Something I’m often asked is, can you learn to be flexible?
I am not naturally flexible. In fact, after setting up Strong + Bendy I started to feel a bit of an imposter as I was confident in my strength, but it would be a bit of a push to say I was bendy! So I spent years working on learning the splits.
It’s important to know that some people are naturally much more flexible than others. Genetics play the most important part in determining our flexibility. If you’re predisposed to be flexible it’s thanks to the COL5A1 gene; which instructs your body to make a component of collagen (which aids increased range of motion). So, if you’ve seen those people who’ve never done yoga before who can effortlessly get into full wheel, then they’re most likely blessed with this from birth!
So that’s the bad news.. this is the good news: we all have a baseline level of flexibility that with the right effort can be improved by 20-25 percent. In other words, if you’re a few inches off touching your toes- it can happen! Here’s how…
Stretching is not a warm up, and stretching cold muscles may lead to an injury. If you’re going to go into a stretching regime make sure your main muscle groups are really warm first. For example; when I trained myself into doing the splits, I did so after short bursts of moves like burpees and mountain climbers.
Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds and breathe. Deep breathing delivers oxygenated blood to your muscles and helps muscles relax. Inhaling a deep breath controls the fight-or-flight response and exhaling influences our body’s ability to relax and calm down. By deep breathing you can tell your body that what you’re doing is OK, that you don’t need to panic and you aren’t about to get hurt!
We’ve all heard of ‘no pain no gain’, well forget that when it comes to increasing your flexibility. You should never be in pain. Contrary to popular belief it’s the tendons and ligaments (not so much your muscles) that allow for increased range of motion and you certainly don’t want to risk pulling or tearing those!
You cannot rush becoming more flexible. It took me 2+ years to learn how to do front splits and I’m still a long way away from doing box splits. It is not a quick process and if you try to rush it, you can end up injured! Your other workouts can negatively impact the process too, so be mindful of that. I enjoy an occasional run, but I personally see it negatively impact my flexibility. The same with kettlebell training, the heavier I swing the less flexible I become. I have to choose which of my activities are most important to me, I won’t always be at peak flexibility!
It’s a lot of hard work but it will pay off in the end, doing the splits on the dancefloor never gets old 😂