The Importance of Lengthening While Strengthening
By: Stephanie Ruopp
Getting into the gym, playing a sport, or taking a long run to strengthen your muscles feels great, right? Regularly contracting your muscles is bound to build them.
But, as physics dictates, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So the question is, how often do you counter the regular contraction of your muscles with stretching?
Many athletes and others with a regular workout regime want to skip the stretch – feeling it takes too long and is unnecessary. Unfortunately, they’re simply overlooking the importance of lengthening while strengthening.
Stretching Is So Beneficial
Stretching does more than deliver long and lean muscle. While that’s certainly a big plus, it also serves to maintain joint mobility, balance your musculature, and provide full body agility.
So if you only perform movements that shorten and contract your muscles, such as those in weight training, you’ll begin to notice limits in your mobility. Working within those limits makes it difficult to achieve the range of motion required for developing stronger and more balanced muscles. Instead they become tight.
Tight muscles do not allow for free flowing and agile movement and overall performance is stunted. The possibility of injury also increases.
This isn’t to say that strengthening workouts need to be avoided. Rather, they need to be balanced with movements that serve to lengthen as well.
Spending just a few short sessions per week on stretches and strengthening exercises such as those found in Pilates will make a tremendous difference.
That’s why more and more endurance athletes are supplementing their strengthening workouts with Pilates to increase flexibility, improve core strength, and prevent injury.
Pilates Recognizes Benefits of Lengthening While Strengthening
Founded by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900s, the Pilates method was developed primarily for ballet dancers to help them increase flexibility and strengthen their cores. Yet the numerou
s benefits provided by the method allowed it to flourish and move beyond the confines of dance studios.
In Pilates, the aim is to elongate the muscles as they’re being worked. In other words, the objective is to stretch and balance rather than compress. Furthermore, the power comes from the core.
Proper alignment is crucial and the practice requires students to control their positions. A heightened sense of awareness is created as each muscle is used to strengthen and lengthen into position.
Yet there is also a significant component in Pilates that involves the mind and the breath. While controlling the muscles with the mind, students remain completely aware of how the breath impacts those movements. Pilates creates a total body workout by building strength in the body’s core postural muscles that support the spine. And it does this with minimal to no impact.
Bringing Together Strengthening and Lengthening
Given its ability to tone and realign the body, build a strong core, increase energy and awareness, and lengthen the muscles while strengthening them, Pilates is the perfect complement to more rigorous and muscle-bound workouts.
Below are three different ways you can complement strengthening exercises with Pilates movements.
1. Push-Up to Double-Leg Kick
You more than likely know how to do a push-up. They’re a staple in arm strengthening workouts. You essentially come into a plank, then bend your elbows and lower your body toward the ground without actually touching down. Once you come as low as possible, you push back up. Repeat as many times as you can. Sounds simple. But for many of us, they’re anything but.
A nice Pilates movement to follow up those arduous push-ups is known as the double-leg kick.
You lie facedown on a mat with your legs together. Keeping your head on the floor, reach back and, with elbows bent, clasp your hands behind the small of your back. Legs remain together as you kick your heels toward your butt three times, inhaling with each rep.
As you exhale, straighten your legs and allow them to hover just above the mat as you lift your head and chest from the floor. Release the bind of your hands and stretch your arms back toward your feet behind you.
Work for three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
2. Crunch to Swimming
Ah, the crunch. Another not terribly beloved strengthening exercise that targets the core.
Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Fingertips touch gently behind the ears to support your head, neck, and shoulders as you curl them up off the mat and pause. Slowly lower all the way back down. Then repeat for as many reps as possible.
Moving from a crunch to Pilates swimming is a great way to stretch out the core while working to strengthen it in different way. With your belly on the floor, lift and extend your arms overhead and your legs behind you. Keep your legs slightly separated.
Keeping your head neutral, squeeze your glutes as you pump your arms and legs up and down in opposite pairs. Breathe in for five reps, then out for five reps. Strive for three sets of 20.
3. Double Stiff-Legged Deadlift to Single-Leg Straight Leg
Okay. This strength move may not be as familiar to you. It’s pretty straight forward though.
Grab some dumbbells and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Be sure your legs are straight but knees are not locked. Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs, draw your shoulders back and engage your abs. Fold forward with a flat back to the lowest point possible without rounding the back. Reverse the move and rise back to standing. Repeat.
After those deadlifts, you can lengthen and strengthen the muscles in the arms, legs, hips, and back with the Pilates single-leg straight leg movement. Lie flat on the floor, legs straight and toes pointed. Curl your head and shoulders off the floor, then raise one leg toward the sky. Grasp the lifted leg with both hands, pull it toward your face, and pulse it twice while inhaling.
As you exhale, release the the first leg and do the same with the second on the next inhale. Continue alternating sides until you’ve completed three sets of 10 to 15 reps on each side.
Make it a habit to do two or three of these pairings each day for a week and see if it starts making a difference for you. Chances are, it will.
Would You Like to Add Pilates to Your Workout?
There are clearly so many benefits to lengthening while strengthening muscles. And Pilates is one of the most effective ways to achieve this.
So if you’re ready to see how Pilates can vastly improve your athletic and/or endurance workout, contact us today. Our highly skilled instructors will guide you through this revolutionary practice.
And you’ll be amazed at how it will boost your overall performance.