Pilates is a very effective program for improving flexibility. If you scan through Pilates on instagram you will see most of the Pilates teachers going through advanced routines that favour high levels of flexibility. This is because exercises improve the range of movement, in particular in the hip, shoulder girdle and spine.
Why do we lose flexibility
We tend to loose flexibility because of age degenerating joints or muscles, and from injuries and scar tissue. Restrictions increase in connective tissue or hypertrophy (muscle bulk) and through a lack of use we disengage proprioceptors.
This has lead to more people choosing Pilates to improve flexibility. Done well a program improves joint health, reduces restrictions in connective tissue and improves proprioception. All things that contribute to better flexibility.
How does Pilates movement improve flexibility
Connective tissue like ligaments and tendons have only a little room to improve elasticity. These shouldn't really stretch that much so exercises working tissue to it's end range. Fascia, the wrapping around muscle, is more elastic and increased blood supply and water from exercise improves flexibility.
Joint movement triggers synovial fluid in the joint to warm up and replace itself reducing joint friction. It also lengthens softer tissue like muscle through increasing muscle fibres. Pilates isolates movements to wake up and innervate supporting muscles. Innervation gets the proprioceptors involved.
Proprioceptors control muscle stretch, tension and movement and tell your brain where your limb is. Working proprioceptors improves flexibility by improving their comfort level of muscle length. Pilates repetitive movement makes proprioceptors more comfortable with length and they become less inhibited. The type of exercises we do in Pilates also increases strength ensuring flexibility with high levels of control.
Flexibility + Strength = Better Alignment
That control provides better skeletal alignment. Stronger support and stability muscles keep everything else still while a joint moves. To kick a football for example, your back extensors, pelvic floor and abdominals will stop the pelvis moving out of alignment because you have trained greater muscular control during maximum flexibility. This is useful and why sports people and dancers are big fans of Pilates.
For the footballer, improved proprioception becomes better foot coordination so a footballer can keep eyes up instead of watching the ball. The better alignment hips means more power in a kick. A better mind-body connection along better flexibility also reduces injury and increases precision.
For everyone else it means being more conscious of posture and more able to keep good posture through increased strength, flexibility and muscle habit. It means a healthier body.