Flexibility is one of those attributes that we all desire. The ability to kick high like Buakaw Banchamek. The ability to lunge explosively and reach those impossible shots like Novak Djokovic. The ability to flow freely through dynamic positions like Ido Portal.
The problem is, flexibility can take years to develop, especially when we approach it the wrong way or we have a sedentary job that undoes all the stretching that we do.
We need a method that will give us immediate, safe and lasting changes to our range of motion.
But before we get to that let’s remind ourselves of a few of the benefits of having a flexible body:
- Better posture and improved muscular balance.
- Increased athleticism and overall movement capacity.
- A wider range of movement skills available to learn and use.
- The ability to move through a full range of motion with ease and control.
- Resistance to injury.
- A sense of physical freedom.
Is It Possible To Get Flexible Fast?
Yes, it is. There are a few techniques that give instant improvements in flexibility. And when we do them a little bit everyday we make great progress. The secret is doing the right things and doing them often enough for the body to adapt.
How fast we develop is down to our genetics, lifestyle, whether we get injured or not (from trying too much, too soon), how young we start and how well we stick to the plan.
Know Your Outcome
Trying to get flexible in every position is a lot of work that many of us don’t have the time for. Dial in on which position(s) you want to improve the most then figure out what’s stopping you from reaching that position. That’s the fastest route from here to there.
What position(s) do you want to improve? Back squat, overhead squat, press, handstand, back bend?
What’s stopping you from reaching that position? Tight hamstrings, tight glutes, tissue quality, weakness?
Once you know the answers to these questions you can develop the best protocol for your needs. Which saves you a lot of time stretching muscles that don’t need stretched.
I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times before but many people still stretch when they’re cold. Or, they use stretching to warm up for activity.
Stretching is something that should be done when you’re already warm. When the muscles are filled with blood and pliable. They will respond well to stretches and are less likely to pull or tear.
As a simple demonstration try to touch your toes when you are cold, then take a warm bath or shower and do the same thing. You’ll see a difference in flexibility of a few inches just by applying some heat.
You can warm up with 10 minutes of cardio, mobility drills, massage or by jumping into warm water, depending on the type of activity you are preparing for. If I’m preparing for a workout, I use cardio and mobility drills and if I’m doing a dedicated flexibility session I’ll take a bath first.
Relax Into Every Stretch
Every time you try to force a stretch or get into a position that your body isn’t ready for it will resist. It will tighten up in order to protect itself from injury. So, we need to teach our muscles how to relax, and that these extended ranges of motion are a safe place to be.
This can be achieved through:
Deep Breathing – Whenever we stretch we should look at it as a kind of meditation. The goal being to let go mentally and physically. Rushing, holding our breath and being pre-occupied with other things keep us tight. Taking our time, breathing deeply and keeping a quiet mind helps the muscles release.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) – PNF is an advanced stretching technique that produces immediate improvements in flexibility. Enter a comfortable stretch, flex the opposing muscles for 10 seconds then release. You’ll notice you can add inches to each stretch with this technique. Repeat 3-5 times.
Time In The Stretch Position – Most fitness books tell us to hold a stretch from 10-20 seconds but if you want to actually gain flexibility that lasts, let your body get comfortable in each stretch. Hold for 30 seconds or longer so you can get used to the feeling of the new position. Move around a little and get used to the subtle variations in tension when you bend or rotate.
Get Strong In The End Range
The downside to too much stretching is that it may leave you weak or vulnerable towards the end range of motion. We need to be strong in this territory to perform explosively and avoid injury, so practice moving in and out of each stretch. Slowly at first. Add weight and motion to strengthen the muscles in extended positions and teach the brain that it can get in and out safely.
Improve Tissue Quality
It’s often said that we need to focus on improving the quality of our tissues as much as the length. Scar tissue, adhesions and trigger points all limit our movement so using a foam roller, lacrosse ball, and self-massage along with regular visits to a physio/bodyworker will greatly improve your range of motion.
There’s only so much stretching can do if the quality of your tissues are poor.
Sit Less, Move More
Most of us have sedentary jobs these days and despite what we do in the gym, our body remains tight. The simple fact is, one hour of motion will not make up for 23 hours of inactivity.
We need to move throughout the day to stay loose and limber. Move, stretch, breathe, flow. Little bits often will work wonders for your flexibility.
How Long Will It Take?
That depends on you and what you’re trying to achieve. Some people are naturally more flexible and will improve at a faster rate. Others will need to work steadily for months to see any kind of lasting changes in the muscles.
As long as you’re specific about the outcome you want and do some kind of mobilization towards that goal everyday then you will get there.
In time you’ll feel different, move different and be a completely different animal.