Flexibility Related Cognitive Distortions

Just because a thought is intense, persuasive or repetitive, doesn’t make it true. 
Ashleigh Flanagan
November 13, 2021

In this series on flexibility beliefs:

The first post in this series focused on common unhelpful flexibility beliefs; beliefs that reinforce behaviour that is detrimental to your progress (e.g. avoiding training things that are challenging), heighten unpleasant physical sensations and evoke uncomfortable emotions. 

Read the blog post here

We explored helpful flexibility beliefs related to adaptability, personal control, acceptance and robustness. Helpful flexibility beliefs lead to reduced sensitivity and increased tolerance to stretch as they support consistent, challenging, safe and mindful flexibility training.

Read the blog post here

In the last post, we learned to begin nurturing helpful flexibility beliefs by practising thought monitoring during stretching to identify thoughts negatively impacting our flexibility training. 

Read the blog post here

Flexibility Related Cognitive Distortions

First, it’s important to recognise that we have thousands of thoughts a day, up to a new thought every second, and none of these are absolute facts. Most thoughts flow in and out of our consciousness, and we pay little mind to them, but some grab and hold our attention. Just because a thought is intense, persuasive or repetitive, doesn’t make it true. 

Cognitive distortions are thoughts that reinforce unhelpful beliefs and confirm our unquestioned biases. They are usually driven by strong emotions rather than reality, so they are common when training flexibility due to the impact of the sympathetic nervous system. 

Common cognitive distortions that impact flexibility training

Cognitive distortions usually reflect an unhelpful thinking style. So when you interrogate them, you will notice they aren’t based on facts, don’t reflect a balanced view, arent helpful or can’t be known.

To identify if a thought is a cognitive distortion, ask yourself these questions (some are more applicable in certain situations):

  1. What are the facts?
  2. Is this always true?
  3. What is the likelihood this will happen?
  4. Are there other ways I could think about myself or this situation?
  5. Is it helpful for me to think this?
  6. Am I basing my thoughts on facts or on feelings?
  7. What are the positives in this situation?’
  8. Am I having this thought out of habit, or do facts support it?
  9. Am I underestimating myself?

Catastrophising: Believing a situation is worse than it is or will result in a negative occurrence in the future.


‘If I stretch my splits now, I won’t be able to walk when I am older’
‘Stretching causes arthritis’
'If you feel pain, you are causing damage'
‘Bending causes slipped disks’

Negative filtering: Focusing only on the negatives of a situation and ignoring the positives.


‘It doesn’t matter that I can do front splits, I can’t do middle splits’
‘That bridge doesn’t count because I have bent arms’
‘Even though I have improved, it’s not good enough

All or nothing thinking: Seeing only the extremes of any situation. Things are either good or bad, right or wrong.


‘If I can’t be the most flexible, there is no point in me trying’
‘Unless I stretch further each time I won’t get better.
‘Sub-max stretching is a waste of time’

Labelling: Stereotyping yourself in a way that affects your expectations.


‘I’m too old to train flexibility’
‘I’m too stiff to stretch’
‘I don’t need to train because i’m already bendy’

Emotional reasoning: Believing that how you feel is the truth of a situation automatically and unconditionally.


‘It feels bad when I stretch so I must be doing it wrong’
‘I feel anxious when I stretch, so stretching must be bad for me’

Minimisation: Downplaying your role, responsibility or abilities in a situation.


‘I can’t stretch properly on my own’
‘I don’t have the skills and knowledge to stretch’
‘There is nothing I can do to improve my flexibility

The Peak-End rule: Judging an experience by how you feel at the most intense point.


‘I can’t tolerate stretching as I find it overwhelming’
‘Stretching classes are unbearable’
‘Stretching makes me anxious and panicky’

Optimism bias: Believing that we are more likely to achieve our goals and less likely to suffer setbacks than other people.


‘If I can’t do something, there must be a trick to it’
‘I'm strong, I'll never injury myself’
‘I’m naturally flexible, I don’t need to train’
‘This time is different. I’m going to stretch each day for an hour and sit in a split watching TV’

Should / must statements: Believing in a set of rules that apply to all people or in all situations.


‘I should stretch my split everyday’ 
‘I should avoid stretching if I have an injury’
‘I must use a foam roller to release my back before back bending’
‘I must avoid passive stretching to become flexible’

Dunning-Kruger effect: Mistakenly believing you know more than others about a subject.


‘I have been stretching for years, I know what works for me’
‘There is only one way to train flexibility’
‘A coach/ physio/ teacher/friend/ blog post once told me that doing that is wrong’

What now?

No doubt you have experienced some of these thoughts (or similar) when stretching. In the next blog post in this series, we will explore reframing common unhelpful thoughts about flexibility.

Book a physio appointment now

Continue Reading

pushpress gym management software for boutique gyms and fitness studios