I have done a lot of sporting activities and there was an effort placed on stretching to stay flexible. I have since come to find out that none of the methods of stretching that they proposed were any good. The coaches were more interested in no one getting hurt than they were in actually getting flexible.
It wasn’t until years later that I figured out how to actually get flexible. Like a lot of things, most people get this wrong.
My experience in this area is running track through high school, playing football through high school, and doing karate through high school and college. All of these activities require flexibility. I pulled my hamstring twice in high school effectively ending my season, so I knew something wasn’t correct in what they were preaching.
It wasn’t until I started weight lifting years later that I figured out the right way to get flexible.
The usual method
Before practice, we’d have a period of time where we’d all stretch together. This was done to prevent injury and to warm up. We’d do stretching of the hamstrings, groin, hips, etc. We’d hold these stretches for up to a minute and move on to the next.
The problem here is that no one was ever warmed up before stretching. The stretching was pretty ineffective because our cold muscles wouldn’t allow us to stretch too far.
How I stumbled on the truth
Our track coach had some idea what he was talking about. He always said to stretch after practice. No one actually did this. He wasn’t there to monitor everyone like he did at the beginning of practice so there wasn’t an urgency to stretch.
I can’t remember why, but one day after practice myself and another kid actually decided to stretch. I found out that I was way more flexible after practice and could get a great stretch in.
Even though I got a great stretch, I rarely stretched after practice because I was tired and didn’t feel like it. No one else was doing it, so I just got caught up in the routine of normal practice. However, that always stuck with me that if you stretch after working out, your muscles will be completely warmed up.
Static vs. Dynamic
There’s two types of stretching. One works great before your workout. One works great after your workout. If you mix them up, like what we did in high school, it could actually have a negative effect.
Static stretching is what we normally think of when stretching. Static stretching is holding a joint or muscle in a specific way for a length of time.
Dynamic stretching is moving a joint or muscle through a specific motion repeatedly with the intention of going further on each rep.
The order for your stretching should be this:
- Dynamic stretching
- Work out
- Static stretching
You get to the gym and are ready to do some heavy squats. Awesome. Here’s how to warm up and stretch without losing any strength and avoiding injury.
Grab on to something to hold and do some leg swings. Put one leg on the floor and swing the other one up and down going higher with each rep. I do about 10 reps on each leg.
Next, do some front leg swings. This is a front kick that you don’t chamber. Just swing the leg straight up and back. Again, I’ll do about 10 reps on each leg.
After this I like to sit down in a squat and press my knees apart using my elbows. I’ll hold this for a quick 5 seconds.
This is my usual routine of stretching before working out. It’s super simple and fast.
After your workout is the time to really get a stretch in and improve your flexibility. By this time your muscles should already be warmed up and ready to really stretch.
Some stretches to do are hamstring stretches, quad stretches, and splits. What’s important is that you hold the stretches for at least a minute and relax into them.
Right now I’m trying to just maintain a certain level of flexibility without taking too much of my time. My usual routine starts with a minute long hamstring stretch. I’ll then transition into balancing on each leg in a side split. Then I’ll go into a full side split for about 2 minutes and really relax into the stretch.
If you are interested in getting really flexible though, hold those stretches for longer periods and push the stretch further each time you do it. I used to do a side split for 5 minutes and get an actual high just from stretching.
How to improve your static stretches
When you are holding your stretches, there’s two pieces of advice I can give to make your stretches better.
- Relax your muscles
- Keep your back straight
When you are stretching, relaxing your muscles will make them more pliable. I know that when you really get to the limit of your flexibility, your muscles will start freaking out because you think they will tear apart. Try to calm your mind and just relax and slowly move into the stretch. Getting this down will allow you to take your stretching to the next level. When I tell people this and they try it it’s like a lightbulb goes off. Relaxing and stretching go hand and hand, so learn to relax.
Another thing I see people doing is they arch their back during a stretch to go further down. This defeats the purpose because it’s not how far you can go, but whether a specific area such as the hamstrings and hips are actually getting stretched. Straighten out your back and then go back into the stretch. This isn’t a competition and no one cares how far you can go in a stretch.
How to drastically speed up your flexibility game
A couple of years ago I wanted to get to a full split. The way I went about this helped me get to a full split in a couple of weeks of stretching. It will take a good amount of time for each session, but as you’ll see was very easy to do.
My method was this:
- Go to the gym and work out
- Come home and stretch in a side split for an hour or more
The way I was able to hold my stretch for an hour or more was I used the Proforce Stretchmaster. This is a tool that will allow you to hold a stretch without exerting any effort at all. All you have to do is just sit there and you’re stretching.
You put your legs on each side of this machine and turn the crank. The machine spreads your legs apart and holds them there.
I would sit in this thing while watching tv and eating dinner. My mind, distracted by the television, allowed me to easily stretch further and further each night without thinking about it.
Using the Stretchmaster allowed me to attain a full split very easily. Stretching turned into something fun and relaxing. It wasn’t a chore anymore.
If you want to get flexible really fast, I’d highly recommend getting one and putting it to use every night after your workout.
Back when I did karate, I used to wonder what I would do if I was confronted on the street and had to use my karate. I wouldn’t be able to stop the guy and stretch for a couple of minutes to get ready for the fight. I’d need to be ready to go right away.
Getting a high degree of flexibility using static stretches will give you a good potential flexibility. Doing static stretches like leg raises will make you capable of Chuck Norris level flexibility every day on demand.
What I like to do is keep it simple. Every day that I get up, I do a quick set up leg raises on each leg. Instantly I’m ready to throw kicks at a high level. Try it out.
Flexibility is really important. Once you lose it, you’re on the road to not being able to move. Ever see people who are old and can’t move? It’s because they didn’t keep up their flexibility. The less you move during the day, the closer you are to death. Don’t let this happen, get up and get moving every day.
It’s never too late to regain your flexibility. Slow and steady stretching over a period and you’ll be right back into moving with a little pep in your step.
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