This weekend I was in the Sandy Springs area of Atlanta, Georgia, visiting a girlfriend of mine for her baby shower. One morning I went for a short 2-mile run around the neighborhood we were staying in which was filled with hills of all kind, a stark contrast to my own neighborhood. I started out on a sharp decline, flattened out for a bit, pushed through a gradual but not too long incline, flattened out, then had a long gradual incline, and finally a steep but not too long incline to finish the run. Needless to say, my legs were not used to the number of hills and the variety of inclines I experienced in Atlanta.
Sitting with my pregnant friend who is also an apprentice in the TAP pilates instructor program I started to pepper her with pilates questions while stretching. I’ve always struggled with the single leg stretch because I can’t seem to straighten my legs the whole way which frustrates me and also means I’m not benefiting from the exercise as much. As I lay on the ground she stood above me holding one leg up straight and pushed it toward my head. It was the straightest my leg had ever been and I instantly felt the stretch run through my hamstrings. She then asked me to relax my quad muscles. After several tries at what I thought was relaxing, my quads were still fully flexed. I couldn’t relax!
My friend told me to stand up and see if I could flex and relax my quad muscles while standing. Again, I failed. Then we sat down and she showed me how I could flex and relax my muscles in a seated position. I had my legs straight out in front of me and was able to easily flex and then barely, just barely relax my quad muscles. I tried to do this while leaning forward and touching my toes so the muscles would have a chance to go through active stretches and actually benefit from the movement. Without relaxing the muscles while stretching, it’s simply adding more tension to those flexed muscles.
In this short period of flexing and relaxing the quad muscles, my lack of flexibility was obvious and is now something else I need to work on. I stretch after every work-out but I did not realize that there truly seems to be a “right” and “wrong” way to stretch. Increasing my flexibility will no doubt improve my comfort level while running and doing other activities. Every pilates movement I can think of contributes to building flexibility in one way or another so adding more pilates to my daily work-outs should be a good starting point to getting my legs to loosen up a little.