Balance Gym group fitness director Ash Allen was on her way to teach Pilates in June when she got into a car accident. Her doctors later told her it’s a good thing she’d been practicing the fitness method since she was 12.
“If I hadn’t been in the shape I was, it would have been way worse,” says Allen, who’s found she’s even more appreciative of the moves now that she’s out of a neck brace and working to address the lingering pain from the accident.
By adding her physical therapist’s suggestions to her already lengthy repertoire of back and neck exercises from her Pilates and yoga training, Allen realized she had more than a recovery plan for herself. She had “Neck & Back First Aid,” a new class she’s teaching at 7 p.m. Wednesdays at Balance Gym Thomas Circle (1111 14th St. NW, balancegym.com).
Each session combines yoga poses and Pilates moves, as well as techniques with a foam roller. (“It’s like getting a cheap massage,” raves Allen, who uses hers twice a day.)
At a recent class, Allen had her students start on all fours, undulating their spines up and down with their breathing. She then had them extend one arm and the opposite leg for a series of moves targeting the core. That built up heat in the body, which helped prepare the group for an intense stretching section.
There were exercises that tested muscles, but the focus was on lengthening, releasing and aligning.
“Sometimes people prioritize that sweat workout over a more restorative session,” says Allen, who knows a slow, deliberate pace isn’t what many gym members are accustomed to.
But it’s something most people need to work into their fitness routine at least some of the time, she adds. Being glued to a computer all day can cause as many problems as a car accident.
“Sitting at a desk, your hip flexors get tight. You lean forward, straining your neck,” Allen says. Some folks give their abs attention by doing crunches or planks, but they typically ignore their backs and don’t consider the importance of their hips, glutes and thighs.
Andrea Hampton, 50, a triathlete and running coach from New Carrollton, Md., has been coming to Allen’s classes to find ways to loosen up.
“When you’re tight and running, it doesn’t feel good,” Hampton said. Lying on a foam roller for a few minutes, however, definitely does.
The Back-Up Plan
Since her car accident in June, Balance Gym group fitness director Ash Allen has made it a priority to perform these three pain-relieving moves.
1. Foam rolling. Logging time with this beloved prop has been key to Allen’s recovery. She rolls on top of it in various positions to knead out knots in her legs, butt and back. Her favorite position is the one above, where she just rests her spine along the roller. It helps open the chest and loosens the mid-back.
2. Opposite arm and leg. Start on all fours and make sure you’re in proper alignment. “A big mistake is arching your back,” Allen notes. You can hold this position on both sides or add in variations. Allen likes to send the arm and leg about 45 degrees away from the body, and pull the elbow to the knee.
3. Pigeon pose. Back pain often starts in the glutes, Allen says. That’s why this yoga staple is her favorite remedy. If the version above, with front leg bent and perpendicular to the mat, isn’t doable, she recommends lying on your back, crossing your legs so they form a four, and pulling both legs toward your chest.
After Sima Tamaddon was in a car crash in 1999 that left her in the hospital for a week, she was convinced she’d never run again. This year, she completed a 50K.
The secret behind her turnaround? Yoga. Tamaddon had never tried the practice before her accident but has now made it her career. Her classes in Washington (rxdyoga.com) aim to make yoga more accessible to athletes and reduce their risk of injury.
There’s a misconception that when you’re hurt you shouldn’t do any strength building.
“That’s when you can’t rest on the couch,” Tamaddon says. “It’s time to put in more work.”
But it’s critical that you “work smarter, not harder,” says Megan Davis (yogaforliberation.com), who was also drawn to yoga after a car accident. She specializes in working with clients who can’t physically go to other classes.
“Most people want to go fast in a workout,” Davis says. But that often means ignoring alignment and inviting further injury. While “making sure your foot is in the right place isn’t an aerobic activity,” it can improve your ability to do aerobic activities later.