First of all... Wow, I'm back blogging! It's been so long, I almost considered deleting this blog, but then I thought that there are so many posts I care about and wrote in different moments of my life, I wanna keep them available to anyone interested in reading. So as many of you know, I've been training pretty intensely on my flexibility for the last year or so (about 5-6 days a week), and noticed a lot of changes happening in my body. First biggest thing I saw was that my body couldn't keep up with the amount of weight training I was putting it into, so I found myself at a crossroad: I had to either re-think my training in the gym or be ok with a 'little' flexibility. I wasn't ok with that, I wanted to be the most flexible I could! So priorities switched, and flexibility took place NUMERO UNO. First I tried to go days with no weights at all... but then, like a subconscious need, I was taking a day off stretching to feel that blood rush coming back, the pump, throwing weights here and there, my body would just miss those feelings!... but then I would slack on flexibility because I'd be too sore, too stiff for too many days. A little about me: I've been lifting weights since I was 16 and I'm 28 now. I dont remember taking more than a week OFF my weight training and cardio, they just became an habit. I had to find a way to keep some weights or body exercises in my life to keep myself 'sane' and my muscles still nice and firm, while achieving my dreams of flexibility.
So slowly, with a lot of trial and error, I found out what worked for my body in order to avoid stiffness (some soreness is ok) but at the same time keep exercising in the gym or at home or wherever, this is a list of discoveries I made:
- Cardio is good (running, stairmaster, elliptical etc.). It doesn't affect my flexibility training, but I do only 1 session a week, no more than 45 min. I do it mostly to keep my heart trained too. If you like swimming, that's the BEST 'anti-stiffness' activity you can do! Too bad I don't like swimming lol.
-Shoulder/arms/back training: OUCH. I couldn't make it work. When doing back bending, you're not just moving your spine backward, there an ENORMOUS amount of muscles involved, at a superficial and deep level. Your neck, traps, shoulders, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, QL, multifidi... all stretching and pulling, so if you do heavy weights, you'll probably have a hard time adding flexibility there, and you might have to spend some time working on softening knots, scar tissue and all that comes as a consequence of weight training. (NOTE: I'm talking from a 'contortionist wannabe' point. Not all of you wanna be contortionists, I know. So of course, this is my experience, maybe for some of you just lowering the weight and adding reps would work. I used that technique a lot before quitting training my upper body with weights).
- Push ups, pull ups, handstand press ups (on the wall), handstand practice: there you go, few classic exercises that strengthen your upper body without getting in the way of flexibility too much. ALWAYS STRETCH IN BETWEEN SETS
-Abs: I do abs maybe every two weeks. Again, sore abs means stiff hip flexors and a harder time back bending... so you choose. In my case it didn't make a huge impact, so I still do abs here and there. ALWAYS STRETCH IN BETWEEN SETS
-Legs: The only body part that I managed to train every week! Seriously, who can live without training legs? Someone like me certainly can't. So this is an example routine for you, all those exercises do not add stiffness on my back (my biggest concern), just some healthy and needed soreness on legs:
1. Plyometrics. Yes! Jump as much as you want. I wear ankle weights during my whole workout, so I jump with them (like jump squats)
2. Squats with weighted bar. I know what you're gonna say... NO PLATES? JUST THE BAR? Yes. This is what you gotta do, what you always thought it was ineffective to build a great butt... it's gonna be of great help for your back flexibility. Won't add muscle on your legs, but it will keep them firm and strong. Add more reps and sets. You're welcome to add few plates, NOT the 45'...
3. Split squats. Lunges. Side lunges. Step ups. All those exercises you can do using your body weight are great. Add more reps and sets. Enough to feel the burn!
4. Kickbacks, side kicks, leg extension, leg curs, butt bridges. Yes! But light weight.
5. NO'S --> DEADLIFTS. Hell no. Even if they're amazing to build strong legs and butt, they destroy your back flexibility. Deadlifts were the first ones I eliminated from my workout. LEG PRESSES. Again, no for the same reason.
Always remember to STRETCH in between sets! Add reps if you don't feel working enough, I know at the beginning you might feel you're not doing much but it's not true! You're training and saving your flexibility. Wear ankle weights the whole session. An example of stretches in the gym, between sets:
-Pole dancing: surely pole dancing add strength to your upper body, but with strength comes stiffness. I don't think you have to stop pole dancing to get more flexible, especially if that's the reason why you wanna stretch! To be more flexible on the pole :) Just make sure you spend at least half hour after your pole session, to work on your neck, shoulders and back flexibility. I hope this post helped you to understand more how weight training and training for flexibility work together. There will be always one that has to sacrifice more in order for the other one to progress, but at least one doesn't have to exclude the another one ;)