Active surpasses Passive stretching
As I age I have become dramatically aware of how important it is to stretch every muscle in my body every day. You have all heard me discuss the benefits of reformer Pilates because of the preferred way that it lengthens your muscles; through active and not passive stretching.
The scientific term for this is Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF), where the movement involves both the stretching and contraction of the targeted muscle. The magic lies in the fact that you can efficiently lengthen and strengthen at the same time.
The Elephant is an exercise that cleverly lengthens the hamstrings by contracting as you push the platform out and relaxing as you pull it back in. Contraction followed by relaxation allows for more extensive lengthening.
If you were to perform PNF on your hamstring on the floor you would need a partner.
Lie on the floor on your back with your left leg in the air and foot flexed.
Your partner holds your leg by applying resistance to inhibit the movement as you push your leg down for 5-6 seconds. You then relax your leg as your partner pushes your leg up to stretch the hamstring for 20 seconds.
If you keep repeating this contraction, relaxation stretch you will continue to achieve a more enhanced level of flexibility and length in the hamstring than if you were simply trying to sit and reach on your own.
Luckily your reformer does the work and all AeroPilates exercises apply the PNF technique without the need for a partner.