Want to get more flexible?
Of course you do – improving your flexibility helps alleviate (and prevent) back and neck pain. It helps you stay in a better mood because your muscles don’t hoard so much tension. And it’s absolutely vital to your workout efficiency. Flexible muscles move better, which means better form & execution.
Most people think if they hunch uncomfortably over their leg for 20 seconds, they’re on the way to more flexible hamstrings. Wrong.
What you need to understand about flexibility:
1. “Flexibility” is a misleading word. It mostly conjures up images of yogis with their feet behind their head, or ballerinas doing the splits. And many of you think if you’re not doing that, you’re not flexible.
True flexibility is a combination of factors.
- Joint mobility, which refers to how easily your joints move around in their sockets.
- Muscle elasticity, which is how loose and movable your muscles are (as well as how they return to their neutral position after exertion).
And then there’s the simple, unchangeable factor of your skeleton. Hip joints, for example, are like snowflakes – no two are exactly alike. The positioning of your hip socket will determine a great deal of your mobility, and this has nothing to do with how “good” or “bad” you are at stretching.
2. In order to truly increase flexibility, you need to dedicate some time to flexibility work. And I don’t mean five minutes of half-baked stretching at the end of your workout. I’m talking about an intentional practice that happens every day, and addresses your unique challenges.
How to get more flexible:
1. Self-myofascial release, or foam rolling. We recommend either a regular practice first thing in the morning, or a little foam rolling as part of your warm up. Bonus tip: foam rolling after an intense strength workout can help reduce soreness. Check out last week’s post for specifics.
2. Static stretching. This is when you hunch uncomfortably over your leg. Only, it shouldn’t be uncomfortable, and you need to hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds. Specific stretches are beyond the scope of this article, but here are a few general guidelines:
- Stretch your muscle in the opposite direction of its contraction.
- Take your stretch to the point where you just feel the pull – not beyond. It’s not supposed to hurt.
- Breathe . Take long, deep breaths, and make a conscious effort to relax.
- Hold each stretch for 30-45 seconds. Muscle fibers contract in response to tension. It takes this long for them to get the message to chill out.
3. Joint mobility. Often overlooked, but crucial. ALL muscles are attached to joints – and many limitations stem from joint stiffness, not muscle tension. Moving your joints through their full range of motion on a regular basis increases synovial fluid so your joints can move more freely (kinda like oiling the Tin Man). Think neck circles, shoulder rolls, spinal twists, and knee bends. Again, a regular morning practice is ideal, but it’s a great warmup too.
4. Dynamic flexibility. Ross covered this in his article on proper warmup techniques. It’s basically joint mobility coupled with muscle movements, and it’s a bit more of a workout than basic shoulder rolls. Dynamic flexibility works the muscles and joints through their full range of motions, in a repetitive pattern. A few examples:
- Butt kicks – stretches the quads, knees & ankles
- Leg swings – opens up the hip, stretches the hamstring
- Inchworms – stabilizes the shoulder girdle, opens hamstrings, calves, & upper back
If your flexibility routine falls short, take it one step at a time. Focus on a component that stands out to you, and incorporate it into your routine. Once you’ve got that down, add another. And so on.
What are you doing to increase your flexibility? Is it working? Tell us about it in the comments below!