Ballerinas, gymnasts, Cirque Du Soleil performers and martial arts experts are some of the most graceful, beautiful athletes to look at. What do they all have in common? They are extremely fit, strong and FLEXIBLE. While many workout devotees focus on improving their general level of fitness and strength, flexibility training seems to have been the ugly step-child of our gym culture- underrated and often an after-thought.
In truth, the athletic performers that wow us the most with their performance and hot body had it figured out long ago. Flexibility is not only impressive, it is often what differentiates an average body from one that is super fab.
Flexibility can be termed as the ability of your joints and body parts to execute their full range of motion. In spite of common belief, flexibility is NOT genetic. Yes, some bodies are more naturally supple than others but all bodies have the capacity to achieve a fuller range of motion with the right practice. A focus on dynamic stretching (“stretching while moving”) and isometric stretching (“engaging the muscle while stretching”) is a good place to start. These kinds of stretching increases core temperature, muscle temperature, elongates the muscles, and stimulates the nervous system all while yielding faster results.
You should never feel actual pain. For the muscle/tendon stretches, a burning feeling lets you know that you’re doing it right. For joint stretches like the side split, etc., the feeling is odd. It’s uncomfortable, but not really painful. If a stretch ever genuinely hurts, then STOP! “No pain, no gain” does not apply to flexibility training. The 70% rule is best. Move to 70% of your range of motion and stop. It takes time and patience to develop so pick 5 stretches you will do regularly and focus on them for several months. You will be amazed at the progress.
Stretches to Improve Flexibility with useful links to a few of our favorite stretches:
Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Kneeling Seat (Vajrasana)
The best part about stretching is that you can do it anywhere, any time. Try stretching while you watch TV. It keeps you from snacking and is great way to relax. Also, get your kids or spouse in on the action! Have them sit on your back, pull your arms, etc. to help deepen your stretch.
Remember, flexibility isn’t something that happens overnight, nor is it something that will be achieved by putting in the bare minimum. Two months of 10–20 minutes of solid stretching every day should make a noticeable difference. While, age, genetics, and how much you stretch, all play a role in determining how long it will take to achieve a particular goal (hot body! watch out - here I come!), a reasonably fit person should take no more than 6 months or so to achieve a healthy to advanced level of flexibility.
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