The most common reasons for not making the progress you desire are:
1. Not training flexibility consistently
2. Your flexibility training is not specific to your goals
3. No training plan
4. Your training load isn't right for you
5. Unhelpful flexibility beliefs are holding you back
6. Increased nervous system sensitivity
7. The physical 10%ers
8. Individual difference
Read on to learn more about each.
Not training flexibility consistently
How often you should train your flexibility depends on many factors, but it needs to be frequent and consistent as a general rule. By training consistently, you show your body it has nothing to fear from stretching and teach it to accept a new normal.
Your flexibility training is not specific to your goals
You won't achieve your flexibility goals by just stretching. If you want your middle split, your training needs to focus on middle splits. If you want to improve your active flexibility, you need to train your active flexibility.
No training plan
Failing to plan is planning to fail. Your plan does not need to be elaborate, but it will keep your training focused and help you stay on track. Your plan needs to consider flexibility training principles and be realistic. For example, don't plan to train four hours each day if that doesn't fit your lifestyle.
Your training load isnt right for you
Flexibility training involves developing a tolerance for the uncomfortable experience that is stretching whilst developing physical and mental robustness. This means that the training stimulus must be enough to demand change, but gradual enough to allow the body opportunity to change. Both too little and too much training load will slow your progress, but too much load can result in injury and burnout. Training load can be managed by adjusting the dose of specific drills, the frequency and duration of training sessions, your rest and recovery, and the content, complexity and intensity of sessions.
Unhelpful flexibility beliefs are holding you back
As with anything, the way we think can make a massive difference to our flexibility training. Flaws or biases in our thinking can affect how we perceive ourselves and our training, limiting us or even stopping us from trying in the first place.
'It feels bad when I stretch so I must be doing it wrong.'
'I'm just not flexible.'
'I'll never get any better; there's no point trying.'
'People are just born flexible.'
'If I stretch now, I won't be able to walk when I'm older.'
'Stretching shouldn't hurt.'
'I don't have time to stretch.'
'There is nothing more I could learn about flexibility training.'
It can be challenging to identify thoughts that are holding us back. It takes practice. Try asking yourself;
Is it helpful for me to think this?'
'What is the evidence for this?'
'Is this always true?'
'Are there other ways I could think about myself or this situation?'
There are many ways to improve your mindset for flexibility training, but identifying unhelpful thoughts and challenging these is a great start.
Increased central nervous system sensitivity
The central nervous system (CNS) is the part of the nervous system consisting of the brain and spinal cord. Nothing happens in our body without influence from the CNS; however, most of our bodies actions occur subconsciously and automatically. Pain is an experience that is a product of the CNS, designed to be protective, in response to a perceived threat. Because of this, we are sensitive to experiencing pain and often feel pain in the absence of danger or damage. Pain is usually in response to unfamiliar stimuli, such as stretching further than usual. It's important to note that unfamiliar doesn't necessarily mean dangerous. The CNS can become extra sensitive, and we can experience more pain when our body is more vulnerable or when we feel anxious or threatened. This can include when we are stressed, sick, sleep poorly, overload or burnt out. The first step to reducing this sensitivity is to work on improving your lifestyle and practising mindfulness when stretching.
The Physical 10%ers
Muscle weakness: Your body will try to protect the valuable tissue of your joints by not allowing you to stretch into positions that you can't maintain or move in and out of with control. Your progress will be affected if you don't have strength through the full range of your joint, at the end range of your joint, or a significant imbalance between agonist and antagonist muscles.
Inadequate joint control: A lot of your ability to control a joint comes from muscle strength; however, deficits in proprioception (ability to sense where a joint is in space), balance or neurological control will limit your ability to stretch further.
Nutrition/hydration: You need to make sure you are fuelling your body right. Stretching increases your body's need for protein, just like resistance training. Adequate hydration will maximise the extensibility of muscle tissue and lubrication of connective tissue, allowing you to stretch further.
Temperature: Warm external temperature and warm peripheries will increase tissue extensibility and increase pain tolerance during stretching. It is beneficial to warm up well and even heat your environment during cold weather.
Yes, we are all different, but often anatomical, histological or pathological differences limit us less than we imagine and less than other factors. These factors seldom stop us from improving, but they can make progress slower and more challenging.
Age: As we age, our tissues become less hydrated. As a result, our tissue is less extensible and less lubricated. It can make progress slower, but it does not mean we can't increase our flexibility.
Sex: Generally, females have relatively more elastic fibres in their connective tissue than men, meaning they can experience less passive resistance to stretch. Skeletal differences between men and women can also affect. For example, pelvic and hip changes at puberty in females can reduce the amount of hip abduction available. Hormonal differences can also affect flexibility.
Musculoskeletal system: Our potential to increase our joints' range, and the length of our muscles is limited. Still, the vast majority of people don't get close to their anatomical limit even with years of training. This is because when we are conscious, our flexibility is never limited by our nervous system rather than our structure.
Pathology: Many conditions that affect the neuromusculoskeletal system will impact flexibility training, including; autoimmune , connective tissue, neurological and
pain disorders. Managing any medical conditions well and maintain good general health will help. Also be aware that drugs that impact hydration, neurotransmitters, pain or inflammation will affect flexibility training. Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to give you more guidance.
Even after a very mild injury, joint range will be limited. Most of the time, your flexibility will not be restored until your strength and control is better than it was before your injury. This is why stretching related injuries take months to years to rehabilitate properly. Flexibility related injuries require consistent, graded loading. Complete rest will never be enough. Speak to your physiotherapist because every injury is different and requires individual treatment.
Progress is Progress
Usually, if we are training consistently, we are progressing, but we might not recognise this. Flexibility takes time. It often takes months of training to see improvement. Increases in joint range may be the last sign of progress. We need to acknowledge all improvements.
Signs of Flexibility progress;
-You require less warm-up to get to the same range
-You are more comfortable at the same range
-You can hold the stretch for longer
-Your active flexibility or control in the stretch has improved
-Your alignment has improved
-You can move in and out of the stretch more easily or with more variety.
Want to learn more? Check out our intensive flexibility course, AirSpace Flexibility Mastery via the link: