After going from barely being able to touch my toes to putting my head to my toes I’ve learned a thing or two about how to get more flexible.
One of the biggest mistakes I made was thinking the best way to get more flexible was just stretching the muscles that felt tight, but after limited success with this approach I needed to go back to the drawing board.
If you’ve been stretching the same tight muscles for ages, and they still feel tight, keep reading …
Today I’m going to share with you:
- Why just focusing on stretching muscles limits your flexibility training progress
- Why you need to combine direct and indirect approaches to your flexibility training for lasting gains
- A process to relax and release habitual tension, for better results from your stretching
Isolated VS Integrated Flexibility Training
In the beginning of my journey to feel more free in the way I move, I was focusing so hard on many different physical exercises, to isolate, target and stretch where mainly I felt tight.
I had tight hips, hamstrings, shoulders, neck – so naturally I stretched the areas I felt tight, but something wasn’t working.
My range of movement improved a little in these areas, but I still felt tight in the same spots, and tense overall.
I neglected to train and stretch my body as a whole integrated system, and I ended up moving in a rigid manner, like this guy …
This is a common way that many people in fitness train their body. They focus on isolated / separate muscles, and ignore the fact that there’s a system that connects the whole body – your fascia system.
In many cases, the muscle(s) that you feel are tight are symptoms of a bigger issue happening with your body & mind.
It’s like fixing a window that keeps cracking in a building. If the issue keeps happening after focusing on ‘x’ problem area, you may need to zoom out and look at the overall structure of the building.
Expanding Your Mobility, Integrating Your Body: Focus on the Fascia
Your fascia system is like a big spiders web.
- Imagine for a moment you pull on one of the threads.
- See in your mind how all other threads are connected to it, and affected by it.
- And consider that a structure like this spider’s web weaves throughout your whole body.
Know that one part of the body affects all parts of the body. Separation is an illusion created by the mind, that does not honor the way your body is designed to work.
Without the fascia web supporting our skeletal structure, we’d be flopping around like rag dolls.
Here’s a simplified view of how your muscular and fascia systems work together:
Through observing the movement of animals and many humans over my lifetime, I’ve realised that the body moves most freely and fluidly when:
Your muscles initiate movement, then relax and allow the fascia system to sustain it.
To allow your body to feel relaxed, flexible and free as you move, it’s important to get your muscles and fascia system to work together.
Often when we have habitually tense muscles, it pulls our whole fascial structure out of balance.
So the first step to improve your stretching efforts is to learn how to release & relax muscular tension. This allows you to access your fascia system and stretch your body from a full body movement perspective, instead of an isolated movement perspective.
Here’s a riddle to consider …
Without relaxation you cannot stretch and without stretching you cannot relax.
I talk about these concepts further in this video:
A Process to Deepen Your Flexibility Training
Let’s take the concepts discussed above and explore how to integrate them the next time you practice your stretching.
1. Choose a movement you’d like to improve your flexibility in
Instead of focusing on an isolated muscle groups in your stretching. Focus on improving your flexibility in movements that involve your whole body.
I’ve found movements like the horse stance to be very effective.
If you take the time to master the horse stance; you’ll build foundations that can lead to more advanced movements like the side splits.
This will involve many muscle groups, with the added bonus of integrating your fascia system. I’ve found this delivers much better results than just focusing on tight muscles in your hips and legs.
You can learn more how to improve your horse stance in the Embodied Flexibility course.
2. Relax Your Muscles & Sink Your Weight
Instead of stretching the hell out of your muscles to improve your flexibility, I’ve found it more effective to first learn to relax your muscles.
Focus on your breathing and your whole body relaxing as much as you can in the position you’re in.
After supporting many of my online coaching students to do this, I’ve observed these common stages of progress:
I recommend you begin developing this quality in simple positions like standing, and gradually moving into deeper more complex positions.
Then from this state of deeper relaxation and balance, stretching practices become much more effective.
The practices we cover in the Tension Releasing Body course share step-by-step guidance to master the skill of relaxation and sinking your weight. This sets you up for better results in your flexibility training.
3. Feel Your Fascia & Connect the Line(s) of Stretch
Once you learn to relax your muscles enough in a given position, you’ll start to feel your fascia system working.
Your perception of what your fascia system feels like will deepen as you learn to relax more in your movements and stretches.
Generally fascia feels more springy than muscles.
A sign of progress in accessing your fascia system is being able to be in deep positions longer, without it elevating your heart rate.
As you learn to work with your fascia system more, you’ll likely feel like your whole body is connected in a given movement / stretch.
Here’s an example of this:
This illustration depicts how your whole body can be connected around your centre.
Once you can feel your fascia system better, I recommend you focus on connecting and stretching across key fascia lines of your body.
In the Embodied Flexibility course we focus on foundational movements to improve the elasticity of key fascia lines of the body. I’ve found when you combine these movements in a practice, the body opens up so you can move freely in a wide range of activities.
4. Spend Enough Time in the Stretch to Allow Transformation
Imagine you’re intending to boil water on a stove, and you keep taking it on and off the heat.
What’s the likelihood the water will boil? Slim to none!
Well, improving your flexibility and remodelling your fascia system is kind of like boiling water. You need to spend enough time in the stretch to reach a point where this tissue can hit a point of critical mass and transform.
If you don’t spend enough time in a stretch, it’s less likely in my experience that you’ll get lasting improvements in your range of movement.
5. Be Patient & Gradually Allow Your Range to Deepen
As the saying goes – Rome wasn’t built in a day. And this rings true for transforming your flexibility.
While your progress will definitely be faster with a proven process, you still need to be consistent and patient with your progress.
For better flexibility training results, you need to learn to love the journey as much as the destination.
If you’re super tight I’d recommend to focus on your progress over the span of a years practice, instead of days, or weeks.
Having a long term focus will allow you to relax, be gentle with yourself and let your body open up like a rose over time.
Bring the Spring Back to Your Body
Transforming your flexibility, so you can move more freely takes time and practice, but it’s so worth it. And much better than continuing to tighten up as you age.
Once you know how to build an effective flexibility practice, it’s a skill that keeps giving for your whole life.
Experience new levels of physical freedom with the Embodied Flexibility course.