Updated: Mar 4
Last week I was lucky enough to go to see the latest magical Cirque du Soleil spectacle; “Luzia”.
Exquisitely rich in culture, talent and so impressive I, along with everyone in the audience, found it impossible to take my eyes of the stage. It reminded me that flexibility is really the behind-the-scene tool for delivering excellency in all areas of fitness and works like a hypnotic superpower to awe and bring any routine to life.
Looking into this further; “Inflexibility complex” is a term that I learnt today, when I started reading a charming little book from Japan called “Even the stiffest people can do the splits.” I must admit, I’m every advertiser dream; it doesn’t take much. I can ignore the mixed reviews on Amazon even with my husband checking 3 times if I am sure I want to buy it: due to some lowsy 1-star ratings. Curious to see if it actually works, I focus on the big yellow sticker on the front cover “1 million copies sold in Japan” a lady looking very limber and some cool Japanese characters. Most important to me is the end goal it promises- to make me more flexible – I’m sold.
I’m all about flexibility these days since I realised that it’s an integral part of an exercise routine. Exercise ability will stagnate without flexibility, you may injury yourself and it’s one of the 5 components of fitness (cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance and body composition) for a really good reason.
According to the author of this book; Eiko: “young, old, made of rubber or rusty metal, anybody can do the splits”. It also includes a 4-week basic program. Before you get too excited, I should mention it’s not the front or side splits it’s actually called a butterfly splits (as seen on the front of the book). I will reserve judgment until I have done four weeks and let you know if my flexibility has increased with a before and after photo. Although the splits are a milestone for some people, just starting a simple stretch routine to improve your ROM (range of motion) is essential. If not, you may feel your body is:
2) Tight & Stiff
4) Sore & Painful
So where to start? If your muscles feel knotty and tight, once you’ve completed a general warm up begin by foam rolling tender areas. This is known as “Self- myofascial release” which can relieve muscle tightness, soreness, and inflammation, it also helps with your ROM. Position yourself along the roller and use your bodyweight to apply pressure for some trigger point release, this can either be done first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
Flexibility is “the quality of bending easily without breaking.” For most of us, lack of practise, sedentary lives, overtight muscles and tension all build up and our joints settle into a limited range of motion. All physiques are different and so there is no one size fits all approach, however, the body and mind respond to consistent practise. Aim to achieve a long and strong body! Good habit-forming behaviours include things such as adding a stretch routine 4-5 sessions a week; you only need 5 minutes of stretching commitment. This is more effective than doing an hour of stretching once a week, the key in any form of flexibility training strategies is to be consistent. Research shows that holding a stretch for at least 30 seconds provides the most lasting benefits.
I see it a lot when people start personal training that they are more enthused by the exercise part than the flexibility side. For me to work with a client that is inflexible can be really restrictive. If their muscles are very tight, unless they put in the time to stretch or the program has a more prominent emphasis on flexibility, then I am limited to what I can achieve with them.
Reduced flexibility in the muscle and joint leads to a change in biomechanics and contributes to tension at the tendon. Tight muscles pull on the tendon attachment and create increased tension, inflammation and pain. Moving with ROM allows for easier, and deeper movements while building strength and stability. Stretching too far into ligaments is unwise as joints can be disrupted but the elasticity of the muscles can be improved by stretching.
Basically, it all comes down to balance and who would know this better than Aleksei Goloborodko who is currently the most flexible man in the world. He’s said “the hardest part is to maintain the balance between flexibility and strength because if I get too loose, too flexible, and I don't care about my strength, I cannot control properly what I do. On other hand, if I get too strong, I can start losing flexibility.”
Watching him perform at the Royal Albert Hall last week, one of the 45 performers traveling with the Cirque du Soleil, it's clear that he knows what he's talking about.