Stretching is a point of contention in the fitness world. Nobody seems to agree on exactly how to stretch, what to stretch, and when to stretch. When I started in fitness and pilates in the late eighties, stretching before exercise was considered paramount in injury prevention, while the latest research is showing the exact opposite — stretching before exercise may actually increase your chance of injury and decrease your muscle strength.
Joseph Pilates believed that the body needed a balance of stretch and strength to work properly. Muscles need to be the correct length to function properly — not too long or too short. And the sequencing of exercises within Pilates works to achieve this balance within the workout itself, especially on the Pilates apparatus such the Reformer. Unless I am working with a client in pain or with an illness or injury, I have found little need to add more stretching to Pilates. I have suffered pain related to hyper-mobility (too much flexibility) in my knees, lower back, and shoulders that only went away when I stopped the extra stretching and focused on strength and balance. Now, as you can see below, I am pain free and moving well.
That said, there are still plenty of people in the world who need specific stretching and the Pilates equipment can offer an ideal platform for this work. So when Australian Pilates instructor Anthony Lett invited me to review his latest book, Innovations In Pilates: Therapeutic Muscle Stretching on the Pilates Reformer — A Comprehensive Guide, I said yes.
The book begins with an introduction to Pilates followed by an introduction to Therapeutic Muscle Stretching (TMS) and the Reformer. Then comes a series of sections where Lett takes the body part by part, giving a brief anatomy background and then reformer stretches for that area. You may download the table of contents along with an extract from Lett's Pilates Book Page.
It is clear from the introduction that Lett does not view classical Pilates as a complete system. "While Joseph was indeed interested in flexibility as a quality, his techniques were not optimal to produce this outcome," and further, "This work is an attempt to contribute to this missing element, to extend and grow the Pilates’ method even further so that it is effective in providing all of the outcomes that Joseph himself hoped that practising his techniques would ensure." I, along with many, disagree. Joseph Pilates developed a complete system of conditioning and flexibility is a built-in, not missing, component of his work.