Pilates Provides ‘Dynamic Stretching’
Why is stretching so important? Why is it considered by fitness research as one of three kinds of essential exercise critical for everyone’s health? And why are Pilates stretches unique?
After decades of teaching and practicing many kinds of stretching methods, I’ve concluded that no matter what kind of stretching you do – yoga, gymnastics, or Pilates to name just a few stretching techniques – it’s a cure-all!
Benefits of Stretching
Though we have millennia of experience with yoga and innumerable claims of benefits, scientific studies are relatively few and inconclusive. So what exactly can we say for certain about stretching at this time?
According to research, stretching improves muscle elasticity, range of motion, flexibility, and performance, but it does not reduce muscle soreness. Stretching helps unblock twisted nerves, promotes the proper position of muscle fibers, and increases nerve and muscle connection, thereby speeding recovery from injury and illness, and in particular, improving the process of muscle recovery after strength training. It prevents pooling of blood in the limbs and promotes the elimination of waste products such as lactic acid. In addition stretching improves respiratory function when applied to the neck, shoulders, and upper back.
Other benefits include improved circulation, better posture, reduced muscle tension, improved ability to relax, and a positive mental outlook. There is evidence that a stretching routine is beneficial whereas one instance of stretching is basically a waste of time. This is why all elite athletes include stretching in their conditioning programs.
A significant cause of auto accidents involving backing up the car is failure to turn your head and look behind. This problem could be helped by creating a flexible neck with stretching!
Ever watch a cat? They stretch every time they rise from a lying position. Stretching is natural and instinctive to both humans and animals. It’s good for us and even pleasurable once a level of flexibility has been achieved.
Myths About Stretching
Research is ongoing and not yet conclusive regarding whether stretching reduces the risk ofinjury as a warm up. In a recent study stretching appears to provide some benefit if done at least 15 minutes before the activity. Previous studies found no benefit as a warm up. It’s important to note that warming up before any activity is still important. It is just that there may be better warm-up exercises for gently raising the temperature of the body such as calisthenics and jogging in place.
Static and Dynamic Stretch – Which Is Best?
Several studies look at the difference between static stretching found in yoga and dynamic stretching so prevalent in gymnastics and Pilates. They conclude that dynamic stretching has many advantages over static stretching including a greater stretch in less time and with less discomfort.
How Much Stretching Do I Need?
So how much should we do? How long should a stretch be held? One study found that the muscles of the hamstrings benefit most when stretched for 30 seconds, though it is not clear if this applies to all muscle. Ask a yoga teacher how long to hold a stretch and the answer is more the better! Maintaining certain yoga postures for 7 to 10 minutes is not unusual.
Stretching can actually backfire if done incorrectly. And here are some stretching secrets! I call them secrets because they are essential ingredients for successful stretching but rarely mentioned! First, stretching should be uncomfortable but not painful. What I mean by this is find the limit of the range of motion for a particular muscle that you want to stretch, and go just a bit beyond your comfort zone. Not too much which is why we never bounce (known as ‘ballistic’ stretching) to stretch – this makes the muscle go too far too fast resulting in a huge risk of injury.
Another secret is to stretch all parts of the body, not just your hamstrings or your neck. Regularly do a full-body stretching routine. Here is another benefit of Pilates: it is a full-body workout and each exercise includes stretching automatically.
And the final secret, hold that position anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds and breath. This amount of time is crucial for stretching muscle tissue.
My own experience with ‘breath of fire” during yoga postures convinces me that as much breathing – deep and frequent – while you stretch is most beneficial.