I am still amazed by the progress I made on my flexibility level at the start of 2017. After fighting for flexibility for one year, I am now reaching a point where I feel I have good levels and can invest some of that energy into other things, like strength development.
I want you to feel the same. No matter your goals, reaching the level where you no longer feel limited by flexibility is priceless (just after the journey itself). Let’s hope today’s topic moves you closer to that goal.
What should you stretch first? Many people make the mistake of randomly stretching muscles, or picking an arbitrary order like from the head to the feet. The fact of the matter is that the order of stretching is of great importance, because it allows you to not waste energy trying to stretch something before it needs to be stretched, specially when the cause of tightness is somewhere else.
The order of stretching could be reasoned in two ways: inductive or deductive. Inductive means from particular to general, in which case you would first stretch the little muscles and then tackle the big ones. This is done under the assumption that little muscles can limit the mobility of big ones, but one could say the same thing for the contrary. The deductive order would be the opposite, where you go from general to particular, or from stretching the broad areas and then focusing on detailed muscles.
If you ask me, the best order of stretching would actually be a combination of both approaches, starting from the bigger muscles, passing through the smaller ones and then finishing again with the big ones. But that is just thinking about muscle size. Is that the sole criterion to decide the order of stretching?
Not really. For example, one could start by focusing on the tightest muscles, because those will limit the most the mobility of your whole body, and finish with the more relaxed areas. Or one could move from the center of the body to its periphery, based on the concept that the proximal (closer to your body center) will always take priority over the distal (further from your body center).
But, what if I told you some muscles tend to be on top of the list regardless of the criterion being used?
If you combine and weight the criteria of size, tension and proximity, what you usually get are the hip flexors and glutes. These are your pelvis “great locks”.
Yogis like to say you should first release the hips, and I agree with them. If there is something close to our spine (proximal), it is our hip flexors. Part of these are the Iliopsoas, which come from the spine and connect to the pelvis, becoming “the bridge between the upper and lower body”, as Ida Rolf used to say.
Yes, there are other really close muscles to our spine like the Multifidus, but how much movement can they produce? Not much. Besides, it is not only the spine what’s our center, but the middle point of it: around L4-S1.
On its part, the Glutes are the biggest muscle group in the human body (with the Latissimus dorsi being the widdest, and the Sartorius the largest), and they are also pretty close to your body center. Many people like to think our lifestyle of semi flexion (as in sitting) only tightens our hip flexors, but in reality it does the same for the hip extensors. The middle-range position will screw everything above and below it, starting right away with the hip flexors and glutes.
This is not to say you should ignore the rest of your body. The only message is this: if you want to unlock the flexibility your body posses, make your hip flexors and glutes the route that must be followed for your potential to shine. Always start and support any flexibility pursuit by working on the pelvis “great locks”. These should become your new stretching friends.
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