Im always in awe of those very bendy people. No matter what time of day or night, circumstances, warm up or not, they can bend.
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!
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 :)