Flexibility is an example of a typical phenomenon in our times. While we have massive information on the Internet, we have lost the criterion to discriminate the good from the bad information. Some people say that we must not stretch before we exercise, others say than stretching lengthens our muscles and thousand stories more that cause a confusion where the only viable conclusion seems to be that stretching is bad.
As always, the core of the matter is in the details, which is why this post looks to provide some clarity on one of the topics that greatly limits people who want to move more.
The most obvious way to increase flexibility is stretching. In its objective side, stretching is the method to increase range of motion. In its subjective part, it has to do with the creation of a body capable of moving much more gracefully and beautifully, of creating conscience of our body / mind and eliminating neurotic holding patterns in the musculature that contain emotional information.
There are many reasons for which people are so tense. Stress in our bodies is the direct reflection of the malfunction of our live styles. To solve it, we join a gym and begin performing repetitive movements in short motions, worsening the problem. The direct effect is an enormous weight on the body, a tension that doesn’t allow emotion nor energy to flow and that generates all the consequences of a body that lives in trauma, in a state of danger.
This is why in practice its impossible to separate the objective part from the subjective one when stretching. The reason is simple: everything physical it’s also mental. Although the traditional vision says that becoming more flexible means “lengthening” muscle fibers, nowadays it is known that the nervous system restricts or permits a movement based on trust.
As GMB puts it, three requisites to move are flexibility, strength and control. None of these elements can advance very much without the help of others, for the simple reason that the nervous system is the one that controls tension / relaxation in the body and will only grant a movement if there is sufficient flexibility, the strength to perform it and the control to manage it.
This is why it is not surprising that Thomas Kurz prescribes weighted exercises to increase flexibility. Although Olympic weightlifting is the sport with the second most flexible participants after Olympic gymnast, the difference is that a person can enter the first discipline at the age of 14 and obtain high flexibility levels, while in gymnastics it is more a question of not losing children’s mobility levels in a fruitful stage.
So it is crucial to understand that there is a difference between mobility and flexibility. While the first one is always available, the second one needs a warm up. If our flexibility or strength training is not moving us closer to the possibility of performing what we want without the need of a warm up, we are not training properly. If it wasn’t like this, what would be the value in practicing kicks and mortal jumps? No lion had to stretch before running after his prey.
That’s why Ido Portal recommends all of our stretches to be progressive, unstable and loaded. Progressive so that their difficulty and progress can be measured, increased with time; unstable so that the body has a better sense of the movement for which it is preparing; and loaded, to use a own or external weight that assures that we build strength by the side of flexibility.
There are some precautions to have when stretching. First of all, it is important to maintain a balance between flexibility and mobility to avoid injuries. Imagine that you can relax in Yoga and reach a split, but you cannot jump and move in the same way. If you suddenly try it, your body will react as when relaxed but will not be able to replicate the position, something that can cause a muscular strain.
Another precaution is that we must be as flexible as our daily life demands. To strive for flexibility without considering our particular situation is a sure road to injury and probably loosing strength due to an excessive range of motion. As a general rule, increasing our flexibility helps our strength as it allows us range to express it, and it also help us avoid injuries as it creates a much more malleable body, but the limit is your particular situation. Someone who does Swimming should stretch differently from someone who does Basketball or Judo.
So I hope this helps to create a firmer ground from which you can better understand flexibility. Now go and create the sufficient trust for your body to allow beautiful, powerful and resilient movement.
If you’d like to know more about these topics, I recommend the work of Kit Laughlin and Thomas Kurz
Kinema Project products
–Pliable body (Get flexible fast!)
–The Dynamic Structure (Bulletproof your joints!)