Why You're Not as Flexible as You'd Like
I’ve seen a lot of videos on you YouTube and other social media about flexibility, mobility and stretching. It seems like everyone has an opinion about the best way to improve range of motion and from what I’ve tried, not much of it is very effective. So I’d like to share what are, in my experience, some very effective ways to increase and/or improve range of motion.
First of all, stop telling yourself how inflexible you are and stop saying it to everyone else. As soon as that thought crosses your mind and you attach to it, you have already severely limited any possibility of improving your flexibility. Instead, start telling yourself that you are flexible, that you can move easily and without pain because as soon as you start to believe it, it becomes possible. There’s a way you can test this theory right now if you don’t believe me (and I always encourage people to test things rather than just believe something without trying it out for themselves). Stand up wherever you are and slowly lean over to touch your toes without trying to force yourself down there. How far did you get? Okay, now close your eyes and picture yourself bending in half with your legs straight. Imagine yourself folded completely in half and easily touching the floor with no pain whatsoever. Now slowly bend forward and see how far you get. You might not hit the floor but I’ll bet you got farther than you did the first time. The point of this exercise is to show how our thoughts influence our behaviour and what we believe is possible. So from now on, you are the most fluid, flexible person on the planet but you have to believe it!
The second reason you aren’t as flexible as you’d like to be is that you aren’t spending enough time on it. Now I’m not saying you have to spend hours every day to achieve optimal flexibility (although that would be one way of doing it) but what you need to be doing is spending longer in each stretch position. This 30 seconds to a minute time frame we’ve all had drilled into us since childhood is fine for warm-ups but it’s doing absolutely nothing for improving your range of motion on a long term basis. Most of you are probably not going to want to hear this but flexibility and mobility for the majority of people are things you need to spend as much time on as training, regardless of your sport, or any time on if you are not an active person. If you are an athlete who trains at least an hour a day several times a week, you need to spend at least that much time on improving your flexibility. In fact, in most cases, you’d be better off cutting back on your training time and using it for mobility work and you’d still see decent gains in performance regardless of your sport. And yes, I know this idea sounds counterproductive but think about it. If you are more fluid and can access greater ranges of motion, you are less likely to injure yourself and will have more contractibility in your muscles. You will also be able to perform everything you do that much better because you won’t have to fight your own body to access certain positions. The best example of this is an overhead squat. The person who can easily hold a bar over their head and drop below parallel is going to be able to lift more than someone who is “stronger” but can’t easily get into that position. Does that make sense? So basically, you need to spend more time in your week improving your flexibility.
So now let’s talk about this 30-60 second stretch we’ve all been told is enough. It’s NOT! We’ve all been taught to stretch wrong our whole lives, so it’s not your fault that your flexibility sucks. You’re probably not going to like hearing this solution much either but if you want to see faster and more dramatic improvement in your flexibility, you need to slow down! Basically you need to stop forcing yourself into the deepest stretch you can do because it’s not helping. Your body is fighting itself and you won’t want to stay there very long or you will tear something, neither of which will get you the results you want. Instead of forcing the stretch, try putting yourself into a position where you start to feel a pull. It can be any stretch position you’d like but when you start to feel a pull in your tissue, hang out there and breathe for a few minutes. Yes, you read that correctly, I said a few minutes, meaning at least five. As you take deep belly breaths (not the shallow upper lung breaths we’ve all been doing for so long) and exhale completely, your tissue will begin to slowly open up and stay open! Because you’re not forcing the stretch, it shouldn’t hurt at all and the only thing keeping you from staying in that position for 5 minutes is your need to feel like you’re doing something more. Trust yourself! This way of stretching is doing so much more for you than you ever thought possible! Your brain will try to convince you otherwise so the hard part is shutting that off and letting yourself feel where you are tight and letting it open up slowly. If you do a few stretches like this every day for different areas of your body, you will see a significant improvement in your flexibility and mobility.
And that’s basically it! Slow it down, take your time, don’t force your body and breathe while you picture your body allowing itself to move easily into whatever position you’d like. I guarantee you’ll see improvement and probably much faster than you expected. You’re welcome!
**Note** This type of stretching should be done either well before or after a workout or on a separate day completely. Opening your body up this way can affect how quickly your muscles will respond if you are lifting or performing explosive movements.