How I improve my clients flexibility in three simple steps
Let's face it feeling tight and stiff is not a good feeling, being loose and supple makes you feel so much more capable and free. Most people that I speak to would like to be more flexible but generally speaking many of them don't stretch. Lack of motivation to stretch may stem from the avoidance of pain, boredom, time restraints or other reasons / excuses. In this short article I will tell you how I achieve flexibility in my clients without long, drawn out and painful stretching routines. Here is my top three tips on how to get and stay flexible...
1. Select exercises that develop stability
Stability is often interpreted as balance (which is it big part of it) but it doesn't always mean being able to perform circus tricks on one leg. By stability I mean being able to perform movements that are smooth, flowing and with full control. Instability therefore is when movements are performed with trembling, loss of balance and poor control over joint positioning.
If your body senses instability it naturally reduces the range of motion at joints to a level where it feels there is more control. A great example of this is ice skating. Ice is of course a slippery surface which challenges our stability. When a beginner attempts to skate on the ice for the first time you will notice how short their steps are and how they reduce the size of their movements across all their joints. A strong confident skater however is more stable, they have good control over their motion and so they perform bigger, bolder and more graceful movements with complete control.
If you are unstable during an exercise it is more difficult to work within a full and controlled range of motion, the resultant smaller range holds back your flexibility. To improve flexibility you must perform exercises that develop your stability.
2. Select exercises that require a big ROM
Flexibility works on a 'use it or lose it principle', if you don't consistently stretch you will lose any flexibility gains you made. If you don't have time for long drawn out stretch routines I work around this by selecting exercises that require lots of joint motion. This effectively means that you are stretching and working out at the same time.
This manner of 'dynamic' stretching stimulates the nervous system to a higher level by encouraging active joint control from your muscles during the stretch. This can lead to fast flexibility gains. To improve flexibility you must perform exercises with good range of motion.
Some of my favourite exercises for good flexibility include...
The Over Head Squat
Performing a squat pattern with your arms overhead creates stretch through many muscle groups in the shoulders, torso and back most noticeably the Latissimus Dorsi (Lats). Having these muscle groups pre stretched and then performing a squat further challenges your range of motion.
A depth lunge requires your knee to drop lower than the level of your feet. This exercise can only be performed on two elevated platforms such as two Power Plates. This increased range of motion further challenges the musculature at the front of the hip and thigh often tight in individuals that sit for long periods.
Turkish Get Up
The goal of a get up is to get from a lying position, to standing and back again whilst maintaining a weight stretched out overhead. The traditional method is a sequence of movements which challenge range at many joints including shoulders, hips and ankles.
3. Select multidirectional exercises
To be truly flexible is to demonstrate good range of motion in all directions. Muscles provide movement and stability in 3 dimensions and therefore they should be stretched in 3D.
Many traditional stretching exercises focus on stretching in one direction, the classic example being a hamstring stretch that is typically performed in a forwards bend. The hamstrings not only have influence over hip flexion and extension but also influence lateral and rotational hip motion. The hamstrings should therefore be stretched in all of these directions, this can be achieved with a stretch matrix.
A stretch matrix involves performing a stretch in a muscles dominant plane of motion and whilst holding that stretch driving movement in all other directions. To improve flexibility you must perform multidirectional stretches.
Hamstring Stretch Matrix
The hamstrings dominant stretch position is hip flexion. Hip flexion should be maintained throughout the stretch matrix for effective flexibility training. To truly stretch the hamstring in all directions the following 9 stretches would need to be performed.
|Saggital Hip Motion||Frontal Hip Motion||Transverse Hip Motion|
If you would like to achieve good all round flexibility without spending hours of pain in static stretch positions the answer lies in the programming of your exercise routine. Your exercise selection and technique execution has the ability to reduce or develop your flexibility. This means you may have to sacrifice some of the more popular exercises in your program such as Bench Press, Leg Press and Lat Pull Down in favour of more challenging movements such as the Overhead Squat, Depth Lunge and Turkish Get Up. Challenge your...
- 3D movement
Stephen Tongue performing an Adductor Stretch Matrix