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Elongating your muscles

Everywhere people talk about how Pilates builds long lean muscles and you will be taller as if Pilates worked on the body in some unique manner. There is only partial truth to that statement. Muscles can essentially ONLY contract and release. They cannot somehow grow longer or expand their length. However, if our muscles are tight and ‘held’ in a shortened position, the stretching and full range of motion that Pilates provides will help release those tight muscles allowing the muscle tissue to go to their full natural length.

In addition, as I understand it, our bodies have fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fiber. Fast twitch is sprint and explosive power muscle. Those muscle cells are shorter and fatter and therefore bulkier. They tire quickly but can produce lots of power.

Slow twitch fiber, which tends to be the kind of muscle fiber that Pilates taps into, are thinner longer muscle tissue. They are endurance muscle (think of the muscles of a marathon runner versus a sprinter). They don’t have nearly as much power capacity but they can keep going forever (well not literally). In Pilates, because we do exercises in a slow, controlled fashion and because we are not putting our bodies under the kind of loads that weight training does, Pilates does tap into that slow twitch fiber.

The upside of Pilates is the control over the full range of motion of the body. Those slow twitch fibers do make for a leaner look. The downside is that when trying to generate power – whether explosive or under heavy load, Pilates bodies are generally found to be WEAK! So if you are training for an explosive sport (most sports are explosive) from soccer to tennis to, of course, football and hockey, Pilates will help with control throughout ranges of motion, but it will unlikely make you stronger unless you put the body under heavy load or train explosive movements.

When I started Crossfit many years ago, I found I had very good form and technique even on unfamiliar exercises. But I quickly fatigued and my Crossfit teacher bluntly told me that I was weak. He was right. Now with both Crossfit training and Pilates in my exercise routine, I feel I am getting the best of both worlds. And by the way, while I may be somewhat bigger, my genetics are such that I will never be huge.

At Mind and Body, as a result of that experience, we include explosive movement in our workouts and try to put the body under heavier loads than you would find in other Pilates studios. No, not to make people bulkier but to help them train for their particular sport and to train explosive movement in a controlled fashion. And we always stay true to our Pilates roots of controlling all movement patterns without sacrificing technique for speed. We also always incorporate larger than usual ranges of motion to keep our muscle tissues from tightening up and staying short.

Long and lean – probably. But stronger and more stable – for sure!

Workout Myth #1- Recovery time?

It’s Friday and I woke up feeling pretty good. I usually am a little muscle sore from my various workouts and it feels good – makes me feel alive and like I am working towards something. Yesterday ended up being a 3 workout day: 2 Pilates workouts and a Crossfit workout.

Now I know a bunch of people get alarmed when you tell them you workout everyday and more than an hour a day. That doesn’t make sense to me. Any Olympic athlete, gymnast, ballet dancer or any professional athlete didn’t get to where they are on one hour a day 5 days a week. They push themselves. Even Madonna or an actor training for a physical role will workout like crazy to get ready.

But don’t you need a day to recover? My response is: If your legs or arms or glutes are fried then yes you need some time to recover but that is just logical and listening to your body. Abs can be cranked on every day because there is so much blood running through them to help with recovery.

So some days I wake up and discover that my hamstrings or glutes or arms are super sore so I give them some time to recover. I also try to get a little extra sleep to help with that process. And then I go at it again. And again, and again.

Today will probably be a no workout day unless I run the stairs because I am going to the ballet tonight to see those athletes work their bodies in amazing ways. BTW, it’s Midsummer Night’s Dream