Extension in Pilates
Extension is described at movement that increases the angle between articulating bones. In Pilates we do extension to increase mobility of the spine, counteract the constant bending/flexion we do in daily life and improve posture and balance throughout the spine.
When the body is in extension we are back bending our spine, it is the reverse action of flexion. Now back bending doesn’t immediately mean the focus is to arch the back or require you to be extremely flexibility. Extension is a natural movement pathway. When you extend your spine you are imagining you are creating to biggest possible arc with your spine, with the focus of lengthening outwards and upwards and not cramming or jamming but maintaining and increasing space in between your joints.
Extension exercises provide a wonderful lengthening and stretching opportunity for the front of the body. Joseph Pilates once said, ‘A man is only as young as his spinal column.’ The more we can move our spine through the ranges of motion it was designed for: flexion, extension, lateral flexion and degrees of rotation, the healthy we will be. Without movement our spine becomes rigid and compact. Extension exercises improve strength in back body, lengthens the front body and improves all movement directions of the spine.
When you first extend your spine it is easy for everything to get involved, especially the lower back. Working on thoracic extension or extending the upper body requires the lumbar spine to stay in neutral and be supported by the core. The movement will seem challenging and stuck in certain areas of the upper back, some sections may move better than others. We are aiming to segmentally extend the spine vertebra by vertebra and remain lengthened in this action.
When we don’t practice extension of the spine we often become very tight and limited in our movement range. This is when Pilates equipment is fabulous as it can assist us with our extensions. However before we get to the equipment it is important that we understand extension on the Mat. Some preparation exercises include: Prone extension, Dart, Swan and Single Leg Kick.
A big favourite that is great for assisting the body in extension is the Prone Scapular Series and Swan on the Chair. The strings tension allows the body to be helped into extension and resisted down into neutral.
Extension isn’t for everybody, it requires a create deal of abdominal control and strength to stabilise the movement and reduce tension being placed in the lumbar spine. Extension is a contraindicated movement for clients with stenosis, spondylolisthesis and facet joint syndrome.