How to program your flexibility training?

Today what I want to do is to give my view on programing for flexibility. We can talk all day about the ins and out of flexibility, some tricks to better the stretches but, without getting into programing, most of this information will never become actuality.

First, let’s talk about what “flexibility training” includes. For me, flexibility covers 4 areas:

  1. Structural balance: Stretching is needed to balance different muscle groups in which some are stiffer than others.
  2. Postural alignment: Stretching is used to maintain the correct length of muscles needed for good posture.
  3. Suppleness: Stretching is used to explore the mental aspect of it. You get into challenging positions, get a glimpse into your mental barriers, breathe, negotiate with your body, and get deeper. For some, this might be therapeutic on a very physical level, for others it might be even spiritual, as it points to the connection between your body and your mind. Working with things like trauma is included here.
  4. Range of motion: This is how most people think of flexibility: you get the splits, more shoulder flexion, etc.

I deeply believe all these areas are relevant and interconnected, and that they can be worked on by people who aren’t stretching all day. I am a law student with many hobbies, and I think I can relate to people who can’t seem to find time for all of this. Here’s how to do it:

What you need to understand is that, whenever we have various goals and limited time, we need periodization. This is a fancy way of saying organization, on how you spend your energy at different places and times. Here are some key periodization insights by Jujimufu:

“First, the more you’ve done something, the easier it is to regain if you lose it, and the harder it is to lose. Second, the harder something is, the harder it is to keep. Third, the more experienced as a trainer you are, the more rapidly you can regain things you used to have but lost… because it’s easier to regain something you once had than get it for the first time. Fourth, you can maintain two contradictory, intermediate things simultaneously in the absolute sense. But you cannot maintain two contradictory, difficult things simultaneously in the absolute sense.”

Now, what this will mean is that you need to establish some priorities. Only when you know what you want, can you bring organization. I have talked before about The 7 fundamental stretching positions, which are the Pike, Pancake, Bridge, Front split, Side split, Shoulder extension and Squat, so I will talk around these areas.

Can you work on these 7 areas all at the same time? I bet most people can. What you need to do is to divide you training in things to maintain, and things to focus on. For the maintaining part, read the first two rules by Jujimufu. I for example can maintain the squat without barely training it, but for the front split I need a minimum of once a week of frequency. You need to figure out the minimum amount of work required to maintain any position, and this might shift not only between positions, but also as you get into more advanced stages in them.

Once you have done that, you have your base. This is your standard training, the things you are doing every week. If it isn’t something sustainable, it means that it isn’t part of your base, and that you aren’t ready to train at that level just yet. So for example, things might look like this:

Example #1: A person who trains 3 times a week. The stretches are done in the cool down.

Day 1

Side split and Pike.

Day 2

Front split, Shoulder extension and Squat.

Day 3

Bridge and Pancake.

I program two daily stretches and on day 2 three of them, because the shoulder extension and the squat are relatively easy compared to the others.

Example #2: A person who trains 2 times a week. The stretches are done in the cool down.

Day 1

Side split, Bridge and Pike (rest between stretches in a Squat).

Day 2

Front split, Shoulder extension and Pancake (rest between stretches in a Squat).

As you can see, the less frequent you train the more you have to do each day, so you are faced with the decision of what to sacrifice. If you need to take stretches out, I would do it in the order of first the Front split, Side split, Pike, Pancake, Bridge, Shoulder extension, and only last the Squat (in that order).

Example #3: A person who trains 6 times a week. The stretches are done in the cool down.

Day 1

Side split and Pike.

Day 2

Bridge and Pancake.

Day 3

Front split, Shoulder extension and Squat.

Day 4

Bridge and Pancake.

Day 5

Side split and Pike.

Day 6

Advanced flexibility.

In this one, you get the chance to devote more time to certain stretches, which should be the ones that are hardest for you. As you have more time, you can explore more, so the Advanced flexibility is used as play time in which you try anything that you want, like the standing splits or yoga backbends.

As you see, programing is all about priorities. But don’t worry, there are times in which I am the first example, and others in which I am the third. The important thing is to figure out a way of training what matters through a long period of time, however that looks like. This requires a system flexible enough to adapt to whatever life requires.

So once we have that base, we can take one or a maximum of two stretches and focus on them. You don’t have to be doing this all the time, but doing so its what will improve your game. This focus periods should last a minimum of a month, and there really isn’t a maximum, but I would put a threshold to it of 6 months. The only tip I would give is to change it periodically, so your body doesn’t set into one adaptation.

How do we do this? We differentiate between Maintaining stretches and Accelerators. The first one are the positions per se, so your attempt on the front split or your chosen shoulder extension stretch. You can stay with these compound stretches and do them in what I have called here “The base”, and you will get flexible.

But, just as in strength, isolation can really be helpful when integration is there. If you are doing all the time auxiliary exercises for all of your stretching positions, your body will never know what to prioritize. So if you have 100% energy for change, it has been divided into 7 positions, so only 14% for each one. You see the problem? The best thing is to keep a base you can maintain, and in times in which life provides more energy or time, you need a certain position quickly or are motivated to get it, prioritize a maximum of two stretches. At other times, just keep with your base, specially when training isn’t a priority. These would be a example:

Example #1: A person who decided to prioritize for one month the Pancake and the Bridge. He is using any of the training splits given in the last examples, and does his focus or auxiliary stretches at times different than the cool down.

A1. Pancake good morning (5x10r, with a 10 sec hold at the end)

A2. Pullover (5x10r, with a 10 sec hold at the end)

B1. Butterfly pulses (3x20r)

B2. Downward dog pulses (3x20r)

This is done twice a week. When? Here’s the thing: you can divide your auxiliary, isolation or focus stretches (let’s call them Accelerators) by the time of the day in which they can be done, in this way:

Early morning: Ballistic stretches done before breakfast.

Warm-up: Mobilizations and Dynamic stretches done just before you train.

Training session: Loaded or Isometric stretches done while you train.

Cool down: PNF stretches done just after you train.

Late night: Passive stretches, myofascial releases and massages done before going to bed.

So, according to your disposition, just choose some stretches in these categories around one or two stretching positions (like the pike and shoulder extension) and really improve them for a month or two. After you do this, those positions will have been bettered while the others would have been maintained. After a number of times doing this, you can get to really good levels in all of the stretching positions, without loosing your mind trying to chase everything at the same time. It may all take more time, but it will be sustainable, meaning its forever there, and not a “30 day splits challenge” that makes you suffer and forever hate stretching.

So that would cover the range of motion part of stretching, but what about the others? I won’t get into mayor details here, but I basically leave the suppleness portion for some pm sessions, and structural balance and posture I just do it through the day when I feel the need to. But this would be different for a person who is in a great need of those things.

For now, I believe these ideas of four areas of flexibility training, the logic behind periodization, the seven fundamental stretching positions, the division between Maintain and Focus, the use of a Base and Accelerators and between categories to organize your auxiliary stretches, are all good tools that I hope give you ideas on how to program your flexibility training. Remember this: no matter what the tools are, they are measured just by their capacity to provide the goals for you. So, in other words, use this or any programing guide you need to, but figure out a way to put in the works that matters.

Note: It is hard to compile all of my thoughts regarding these topics on a reasonable blog post. I am happy to do it, but if you want the whole story, be sure to check out Pliable body.


Kinema Project products

Pliable body (Get flexible fast!)

The Dynamic Structure (Bulletproof your joints!)

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