Stretch Or Strength: Which Do You Need?

matpilatesStretch Or Strength: Which Do You Need?


Today, Julia from Sol Space Pilates and Movement offers us some insight into a very common query….stretch, or strength???

I’m always curious to know how people came to Pilates. The other day I was talking with a client who mentioned that she practices yoga for flexibility + was interested in starting Pilates to build strength. An interesting comment; it implied that the one is good for one thing + the other is good for another, as if they were mutually exclusive. Personally speaking, I find yoga + Pilates to be wonderfully complementary, the practice of one informs the other. Some exercises may appear similar, but the approach or emphasis is different; understanding WHY we do something one way in yoga + another way in Pilates enriches your experience of movement as a whole.

But the comment got me thinking; WHY does Pilates have this public perception? Sure, some schools bang on about the core a whole lot, but to say that Pilates is primarily concerned with building strength doesn’t ring true to the original teachings of its founder. Joseph Pilates developed his method to promote BALANCE, + not just in the physical body, but in all aspects of life, with the overall goal being holistic wellness. In his original writings he advocates hard work, good hygiene, a healthy diet, plenty of sunshine, play + rest; a Balanced Life.

But back to the body… we need strength AND mobility:

‘Contrology (Pilates) develops the body uniformly… it is not a system of haphazard exercises designed to produce only bulging muscles…nor does (it) err either by the overdevelopment of a few muscles at the expense of all others with resulting loss of grace + suppleness, or the sacrifice of the heart or lungs. Rather, it was conceived to limber + stretch muscles + ligaments so that your body will be as supple as that of a cat + not muscular like that of the body of a brewery-truck horse, or the muscle-bound body of the professional weight lifter you so much admire at the circus.’

To give a practical example, consider the officer worker, hunched over a work desk all day. Chest opening exercises such as Book Openings are wonderful for creating space through the anterior + lateral upper body + promoting thoracic mobility. They feel delicious + are a beautiful exercise to perform at the end of a long day spent in forward flexion. However, if you practice such exercises exclusively, without incorporating some strength + stabilisation work into your routine, you simply go back to being hunched over for most of your day, the longterm result of which is fatigue + pain (the number one complaint we see in our massage clients is… you guessed it, upper body tension + back pain as the result of poor posture + long periods of sitting.) To see real improvement, you need to build core strength. Having a weak + unstable core is like building a house with poor foundations; without a solid base the walls will sooner or later crash down around you. In this case the crash will be in the form of compensatory movement patterns, postural problems + potential injury. Your core musculature supports your spine + pelvis + maintains their alignment. Having good core strength allows you to perform your everyday tasks safely, with ease + efficiency.

The genius of the modern approach to the Pilates system is that it is a self-contained, whole body movement experience; we start with small, isolated movements + build upon this – layer by layer – into full body integrative sequences. We stretch while we strengthen. We work with precision, control, elegance + efficiency. We clear our mind, we get our heart rate up, we challenge our balance + coordination…all while remembering to B R E A T H E ! Take the Pilates exercise ‘Bridge’, for example; we’re building strength in our hamstrings + glutes, while stretching our hip flexors; we’re promoting spine + rib mobility, + we’re coordinating it all with our breath. There’s no time to worry about what you’re doing after class or whether or not you remembered to put the bins out for collection because there’s so much to focus on in the exercise. Pilates allows you to be present + to connect deeply your body + mind.

Your body is engineered for balance. Finding equilibrium between strength + flexibility as well as effort + ease is the holy grail! So next time you’re wondering if you need to stretch or strengthen, the answer is, you need to do both.


Julia teaches pilates on Monday @ 8.00am, Wednesdays @ 8.00am + 7.15pm and Saturdays @ 8.30am. To find out more, and book yourself some time on the mat, click here

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