Exactly 5 years ago in April 2012, I attended my first flexibility class and quickly started discovering the love of being supple, bendy, somehow in my mind “limitless”.
I woke up today trying to give a sense to what happened last night in Paris, after more than 120 innocent people were brutally killed, attacked while out at dinner, watching a soccer game, singing at a concert, enjoying a night out like we all do, completely unaware of what atrocity was coming at them.
When I was looking for flexibility coaches, I had to do a long and grueling search that led me many times nowhere. Living in Las Vegas, you'd think I have it easy right? With all the shows, artists and performers.
An adult body is not a blank canvas, there have been already many "drawings" made on it, through lifestyle, past physical activities, past injuries, postural habits... in a word: life. That's why, contrary to kids that receive all the same training, the older you are the more specific and personalized your training become. Nobody can teach you exactly what's best for your body type, you have to try things out and make adjustments along the way. For example: some warm ups are really beneficial to you, but not to someone else. Some moves will look okay on you but better on someone else and viceversa. You're unique! And so your training should be. These are some of my finds, remember not excuses but actual facts that I have to consider to keep training in a smart way and continue to improve.
Height: I'm tall (5'11"). There is a reason why circus performers are usually short! It's easier to bend and balance a small/short body rather than a big/long one. My frame will always challenge my balance and put my lower back under strenuous work, since the lower back not only bends but supports and holds the weight of legs in inverted positions (cheststands, handstands) and of the torso in standing backbends (like going into bridge). This means I have to alternate intense stretches with easier variations to avoid too much soreness.
harder on lower back
easier on lower back
Past injuries: if you're active, you'll experience some type of injury. It's a fact! The only way to be immune to injuries is basically live in bed lol, but even that wouldn't be good for you. So there will be injuries that will heal completely and never come back, other ones will come and go, some will stay with you and you have to live with them! That's another reason why your training becomes so individual and specific, you have to adapt it around your injury. For example, I have a shoulder I hurt a while ago, I can stretch it but I know its limits, and I know which stretches help loosing it up and which ones just make it hurt more.
Injury example: a strain to the long head of biceps femoris (hamstrings)
Body Structure: this is about proportions. Long legs will tire lower back faster, bigger bone structure means more challenging bending ( I think it has to do with size in general, longer muscles, thicker ligaments, more tissues to bend, more distance to go from A to B). Someone with a short torso and big butt will reach headsit easier than someone with long torso and no butt! Size matters.
Imbalances: we all have a predominant side, either a stronger one or a more flexible one, most of people also have a slight scoliosis. Uneven strength and uneven flexibility, mixed with some scoliosis cause imbalances that needs to be addressed with correct exercises, making sure to reduce the difference as much as possible. This way you avoid future injuries or wear and tear of a specific area of your back - or hip etc.
Me a while ago, noticeably imbalanced with my right back side being less bendy
All this goes into: Moves that hurt / moves that fit: some positions you will try and find very akward and uncomfortable, but eventually get better at it. Others, will never get better or just keep hurting. That's when you can choose (especially if creating a performance piece), what your body type looks better doing and FEELS better doing. But not before learning all the basics! (Cheststands etc).
Crocodile is probably one of my best moves :D
Rest: Training every day won't make you better, you will accumulate a lot of soreness and the risk of injuries will greatly raise. Training creates "mini damages" to your muscles and tissues that need to be healed each time, so you can do it again and again and get better at it. If you don't heal you can aggravate these mini damages. I take at least 1-2 days off a week and alternate intense with less intense sessions. Sleep and days off are essential as training days are.
Remember you only have one body, train smart ;)
Since little, I was taught that being active was a natural part of life. Moving, using our body - instead of just passively living in it- develops coordination, proprioception and is the foundation of learning skills. I was playing outside, running around with my bicycle, doing sports... Few years later, when I started weight training, it didn't take me long to figure that results required sacrifices. I wasn't playing around anymore, I wanted to see my body changing and being able to do extraordinary stuff. I was a young girl ready and willing to step it up.
me at 23ish training at Gold's Gym, Miami Beach
If you train with purpose you need a certain lifestyle. This lifestyle has high demands and you make daily decisions in favor or against it. Not always you can put your training as first priority, but you should always try: only so you'll see the changes you wish to see, or the skills you wish to learn taking form.
Your energy and performance level depend on sleep, diet, habits, rest.
A sleepless night doesn't kill you, but if you train you know what a key role sleeping plays in recovery. There is no progress without sleep, and often you'll have to pick between a night of party (fun!) or a night of sleep (sometimes boring) that will assure you a great condition for training hard the day after. I used to turn down all parties! But then I learned that I can always come home early and still get good sleep, or planning a day off the day after I have a night out.
I definitely partied on my B-day :D
Diet is something else that has a huge impact on training. You are what you eat, seriously! So be a broccoli :) lol just kidding, but vegetables should be ALWAYS included in your meals, if not all, most! Also lean protein, complex carbs, healthy fats. AND A LOT OF WATER. Simple, clean food you can distinguish the ingredients in it. Example of something I'm having often lately: brown rice, olive oil, steamed veggies, smoked salmon, lemon juice.
I love local markets!
You also need good habits. There's a time to eat, a time to train, a time to sleep, a time to work. I know sounds boring, but your body is a simple machine that performs best when it's used to something. Even with training, pick a time and make your body used to the fact that you train at lunch time or late afternoon. This also will help to remind yourself to be more consistent without forgetting sessions.
Another good habit has to do with avoiding drugs and alcohol. I still have to find an athlete who do drugs or drink and doesn't find it deadly on the body (one drink sometimes is fine, binge drinking is not). A trained body is a highly functional body and it's very susceptible to drugs, drugs are not for the healthy athlete who cares about their performances and have love for their body.
healthy body happy bending Last but definitely not least...Rest. Sometimes you need to do nothing! It's precious time your body needs to recharge. Rest is not sleep, it's actually having a day a week or two where you don't physically tire yourself. It's somehow hard to take days off when you're used to train every day, you either worry that a day off will halt your progress or you actually don't know what to do with your time off - lol I had that feeling many times. But now I take time off to rest and be lazy and drive around or watch a movie, because I remind myself I work hard so I feel I deserve it :)
Strong. Capable. Confident. Healthy. Younger: definitely consequences that are worth the sacrifices!
(The following statements come from my experience, not medical facts so take them as my personal advice but not absolute law!) I didn't get flexible because I was naturally gifted, nor because I was strong. I did get flexible because, most of all, I learned to relax my body.
You can hurt your muscles and joints in several ways, but mainly with: sudden fall/unexpected movement, overstretching, pushing a contracted muscle to stretch.
The first one can be happening from everyday activities or quickly entering/exiting a position without giving the muscle enough time to lengthen/shorten (dropping into a split with no warm up, getting out too fast from a split/oversplit).
Overstretching (going where the muscle is not yet ready to go, too deep) is a common mistake when trying to increase flexibility so you have to learn the difference between pushing close to your limits and really damaging your muscles, ligaments or tendons. Usually a sharp acute pain is a bad sign, while a progressive, uncomfortable "lengthening" feeling should be fine. Overstretching can cause strains/sprains that can take few days to months to heal (sprains -injury to ligament- take longer). You want to avoid that to not hinder your progress.
Pushing a contracted muscle to stretch is really not a good idea for several reasons. A muscle that resists a stretch doesn't want to be bent, it's tensing to escape the stretch. When you start stretching deeper, that is going to be the first instinctive reaction your body will do. You can read about it in anatomy books, how your muscle initially react to a stretch stimulus is with contraction: a mechanism of defense (remember your body is very dramatic and fearful, always thinking you're up to no good ;) ). If you try to stretch a contracted muscle you'll create injury (tear, strain), so the greatest effort you have to do when trying to increase flexibility is LEARNING TO RELAX INSTEAD TO TENSE UP. This is the most basic concept of passive stretching, but seems like nobody talks about it. We as adult have a hard time relaxing, our muscles only relax in situations we're not even aware of (sleeping, sitting - we don't think about it) so learning consciously to tell a muscle to relax, especially in quite challenging positions can be very difficult, but necessary. There can't be lengthening without relaxation. To further support my point, I want you to look at these two pictures:
On the left side, I'm tensing my glutes and back muscles after getting into cheststand. On the right my glutes and back muscles are relaxed. Can you tell the difference? On left I feel discomfort and tension in neck, shoulders, back and hips/glutes, breathing is harder and my upper and middle back are barely bending. If I stay in this position, there won't be a way to move further, because I'm tensing. In the right picture I breathe better and feel an even stretch throughout my spine, my hips are lower and my neck and shoulders are open, I could go deeper (for example, start straightening my legs). Please understand this is not an example which applies to beginners, but it's to make you see the difference between tensed and relaxed.
Of course if you're starting out with cheststand, your body will enter the position tensed and you won't be fully relaxed till your feet touch something (a chair, if the floor is way too far). But learning to relax will help you so much to improve and automatically exit the "panic mode" you'll experience at the beginning. How do you relax into a challenging position, in which your body wish to get out as quickly as possible instead? BREATHE. Breathing - even shallow breathing - and relaxing are key to bend !
I hope you found this helpful, remember it's only when you relax that your body stop being scared and allows you to move further. Always warm up for at least half hour before trying challenging stretches and make sure you got down the right technique first!!!
Thanks to my coach Otgo Waller who explained me many of these concepts :)
Happy bendings and Happy Thanksgiving too!
“People won’t take action until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change.” Paul Mort This is so incredibly true. This sentence got stuck in my mind since I read it few weeks ago, and I feel it applies in so many situations in life. Whenever you wish to make a change, but the thought of it scares you or feels insuperable, you just put that wish away and forget it for a while. Then it comes back, and you push it away again, trying to justify why you really don't need to make that change, your life is good anyway etc. But inside you already know, soon or later that itchy thought will grow bigger and bigger in you, and you will have to deal with it, eventually. It could be anything, your desire to become healthier, quit smoking, lose weight, take a plane, follow your dream job, moving on from a wrong relationship. I like that in the sentence above, the word "pain" is being used. Pain is a state we all live in our life, on a daily basis. We live to alleviate pain, in a way. We sleep to alleviate the pain of being tired, we eat/drink to alleviate the pain of being hungry/thirsty, we work to alleviate the pain and problems of having no money etc...isn't the absence of pain what we call happiness?
So in a way, a change becomes necessary because it's creating a growing "pain"in our life, as discomfort, dissatisfaction, concern, lower self esteem etc. You realize that dealing with the change will only make your life better eventually, you envision yourself being happier; the change take place in your mind first, then when the mind starts metabolizing this thought, actions - not just words! - should follow.
Also, each one of us has different changes to deal in their life, do not judge what those are, because whatever change it's needed to be done, small or big you think it is, it takes courage, effort, work, dedication, motivation, an open mind.
I'm personally dealing with something I've been trying to avoid for years... and just couple days ago I told myself, no more. I got to the point where I can't escape this change, I tried, it's time to take this barrier down and deal with my fear of... DRIVING! Don't laugh at me, there is nothing that scares me more than driving a car. I'm 29 and never had to drive or own a car, untill now, where leaving in Las Vegas car-less became unbearable to me. I tried before and quit, now I'm motivated to get over with this fear.
So now you know, it doesn't scare me to stretch to the max with my butt on my head, but driving a car terrifies me lol. I'm dealing with it though! It's my time to change :) A fun fact, when I drive I have to wear my Tupac good luck shirt lol
What scares you that you keep postponing changes towards it?