Pilates and the Myth of Flexibility as a Requirement
Pilates is primarily a system of repetitive movements designed to promote strength, mobility, and balance. The system focuses on core strength but can improve general health and wellness.
When looking at a Pilates definition, one word is predominantly missing: flexibility. Despite the social media pics and videos showing people contorting into precarious positions and hailing the practice as Pilates, flexibility is not a prerequisite to the system.
Unfortunately, people avoid the system because they feel intimidated by social media threads. They do not realize that Pilates is a rehabilitative and rejuvenating practice. The myth of flexibility deters people who need the system from using it.
The Truth of Pilates
Scrolling through social media feeds, you will see many posts of Pilates' back bends and other extreme movements. The posts create a false narrative about what Pilates is.
Most of the people you see performing these contortions are professional or experienced dancers, people who can easily bend in "abnormal" ways. These posters did not gain their flexibility overnight and certainly didn't just walk out of a Pilates class with the ability.
Pilates is an accessible system — or, at least, it is meant to be. When people see others performing unreal feats, they often feel discouraged or incapable.
It surprises many people that Pilates is often prescribed for people recovering from accidents, surgeries, and strokes. The reason is that the system is more about strengthening, stretching and control than flexibility.
Ultimately, Pilates focuses on strength, mobility, and balance. While flexibility is often a product of the practice, it is not its foundation.
The Process of Developing Flexibility
Flexibility occurs over time. People who have practiced dancing or gymnastics since they were toddlers are likely more flexible than those who haven't.
The more you stretch your muscles and bend your joints, the more give they will have, allowing you to bend in ways you never imagined. Still, the result is equivalent to the time and commitment to the practice. If you do a single Pilates session once per week but live a sedentary lifestyle the rest of the time, you will not see significant gains, if any.
The key to developing flexibility is to commit to a practice that encourages it. Pilates will help you become more flexible over time and with consistent practice.
A warning: do not force yourself to stretch further than you can. Forcing a stretch can cause injury. Be patient and accept that change and growth take time.
The Pilates Journey
Pilates is an accessible system designed for everyone, from the beginner to the expert. While some of the most flexible people may post the most about the exercise, there are thousands more with limited mobility or who are rehabilitating from an injury.
As with any wellness journey, you must make the system meet you where you are. If you are not the most flexible person, look for movement modifications. Don't let flexibility be a barrier to future health. Pilates is an exercise system without barriers for all people.