down
slowly. Keep knees squeezing outwards to hip width apart.

Keep your buttocks squeezed as you lift your bottom off the floor. Roll up, and back down slowly

Keep your buttocks squeezed as you lift your bottom off the floor. Roll up, and back down slowly

PLANK To strengthen the upper body and core
over and position yourself onto your hands and knees. Place an
imaginary glass
table top across your back – the back of your head should be lifted to
'press' against the imaginary table. It
will try to drop down and forward – concentrate on holding it in
position – almost giving yourself a double chin. If it feels very alien,
it reveals how far away you are
from where you should be.

Now extend your legs out to
the back, lifting knees off the floor. Into a full press-up position.Try
to flatten the back almost up
to the table top – don’t sink in the middle. If you sink through the
middle, all the pressure will go into your lower back. If you let the
head drop, the pressure will go into the neck. Keep it all elevated and
straight. Hold that position for 30 seconds to a minute, or for as long
as you can
maintain your head up in the position.

THE CACTUS STRETCH Upper back and neck position – postural correction
tall with your back pressed up against the wall. Keep your heels and
the back of your head against the wall. Keep pushing your head back into
the wall – don’t look up. The
feeling will be like giving yourself a double chin. Bring your arms out
to your side into an L-shape. Bend elbows so the arms are pointing
upwards, your hands
pointing to the sky. If you know the cactus hands from yoga, that’s the
position to go for. Very
slowly, without allowing elbows, hands or head to leave the wall, try
slide your hands up the wall towards the ceiling. Go up as high as you
can making sure your back doesn’t arch away from the wall. Don’t flare
the rib cage. Repeat for a couple of minutes whenever you find time.

Visit tenpilates.com to book a class with David or one of his instructors across TenPilates' five London studios in Notting Hill, St James, Mayfair, Chiswick, and Hatton Garden (opening soon).

You can follow David on Twitter @DavidHiggins10 and @TenPilates.


LITTLE AND OFTEN IS BETTER THAN INFREQUENT LONG SESSIONS: Ten minutes a day is better than saving it up for once a month.

Move more, stand more, walk around more. Any little change can make a
difference – even a couple of minutes a day will help.

MAKE LITTLE CHANGES: Take the stairs,
stand on the Tube. Instead of having lunch break and sitting down, go
for a walk. Go to the water cooler. Anything that can get you moving.

DO SECRET WORKOUTS: It is difficult
not to look like like a crazy person – but try this Tube workout if you're standing on the Underground. Hold onto the hand rail above. Keep your knees bent, brace
yourself and try to fight against the movement of the train by contracting your muscles – try to stay as still as possible.