3 Secrets to Increasing Your Flexibility
The term “stretching” stirs debate among fitness professionals. Some think stretching prevents injury. Others argue it increases the risk. Mention “yoga” and virtually everyone will smile and pat you on the back. Yoga is the trendy way to stretch even though it’s an ancient practice.
I’ve mentioned previously that I was a former gymnast. Into my 40’s I was still practicing my splits at the gym. Lots of stares. It was obvious they were feeling my pain. And it was painful. I knew if I stopped practicing for even one week, the tendons in my inner thighs would retract and fight like hell never to be pulled in opposite directions that far again. It was all ego. I clung to this ability like it was a badge of youth. And it was worth fighting my own body to keep it.
About a year ago I stopped doing the splits. And I no longer walk like a duck for half a day.
Cutting the cord with those bragging rights changed my view on stretching, yoga, or whatever you want to call the “ouch” of pulling, reaching and lengthening body parts.
Here are my rules for flexibility training
- The stretch should feel more like a massage than a vise. (Secrets below:)
- Dynamic stretches (i.e. walking lunges, leg kicks, knee raises…) can be done anytime but static stretches (i.e. floor stretches, reaches, yoga poses…) should be done when the body is warmed up for at least 10 minutes.
- If you are unable to progressively improve your range of motion of a stretch, and it is causing pain when not stretching, stop doing that stretch. (Your body is talking to you!)
3 secrets to increasing flexibility
1. Select a set of static stretches and do them after a 10 minute cardio warm-up. Repeat same set of stretches at the end of your workout.
This double whammy will increase rate of progress.
2. Apply pressure with a sliding movement to the large muscle involved in the stretch.
Example for a standing hamstring stretch: Place right leg up on a chair/bar at a 90 degree angle. Lean forward toward elevated right foot stretching the back of your right leg. Place your right forearm underneath your right hamstring and apply upward pressure* on your hamstring (without bending knee). As you lean forward, maintaining the pressure, allow forearm to slide forward with you. (You’re helping muscle elongate and the pressure will relieve discomfort and allow a deeper stretch). *Use counter pressure with all your stretches and you’ll see immediate results!
3. Use small bounces.
It’s a myth that bouncing is harmful. I call it “interval stretching.” Small surges allow your body to adapt to the stretch so you can get a deeper reach with less pain. I recommend 3:1. Gently bounce 3 times going slightly deeper each time and hold the stretch on the third.
Yoga is a great way to improve your flexibility.
Most yoga instructors are very well trained and helpful giving advice and aiding your progression through the poses. The downside of yoga is that some instructors can be over zealous and rigid in their belief system. If an instructor does not respect your choice to refrain from a pose or modify it, you’re in the wrong class.
Runners and cyclists, in particular, are begging for injury if they ignore stretching all together. Their bodies are so used to all linear movements that are repetitive. Hips, in particular, get super tight from sitting in a saddle for hours and pounding pavement. The injury may not occur on the road. More likely pulling weeds or playing a game of hoops with the kids.
I highly recommend the use of foam rollers (try it on your upper back- it’s heavenly:), back bends over a large fitness ball, and lifting weights while balancing on 1 leg or an unstable surface.
Large muscle groups can’t work for you if their supportive cast (i.e. ligaments, tendons, etc.) is ignored.
I have the most bounce in my step when I regularly stretch my shoulders, legs and hips. Try these tips and you’ll no longer dread stretching, you’ll consider it a reward after a good workout.
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