I’ve recently been asked by a couple of friends, students, even my trainer at the gym “How do you get so flexible?” For me it was a mix of being naturally flexible, which is lucky for me as it’s one less struggle I need to think of, but also constant practice and perseverance to keep up my flexibility.
Obviously to become more flexible you need to start stretching. Stretching can be such a chore. It can also feel really uncomfortable and slightly painful. But trust me, it’s so good for you. For dancers it’s great for getting your legs up, bending further in back bends, higher arabesque lines and so on. For people who enjoy lifting weights, it will release the fascia and muscle fibres therefore you’ll be able to use your muscles to their full capacity, therefore getting you to lift heavier weights plus you’ll be less prone to injuries caused by tight muscles. For the everyday person, it’s great for your posture, blood circulation and believe it or not your energy levels.
So now that we’ve discussed the benefits of stretching, here are some tips that have helped me with my flexibility.
First of all I will stretch after I have warmed up so after barre and class or after a workout. Many people think it’s a waste of time but I won’t stress enough on how important it is to be warm before stretching. If you’ve not warmed up before stretching it can lead to injuries, which is something we do not want.
The foam roller is always the first thing I go to when I start stretching. A foam roller is designed so you can self release your muscles and trigger points. Releasing your muscles before you stretch will help lessen the discomfort and pain. To use the foam roller all you have to do is place the roller under a muscle group, put your body weight on it and roll back and forth on the roller. When you feel a tight spot, stop and let your body weight sink into the roller. This will release the tight knot in the muscle, this method called trigger pointing. You can trigger point release using a tennis ball, a golf ball, or even your hands.
From then I would do basic stretches like stretching out the big muscle groups, such as hamstrings quads, and glutes. Sometimes it will be painful. To lessen the discomfort, take deep breaths so the oxygen circulates to your muscles giving your muscles more elasticity, it should also calm and relax you. Make sure you do not grip your muscles whilst stretching. It will restrict you from getting the full benefit of the stretch which may slow down your progress. Listening to music, talking to a friend, or even scrolling through social media always helps take your mind off the pain.
I will then move on to specific stretches that will help benefit my dancing. For example, front and side splits. As I am already down in my splits I will add yoga blocks or anything that will give leverage to enable me to start doing over splits. Splits will take time and perseverance. This applies to all stretching. Don’t give up after a day or two, keep going you will see results if you work on it everyday little by little.
PNF stretching is a technique which involves isometric stretching (contraction of muscles) and passive stretching (use of outside assistance). It is quite intense and shouldn’t be a replacement of normal stretching.
Please note: This technique is not recommended for anyone under 18 as it may interfere with the development of your growth plates. If you are to do PNF make sure you are with someone who knows this technique well and is preferably qualified. You should only perform PNF after 48 hours since the last time you used the technique and only use it one muscle group per time you use this technique.
For stretching your hamstrings using PNF you would start by lying flat your back with your leg up in the air to wherever you feel a stretch, you can have your partner hold your leg if you want. Hold this for 10 seconds.
Then you would push your leg against your partner and contract all your muscles. They should apply appropriate amount resistance against your leg. Hold this for 6-7 seconds.
Go back to your relaxed state stretch. Hold this for 30 seconds.
You can repeat this process 2-4 times.
If you don’t have a partner use could always use the resistance of a theraband (resistance band) to replicate the technique.
Remember that gravity also plays a huge part in your stretching. Incorporating breathing + relaxation of muscles + gravity will help with your sitting down hamstring stretch, middle splits against the wall or anything where you want a part of your body closer to the ground.
The idea of everything in your body being connected has really helped improve my flexibility. So if your hamstrings are tight it might be linked to your back being tight or even your neck. If you roll everything out and stretch all your muscle groups you’ll begin to see faster progress and feel less discomfort.
Like I said before, stretching takes time, perseverance and hard work. Don’t expect to see crazy results the next day. You need to keep working at your own safe pace. Once you do see results it’s extremely satisfying, but you need to keep stretching. Flexibility can slowly decrease if it’s not used!
I hope this has given people motive to start stretching. If you have any questions about anything feel free to leave a comment or send a message! I would love to see your progress photos too! I wish you all the best!
Thanks for reading.