The Flexibility quest
Updated: Jul 14, 2022
We are creatures of habit, and the routines we choose shape our posture in this world. After years of repeating the same paths or activities, these patterns might feel as being impossible to change. However, these patterns are a choice, and they can be redefined through flexibility. It is never too late to work towards being comfortable in different positions, and keep our mobility while we age. Here I share fundamental flexibility concepts, which allow you to reach new and healthy patterns without frustration.
In general terms, flexibility is defined as a health-related component of physical fitness that relates to the range of motion available at a joint. That means that each joint and each group of muscles in your body might have a different range of motion (ROM) or a different level of flexibility. Some areas of your body may be very tight, meaning that the muscles feel short and restricted. Some areas of your body may feel very loose and you may be able to lengthen and move those muscles freely. It is crucial to understand why are they having less or way too much access. This is a short checklist to define your quest:
1.-Assess your joints
Locate joints that are hypermobile or hypomobile in your body allows you to know if an area needs muscle strength and conscious awareness during movement or is restricted because there is instability around it, and stretch it constantly is not the solution if you are not activating another area that isn't strong enough. The Beighton score is a quick and easy test that you can use.
2.- Analyse your comfort zones
Notice if you are always sitting with a specific crossed leg, be aware if you always use the same arm to put the coat on, or detect which is your favourite sleeping side. There are some many clues in daily actions that can change your more flexible joint to a more stronger one and viceversa. Just switch sides more often!
3.-Choose a concrete goal to begin with
This is about setting your priorities towards some activity that you want to do better or a skill you want to give it a try. Or maybe is just an area in your body that you want to have more access. When you have a clear long term goal to comeback in a settled time frame, you can define all the short term practical goals to accomplish it. Keep a register in someway of these thoughts, maybe in your phone notes or a diary.
4.-Find the balance between static passive, static active and dynamic
Any physical activity you like to practice can be the one that helps you achieve a flexibility goal, as long as you can identify the three types of flexibility in it:
Passive flexibility is the range of motion a joint can move into when there’s an external force helping it go there.Usually your passive flexibility is larger than your active flexibility. This is because you can move into your passive range of motion with the help of external force such as a band, your hands, gravity, an assist from another person, etc. This is the one where stretches can become risky if you don't take in account your joint health or your muscle tone. Keep an eye of your breathing patterns and always the rule of thumb, from small to big ranges or motion, from short to long time holds.
Active flexibility is the range of motion a joint can move into without an external force helping it go there. This type of flexibility relies largely on the strength of your muscles fibers to achieve the stretch. Active flexibility plays a large role in getting into mobility. Having active flexibility means you have the strength to maintain integrity and stability in your joints. In these kind of stretches there is always an opposite direction push and pull. The famous two way stretch in Pilates is based on active stretching.
Dynamic flexibility is the ability to move muscles and joints through their full range of motion during active movement. The key to actually functional accuracy is the control over the range of motion. This helps your body reach its full movement potential during daily activities, sports, and exercise. Start using controlled movements to teach your body that it is safe. Short and slow movements can gradually build up the amplitude and speed of the stretch until you’ve gone as far as you can comfortably.
5.- Know when stop stretching is a good idea
So you've got tight calves, cranky hip flexors, or a stiff neck. Most of us would reach for the foam roller, get a massage, or spend some time stretching. We'll do anything to release that tight, possibly painful muscle. It may feel better for a little while, but the familiar tightness returns minutes, hours, or a days later. In other words, the results are temporary, your body creates that stiffness for a reason. An underlying movement dysfunction is usually to blame and that needs a deep look in to it. This is the time when a trainer/coach, physiotherapist can help to assess and don't guess.
Lastly I might say that anything you want to achieve, must contain a big amount of fun in it. So try to play with your methods to achieve your goals. Is this check list useful? If you have any question, let me know. Enjoy your process!