While I wont go into too much detail about which particular stretches are good and what for, I will share with you a few tips to help you succeed.
Stretching really is great but we need to make sure we are doing it in the right ways to benefit us and keep us safe. There’s no point stretching if we are not doing it right!
Before I really go into it I’m just going to tell you the most important rule – make sure you warm up. If you are stretching your whole body this takes a long time and you may find for example, that your back has gone cold and needs another warm up of its own. Make sure you are being safe. If you start to shake when you are stretching you have gone too far in the stretch and need to pull back. If you feel pain when stretching – stop. Yes, stretching hurts and we need to breathe through it, but we also know when it’s bad pain and just need to stop.
How To Get The Most Out Of Stretches
Firstly I’ll talk about front and back splits. Now pretty much all of us want to be flat in our splits, which is a great and achievable goal – it will take time and frequent stretching. We don’t want to cheat this – make sure your hips are square! You might be thinking who cares about straight hips if your splits are flat… Well I do 🙂 Usually when your hips aren’t straight it means muscles on one side of your body are tighter than the other and need to be stretched more to balance it out.
When my hips aren’t straight I put my hand on the back hip and push it forward to keep it straight. Yes I’m further away at the moment but it’ll get flat this way, just might take a little longer. It can really help to work in pairs to keep each other flat – push gently on the back hip in the same way to keep your partner straight.
There are loads of pole moves that give the illusion of being in the splits when you aren’t so imagine how much better all of your split moves will be if you can actually do the splits properly!
Whether you are stretching at home or in class you must feel it where you are meant to. If you can’t feel it you are either hyper-mobile or most likely are doing it wrong! The problem teachers and instructors have with stretching is that they can look at you but can’t always see if you are stretching the right muscle or stretching intensely enough. Sometimes it is obvious when your body is not in the right position but as we have varying degrees of flexibility, my body will need to be in a slightly different position than others to feel the same stretch ie legs further apart. Speak up and ask – instructors should be able to put you in the right position or give you a different stretch. To those of you who are hyper-mobile, your task is not to stretch, but to strengthen those muscles instead!
If it hurts stop and ask for a different stretch to do. Everyone is different and so sometimes the stretches need to be different too. There’s a DVD I love using to stretch but one move is a foot and ankle stretch which I avoid. My ankles are ‘unstable’ and stretching isn’t going to help… It also hurts in a bad way and so isn’t good for me.
Make sure you hold your stretches. Your muscles need time to get used to being in that position and feeling that’s it’s okay. How often do learn something on the first try? We need practice and so do our muscles.
Depending on what, how and why you are stretching you will need to hold your stretches for a different amount of time. I’m currently holding my stretches for at least 1 min but this is due to a high level of training I’m undertaking for the next few weeks, and having time to stretch properly.
There are many different types of stretching that require you to hold for different amounts of time, sometimes then going further into your stretch. I’ll save those specifics for another article, but do a little research on developmental or PNF stretches if you want to know more.
Holding is good, so deep breaths and keep pushing.
Use Your Muscles
Okay so this might sound odd to you but it works. A lot of the time when people stretch, they go to the point of tension and stop. Obviously we don’t want to go too far but think about this… Stand up while keeping your legs straight and take your arms up above your head. Keep your arms straight and reach towards the floor trying to touch the ground. The most important thing is too keep your legs straight and reach down – it doesn’t matter yet if you can’t touch the ground, just reach as far as you can. At this point you think you’ve gone as far as you can, but try to use the muscles in your back to push you further towards the ground and you’ll hopefully find that you’ve got a little more stretch in you.
You quite often have to use a different muscle group to push you in the right place when stretching a body part. This really does work. Again it increases the intensity but it’ll get us further and is safer. You will also have more control over your body.
There are loads are really great partner stretches. It’s great to have someone else stretch you as they can apply the effort while you think about focusing on stretching and breathing. They usually don’t let you give up when you otherwise may have done so!
If you are stretching your partner, make sure you talk to them. Ask them if it feels okay or if they want more pressure. Ask if you are putting equal pressure on both sides.
Make sure you are stretching them properly – their level of flexibility will be different to yours so you may or may not be able to go further than them. It’s important not to force their bodies. Go nice and slow and gently start to increase the pressure.
Go At Your Own Level
Stretching takes time and it can be frustrating when the results can take weeks, months or even years to show. Going at your own level will help to keep your body safe. Just because the girl next to you can get flat in the splits, it doesn’t mean you have to jump and force your body into positions it’s not yet ready for. Take it slow and you will get there!
Keep safe and keep stretching 😀