Why Take Flexibility Progress Pictures?
I advocate taking progress photos to track flexibility training and target the aesthetic you are after. The main reason is that it always feels awful when you challenge yourself training flexibility. Stretching only feels ‘good’ when you are in familiar ranges that don’t challenge you. At least some level of challenge to our system is required to make progress.
Your sympathetic nervous system enacts a fight/ flight response when you challenge yourself in training. Think of it as your subconscious self saying, ‘this is new. Are you sure about this?’. You may feel nervous, notice your heart racing, and experience a strong desire to stop doing what you are doing. At this time, you are more sensitive to pain (things that wouldn’t usually be painful are painful) and have less pain tolerance (ability to access skills and strategies that help you ‘sit with’ pain) than usual. You are also more likely to experience unhelpful emotions and thoughts that make you less likely to continue your training. It’s common to have sessions where you feel disheartened, hopeless, and think you will never improve. It’s part of the fight or flight response and is unlikely to reflect reality. This is the perfect time to use photos as evidence of your progress.
When to take progress pictures
I encourage people to take progress pictures from the beginning of their flexibility training journey. So often, people feel needlessly embarrassed or self-conscious, but we all have to start somewhere! By the time you begin to feel good about your progress you have missed recording the efforts of a lot of hard work and dedication.
It’s best to take progress pics after a training session or class. Be warmed up. Pushing yourself to get deeper ‘for the gram’ is an excellent way to injurer yourself and slow your progress.
You don’t need to take a progress pic every time you train. Suppose it isn’t a great training day for you, it’s ok to leave the pic till next time, especially if you feel your confidence will take a hit. Being consistent is more important. Try to get a progress pic at least once every three months. If you feel taking progress pics monopolises your training time or becomes unhelpful, limit yourself to once a month.
How to take a progress picture or video
If you are really serious about using pictures to track your progress, you need to standardise your photos as well as you can.
To standardise photos and videos;
- Pick a pose or stretch that you are working on that you can reproduce without support or a lot of equipment. E.g. a supported front split might be better than a suspended split in a hammock if you don’t often have access to a hammock.
- Orientate the pose in the same way each time. E.g. outside leg forward in the front split.
- Try to angle the pose the same way each time. Lining yourself up with a wall is helpful.
- Position your camera/ phone at the same angle and height each time. This is a big one. You can see below the same split looks very different, taken from waist height with a superior camera angle Vs Knee height with a neutral camera angle Vs from the floor with an inferior camera angle (I have turned my iPhone upside down). The lower the camera, the more the picture will highlight gaps under the leg, which can be less flattering but show your progress more accurately.
Other things to consider:
- Wear clothes that contrast against your floor and backdrop.
- Try not to film using zoom as this distorts the picture (Things to the outside of the picture are lengthened).
- Videos of how you get in and out of a position can show a lot more about your progress than a screenshot but are not quite as easy to compare like for like.
- Things like alignment, strength, control and confidence are difficult to see in a picture.
- Don’t bother with apps to measure joint angles. They increase inaccuracy by highlighting problems in standardisation and can be easily tweaked to make a pose look better or worse, depending on your purpose. Even though I have tried to standardise this picture and am trying to use anatomical landmarks, there is a lot of room for error, especially if I use a finger.
- Generally, things that make for more flattering poses in a photo shoot are not what you are going for when trying to get a standardised progress pic. The set-up that highlights your weaknesses will best show off your progress.
But what if your progress pics don’t show progress?
Flexibility varies from day to day, depending on so many things. The things that will impact your flexibility the most in the short term are stress, poor sleep, overtraining/under-recovery, pain/injury, and inadequate hydration. Progress should be judged over the mid to long term, months to years rather than session to session. If you are training consistently, working on your weaknesses and being goal-specific, you are almost certainly making progress.
Signs of flexibility progress
Often an increase in joint range is the last sign of progress. It’s important to recognise and acknowledge all signs of improvement that can include;
-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 efficiently or with more variety.
-It takes less time to recover.
-You feel more confident training flexibility.
-You have more ‘good’ flexibility days than stiff/sore days.
-You feel more optimistic during your training.
-You are training more consistently.
-You notice less unhelpful intrusive thoughts during your training such as ‘ill never get any -better, ‘I can’t tolerate this’, ‘this if not possible for me’, or ‘if it hurts I’m doing something wrong.’
-Other people notice your improvement even if you don’t.
Progress pics can be helpful, but they aren't everything. Sometimes the perfect progress picture breaks all the rules. Therefore, it's always important to remind yourself why you are training flexibility anytime you take a progress pic.