Unlocking Flexibility Through Strength – The Pilates Approach

Pilates Flexibility

What is Flexibility?

We all know about strengthening and stretching muscles—exercises designed to make them and the body stronger and longer. However, flexibility is the combination of these two elements, making the body adaptable, bendable, and strong in extended positions.

Flexibility involves making muscles strong throughout their range of motion, reinforcing muscle groups in every axis, and making the body resilient to the movements, stresses, and strains of both exercise and everyday life. It’s a holistic approach, much like Pilates itself, which not only aims to increase the strength and flexibility of individual muscles or groups but also supports the balance of the body as a whole.

A Personal Experience with Flexibility

My first encounter with the importance of flexibility was when I was trying to learn the splits. One might think that achieving the splits requires only stretching the muscles in the groin area. However, to perform the splits, the hips must be positioned correctly, the spine must be flexible, and various muscle groups need to be long yet strong enough to maintain that position.

Two systems protect muscles: the first is in the muscle fibres, preventing them from being stretched too quickly. If you’ve ever stretched, you know the idea is to lengthen muscles slowly and hold the stretch. The second system involves the tendons connecting muscles to bones. If these tendons sense excessive strain, they will shut down the muscle to prevent injury.

In extreme cases, if muscles don’t have time to respond appropriately, they may tear to protect themselves. While micro-tears can help build muscle mass, achieving flexibility, such as performing the splits, requires muscles to be strong enough to support the posture. Stretching alone isn’t enough; strength in a structurally weaker position is essential.

Benefits of Flexibility

Beyond being able to do the splits, flexibility offers practical benefits. It leads to stronger muscles capable of lifting the same weight from extended or challenging positions, which helps prevent injuries and aids in muscle recovery. Flexibility also enhances the range of motion and reflexes.

Pilates trains muscles holistically, ensuring the body is used as a whole and each aspect is addressed. Muscles comprise both slow and fast-twitch fibres, allowing them to perform under various workloads. For instance, leg muscles can endure all-day activity and enable short bursts of intense effort like sprinting or jumping.

Flexibility of the spine is crucial for good posture, which is unattainable without suppleness. A flexible spine promotes a healthy posture and adaptability, making it easier to learn new skills, adapt old ones, and adjust to changing circumstances.

From a Pilates perspective, strength and flexibility are intertwined. Immovable muscles are as ineffective as weak ones. Being supple allows for strength in varied positions, reducing the risk of injury. Conversely, excessive suppleness without sufficient strength can weaken ligaments and tendons.

Flexibility, Movement, and the Human Body

Human bodies are not meant to remain still for too long. Keeping the body in motion is essential for overall health. To maintain mobility and adaptability, the body must stay active. This holistic approach, embraced by Pilates, ensures that the body functions optimally. Movement benefits digestion, circulation, breathing, and mental acuity.

A body in motion requires strength and stability, but it must also be fluid, with many moving and interacting parts. Even in rest, the body is in motion. Flexibility ensures that all parts work together, promoting good posture through a mobile spine, movement through mobile muscles, focus through an agile mind, and action through an elegant unity of all three.

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