Get flexible the healthy way
When we think of increasing flexibility, we tend to think of ‘stretching’ muscles. But muscles don’t respond well to being forcefully stretched. Stretching can be time consuming, can weaken muscles, and can increase risk of injury.
Flexibility is a function of mobile joints, elastic tendons/ligaments, and relaxed, supple muscles. Lack of movement in modern lifestyles breeds inflexibility. For example, overuse of chairs, or wearing shoes that impede natural foot/ankle function instead of ones that let your feet function naturally, makes the average person unable to rest in a natural deep squat. Even of those who can squat, many are still not at ‘rest’ in the position, which is how it should feel. A rigid body makes daily living more difficult. To function at our best, we need to be strong AND flexible.
So how do we become more flexible? It’s a big topic and the approach should be individualized. Instead of specific methods or exercises, here are some principles of safe and effective flexibility training.
Focus On The Joints, Not Muscles
Don’t focus on ‘stretching’ the muscles; instead, focus on moving the joints through their full range of motion and into whatever body positions you’re trying to achieve with control and refinement, while letting the muscles contract and relax automatically. In other words, focus on the action of the movement and let the muscles work naturally.
Pain Is Not Good
This principle applies to strength and flexibility training. While some level of discomfort is often necessary in order to grow and expand your capabilities, you should never train through pain, especially with flexibility training. If you’re stretching to the point that it hurts, you’re causing damage.
Work At Maximum Range
Don’t stretch forcefully to exceed your range of motion, but do find ways to creatively challenge your end ranges of motion. For example, for dynamic flexibility in the legs you could try to tap progressively higher points on a wall with your foot. Or to simultaneously increase flexibility and strength in the inner thighs, try walking with your feet as wide apart as possible, shifting your bodyweight from side to side and keeping your head at the same level instead of standing up in between each step. There are endless options to address different areas of the body. Keep the focus on movement rather than stretching or pulling on the muscles.
Flexibility Without Strength is Dangerous
It’s wise to avoid developing lax ligaments and too much flexibility without strength to support your bodyweight and control your range of motion. Strength and flexibility aren’t competing elements - they enhance one another when trained properly. Only a body that is both strong and flexible can perform at its best.
If nothing else, remember that pain is not a good thing. If you ignore pain and try to rush flexibility by forcing stretches in an unnatural way, you’re asking for an injury. So pay attention to your body, relax, breathe, work at end ranges while maintaining strong/stable positions, move the joints as much as possible, and let the muscles naturally do their thing.
Lastly, remembering to smile is a helpful cue. A grimacing face indicates a forceful, unnatural movement - always work with your body, not against it. Working to enhance your physical capability should be a joyful process, not a miserable one!
Model | Sinta Soekadarova @Sintasworld