After sitting all day stretching seems like a necessity for flexibility and relaxation but is it really?
I keep thinking a lot about whether I need to add extra stretching exercises to my classes when my clients often say they want to be more flexible so I decided to do some research into this to make my mind up and hopefully give you a clear update on the topic!
I have been taught to stretch after every exercise session since I was 7 years old to increase my mobility and flexibility and I love stretching! Not just that, if I look at my cat I can see her benefiting from stretching and it is almost one of the most natural instincts in every species!
When I started my Pilates training everything changed, as my school strictly emphasized that no one needs to stretch unless you are a professional dancer who is after a greater range of movement. I have been questioning this since I started to teach.
Stretching is a very controversial topic in the fitness world: lately more studies show that stretching damages your muscle strength and can cause more harm than good. When you stretch your muscles you weaken them at the same time and a reduction of strength in your muscles is definitely not something most people would desire before a race or a workout. Stretching is definitely not suggested in the warm up, an ideal warm up needs to be aerobic exercise that takes place before your workout.
Some studies show that the effects of stretching disappear after 15 minutes and for this reason there is no need for it. They say that the length of your muscles are controlled heavily by your neuromuscular system, so it is your nervous system and your habits that give you tightness and stretching only provides temporary relief.
Research gets to the bottom of the tight muscle issue which is so deep that it could be a topic for another article itself (!) but in summary muscle tightness is found to be related to what we are eating, hormones and lifestyle.
So if you think you are not flexible enough or are feeling stiff in some parts of your body, please watch out for your caffeine and salt intake. Not only your diet, a sedentary lifestyle also plays a big role in this...
Exercise itself is found to be the best way to reduce muscular imbalances and tightness. Exercising relaxes and allows the natural stretching of muscles to occur in tight muscles and promotes balance. After a heavy workout session please avoid static stretching, you need to cool down with a basic aerobic routine.
Pilates is top of the list of exercise routines to reduce muscular imbalances and tightness as it promotes even and equal movement throughout your body. So, please don’t do heavy weights and expect to have relaxed muscles afterwards :) but a well designed Pilates class once a week can help you gain more flexibility. Flexibility is a reflection of your health and your fitness, not stretching.
I hope you find this useful and feel free to contact me or ask any question about your flexibility and Pilates!