In short, YES! You do not have to be flexible to start with Pilates, in fact it is a fabulous way to help you improve and gain flexibility… Everyone by now knows that Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s. He wanted to rehabilitate his own body having suffered numerous ailments and skeletal misalignments since childhood. Given that his purpose was to rebalance the body in others he shared his techniques with, it stands to reason that Pilates is an excellent way to increase flexibility and mobility in the muscles and joints.

Mat Pilates, the type I teach at Ad Astra, works with body weight, using gravity and occasionally small balls and exercise bands to strengthen and lengthen the body, focusing on moving around the core. The core remains stable whilst the limbs do the work, essentially!

Flexibility is gained through gently building on how much you can stretch a muscle, ligament or tendon through careful exercise. With improved flexibility comes increased mobility – the amount you can move your limbs around a joint. Remember, flexibility and mobility go hand in hand so we’re not just stretching the muscles, but also lubricating the joints, releasing the fascia and easing all the connective tissue around the body, and lengthening the muscles to improve posture and movement.

Which Pilates exercises are good for flexibility?

There are a total of 34 Mat Pilates exercises:

  1. The Hundred
  2. The Roll Up
  3. The Roll Over
  4. Single Leg Circles
  5. Rolling Like a Ball
  6. Single Leg Stretch
  7. Double Leg Stretch
  8. Spine Stretch
  9. Open Leg Rocker
  10. Corkscrew
  11. Saw
  12. Swan
  13. Single Leg Kicks
  14. Double Leg Kicks
  15. Neck Pull
  16. High Scissors
  17. High Bicycle
  18. Shoulder Bridge
  19. Spine Twist
  20. Jack Knife
  21. Side Kicks
  22. Teaser
  23. Hip Twist
  24. Swimming
  25. Leg Pull Down
  26. Leg Pull Up
  27. Kneeling Side Kicks
  28. Side Bend
  29. Boomerang
  30. Seal
  31. Crab
  32. The Rocking
  33. Control Balance
  34. Push Ups

Each exercise has a purpose, and so some are better for flexibility than others, whilst they are all fab for the body on the whole. My favourite Mat Pilates exercises for improving flexibility are:

2. The Roll Up

You can do this against a wall, or from lying supine (face up) on the mat.

Jayne Attwood, Pilates instructor, demonstrating the roll, in a Pilates for flexibility class.

Starting with arms overhead, core braced, and lower back imprinted to the floor, breathe out and slowly move your straight arms over your head, following the arc with your head as you lift up. Your neck and shoulders peel off the floor followed by the spine, one vertebrae at a time. Continue to an upright sitting position. Take a breath in here and slowly breathe out as you move the body forward over the legs, reaching your hands to your feet. Breathe in at the bottom. On the way back up, slowly breathe out, pause in the upright seated position to breathe in before releasing the breath as you slowly lower your spine, one vertebrae at a time back to the starting position.

This is great for your neck and spine, pelvis, hips and hamstrings – basically the whole of the back of your body!

4. Leg Circles

Moving the femur around in the pelvis is helping to lubricate the joint, ease the connective tissues and increase your range of movement. Ideally your head is lightly supported in your hands, one leg remains straight out on the floor, while the other is raised as vertically as is accessible to you.

The class doing Pilates leg circles.

With the raised toe pointed to the ceiling, begin by making small circles in one direction, maybe four times, before changing direction. Change to the original direction but make the circles larger and so. Be warned, you will feel this in you core too! If you need to, you can keep the lower leg bent with the foot on the floor.

8. Spine Stretch

This one is like the forward bent position of the roll up but starts and ends with the upright seated position.

The Pilates For All class, doing the Spine Stretch move to increase flexibility in the back

12. Sphinx and Swan

This time we’re starting off lying prone (face down) on the mat.

Jayne Attwood, yoga and Pilates instructor, in Sphinx Pose

In this photo, I’m adopting the Sphinx pose, which is a lower shoulder lift, but you can turn this into a bigger back bend by straightening the elbows and adopting Swan. Begin by bracing the core and most importantly squeezing the buttocks to protect your lower back. Your elbows need to be in line with your shoulders, there’s no sunbathing here, keep a nice compact upper body! Slide the hands down the mat underneath your shoulders and lift when you reach your desired point – keep that bum tight!

The nearer your chest you slide your hands, the higher the lift will be. I recommend lowering the body before attempting to move into Swan from Sphinx, or you risk twisting yourself in an unbalanced manoeuvre.

Brilliant for the back, and the shoulders.

These are just a few select Mat Pilates moves that help you improve flexibility. If you’ve ever been to one of my classes, you’ll know we ‘have a play’ with the classic Pilates moves and add in some great stretches of my own, especially for the shoulders, such as Tin Soldier and grasping the hands behind the shoulders (this is more often than not done with an exercise band or mat strap as the hands often don’t meet in the middle!)

Jayne Attwood, Pilates instructor, using an elastic strap behind her back to increase shoulder flexibility. One elbow is pointing up with the hand behind the neck, holding the top of the strap. The other hand is behind the back at waist height grasping the bottom of the strap.

Find out for yourself

Ultimately the best way to find out how Mat Pilates helps with flexibility is to give it go! You’ll need more than one class to see any change, so why not join me and my members for a term and see how you get on? The first class is free, and there’s a discount for seniors.

Get in touch with me to chat about the benefits of Pilates for flexibility, and to book your first class. In the meantime, keep an eye on Facebook and Instagram for more examples…