How to be more flexible: questions you always wanted to ask

Flexibility training demystified

For years, dudes have been using a short and safe set of flexibility moves to get themselves oriented in the gym and to establish their presence. Similarly, ladies have strategically implemented more elaborate flexibility exercises to demonstrate their gracefulness and unavailability. Recognizing the importance of such stretches in the gym etiquette, the post is not about them. Neither is the post about 30-second stretches you do before you get on a treadmill or about the flexibility of a contortionist who can place her body in a three-feet-long box and still look cute.

We are talking about painful, meticulous, disciplined flexibility training for adults with average physical abilities. Flexibility training makes us more self-aware, resilient, graceful, a hell of a lot sexier! This post is answering the questions we have heard training flexibility to thousands of people over the last six years. Put in a simple language, these answers will shed a light in some of the most nagging matters you think about before undertaking flexibility training.

Is flexibility training a workout?

Yes. The growth in our muscles occurs when we cause the muscular fibers to break. When the micro tears heal, muscles become longer and bigger. The most common way to create these micro tears is weight training in the gym. Flexibility training, also has this effect, though as micro tears heal, the muscles lengthen rather than increase in size. Hence, flexibility training will not make you buff and does not completely replace exercise (good try, though).

Micro tears? So you mean I am damaging my muscles?! Is it safe when I am an adult?

Just like in weight training, micro tears occurring in flexibility training are TINY! Remember feeling sore after a workout? – those are the micro tears! Of course, training too frequently or going too hard too fast can result in injuries. Done right, however, micro tears are a normal part of the process.

I have a week (a month) of every day stretching to get a spit. Will I succeed?

If you cried in over-splits when you were six and your father happens to be a Russian gymnastic team coach – you might be able to resurrect the old memories in a short period of time. But if your butt has never touched the floor in a split before, express stretching is not a good idea.

First, recovery of micro tears occurring in flexibility training (see the question above) is an inherent part of muscles growing longer and more elastic. If your “crush flexibility training course” only breaks up your muscle fibers with no healing, muscle fatigue is what you are going to get instead of flexibility.

Second, we get it, some days you feel magically super flexible, and you want to go an extra mile. You might force yourself into a somewhat split after a short period of time. Don’t rush to celebrate: the time this split will take to disappear will be shorter than the time you worked to get it. Lesson: express flexibility is not a lasting flexibility.

How long does it take?

This is going to be an MBA-type of an answer: it depends. Flexibility training frequency combined with the proper recovery are only a part of the formula. Flexibility also depends on the natural pre-disposition. Some people have elastic muscles that stay like that with aging. Others have to always stretch to maintain flexibility on the same level (yes sucks!). For these people, splits are as fleeting as Snapchat messages. More than that, not only muscular flexibility influences the ability to get splits, but joint flexibility and openness affect that quite a bit too!
Oh yea, and we forgot PAIN! Proper flexibility training for adults is not about torture (at least not the entire time), but how you tolerate pain will also define how fast you can progress.

Can I get a spit – I am __ (fill in the blank) years old?

Yes. Your age may affect how long it takes. The approach to flexibility training of an adult is completely different than to flexibility training of a child: it is generally slower and more careful. However, natural predisposition and muscle elasticity may mean that a 50-year old will stretch faster than a 20-year old.

Why is flexibility training so hard for me? I trained for __ (fill in the blank) months and see no results? I also trained longer than __ (fill in the blank) and still progressed less!

It sucks to do a number of sessions and see only incremental results. It completely sucks to see someone starting the training with you and doing exactly the same number of sessions, but outpacing. Does it mean you are doing something wrong? No! With flexibility, like with many other things in life, a comparison is the death of all happiness. Your body works the way it works. Hence, there is no pre-defined term after which you can be guaranteed to successfully pass the split exam and to post a Before/After picture to the jealousy of your Insta-friends. You make your own timing.

If muscles hurt after gym – should I stretch?

Yes! The small breakages you caused by lifting weights result in extra blood in muscles you have trained. To help this blood flow, you stretch immediately after training.
And if the next day is your own reenactment of a famous meme, you should stretch too. Repairing muscles can actually become shorter – what you do not want if you wish to be more flexible.

Great Workout

Do I stretch after a workout or before a workout?

Flexibility training is physically demanding and draining. And if you want to do a full blown flexibility training session, it is best done after a workout. Put it this way: after a good flexibility session, you will be more focused on whether your legs can still come together and stop shaking, much less whether you can jump around for another hour.

Why did I have a split yesterday and today I don’t?

Oh these fleeting splits! Claiming a split once does not at all mean that it belongs to you and you can show it off like an Ivy Leagues school diploma. A split will leave you and come back to you many times over till you can cuff it and call if yours. Many things at a given moment will define how deep you can stretch: your energy levels, your mood, stress, the temperature in the room, just to name a few. If a split left you, don’t worry, like you ex – it always comes back. Unlike your ex – you want your split to be back too.

What are the techniques to improve my chances to get flexible?

Stretching should be done on an exhale, which allows you to go further into a stretch. Deeper breathing leads to relaxation and improved blood circulation, both assisting flexibility training. Higher room temperature has a similar effect, making muscles soft and more prone to stretching.

What about back flexibility?

Spinal flexibility is particularly dependent on genetic predisposition. Back flexibility starts with how our spinal vertebrates are built to naturally limit back bending. That said, spinal flexibility can definitely be improved. Moreover, developing back flexibility often relates to the straightening of the spine and even improvement in your height!

Flexibility requires dedication and discipline. But no good thing comes without work. The rewards, however, far exceed the vanity of a picture on Instagram. The applicability of flexibility training ranges from tying your shoes, to the broader range moves in the bedroom. This kind of “likes” you will be giving to yourself now and many more years to come.

 

If you have more flexibility training questions, leave them in the comments below!

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