Practicing Pilates has many benefits for your body.
But, is Pilates good for flexibility too?
The answer is YES! Pilates is very good for increasing flexibility. In Pilates, stretching is done with movement, when the muscles are warm, which means that stretching is more efficient and the risk of injuries is minimal. This also enables you to get deeper into the stretches.
To know more about flexibility in general, how Pilates affects it and how to do it, read the following chapters:
What is a Flexible Body?
Flexibility, by definition, is the the range of motion within a certain joint, and the length in muscles that cross that joint when bending or movement are induced.
Flexibility varies a lot among people, and some are much more flexible than others.
It can be influenced and increased by exercise and regular stretching. Many people notice a significant difference in their flexibility after they start practicing exercises to increase it.
Stretching should always be done when the muscles are warm.
To have effect, stretching poses should be held for a certain period of time, no less than 10 seconds.
Keep in mind that holding these poses can be a bit uncomfortable. However, in case of real pain, you should stop immediately. You shouldn’t try to force it either.
But let’s get back to the flexibility …
There are certain body parts which have an influence on our flexibility. Joints are one of them.
To increase flexibility, you should increase the muscular elasticity of the joint range.
There are two types of flexibility. Dynamic and static.
Dynamic flexibility is the ability to make a full range of motion within a certain joint. While doing so, to complete a certain movement, you will also activate certain muscles. This type of stretching is frequently practiced by athletes before training.
Static stretching is more intense and it requires you to hold a certain pose. It requires proper breathing technique and muscle strength to keep your body in a position. This type of stretching is frequently practiced after workout.
You can do certain exercises and practice stretching to increase flexibility, however, that is possible to a certain point.
There are internal factors limiting you, and those factors are impossible to change. With age, your tissues are deteriorating and you become less and less flexible.
A flexible person can be described as a person who is able to do full range of joint motions, without pain or much effort.
How does Flexibility Help Your Body?
We know that Pilates increases flexibility, but why exactly is flexibility good for us?
Flexibility reduces the possibility of injuries
First of all, being able to make a full motion with your joint reduces the possibility of injuries during any kind of workout or sport.
And its not just during sports. Flexible people have less chance to injure their joints during everyday activities too. If you accidentally slip and fall, you are more likely to injure your joints if they are not flexible.
Flexibility increases mobility
Additionally, it enables us wider range of motion which enables proper posture and makes all kinds of activities, even everyday chores, easier. This may not seem so important but it actually has a great influence on our everyday life quality and health.
Mobility and flexibility are connected. If you have limited flexibility, you will also have a slightly impaired mobility, because your range of motion within a certain joint is going to be reduced.
Flexibility increases body coordination
Flexibility also increases muscle and body coordination.
This is important for athletes as well as those who participate in sports for fun. Flexible people will reach their goals in a certain sport or exercises a bit faster because they will have more control over their body movement.
Lack of flexibility can cause pain
Muscles shorten if not used and stretched regularly. If you are sitting a lot at work, you may notice that your hip flexors are very stiff. This can cause discomfort and pain after a certain period of time.
The same goes for your back and bad posture. When working on posture improvement, stretching is a part of it.
So, is Pilates Good for Flexibility?
As already mentioned, the answer is YES. An there are a few reasons why.
In Pilates, there is both dynamic and static stretching.
Also, stretching in Pilates is always done with your muscles warmed up, which increases the effectiveness. When your muscles are warm, you can stretch better and go “deeper” into a certain posture.
As you already know, Pilates focuses a lot on breathing. To do stretches properly, you need to coordinate your breath with a stretch. On every exhale, you can go a bit further into the pose. Pilates is going to learn you how to breathe, which will have a beneficial effect on stretching, and your flexibility as a result.
In Pilates, slow and controlled motion is very important, and this type of workout is great to increase mobility.
As already mentioned, flexibility and mobility are connected, so your flexibility will increase to when performing mobility exercises.
And last, but not the least, Pilates affects your whole body.
There are all kinds of exercises (and stretches) which are going to activate every muscle and join with your body. This means that Pilates is great to improve your overall flexibility, not just a certain joint or joint group.
Which Pilates Exercises are Best for Flexibility?
So, I wrote about is Pilates good for flexibility, and now I am going to mention a few exercises you can practice as a beginner.
I have to mention one more time, if you are doing static stretching, always do it after workout, when your muscles are warm.
Here I am going to mention a few exercises which increase flexibility.
Cat and Camel (aka. Cat and Cow)
This exercise is practiced in Yoga too.
It is a great way to loosen up a stiff spine and increase its flexibility.
Start by sitting on your heels with your head lowered to the floor and your arms reaching forward. Get into this position on an exhale. On an inhale get to all fours, arch your back (belly toward the floor) and your head up. Hold for a few seconds and then on an exhale bend your back upwards and tuck your chin. Hold for a few seconds and repeat the cycle for 5-10 times.
Leg pull with a bent knee
So, this one is for legs, while simultaneously engaging abdominal muscles.
Lay on your back. Bend one leg and hold your knee with your hands and “hug” it towards your chest. Your head and shoulders should be off the floor. Bottom leg has to be straight but not touch the floor (keep it about 5 centimeters (2 inches) above.
Hold this position for a few seconds and then switch legs. Toes on both legs should be pointed forward.
If you want to make it a bit more challenging, do it with both legs straight. On the other hand, if this is too hard, lower to bottom leg. Repeat 10 times.
Sit on the floor, position your legs a bit wider then your shoulder width and keep them straight.
Flex the toes, sit upright and extend your arms to the sides.
On an inhale, rotate your upper body to the left side. On an exhale, reach your right arm towards your left toes (pinky finger to pinky toe). Opposite arm should reach behind you. Hold for a few seconds. On an inhale get back to the seated position and rotate to the right side. On an exhale, do the same motion on this side. Repeat 5-10 times.
The last one (the saw) may seem simple but do do it properly, you will need to have a decent muscle control. This is one of those exercises for which people often say that it feels completely different when you are doing it as a beginner than doing it when you are experienced and advanced.
Is Pilates Reformer Good for Flexibility?
This machine enables you to strengthen your muscles and it can accommodate full range of motion.
This motion will also increase your flexibility.
Using a reformer (or Pilates Cadilac) as a stretching tool is great because your muscles are going to be warmed up. Additionally, reformers enable you to move in a proper position, which reduces the possibility of injuries, both during strengthening and stretching.
While practicing on a reformer, you are going to build your strength at the same time as you will work on your flexibility, and that is great.
Another benefit that is going to follow is the one I previously mentioned, and that is mobility.
One is not possible without the other and both are equally important.
Can I do Pilates if I’m not Flexible?
No matter how flexible you are, you can do Pilates.
When people ask is Pilates good for flexibility, they also assume that they should be fairly flexible to start practicing, but that is a mistake.
Pilates is extremely versatile and you can have a customized workout program that will suit your needs and take your limitations into consideration.
You may have some hard time in a beginning, but soon your flexibility is going to increase.
Pilates will help you improve it in a safe and efficient way.
If you are not flexible, you will have to be aware of your limits and not try to speed up the process. You are going to do stretches slowly and in a controlled manner and if you remain persistent, you are going to notice results quite fast.
Many beginners will see all kinds of pictures online, showing people doing very demanding exercises and stretches, however, they will not show you years of practicing that lead to that ability.
Be mindful to your body and do not force something you cant do. It is going to lead to injuries and that is the worst possible outcome.
If you wondered is Pilates good for flexibility, now you got your answer (and you can also read more in my tips for flexibility).
Pilates will help you increase your flexibility, which will lead to other positive results, such as increased mobility and body coordination.
You do not have to be flexible to start practicing, but you have to be patient and careful while exercising.
There are certain exercises and stretches you can do to increase flexibility, but keep in mind that you should warm up first.