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”.
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!
Even though I don't consider myself an expert (I've only been doing this for 2 years), being an Exercise Science major and a personal trainer for more than 10 years have definitely helped me to understand better my experience of "adult contorting", or at least figure out partially what my body is going through. Here are some questions I asked and answered myself through research and experience:
What the hell am I stretching?
What is happening in your body when you stretch? Basically, your muscles are the ones mainly stretching. Your ligaments stretch when your muscles are maxed out. Your ligaments are thick and resistant, NOT very flexible. Tendons are not flexible.
Should I put ICE or HEAT on a muscle?
HEAT,HEAT and HEAT! Ice is good for decreasing inflammation right after sudden injuries (like falling and twisting your ankle). For everything else (soreness, pulled muscle) you want heat, which promotes blood flow and healing.
Something hurts... what happened?
It's not uncommon to overstretch/strain muscles in contortion. Of course you wanna avoid that by warming up really good and gradually sink deeper into a stretch without rushing. But if that happens, don't panic: a strain can heal in few days or few weeks, depending how severe it is.
Why can't I do this everyday?
An adult body can't perform contortion every day with the same intensity. You will have to alternate hardcore with easy, till you don't get more experienced. If you can backbend no problem everyday... well lucky you lol.
Can I do contortion AND ...weights, pole, aerial, crossfit?!
This all depends on how far you want to go with your contortion and also how old you are. If you're under 25 you might be able to train different disciplines without necessarily affecting negatively your contortion improvement. But in my experience I had to make a drastic decision and cut out almost all other training I was doing, because they would get in the way with contortion (my body would get too stiff and sore). Beside contortion I still do cardio (run, stepmill, bike or elliptical), body weight workouts and floorwork/no-tricks pole dance.
How do I heal a strain?
(FYI Strain: damaged muscle tissue. Sprain: damaged ligament tissue)
It sucks. But as I said earlier, a muscle can heal! You just need patience, heat packs, massages, little rest and lighter training on the affected area.
Am I stiff or sore? What's the difference?
This is how I classify stiff and sore:
STIFF--> many causes, often not identified (could be hormones change, dry or cold weather, sitting too much, walking too much, standing a lot, high heels, not sleeping, drinking alcohol/being dehydrate, be mad/stressed and so on... basically having a life lol). The feeling is very annoying and hard to get rid of, usually some cardio to warm up the body, light stretching or a hot bath helps.
SORE--> usually the cause is previous training. It feels painful but gets better while warming up. I prefer sore rather than stiff... the worst is when you have both, ahah!
That's it for tonight's blog.
Stay flexible, friends!
All my life I've been quite stubborn and thought I could figure things out on my own, like when I was doing fitness modeling and preparing for fitness competitions, dieting etc I never had a coach and learned everything through mistakes, studies and trial and error. When I decided I wanted to become more flexible though I was short on knowledge and it seemed so hard to find valuable information. I tried yoga and some stretches I had seen around, reminiscences of ballet and foam rolling. I really couldn't figure much out on my own though and online and on books there were either extremely advanced poses or too simple ones. It was very helpful when I started taking flexibility group classes and I learned things like warm ups and exercises using blocks and yoga belt.
But only with one on one training under the supervision of my coach I began to really improve fast and understand a lot about my body.
There are many benefits of training with a good coach (I was lucky to find one of the best, I know not all coaches might share the qualities I'm going to list), those are just few examples :
A coach has been there
Whenever you feel sore, stuck, hurt etc, your coach knows exactly what you're going through. They've been there before you, and through their experience, they can help you.
A coach is emotional support
Whether you're extremely happy because you did a hard move for the first time or you're very sad because your body can't bend that day, your coach is there and will likely celebrate your success or reassure you.
A coach is a motivator
Some days you feel you should skip stretching. Or you are just not in the mood. Or you didn't sleep well or you worked so much and have no energy. A good coach will push you these days and after you'll thank them for doing that.
A coach knows more than you
This is pretty obvious but great, because they will guide you and will make you avoid mistakes, correct imbalances and personalize your training.
A coach understands your body
This is important because sometimes you can't be objective about what's happening in your body, you're not sure what's bending in your back or how something is supposed to feel. Being inside your body and dealing with all these new feelings can be confusing and scary! Your coach will answer your questions and doubts so that you know you're doing things correctly and can focus on your training rather than panicking.
A coach is support
Literally, because some exercises there is no way you can do them on your own, you need someone to push, pull and support your body to improve and challenge your imaginary limits. Your coach is also a mental support, because won't let you be down if you're having a bad day or let your fears or worries prevail over your desire of being flexible!
Those are some examples I experienced with my coach :) If you're very serious about flexibility I suggest you to have a coach and see them often enough.
My coach !
I used to think that with good motivation, dedication and correct training nothing really could have stopped me and everything would have come to me "easy", work smoothly, with no major interruptions. I thought success (as in training progress) was a straight arrow, slowly but steadily keep pointing up. But training contortion I had to rethink my vision of success and improvement. The arrow, no matter how much motivation, dedication and hard work, NOT always goes straight up, it actually gets stuck, goes down, then up again, etc.
Your body has its own ways to accept changes (=improve), sometimes it listen to you, other times it doesn't. Your body is a very complex mix of bones, tissues, muscles, nerves, ligaments, tendons, organs, fluids operated through more complex systems of chemical reactions, hormones, fed by oxygen and nutrients. All of this strives to work in harmony and keep you safe: that's your body's main job. Often times in training you have to push your body to get out of this safe and comfortable zone and so it gets scared, send all sort of inflammation signals and alarms, gets sore and uncomfortable, but eventually IT ADAPTS, because you (your mind) rule, not the other way around.
So this is why success is not a straight upright arrow, because you are not simply a machine, and your body has to work its ways (get sore, strengthen, adapt, slow down, get inflamed, slow down, heal, strengthen, adapt, get sore...!) to adapt to the changes you want to see. You also need to respect your body and know when it needs a break, because it's really the place you live in for your whole life.
Sometime no matter how motivated, you can't improve, you feel going backward, or stuck, even for weeks. This doesn't mean it's over and you won't improve anymore. The good news is, if you keep your head in the game and don't panic thinking you're broken and will never see progress again, you'll keep improving. Those bad times test your will and determination, as well as your patience: if you get over them, you are a step ahead, mentally and physically.
So bottom line is, success is not an upright arrow, you need to push your body out of its comfort zone, yet be understanding and have patience. Work with it, don't fight it, Things will work out :)
Not long ago I wrote a post about the top 10 excuses about flexibility training, today I want to talk about which common mistakes I see people do (and I did too) that set them back with progress and makes flexibility training uneffective and at times dangerous too. So here we go, in no particular order: 1. You don't know what you're looking for.
What does flexibility training mean to you? A way to learn a difficult pole move? Better balance? A sense of connection between body and mind? Relief from sitting all day? Getting splits? Handstands? Deep backbends? There are several schools out there that uses flexibility in different ways (contortion, gymnastics, yoga etc), with different technique, goals, training philosophy. Make sure you know what you want out of the time you spend training and what better fits your needs.
2. You don't commit to a method/teacher, rather jump from one thing to another.
This is very common. You started out following someone's DVD, then got into this circus stretching class, then suddenly switched to more yoga, but then changed your mind and went back to the DVD, taking in the meantime a couple of private classes with different instructors as well. WOW your body must feel confused ! It's highly unproductive to jump from one thing to another, and this apply to any training (and diet as well). Your body is a creature of habit, and needs TIME and lot of the SAME STUFF over and over to actually show you it's capable of improvement and change. So make up your mind, pick a studio, a gym, a class, a coach and COMMIT to it. Spend a good amount of time (1-3 months) before deciding if what you chose is not working for you. Few things works better than too many, always.
3. You don't know how to warm up.
This is very common too! You just do few arms circles, couple leg swings, some cobras and then... 5 minutes have passed and you think it's time to get to the hard stuff. Not really! I'm not saying to warm up an hour (even tho I can spend an hour warming up easily!) but at least give your body 20 minutes to raise its temperature, start greater blood flow and gentle opening up what's about to be stretched. I love warming up because it's also the time I start getting my mind ready and focus.
4. You jump to the hardest stretch without allowing your body to gradually open.
No wonder you feel stiff... You need to go from easier stretches to harder ones. Stretching is like a video game: you can't go to level 5 before passing through level 1,2,3,4, right? The easier stretches are necessary to open up your body, gradually and safely, so that when you attempt to do something harder, you put your body in the best condition for it. Do you think I go to the gym and flop into a cheststand? It takes me at least half hour ;)
5. You stretch only when you feel good.
If I had to stretch only on "good days", it would be probably once a week lol. But that doesn't make any progress happen! You need to get your body accustomed to the stretches, on good and bad days. Once I was told actually, the biggest growth you make it on bad days, not good ones. So if you decided to stretch 3 days a week, you will do it, no matter what.
6. You avoid stretching when stiff.
This is similar to the previous point. You'll need to stretch even when you feel you'll suck. Obviously you won't go so hard (keep in mind stiffness is one thing, being injured is another), but you gotta do it, because of what said in mistake #5. You'll feel better afterwards, and most probably you'll get rid of some of the stiffness, too!
7. You take long breaks.
This is highly counterproductive, and another very common mistake. You are trying to get your body more bendy, and you started maybe later in life, like me. You're basically trying to domesticate your muscles, tendons, ligaments, nervous system to another way of being, which is pretty uncomfortable at first if you ask me. And you think you can take 2 weeks off? Your body can't wait for that and reverse everything back to the previous state (before stretching), especially at the beginning. But that means basically flush down the toilet all the efforts and tiny changes in progress. Do not stop stretching especially if you're a beginner.
8. You switch your routine/exercises too often.
You try few times a certain pose, take a good picture of it, move on to something else. Or you keep getting distracted by Instagram craze challenges, or something you saw on Pinterest but wait, you already forgot. Get your brain out of social networks and into YOUR TRAINING, YOUR GOALS, YOUR PROGRESS. Forget what others do, and don't think just because you're getting tired of the same stretches, they are no longer effective. You can always get deeper and add variations to them. Have a stretching routine and do not change it, beside after few months, to add something new.
9. You look for stretches on Youtube.
Youtube if full of crap, be aware. Following a 10 year old doing triple folds doesn't sounds like a great idea, anyway.
10. You get out of a stretch the moment it feels uncomfortable.
There is a difference between uncomfortable and "I'm gonna die here, now". The uncomfortable is where the stretching process STARTS. The "I'm gonna die here, now" is where you actually make the real progress and set a new limit. Of couse I'm exaggerating, but what I mean is, you need to keep in mind flexibility involves a good dose of uncomfort, that sometimes it mixes with fear and desire to get out of a stretch right away. But as long as you're well warmed up, breathe, take it slowly and are in good teacher's hands, you'll be fine. Try to hold your stretches little over the uncomfortable level, just few seconds more and will make a big difference in the long run.
Hope you enjoyed this post, questions are welcome, and if you like, you can share it too!
I like to take notes of my body changes with training contortion, and lately I just came to a new interesting conclusion. Basically, the newest body part that improved in flexibility (by opening and stretching deeper to a new limit), it's also the first one to get stiff, sore and refuses to reach the new limit all the times. I'll try to be more clear: My 29 yo body didn't improve its flexibility all at once. It happened gradually and in "sections".
The first section of my body that got more flexible was my hips, it didn't take me long, also because of all body parts, my hips received some attentions in the past (through yoga and some stretching on my own). That's why I don't think I'll ever lose my splits. They are solid, they've been around for a while now, I rarely feel stiff in that area. My hips are definitely my most flexible body part and the first one of all to feel open.
my first split in 2008
When I started contortion I began to work on my back flexibility for the first time. I remember of all my back, my lower would get incredibly sore, and because of my long body, that area would naturally take a lot of the bend. I would rarely get sore above my lower back. I wasn't aware of the rest of my back (middle and upper), I couldn't tell what I was bending, beside when receiving passive stretches from my coach. With time the soreness on my lower back decreased, my body "accepted" the new flexibility: it stopped fighting against it and I started bending more evenly throughout my whole spine. Definitely the second section of my body to become more flexible was my lower back.
Lower back work in 2012, the beginning of contortion
After that, it was my shoulders. I spent lot of time creating more space in shoulder flexion, with many shoulder stretches and variations. I had way more muscle than flexibility there, but I feel my shoulders opened pretty good (even with a small past injury on my right one) with no major resistance from my body. I got some soreness, but definitely stopping altogether heavy pole practice and lifting weights helped a lot. I still have work to do but I'd say shoulders was my third body section to open.
Opening them up !
Now I can definitely say the newest section that started to finally give up and open is my middle and upper back. After approximately a year of contortion, I started really FEELING my middle and upper back getting more engaged in each stretch. I actually try to minimize lower back work and focus primarily on middle and upper. I need to actively relax my legs, breathe and send all my concentration to that area, and slowly I feel a response. So out of my WHOLE body, this is the part I'm taking to a new level lately and let me tell you, my body doesn't like it ALL the times. That's why on a stiff day, my middle and upper back are the FIRST to refuse to cooperate, they get stiff and leave hips, lower back and shoulders all the work. This is what the title of this post is about, the last body part that opens, is the first one to close and go "on strike" every now and then, a newborn flexibility that can hypothetically even disappear if you stop trying. So do not take breaks, you should be working your hardest on your most challenging body part. You could have the opposite situation of me: a very bendy back and stiff hips. Let's say you work a while on your splits and one day you finally get to the floor, yay! Then you try another day and... it's not happening. WHY! Your body has not forgotten you did the splits, it's just having a hard time making it happen all the times, but eventually it WILL. So don't get discouraged, give your body the time (could be weeks, months, or more...each body is different) to be ok with the new way of being you're creating for it. When you set a new limit you will get it gradually more often, as long as you practice and don't stop :)
This question reminds me something I used to be asked a LOT when I was doing fitness: can I build muscle and lose fat at the same time? Well in total honesty and from my humble experience, our body doesn't like to do more than one thing at a time. To some degree you can become flexible and strong, but I don't believe the two can happen together, you'll have to work first on passive flexibility (lengthen), then on active flexibility (lengthen+strengthen). Working only on active flexibility will not deepen your stretches, but control them better. First off let me define what active and passive flexibility are: active flexibility is "the ability to assume and maintain extended positions using only the tension of the agonists and synergists muscles while the antagonists are being stretched", like for example lifting your leg as high as you can, with no help from your hands. Passive flexibility is "the ability to assume and maintain extended positions using only your weight, the support of your limbs or some other apparatus (a chair, blocks etc)", splits on the floor are an example of passive flexibility."Research has shown that active flexibility is more closely related to the level of sports achievement than is passive flexibility. Active flexibility is harder to develop than passive flexibility; not only does active flexibility require passive flexibility in order to assume an initial extended position, it also requires muscle strength to be able to hold and maintain that position."
I believe active flexibility works best with those who already have good flexibility foundation and actually need more muscle strength and control for their sport, or they tend to be more supple than average people and unstable in the joints so strengthening is a priority (kids are the perfect example). Passive flexibility works best for everyone else who lack muscle suppleness and the ability to relax (tend to be stiff -->most adults, over 20-25 yo). If you're starting out as an adult I'd learn first how to RELAX your muscles with passive stretches, create space, lengthen, learn how to breathe and let go of unneeded tension. Adult bodies are stiff and active flexibility alone won't increase dramatically suppleness, I'm not saying it wouldn't work but I would integrate it later on when a basic foundation of passive flexibility has been established.
Me in passive stretching, oversplit on couch
and active, from standing going into bridge
On good training days, toward the end of my practice, I enter this "super wise/happy" state ( thank you endorphins) where I understand very clearly some aspects of life, I get great ideas, think motivational quotes and overall I feel a positive attitude toward everything. It sucks that it doesn't last long, but if you can catch some of the thoughts you have during this state and write them down, it can help you on less-happy days. So today I was thinking how much I can relate contortion training (or training overall) with life. Those are some examples:
1. There will ALWAYS be good days and bad days. On good days you'll push yourself forward, on bad days you'll push yourself ... Just enough. But overall you'll always need a "fighter mentality", getting depressed or feeling miserable have really no benefits. You can be mad, cry, let it all out, but then pick yourself up and keep going. Nobody can do it for you, to get over something like a bad day there is only one way... Go through it.
2. Motivation will be high some days, low others. On low days, remember yourself why you do what you do, and think: "today is difficult, but if I go through this, I'll definitely be stronger tomorrow". Motivation helps and makes the journey enjoyable, but if one day is not there, doesn't mean you can take a break. Like a chore, just do it.
3. Pain, fear (as in challenge), fatigue. Life and training share those too. If you train your body to deal with those, your mind will learn and use this approach with different matters other than training. I'm a strong believer that strengthening the body strengthens the mind as well.
4. Patience, perseverance. With contortion I learned even more how important is to be patient. Whenever you want to build something solid, real and long lasting (like a skill, or career, education, relationship) you'll need time. Lot of it. If you stay committed and focus, you'll get there. You have to be serious with your intentions and don't get distracted.
5. Commitment and choices. In life you won't be good at everything nor you'll have everything you want, but SOME, yes. You'll make the conscious decision of what this will be (if you're lucky!), and dedicate your time to it, swear by it, love it and take care of it. Just like marriage, you'll have this approach to a person or a passion (mine is training! If you didn't get it yet lol).
That's it so far! My "high on training" is fading away :)
At some point, starting out or few months in with flexibility training, you'll question if what you're doing is actually realistic and worth it, you'll have doubts and often you'll tell yourself something to justify the journey's difficulties (that's the purpose of excuses). If you believe in an excuse, you think you have a reason to quit. But guess what, excuses are not a reason to quit, more like an obstacle to overcome. Here are the most common flexibility excuses, many of which I personally experienced:
I'm too old. This is by far the MOST common excuse, and it's understandable, but it's not our biggest limitation (our MIND is). It's understandable because as we age, flexibility decreases, but with consistency and dedication, you can be more flexible of a teenager who stretches inconsistently and with no dedication. Also, you have to set goals that are challenging yet realistic.
(I started to stretch at 27 yo!)
I'm not naturally flexible. Well, so is the remaining 80-90% of the world population. So you're not alone! You can teach your body how to become flexible.
My bone structure doesn't allow me do certain stretches. Ok, first of all, who said that and why? Do not believe anything you hear, unless it's proven and comes from medical sources. Second, what about trying different stretches? There can be some positions or exercises that feel particularly uncomfortable (I personally don't like to push too much my lower back) so it's totally fine to do different ones. That's one thing I love about flexibility, you can always find new ways to stretch your body safely and without unnecessary pain.
I get too sore. It's gonna happen. But it will also get better with time. Make sure you rest and take hot baths to help your body recover.
My legs/torso are too long. That's my excuse sometimes! But again not enough to make me stop. We all have different body proportions (people with short back can head-sit easier, for example). I have to work extra hard to control my long body (I'm 5'10") and sometimes it feels very heavy to maneuver and bend.
(I have a love/hate relationship with handstands. So damn hard!)
I have no time.
Not a good excuse, if you find an hour a day for Facebook/TV, you can find it for stretching ;)
I'm scared to push myself. It is very scary to go deeper into stretches at the beginning, because mostly your mind doesn't believe you can do it. Remember your body can do double, triple of what your mind thinks. Relax and breathe. And have someone with experience on your side to assist you in case.
My coach always makes me feel safe!
I'm naturally stiff. This goes hand in hand with the "I'm not naturally flexible" one. If you knew you can reach a goal, but it would take you extra time and work, wouldn't you still go for it? Believing is achieving. Others are way better than me. Who cares! You are not them. You are you. Find what set you from the rest, don't try to be someone else. Why would you wanna be someone else's bad copy? Be your own best. Somewhere I read "Comparison is the thief of joy". It's so true. I have past injuries, I can't do it. You can always work around injuries. Actually, all active people go through injuries all the times, it's quite normal. I myself have a not so great left hamstring and right shoulder, but I have my ways around it and warm up really good. Some old injuries will always stick with you, they'll come and go. Other ones will heal completely, and stretching will help the process.
Do you stretch? What's your excuse?