Stretch: Making Movement Look Easy, Even if it’s Not

It’s not a mystery… working out is and should be hard work. It’s how we gain strength, muscle mass and definition. But ultimately it should feel good and movement should come with a sense of ease. Muscle tightness and stiff joints can create an additional challenge that generates tension in a workout rather than the “zest and pleasure” of an invigorating session of exercise. When you find the balance of stretch and strength it creates a sense of efficiency that will make you say “that was easier!”

As a teacher of Pilates I often am asked by students, “can you recommend some stretches to help me gain flexibility in my ________________?” My answer is Pilates.

I believe one of the many reasons that the Pilates Method is so ingenious is that each Pilates exercise incorporates stretch components as well as strength components. Participants gain range of motion by what is referred to as active stretch. Active stretch means that you contract a muscle directly across from the one you stretch. One muscle relaxes while the opposing muscle initiates the stretch. In Pilates it is most often a dynamic active stretch, which means the muscles and body are in motion. Through this dynamic active stretch, you gradually increase range of motion to maximize the contraction potential of a muscle. You are simultaneously working on one to help gain the other.

A few examples of this in action are the Roll Up, during which you strengthen the abdominals while you stretch the lower back through the sequencing of the spine; Double Leg Kick, which strengthens the muscles of the back and hamstrings while stretching the pectoral muscles and quadriceps; and Chest Expansion, which strengthens the muscles of the upper back and triceps while it stretches the shoulders and chest.

The harder you work on an exercise, the more flexibility you gain. As you gain flexibility, you are able to access your muscles with more depth and intensity.

Stretching is a vital component of any fitness regiment because supple muscles and joints allow the body to move with more ease. A healthy range of motion allows the skeleton to be in proper functional alignment with the muscles to create efficiency of movement. Efficient movement helps the body gain strength with balance. Balance in movement reduces the potential for pain and injury. Stretching makes you feel more comfortable when you move; the more comfortable you feel moving your body, the more you will want to move it and the better you will be at moving it.

If you would like to learn more about stretching through Pilates, please come to Excel Pilates’ Stretch with Pilates  Workshop: Maximizing the stretch potential of your Pilates workout.  This hour long workshop will be taught by Lesa McLaughlin, on Thursday, May 8th, from 7:00-8:00pm — $20 or use your Mat class package.


10 Reasons You and Your Body Will LOVE Pilates

Joseph Pilates was a health enthusiast, entrepreneur and inventor who cared deeply about the maintenance of the body, mind and soul. He developed Contrology (now commonly known as Pilates) as a means of keeping every part of you in sync and well fit. His methods today have gained worldwide popularity. By doing the original Pilates method, you and your body will be left feeling better than ever. Here are just a few reasons why:

1.You gain self-confidence and consciousness of the power you have to reach your goals. By focusing your physical and mental energy on each individual part of the body as you go through each movement, you’ll find yourself more centered and more aware of your abilities. The consistent development of strength and flexibility as well as your uniformly developed body will keep you confident in your ability to reach your goals.

2. Garner grace and poise from corrected posture. Pilates exercises focus on strengthening postural muscles, while gaining more supported mobility of your spine. By gradual and focused realignment, those who practice Pilates will naturally gain better posture. In addition, your lifted posture combined with your increased confidence allows you to garner a grace in movement that people dream of.

3. Happiness and increased pleasure in life from aligned body, mind and spirit. Many of our internal struggles in life have to do with your mind thinking one thing while your body feels another. Sometimes your spirit may long for things that your body can’t physically do or your mind can’t fathom even trying. Life becomes amazing when all these are in sync. By revitalizing your body both internally and externally, you widen the possibilities of what you can do. As your mind focuses on being in tune with your spirit especially while being physically fit, you will find the confidence and capacity to make the desires of your spirit come true.

“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily, and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.”
-Joseph Pilates, Return to Life Through Contrology

4. Develop the ability to make clear and well-balanced decisions from a well-developed mind. Pilates focuses on both physical and mental capacities of the mind. By increasing blood flow through all parts of your body, replenishing fresh air into your body and reactivating some otherwise dormant neurological cells, your brain is constantly developing to its full ability, allowing you to better use it particularly when you need it most.

“The mind, when housed within a healthful body, possesses a glorious sense of power.” -Joseph Pilates, letter to clients, 1939

5. Gain mental control over every part of your body. The focused isolated exercises in the Pilates movements will allow your brain to reawaken the neurological receptors that are otherwise usually so dormant that they seem impossible to use.

“Ideally, our muscles should obey our will. Reasonably, our will should not be dominated by the reflex actions of our muscles.” – Joseph H. Pilates

6. Develop increased flexibility and corrected body alignment. According to Joseph Pilates, your age isn’t about the number of years you’re alive nor is it about the way you feel. It’s about the functional ability of your body to maintain its proper usage. Your spine and muscles are key to the structural maintenance of your body. Pilates movements will help you develop the proper form and flexibility to keep you youthful for a lifetime.

7. Gain thorough and well-balanced muscle development. The Pilates method focuses on developing not just the outer (often more visible and bulky) muscles but also the smaller more dormant muscles that you wouldn’t usually use.

8. Give your body proper organ maintenance. Maintaining your organs is something many don’t thing about but should.  We place millions of things into our bodies that can cause stress to our internal organs; the biological and genetic effects of our bodies shift the proper use of our organs; the body has an uncanny knack for messing up on its own sometimes. With increased blood flow and better oxygen levels from the breathing exercises in accordance with the Contrology movements, your organs consistently will be revitalized, refreshed and ready to do what you need from them.

9. Gain a lightened spirit from less normal stressors. With all of the great benefits you will gain from practicing Contrology, you will gain a lightened spirit from having less of the normal stressors that affect most people’s everyday lives.

10. Reserve energy for a greater life to live! By doing each revitalizing movement and rejuvenating your body and lungs on a consistent basis, you develop the ability to use less energy for normal day-to-day actions. Instead of ridding itself of the energy you gain, your body will maintain reserve energy that can be used for more play and ultimately lead to a greater life!

Excel Pilates DC was the first classical Pilates studio in Washington, DC. Located in the Brookland area of NE DC, Excel has been committed to the power and depth of the original Pilates Method of Body Conditioning, a highly evolved and in-depth program that originated from the work of Joseph H. Pilates for over 15 years. We strive to share with and inform clients of the power of the original Pilates Method by offering apparatus and mat sessions at an affordable rate, with experienced professional teachers in a safe environment. Find more information about us at