Stretching in Pilates

Stretching in Pilates for Tightness and Inflexibility

Many clients complain of tight muscles or inflexibility, but are not really sure how to stretch. Or won’t take the time to do it properly.

In pilates, one of the goals of stretching is to maintain postural balance. Opposing muscle groups need to be balanced in both length and strength for efficient performance and injury prevention. Opposing muscle groups that are well balanced provide optimal stabilization for the spine and peripheral joints.

One size does not fit all.

General guidelines exist but specific (modified) stretching exercises will need to be tailored to each individual. For instance, amateur athletes will have different specific needs than individuals with injuries or illness.

Let’s take an example. Let’s look at the lower leg. The hamstrings, the muscles that run down the back of the leg, are classic culprits for “being tight”. Actually consisting of three muscles not one, the hamstrings start at your “sits” bones and stop right below the knee on both the outside and the inside of the lower leg. Tight hamstrings can cause pain and cramping anywhere along the muscle length.

The hamstrings extend the hip and flex the knee. To stretch the muscle, do the opposite. If you can lie on your back and lift your leg to 90 degrees with the hips square to the floor, you meet the general recommendation for adequate hamstring length.

The hamstrings and quadriceps muscles oppose each other.

The quadricep muscles run down the front of the upper leg and extend the knee (kicking a ball); the hamstring muscles run down the back of the leg and flex the knee (doing a hamstring curl). If these two muscle groups are not equally balanced, the pelvis, hips and knees will not be properly stabilized and are predisposed to injury. Shortened hamstrings are associated with low back pain and knee pain.

Hamstrings that are too tight for an individual’s sports or daily activities are predisposed to “tweaking”, “pulling” and other injuries. “Tweaking” a hamstring is another way of saying the muscle fibers were stretched beyond capacity creating inflammation, pain and scar tissue. “Pulling” a hamstring usually refers to a tear of some degree. Rarely, hamstrings can rupture completely.

Injured hamstrings take a long time to heal-months to years-and are highly sensitive to re-injury. Prevention is much easier than rehabilitation. Always stretch a warm muscle, and avoid excessive stretching before any sports activity.

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