Flexibility is key for a healthy, fun, and active lifestyle! But did you know that we lose about 10% of our flexibility every decade? This can happen all at once, or 1% a year - but overall we lose 10% per decade. So, its crucial that we keep working on our flexibility especially as we age - if we dont use it, we lose it! It doesnt have to be complicated though, you just have to be willing to put in the work. Whether you simply want to stay limber for everyday life as you age or learn a deeper pose like the splits, here are four tips to help you become more flexible:
1. Practice regularly
The best way to become more flexible is... drumroll.... to practice. Regularly! If you want to see results, you have to show up consistently. Personally I prefer to work one area at a time for my more advanced flexibility skills, so I'll do backbends one day, splits the next, then take a rest day, and then start over. I do specific flexibility training with drills and stretches that are super targeted for my goals. You can also take regular yoga classes to become more flexible overall, it depends on your specific goals. For me, I really want my splits so I do dedicated training towards my splits a couple of times a week - which is unrelated to my yoga practice. However you prefer to practice, the most important thing is that you do it consistently, even if its just for a few minutes a day.
2. Choose the right poses, drills & techniques
Depending on your goals you may want to come up with a targeted program for the specific poses you want to unlock. Lets say you're working on your splits - going to regular yoga classes a few times a week is certainly not going to hurt, but it won't necessarily get you into your splits. In order to do the splits, you need targeted drills to open up the areas where you're tight and strengthen areas where you're weak. For me, I have tight hamstrings AND hip flexors, but they're both also weak. So I have to work on a lot of hip strength and active flexibility in addition to deep stretches in order to get my splits. I dont have them yet but I'm inching closer and closer each week! Its a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but its SO worth it!
3. Warm up
A proper warm up is so important - it makes your practice feel better, helps minimize the risk of injury, and helps you get into deeper stretches and thus get more out of your practice. If I'm practicing splits, I'll warm up my hips with lots of hip circles, lunges, squat variations, fire hydrants, glute bridges, etc. I almost always start off with strength and stability work before practicing something advanced like splits. The more stable your body is, the safer your brain feels, hence it will allow for more range of motion. If I'm doing weight lifting at the gym I'll start off with some mobility drills. Warming up is KEY, whatever physical activity you're doing! Below is a great Pilates class to use as a warmup if you're working on splits or middle splits, as it'll activate all your glute muscles (the minimus, medius and maximus):
I feel like this is borderline cliche at this point, but here's why its important: your breathing directly affects your brain and nervous system. Depending on how you're breathing, your brain will either think you're safe or you're in danger. If you havent done the splits before or its not something you do on a regular basis, your brain will think its unsafe. It'll try to protect you by limiting your range of motion and if your breathing is short, fast, and shallow your brain will interpret that as a sign of danger and will tighten everything up even more. If you instead breathe deep and slow with longer exhales, your brain will interpret that as you're in a safe place - hence it'll allow for more range of motion. Most of your range of motion is determined by your brain and nervous system, and thats why the breath is SO important. So find your edge where the splits feel challenging but not so intense that you cant keep your breathing calm.
Becoming more flexible doesn't have to be complicated or intimidating! With just a few simple steps such as practicing regularly, choosing appropriate poses & drills for your goals, warming up before each session, and taking deep breaths while practicing—you'll be able to improve your flexibility without a doubt! But I'm not going to lie - its not always easy... Its HARD work, especially if you're working towards an advanced pose like splits, or if you dont have a background in gymnastics (I never did much as a kid and I have to work twice as hard now haha!). But its all possible with practice and there is no better feeling than unlocking a new level of flexibility! Its a feeling that you cant get from anything but hard work, discipline, and dedication - no money in the world can buy you the ability to do the splits and there's something so special about that :)
Happy practicing, lovelies!