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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!

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