The FLEXIBILITY series is designed to improve flexibility, increase range of motion, release tight muscles and alleviate muscular pain. The routines get progressively more difficult throughout the series, from beginner through to intermediate.
WHY DO YOU NEED TO IMPROVE FLEXIBILITY?
“All you flexible people should go bang some iron and all you big weightlifters should go do some yoga.” Laird Hamilton
Improving flexibility is one of the most consistently reported benefits of practicing yoga. However, by flexibility, I’m not referring to the ability to perform spectacular feats of contortion. Although putting both feet behind your head might be an impressive party trick, it’s probably not going to get you any closer to your mtb goals.
Functional flexibility describes less the extent of your flexibility as much as what you can do with it. The aim is to be strong at your end ranges of motion, not to be effortlessly bendy but too weak to take full advantage of your flexibility. To be able to run, jump, climb, lift, push, pull, crawl, squat and throw effectively, pain-free and without causing yourself an injury.
Unlike our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we no longer move, bend and stretch sufficiently throughout the day to keep our bodies supple and healthy. So especially if you’re training hard, you need to incorporate dedicated flexibility sessions into your exercise program to move well and remain relatively pain-free.
WHAT CAUSES A LACK OF FLEXIBILITY?
The human body is incredibly efficient at adapting to its environment, even if it’s not a healthy one. It’s therefore the positions you hold most frequently and the movements you do most often that reduce your flexibility in certain areas. The most common patterns are:
- Sitting for prolonged periods, which causes certain muscles to lose full range of motion.
- Training primarily in one sport, which causes muscular imbalances.
- Injuries and the resulting compensation patterns.
FACTORS THAT AFFECT FLEXIBILITY
- Temperature—your muscles are more supple when they are warm.
- Time of day—most people are more flexible in the afternoon (when their muscles are warm).
- Injury—injured joints and muscles are likely to be less flexible.
- Age—we lose flexibility as we age.
- Gender—females are generally more flexible than males.
BENEFITS OF IMPROVING FLEXIBILITY
- Increases range of motion.
- Relieves stiffness, discomfort and pain.
- Increases strength, power and movement efficiency.
- Helps to re-establish natural movement patterns.
- Increases agility.
- Takes the edge off muscle soreness following intense workouts.
- Helps to relieve the tension that builds up from physical and mental stress.
- Reduces your risk of injury by increasing mobility.
- Improves posture.
- Relaxes the body and calms the mind.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN YOGA AND STRETCHING
One of the reasons that yoga is so effective at improving flexibility is that, unlike traditional stretching, it integrates a number of complex skills.
- Yoga combines static, dynamic, active and passive stretching.
- Yoga includes breathing and other relaxation techniques to calm the central nervous system, which controls your flexibility to a large extent.
- Yoga poses integrate all planes of motion—forward and back, side to side and rotation.
- Yoga simultaneously trains strength and flexibility, mobility and stability.
- Yoga also trains balance, agility, body control, breath efficiency, coordination, focus and concentration.
- Yoga enhances body awareness.
- In yoga, we progress through a series of increasingly deeper, interwoven poses. This is called sequencing.
- The diversity of movement in yoga stimulates a high rate of neurogenesis (development of neurons in the brain).
BEST TIME OF DAY TO IMPROVE FLEXIBILITY
- In the morning. If you wake up feeling stiff and achy from lying in the same position all night, stretching out the kinks can relieve discomfort, realign the muscles and give you an energy boost to kickstart your day. Just be aware that your muscles and joints are not yet warmed up, so ease into your workout gently.
- After a workout. Your muscles generally contract and tighten when you exercise so incorporating stretching into your cool-down routine, when your muscles are warm and pliable, can improve your flexibility and range of motion. This is the ideal time for this type of workout.
- In the evening. Stretching is typically a calming activity so it can be a good way to wind down and prepare your body for sleep.
WHEN NOT TO STRETCH
There is good evidence to suggest that stretching muscles temporarily weakens them. Therefore, timing is critical. I don’t recommend static stretching (holding a stretch for more than 60 seconds) before exercise as this is likely to decrease performance and increase susceptibility to injury.
- Backbends improve flexibility in the quads, hip flexors, chest and shoulders.
- Forward Bends improve flexibility in the calves, hamstrings, hips and back.
- Sidebends improve flexibility in the obliques, intercostals, lats and shoulders.
- Twists improve flexibility in the hips, chest, shoulders and neck.
- Hip Openers improve flexibility in the hips.
Consistency is the key to safely and effectively improving your flexibility and restoring your natural range of motion. Flexibility training is a slow and systematic process of gradually unlocking areas of tightness and tension that have built up over time. Commit to incorporating yoga into your daily routine and you’ll see significant progress over time.
AVOIDING STRETCHING INJURIES
If you apply too much force to a stretch, your body’s innate reflex reaction will prevent the muscle from lengthening. However, it is possible to override the stretch reflex and cause yourself harm, so here are some pointers to keep you safe.
- Never use force to increase a stretch. Instead, slow down your breath and relax into it.
- Adapt poses as necessary, for instance micro-bending your knees in forward bends.
- Learn to differentiate between sensations of discomfort and pain. If you experience pain, back off from the stretch and trust that your flexibility will increase gradually over time, with consistent practice.
- Remember that it has taken a lifetime for tightness to build up in your muscles and dysfunctional movement patterns to develop, so try to be patient.
WHO SHOULD DO THE FLEXIBILITY SERIES?
If you struggle with tight muscles, lack of flexibility or chronic muscular pain, you will find the yoga routines you need in this series.