Everywhere I look online, I see them: the perfect splits. The standing splits. The box splits. The front splits. And, the backbends. Everyone seems to be graced with the gift of flexibility but me.
I train and I train and I train, but my progress is mostly slim to none. It is as if I am stuck in some sort of a Black Mirror loop of flexibility training.
Does this feel like you? Struggling to get sexy flexi? Well, you are heard over here! I’ve been doing pole for 6+ years now, and still can’t commit to my flex training. I go hard at it for months on end only to give up for the rest of the year, and then I wonder why my splits still are not flat. But with lockdown, I got no excuses not to commit some time to flexibility training. Until my physiotherapist told me recently to take a break, but that’s another story!
Bear in mind that I am no expert myself: I’m just sharing my personal journey where I learn from, and regularly train with, experts.
In the wise words of your Struttin’ leader, Haelee: “it is better to stretch 10 minutes every day instead of three hours every few days.” Repetition is key for flexibility training. Increasing flexibility takes time, patience, and a lot of regular maintenance. Like a car, but with less grease and more discomfort. Although, life would be easier if spraying a bit of WD40 onto your hips could make you slide right into the box splits! Unfortunately, this is not the case. Obviously, quality trumps quantity, but with flexibility training you need both.
Stretching every day for 15 minutes will get you better results than stretching once or twice a week for three hours. Stretching every day for three hours would be better, but who has the time for that when you are working a full-time day job, a second job, doing a course, and generally need to take care of yourself and your household? Exactly, nobody does.
Yes, a warmup is required because it prepares your muscles for what is to come. It increases the blood flow in your limbs and makes them more kneadable, like dough, and thus will produce better results than cold stretching.
Also, cold stretching is a big no-no. Have you ever pulled a muscle? That is what happens with cold stretching. Hate delays? Then don’t stretch cold. It can be very tempting to do a quick stretch without a warmup, but don’t be surprised when it leads to injuries that delay your arrival time in the long run. Plus, a severe injury can stop your progress altogether. If this is not what you have in mind, warmup first! Go for a run or do some fitness/strength workouts, like squats and lunges. Combining active stretches with passive stretches can help with this as well.
If you had no idea there was a difference, then let me sum it up for you: active stretching requires the pressure of your own muscles whereas passive stretching is basically sinking into the stretch using the law of gravity, sometimes with help of an outside force like weights, a strap, or even another person. For example, if you do a forward fold to stretch your legs, letting your weight drop can be a great passive stretch. Whereas , if you were to engage your core and leg muscles, you’d bend forward a little more. Alas: an active stretch!
If you are non-flexible like me, then active stretching is great prep before passive stretching. Plus, if you are stuck for time, you can kill two birds with one stone as you are both strengthening and stretching you muscles at the same time. Any yoga or pilates fans in the house? Yes! Then you’ll probably be familiar with this as they both consist of active stretching. If you can, join an online stretch class once or twice a week. And take photos of your progress – be it every day or every week. When you look back, you will see the difference, even if it is just one lousy centimeter.
When it comes to flexibility training, there are no substitutes and fast passes like at Disney World. As an inflexible person, it can be very discouraging to see others surpass you or be more flexible than you are. There are a plethora of dancers and drag queens on Instagram who jump into splits in their sleep. Colour me frustrated! But rest assured that you’re not alone in this journey.
Comparing yourself to someone else will not get you any further but focusing on your own journey does.
If you need a bit of encouragement, there are plenty of accounts that recommend stretching tips for the inflexible. My personal favourite Instagram account is @inflexibleyogis
Now, set aside 5-10 minutes of your day to hit the stretching mats! Your body and mind will be grateful that your office chair does not determine your posture. And, if you’re looking for a weekend reboot, catch Pilates & Stretch at 10am every Saturday with Haelee, here at Struttin’