I remember growing up dreading the “forward fold” flexibility test. Even as a child I was far from touching my toes and always felt inches behind the majority of my peers. For years I let this inflexibility inhibit me from having full range of motion in my body. Over the past few years I have made great strides in my flexibility as I have worked to gain body awareness, strength, and alignment/balance in my body.
To give you a better idea of my progress, here is a series of pictures of me at the beginning of regular Pilates, after six months of regular Pilates, and after finishing the intermediate teacher training program.
I am still amazed when I look back at the first photo. I don’t think I realized how constricted my body was. I also did not understand the root of the problem, and was used to instructors telling me I needed to “stretch my hamstrings” when they saw my limited range. I spent a lot of time in isolated hamstring stretches, and it wasn’t until I adopted a more holistic approach to balancing out my hips and legs that I saw significant improvement.
Our hamstrings are made up of three muscles that connect from the bottom of our pelvis to the back of our knee. When your pelvis is in a neutral position the hamstrings and hip flexors work as antagonistic forces to balance each other. If your pelvis is tilted more anteriorly (forward) or posteriorly (back) one of the muscle groups has to work while it is stretched, resulting in neurological tightness— similar to how a rubber band becomes more taut as it is stretched.
I realized that my pelvis has the tendency to be in an excessive anterior tilt (i.e. sway back) which results in neurological tightness in my hamstrings and short/tight hip flexors. The cause of this could be anything from psychological postural patterns, to underutilized core stabilization during movement. Once I started addressing my pelvic alignment and stretched/strengthened all of the muscles connected to my hip, I saw significant improvement in my hamstrings range of motion. I spent a lot of time on the full barrel doing ballet stretches, and soon felt like I had a whole new set of legs. Walking felt different. Sitting felt different. Everything felt easier and I was able to perform exercises like spine stretch, saw, and tree without modifications.
If you consider yourself to be a “tight person” you’ll probably find it helpful to address any alignment issues. How is your posture? Has this led to any maladaptive movement patterns? Pilates is a wonderful way to ensure you are taking a holistic approach to any misalignment, and a good teacher can help you get to the root of any limitations in your body.Share