I could deadlift that weight if I could just bend over that far....
July 27, 2009 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Adding Pilates or other stretching to a weight training routine - how?

After asking my previous question about barbell/dumbbell routines, I've taken the punge. I've joined a gym, picked up the barbells, and started the Stronglifts 5x5 program. I've been at it for a little more than 3 weeks now.

One thing I've noticed since getting serious about my weight training routine - I'm not flexible. At all. It's probably even preventing me from doing some of the exercises with 100% good form. So I'm thinking of adding some Pilates to my routine to help with that. Specifically, I was considering buying this book, based on the reviews it's received. The thing is, I'm afraid that trying to do 2 types of exercise routines at once could cause problems, perhaps with insufficient rest or too much strain on the body. Does anyone have any tips on how to combine Pilates (or alternatively, any other flexibility training that you recommend) into a weight training routine? Should stretching and flexibility exercises be done on the same days as weights? On alternating days? Every day? Is there some kind of limit I should observe? 10 minutes per session? 30? Should I be doing something other than Pilates in these circumstances? Bottom line: how can I make myself more flexible while still maximizing muscle gain from Stronglifts, and without hurting myself?

Possibly relevant data: I am male, 26 years old, and just starting serious weight training. I am moderately overweight, but not obese by any means. I have good leg strength, and am in good enough shape to run for 30+ minutes at 5.5mph without stopping. But I have relatively little upper body strength, and have thus far been unable to do any body-weight exercise involving my arms (chin-ups, pull-ups, push-ups, I can't even do the easy variations).

Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.
posted by Vorteks to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
Best answer: Just to be clear: Pilates is way more than stretching -- particularly if you use the Reformer and/or Cadillac in which it becomes strength training (using your own body weight). Mat work may be equally demanding, depending on the format and instructor.

Pilates will help with your flexbility but it addresses abs and general muscular strength more specifically.
posted by gsh at 11:05 AM on July 27, 2009

Best answer: Pilates is great and will help flexibility, but it's more of a core workout that a stretching routine. If stretching is your primary goal, I would recommend yoga (or, you know, just stretching) over pilates.

That said, you can do stretches anytime. I frequently hold a forward or back bend when I'm riding the elevator alone, for example. You shouldn't go too deep unless you've properly warmed up, but other than that caveat, I don't think you need to worry much about over-training. Although you should always do some stretching immediately after lifting (since lifting shortens muscle fibers), if you've just finished lifting really heavy you may want to hold back a little on deep stretching until your body recovers for an an hour or two, but you doing both the same day shouldn't be a big deal.

A 'proper' warmup would be 5-10 minutes of cardio or something like Tai Chi. If you do yoga, the warmup phase is pretty much built in (usually as 'sun salutations') before the stretching begins.

Does your gym offer relevant classes? That's really where you should start so that your instructor can monitor your form to help prevent injury. If you really want to do this alone (following a book or video or whatever), use a mirror to ensure you're really in the same position as posture in the book. And remember "gentle maximum" is the most important rule. You want to push your limits but not to the point of real pain.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 11:21 AM on July 27, 2009

Response by poster: @gsh - that being the case, would it be inadvisable to do the Pilates exercises if I'm already doing other strength training exercises? I'm guessing "yes", but I'm not sure.

@and hosted from Uranus - If I go with "just stretching" instead of Pilates, any source you would recommend as a guide? I really have no idea how to go about it.
posted by Vorteks at 11:32 AM on July 27, 2009

Response by poster: @and hosted from Uranus - Yes, my gym does offer classes, but unfortunately only at a time that I can't possibly attend.
posted by Vorteks at 11:32 AM on July 27, 2009

Best answer: I have been lifting weights for about 10 years, and have always had a problem with flexibility. I'm in good shape, 31, and not naturally athletic by any means. I recently made some changes to my routine and am seeing good, if slow, results.

1. I do Bikram Yoga once or twice a week. I could care less about any supposed spiritual benefits or pseudo-science, but the increased flexibility is the real deal.
2. I take time to stretch every day after my workout - legs, back, arms, chest. I do a warm-up before every workout - 5 minutes of cardio followed by some quick stretches.
3. I superset my weights, and add more cardio. This gets my heart rate up and by the end of the workout my body is much more receptive to a good stretch.

Pilates is a good addition to a weight training routine for many reasons, but flexibility is not one of them. It provides core stability for standards such as the bench press and the squat. I don't do Pilates any more, but when I did, my bench went up 20 lbs, no joke, and I could feel the difference on the bench.

One item in your post raises a red flag, though - which exercises are you not able to do with good form due to flexibility? If you are a beginning weightlifter, pretty much any exercise you do should be easily within your range of motion.
posted by charlesv at 12:06 PM on July 27, 2009

I wouldn't advise trying pilates or yoga for the first time just using a book or DVD. Yeah, I know, time, money, etc. I'm not saying that you should only do them with a registered, well-respected teacher for the rest of your life, just until you know what doing it correctly feels like. Pilates, and a lot of forms of yoga, are all about proper alignment. If you aren't doing the exercises/poses/asanas "in proper alignment" at best you're really not getting much out of them and at worst you could do your body some real harm.
posted by kaybdc at 12:14 PM on July 27, 2009

No, I have no specific recommendations. If you can't attend your gym's class because of work, take a personal day off and go to class. :)

You could start just by doing the same movements you do in your lifts ... lose the weights, triple the time to do the movement and then hold at your maximum range of motion for 20 seconds. Repeat for 2 or 3 reps. So, for example, do your regular deadlift but just bend over very slowly, hold at the bottom and return to upright very slowly. As this movement starts to feel more natural, work on straightening your knees/legs. You want to feel the stretch the same place as when you're lifting.

What body parts do you work out the most / want to stretch? Since you mention dead lifts/touching your toes, some of my favorites relevant stretches are cross-legged pulls (not in video: spend a moment pushing the crossed knee away before you pull), forward bends (the goal isn't to touch your toes, it's to feel the stretch in your hamstrings) and reclining twists.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 12:26 PM on July 27, 2009

Best answer: I have done Pilates and weight training concurrently. Some thoughts:

- I had one-on-one sessions of Pilates with an instructor. I didn't do it on my own, and I would not recommend starting on your own, simply because there are lots of alignment issues. For example, with mat work (i.e. no machines like the Reformer), my instructor tended to have to shift my hips to the one side when I was doing exercises lying down - it felt right to me, but my posture was actually wonky due to a muscle imbalance or something. So at least starting out, I'd recommend at least a group class, one-on-one if you can afford it. One-on-one might be beneficial in a "here are your issues, here's what you can do to help, now you can go away and practice on your own" way.

- What you get out of Pilates will vary by instructor/technique. A lot of Pilates can be quite airy-fairy - hence some of the "girly" stigma that can be attached to it as some lifestyle thing. My current instructor has had the benefit of some great training, and provides me with exercises where I'll finish my hour feeling stretched and sore and tested. (In that regard, my instructor has also recommended that book to me, albeit with some modifications to some of the exercises).

- The above means that whether you can do it concurrently will depend on what sort of exercises you do and how far you're pushed. Previously, back when the exercises I was getting seemed more like glorified stretching, I'd frequently go to the gym straight after. Now I probably couldn't, unless I did some of the easier exercises. So really, the answer is "it depends"

- The whole "Pilates is for core strenght, yoga is for flexibility" isn't true. Both can improve that - I've done some Bikram yoga, and my Pilates has obviously helped, and I'm sure an ardent yoga fan could come and do Pilates. It depends on which exercises you're doing within those disciplines. That being said, if you just want stretching, both of these might be overkill (although if your tightness reflects various deeper muscular issues, both might help).

I'd recommend finding a well regarded Pilates studio or yoga instructor, and going and having a chat with them about what you do and what you want. Perhaps have a private lesson with each to see if it helps, and go from there. Sorry that this is all quite "it depends on X", but obviously everyone has a different body and different requirements. Don't be afraid about going and chatting to an instructor about this.
posted by djgh at 12:47 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you don't have the flexibility to properly perform the lifts, you should work on that, before you start adding weight to the bar. Have you gotten any coaching on your lifts? A good lifting coach will be able to assist you with your flexibility issues or recommend a method for increasing it. It's also possible that your anthropometry is a little different and accommodations should be made. A coach will also be able to help with that.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 1:14 PM on July 27, 2009

Response by poster: @charlesv:

One item in your post raises a red flag, though - which exercises are you not able to do with good form due to flexibility? If you are a beginning weightlifter, pretty much any exercise you do should be easily within your range of motion.

Mostly I worry that I can't squat deep enough, or that if I do I end up leaning too far forward. It seems my legs don't bend quite enough, if that makes sense.

I also can't get anywhere near touching my toes, although that hasn't prevented me from deadlifting.
posted by Vorteks at 2:00 PM on July 27, 2009

Best answer: Yoga is great if you can get into a class, otherwise I think it's way too easy to screw up subtle things if you're a beginner without any in person correction.

According to Rippatoe (Starting Strength), just doing the heavy squats (and power cleans for the arms) will get you more flexible, certainly enough to go ass to ankles. I can't verify the squat issue since I could go deep on my first try, but for my power cleans and getting my elbows up, just doing them regularly got me much more flexible at them.

I've done stuff from this book and think it works pretty well. The guy is kinda completely nuts though:
Relax into Stretch

I have and like this book, but I haven't used it enough/long enough to fully recommend it:
The Genius of Flexibility
posted by teishu at 4:04 PM on July 27, 2009

Best answer: There's lots of info about mobility work on the stronglifts site. I doubt you need to do Pilates or Yoga in order to be able to perform the basic barbell movements correctly.

Start your workouts with a brief full body warmup to get your blood flowing. I like to row 200 meters on the rowing machine. Then do a few minutes of dynamic stretching as needed, warmup your work sets appropriately, and lift.

If you want help with specific mobility problems you should explain what they are.

Mostly I worry that I can't squat deep enough, or that if I do I end up leaning too far forward

The low-bar back squat (rightmost image) involves an inclined torso. It is not perfromed with an upright back. You need to lean forward enough to keep the bar over the middle of the foot. Get yourself on video or have someone knowledgeable watch you to confirm that you're hitting depth ASAP before your squat starts getting heavy.

It seems my legs don't bend quite enough, if that makes sense.

No, that doesn't make sense. Try the hip mobility exercises linked above. The stronglifts forum is also a good place to ask for help.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:32 PM on July 27, 2009

According to Rippatoe (Starting Strength), just doing the heavy squats (and power cleans for the arms) will get you more flexible, certainly enough to go ass to ankles.

Few people are flexible enough to go ass to grass while maintaining lumbar extension on a low-bar squat, and it's not necessary anyway. You need to break parallel, you don't need to go deeper.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:34 PM on July 27, 2009

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