Stretch: Making Movement Look Easy, Even if it’s Not

It’s not a mystery… working out is and should be hard work. It’s how we gain strength, muscle mass and definition. But ultimately it should feel good and movement should come with a sense of ease. Muscle tightness and stiff joints can create an additional challenge that generates tension in a workout rather than the “zest and pleasure” of an invigorating session of exercise. When you find the balance of stretch and strength it creates a sense of efficiency that will make you say “that was easier!”

As a teacher of Pilates I often am asked by students, “can you recommend some stretches to help me gain flexibility in my ________________?” My answer is Pilates.

I believe one of the many reasons that the Pilates Method is so ingenious is that each Pilates exercise incorporates stretch components as well as strength components. Participants gain range of motion by what is referred to as active stretch. Active stretch means that you contract a muscle directly across from the one you stretch. One muscle relaxes while the opposing muscle initiates the stretch. In Pilates it is most often a dynamic active stretch, which means the muscles and body are in motion. Through this dynamic active stretch, you gradually increase range of motion to maximize the contraction potential of a muscle. You are simultaneously working on one to help gain the other.

A few examples of this in action are the Roll Up, during which you strengthen the abdominals while you stretch the lower back through the sequencing of the spine; Double Leg Kick, which strengthens the muscles of the back and hamstrings while stretching the pectoral muscles and quadriceps; and Chest Expansion, which strengthens the muscles of the upper back and triceps while it stretches the shoulders and chest.

The harder you work on an exercise, the more flexibility you gain. As you gain flexibility, you are able to access your muscles with more depth and intensity.

Stretching is a vital component of any fitness regiment because supple muscles and joints allow the body to move with more ease. A healthy range of motion allows the skeleton to be in proper functional alignment with the muscles to create efficiency of movement. Efficient movement helps the body gain strength with balance. Balance in movement reduces the potential for pain and injury. Stretching makes you feel more comfortable when you move; the more comfortable you feel moving your body, the more you will want to move it and the better you will be at moving it.

If you would like to learn more about stretching through Pilates, please come to Excel Pilates’ Stretch with Pilates  Workshop: Maximizing the stretch potential of your Pilates workout.  This hour long workshop will be taught by Lesa McLaughlin, on Thursday, May 8th, from 7:00-8:00pm — $20 or use your Mat class package.