Why is flexibility important?
Flexibility isn’t just about touching one’s toes or doing the splits. In actuality, flexibility is simply the amount of movement available at each joint. Flexibility is important to staying healthy and avoiding pain and injury.
According to Laureen DuBeau (a Master Instructor Trainer and Communications Director for STOTT PILATES®, one of Physiquality’s partner programs), our joints need a certain amount of mobility and flexibility in order to move effectively and efficiently. She notes, “When there is adequate range of motion available in a joint, the associated muscles work more effectively. But if there is tightness or injury restricting your range of motion,” you might start compensating by using other muscles for the same movement, which can lead to further pain and injury.
Miranda Esmonde-White, the creator of the Essentrics™ workout (a new Physiquality partner program) and the renowned PBS show Classical Stretch, also points out that reduced flexibility “slows a person down and can lead to lower energy and increased weight.” So as a person increases flexibility and range of motion, he is able to move with more ease and less effort, decrease his pain and discomfort, and increase his energy and confidence.
Laureen notes that different lifestyles, jobs, casual and competitive sport activities, and inactivity can lead to lack of mobility in any number of different areas of the body. People who work at a computer all day might suffer from tight shoulders and rigid hip joints. Poor posture can lead to bad alignment and shortened neck extensors. Anna Dark, Fitness Director at the Take Charge Fitness Program at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Tennessee, says that many of her clients garden on the weekends, leading to sore backs in her Monday classes.
So what can you do? There are many ways to increase your flexibility and improve your health. Anna notes that yoga is a wonderful way to improve flexibility throughout the entire body. If you’re new to yoga, she advises, “It is important to find a yoga class for beginners, so that you don’t find yourself trying to do difficult moves or positions for which you are not ready. Our facility offers Chair Yoga, which is perfect for the beginner. It incorporates many of the same stretches from a traditional yoga class, but utilizes a chair for support.”
Laureen suggests using eccentric training to increase the mobility of a particular joint or body segment. She recommends the following spine stretch exercise for the back:
Spine Stretch Forward
Starting in a seated position on the mat with the knees flexed or extended, the spine should be straight and upright, or as close as is possible. Inhale to prepare; exhale while slowly curving the spine, starting with the head and keeping the pelvis vertical. Inhale and hold; exhale and bring the spine back to vertical from the tail to the head.
Laureen also recommends such Pilates exercises as the Short Spine Prep on the Reformer and Offering with Arm Springs on the Cadillac to lengthen the back and shoulders. To find a studio that offers such instruction, see if there’s a STOTT PILATES® location near you.
Miranda notes that it is important to be flexible throughout the entire body to keep your joints balanced and fluid. She points out, “Strength does not require flexibility, but one must have strength to achieve functional flexibility. Flexibility requires that every muscle be equally balanced, in order to have all joints function at their maximum range of motion.” Her Essentrics™ classes simultaneously increase strength and flexibility through isotonic exercises and large dynamic movements. Click here to find an Essentrics™ class near you.
Anna Dark is the Fitness Director of the Take Charge Fitness Program, a wellness facility run by Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee. Anna holds a B.S. in nutrition and food science from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and is also a Certified Personal Trainer.
Miranda Esmonde-White is the creator of the Essentrics™ workout (a new Physiquality partner program) and the renowned PBS show Classical Stretch. One of the most sought-after stretch and biomechanics trainers in Canada, she is well known for her work with Canadian Olympians, including diver Alexandre Despatie and skating champions Joannie Rochette, Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davidson, and students from the Cirque du Soleil School, École National de Cirque.
Laureen DuBeau is a Master Instructor Trainer and the Communications Director for Education for STOTT PILATES®, one of Physiquality’s partner programs. She began teaching Pilates in 1995 and has developed and implemented the training and certification programs for such Merrithew Health and Fitness™ programs as STOTT PILATES®, CORE Athletic Conditioning and Performance Training, and ZEN•GA™.
For further reading, look through our selection of articles on stretching, in addition to the below links:
Corp, Katherine and Kim. How to do the Pilates spine stretch forward exercise. AOL on Health, May 2012.
Flexibility and balance: Keys to a better workout. Prevention, November 2011.
STOTT PILATES® Channel. YouTube.com.
Essentrics™ Workout Channel. YouTube.com.
Loosen up with a regular stretching routine. ADVANCE for Directors in Rehabilitation, September 1, 2005.