I received a lot of feedback via Facebook on my “How Not to Stretch” post from yesterday. Several people also contacted me via mail to ask some questions. Here are some ideas to get you started. This isn’t any sort of definitive guide to stretching so don’t take it as such. I’ll just give you some of my personal views and experiences, the stuff I do in my own training.
Before we get started, let’s look at some basic guidelines and concepts.
- Some stretching methods give quick results, others don’t. Some will work for you, others won’t. Either way, you’ll have to find out which protocol is best for you. This may mean it takes a while before you make the progress you want.
- Flexibility means better mobility. Mobility means better techniques (providing you train hard of course).
- Just because you’re flexible enough to do a high kick, don’t think you know how to use it. Flexibility is only one of the requirements to pull that technique off. Stretching is always just a tool to improve your techniques, not the end goal.
How to relax and feel your muscles
Here is an exercise I often give to students and clients who are too tense. It’s nothing new or fancy, but it works for most of them. The goal is to recognize the difference between contracted and relaxed muscles. At the same time, you learn to feel where they are located. Here’s how it goes:
- Lie down on your back and take a couple deep breaths.
- Lift your right leg a few inches from the bed, keeping it straight, and tighten all the muscles in it as hard as you can.
- Hold for five seconds and concentrate on feeling where there is tension in the muscles.
- Let your leg fall on the bed as you suddenly relax every muscle.
- Stay totally relaxed for 10-20 seconds and focus on the sensations in your leg: warm, tingly, relaxed, etc.
- Repeat 2-3 times.
- Do the same exercise for the left leg, arms, torso and head.
There are many variations of this exercise but this one will get you started right away. Here are some more tips:
- Instead of lifting/contracting the whole leg, work on the calf muscles, quads, hamstrings and adductor muscles separately.
- Do the same with all other body parts, isolating different muscles. If you don’t know how, use the anatomy reference work again.
- This might be frustrating and difficult at first. Don’t give up, it takes time.
Your final goal is to have the control to instantly relax any part of your body by just thinking about it. The better you are at this, the easier it will be to stretch and become more flexible.
UPDATE: Here’s part Three of “How not to stretch” with some ideas on setting goals.