Ocean's 13 star Andy Garcia is a committed family man -- he’s been married for nearly 25 years and has four children ranging in age from 23 to 5 -- and he’s just as devoted to maintaining his physical health. While it’s true that he has been photographed toking on the odd cigar, it might surprise you to learn that the actor, director, and golf enthusiast is no stranger to a Pilates mat.
Pilates ? For an actor who launched to stardom playing tough-guy roles in such films as TheUntouchables, The Godfather: Part III, and the Ocean’s trilogy? Pilates suggests images of Hollywood ingénues bending and stretching to keep their figures long and lean. But this core-strengthening fitness regimen is also great for anyone who suffers from back pain -- as Garcia does.
Garcia, 51, has always been physically active. In fact, back when he was a boy and living in Miami he played a lot of basketball (as point guard) and baseball --and even had hopes of taking his athleticism beyond high school. But now he dismisses those big-league dreams as pie-in-the-sky fantasies of a teenager. “Every young athlete has illusions of being a professional athlete,” he says now, laughing softly. “Certainly, we all grow up with those.”
A nasty bout of mononucleosis he picked up as a junior dampened those pro-athlete aspirations. While most teens who get mono recover within a month or so, Garcia says, “I got derailed,” he says. “I couldn’t exercise for awhile.”
Flash forward 30-odd years, and you’re much more likely to spot Garcia in a trendy Pilates studio than on a basketball court or baseball diamond. He says he did try to practice power yoga for a time, but “I had some disc issues, and I would get hurt often doing power yoga. Pilates seems to be a lot better for it.”
Pilates -- which focuses on core muscles that keep the body balanced and support the spine -- is an excellent antidote for back pain, and is a good way to prevent it, says William C. Lauerman, MD, a professor of orthopaedic surgery and chief of the spine surgery division at Georgetown University Medical Center. He recommends Pilates for his patients who have scoliosis and disc problems, whether they have had surgery or not.
“It is a core and trunk muscle strengthening regimen,” Lauerman says. “You basically build up all of those muscles in the core of your trunk, and it unloads the strain on the disc in the spine.”
And for Garcia, Pilates also has the benefit of keeping his back in prime shape for hitting the fairway, an activity more obviously in keeping with his “Terry Benedict” Las Vegas casino boss image (the role he is reprising for the third time this summer, alongside fellow Ocean’s 13 stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon). “Pilates seems to be essential to keeping a healthy back,” he says, “especially if you want to play golf once a week.”
Lauerman couldn’t agree more with Garcia’s assessment. Over the past five or six years, he says, “I’ve become increasingly impressed by the benefit of a good Pilates regimen.”
According to The Pilates Method Alliance, which establishes certification standards for Pilates instructors, people who practice Pilates faithfully (the Alliance recommends two to three times a week) will benefit in the following ways:
• Increased lung capacity and circulation
• Strength and flexibility, particularly of the abdomen and back muscles
• Muscular and mental coordination
• Improved posture balance and core strength
• Improved bone density and joint health
• Positive body awareness
Lauerman advises his patients to take a class, rather than buy a videotape, and to start off with mat work (floor exercises) rather than the reformer (equipment that uses spring tension, straps, and supports). “Make sure you talk to the instructor and explain that you have a back condition or you’ve had surgery,” he says.
But listen to your body --or rather, your back. Lauerman warns his back patients away from “No pain, no gain.” If your back hurts when you do Pilates (sharp or shooting pain, different than just having sore muscles), or if you can’t sleep at night because of the pain,” he says, then either your technique is off or “it’s just not right for your back.”
Catch Andy Garcia in Ocean's 13, opening nationwide June 8, and on the cover of the July/August issue of WebMD the Magazine on July 1. Garcia talks to us more about his dedication to his family; how he strikes a balance in Hollywood; and his award-winning acting, directing, and music careers.
Published June 7, 2007.