How Flexible Should You Be

Nov 19, 2016

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Flexibility can be a controversial subject. Should you stretch? Is static stretching bad for you? Should you do yoga? Will your muscles explode if you do ballistic stretching?

There is so much information out there and it is hard to know what to believe and where you should start. I have written this simple article to help you figure out whether you should be stretching and what type of stretching you should be doing.

I have recently started a new online Flexibility coaching package that includes a personalised training plan and group coaching. Sign up here to get all the details.

Group 1: Individuals who are unable to get into basic positions

If you are participating in a sport such as Olympic lifting that requires you to be able to perform certain movements then you need to be able to get into those positions. But what if you are not doing any sports. In my opinion there is a certain level of flexibility that simply makes everyday movements more comfortable and allows you to move with ease and confidence.

I know there are a lot of people who disagree with me on this, who think that they do not need to be able to achieve these basic positions. And I get it, for years I believed that I didn't need to be able to do a full squat. I had a knee thing from age 14 which limited the range of motion of my knee to about 90 degrees. I got really good at avoiding a full squat. I was the best at compensating and didn't feel that I needed that position. BUT, slowly over time I developed pain and other issues that were likely related to my knee flexion issue. I didn't even realize that it was the culprit until after I improved my squat (thanks to Sara from Agatsu) and the pain disappeared.

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How To Get From Group 1 To Group 2

The good news is that it doesn't require 90 minutes of hot yoga with sweaty hippies every day to get out of this situation. It simply requires consistent, focused practice. 15 to 20 minutes, 4 plus times a week can result in significant changes over time. And once you have achieved these positions, maintaining them simply requires that you use these new ranges of motion.

I use the GMB Focused Flexibility method, which I have found is a fast and effective way for me and my clients to improve flexibility. The program consists of Basic Assessment Positions and focused exercises to help you get from A to B. The protocol is a combination of dynamic, PNF style contractions and static stretching. This method is gentle and most importantly it works!

GMB's FF Program is a great way to work on this at your own pace. I also work with individuals online to develop personalized programs and coach them to achieve their flexibility goals. For in-person training I also teach flexibility classes and workshops.

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Group 2: Individuals who are able to get into basic positions

This is a very good place to be. It doesn't take a lot to maintain this level of flexibility so long as you continue to move in these ranges.

You might feel that you are in-between Group 1 and Group 2. You may be able to achieve some basic positions but still have restrictions in other areas. And this is fine. Continue to work on those restrictions as if you are in Group 1 and maintain the positions that you have like those in Group 2.

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How To Get From Group 2 To Group 3

Some activities require flexibility that is above and beyond what is required to perform these basic assessment positions. Gymnastics and martial arts are obvious examples where greater flexibility is required. Most sports have some specific requirements that might need greater range of motion.

Getting from Group 2 to 3 requires a more dedicated practice. Gymnasts typically train flexibility at least 40 minutes a day. There is a huge strength component to this type of flexibility. You want to be able to do the splits so that you can show a split actively either in a dynamic move such as a kick or in a static position such as a handstand split. Sitting passively in a split is impressive but being able to Van Damme your splits is way fucking cooler.

This is where some more advanced techniques can be used. Soft tissue work is very beneficial. Targeted massage or trigger point techniques give you a window of opportunity in which to stretch into a greater range. Another useful approach is assisted stretching, either with bands, straps or weights. Applying an external force to help you relax further into the stretch can be a great tool. In addition, end range control and compression training is essential because we want control over those positions.

Over the last few months I have been working with GMB Fitness developing a new Specialized Flexibility product. This teaches a combination of soft tissue work and targeted stretches using the FF protocol as well as some more advanced flexibility techniques. With this approach I achieved my head to toe stretch in only 6 days. Other positions, such as the upside down splits will take longer since there is a large strength and compression requirement. This program will be available later this year.

If you are looking to achieve positions that are not part of this program I work with individuals to develop personalized programs to get where they want to go.

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Group 3: Individuals who need sports specific flexibility

This group is individuals whose activities require a level of flexibility in some areas that is greater than the flexibility required for everyday activities. Gymnasts, pole dancers and martial artists would fall into this category.
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How To Get From Group 3 To Group 4

Everyone assumes that contortionists are born that way. I agree that there are certain genetic components and most individuals will never be able to achieve these levels of flexibility. However, even with all the right genetics it takes tremendous devotion to reach this level. It is like any high level athlete. Yes they are genetically gifted but it is the 30 hours of training a week that makes them exceptional.

If you really want to perform contortion, I suggest finding a coach who specializes in this type of training.
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Group 4: Individuals who want to perform contortion

These are people with extreme levels of flexibility and control. You'll find them in the circus tent next to the bearded lady.
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