Most people want to wake up every day with no aches and pains, and move easily. Having a good level of flexibility is one thing that will make a difference to this. However, even if you know that, it doesn’t mean it’s as simple as just getting started. It can be hard to know where to look, which programme to follow, which piece of advice to listen to. Surely there is a correct way to stretch? Yes and no, because everyone’s different. There is no correct way, but the best way for you and your body.
If you know you aren’t very flexible or you feel stiff you might think you need to start stretching every area of your body. This would be time consuming, hard to maintain long term as it’s a big jump from no stretching at all, and it can mean slower progress. It’s the same as working towards any goal. You pick just one, or sometimes two, but you don’t try and work towards ten at once. That’s too much to focus on at once, and it’s likely you wouldn’t reach any of those goals.
It helps to keep stretching simple. Figure out what you want to prioritise, and focus on that. If you wanted to improve movement in your hips, you only need a couple of stretches to practice. Choose a protocol that makes sense to you and follow it. Then build a habit of adding stretching in to your daily routine, whether that’s first thing in the morning, during a break at work, or after your training session.
As a coach, put an emphasis on exploring flexibility training within your own practice. Stretching is something that takes time to gain confidence with. It requires listening to your body and understanding the difference between no stretch, a bit of discomfort, and when to stop before you push too far and hurt yourself. Making it a priority means when it comes to teaching flexibility, you can pass on that ability to develop confidence and independence to your students.
In one of my classes I asked my students to choose what they needed to work on and start stretching, and then I’d come round and help. They all got started, using different techniques we’d been learning, and really they didn’t need much input from me in that particular session. After months and months of practice, they’d gained awareness of their own needs, and they’d developed the confidence and independence to go and do it themselves.
As you would with your own training, you’ve got to be able to progress with your students. Recognise that they will improve, and what they need will change. Teach them new things if and when it becomes helpful for them to learn. Show them that they can push to a certain point. You’ve got to be able to modify for different abilities and make flexibility training accessible to all levels. Learn from what you experience, pass this on to your students, and then in turn learn from them.
If you don’t have someone coaching you through it, there are some important things to remember. Slow down. Stretching requires a lot of patience as progress can often be slow, so trying to rush your progress won’t be beneficial. We receive emails asking how to achieve the splits in two weeks, or asking why not much progress has been made after a month. Stretching is one step at a time. It’s little and often and being consistent.
Less is more. You don’t need to do all the stretches you could possibly find to improve your hip flexibility or achieve the splits. Try out a few and see which ones feel like they target your tightest points. Focus on just three or four stretches at a time, and pay attention to your progress. Whenever you feel you’re hitting a plateau, reassess and make changes if you need to. You can always change your approach. These concepts are something I’ve learnt from GMB Fitness by following their stretching programme, Focused Flexibility. If you’re unsure of where to start, or you’re looking to supplement your flexibility training, this is a great programme to check out.
There is no universal rule on how you should stretch. When it comes to improving flexibility there is no right or wrong way. Progress is a reflection of the time and patience you put into it. Stretching is a way to explore your own body. Whether you’re stretching with weights, holding static stretches, or stretching with a partner, you’ll get out what you put in. So take your time, be consistent, and keep working towards better movement and more freedom in your own body.