Have you heard that Pilates will help you build strong lean muscles and that you will feel like you are lengthened? Truth be told, this is not exact in nature as I would be much taller than my given 5 feet 1 and ¾” for the amount of Pilates I have done over the past decade. What is true however is that you will feel lengthened while you are doing Pilates exercises and will actually get to see it for yourself.
I remember my first workshop using Thera-Bands and how I was instantly sold at the concept that Pilates would make me longer. I now understand how the body actually functions dynamically and why I was led to believe this conceptual myth.
Here’s the set-up: Lying on your back, left leg is bent and the right leg is long with the wide Thera-Band under your right foot. You want to wrap the band around the balls of the toes and the first 3 toes from the big toe to the middle one to play peek-a-boo out of the band. Holding on to each end of the band inside your hands, have your elbows flexed at your sides and adjust your hand position to increase or decrease the tension.
Foot in Band I
The first exercise is called ‘Foot in Band I’, this consists of pointing the toes towards the ceiling or sky and then flexing the foot. When pointing, think of using the muscles under the arch of your foot and when flexing, think of pushing through the heel. This will prevent the toes or the front of the ankle to “grip”
Foot in Band II
The second exercise is called ‘Foot in Band II’, this consists of waving the foot in an arc like motion from side to side like a windshield wiper while pressing into the band. Again, bring your attention to the front of the arch and the heel to execute the motion. I like to think of drawing the outline of a half-dome circle.
Bend and Stretch
The third exercise is called ‘Bend and Stretch’, same leg, same band, bends at the knee and extends up towards the ceiling. This will allow the hip flexors to move concentrically and eccentrically against the band. Make sure to move slowly enough so that the pelvis and the rest of the body remain stable.
The fourth exercise is called ‘Leg Circles’. Here you control the range of motion of the circling leg by where you position the hands on the band ends. You want to move within a range that you can keep your pelvis stable and steady. What you want to feel for in this motion, is the femur rotating inside the hip socket.
Once you have completed all 4 exercises above, go ahead and lengthen both legs long on the mat. You will feel a sense of being longer on your right side and you will actually see a difference in the length of your legs where your right toes will reach further than your left toes. Repeat on your left side.
What really makes our legs feel longer
Now, the explanation to what actually happened as you didn’t exactly grow an inch in 4 exercise sequences. Muscles cannot actually be lengthened, they will feel longer as they are moving and as they are stretched. When we sit, stand, walk or even lie down, our muscles along with connective tissue are working to keep our skeleton in alignment and moving properly. This compresses and creates tension over time if we don’t stretch them out. When doing exercises such as the ones noted above, we are working the muscles eccentrically and with control allowing them to decompress and move freely within the joints. We are basically contracting the muscle while it is elongating and its joint angle is increasing.
Our patterns return as we go about our days and our muscles start to feel tight again. This is why Pilates is so important to keep bones moving and muscles feeling lengthened so that we can stay healthy and live freely from aches and pains.
I encourage you to try this 4 step exercise sequence and let us know how you feel after. Chances are you’ll feel mobile in your hips and more integrated into your body. And the best part is that you can literally take your Thera-Bands everywhere with you, when you travel, when you’re away from home, when you want a quick work-out, but can’t get to the gym or studio. If you don’t own one yet, it’s time to hop on the “band” wagon and pick one up!