Ok guys let’s take a second here and have a bit of a chat will we.
When I say flexibility, what comes to mind?
I bet the first thing that you think of is ‘strong as hell’, right?
That’s because when people think of flexibility, they think of little gymnasts folded in two just hanging out.
Or dancers in splits for what seems like forever.
Now you’re not totally wrong there. The practice of holding a stretch and allowing gravity to pull you into it is a type of stretching called passive flexibility.
Depending on context, as context is king after all, it might well be the correct choice.
BUT, you can get flexible using your brain and some choice techniques.
I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of passive stretching as I’m not really a fan of creating all this extra range of movement if you’re not making the joints stable or you aren’t developing the strength to support them.
Because just creating extra range is only one part of the puzzle.
You can’t forget the square of awesomeness. Crap name I know.
The four elements or corners are:
If you train only one of these four elements, the square falls to apart and I’m afraid that way injury lies my friend.
Each of these elements is vital for creating strong, mobile and most importantly versatile bodies that can adapt to the unexpected or whatever demands you or your sport puts on it.
So how do we build strength at the same time as length or mobility at the same time as stability?
With my favourite thing ever………
Stretching with weights!
that’s right you heard me. This magical thing I speak of is called active flexibility.
Active flexibility is stretching with purpose.
You are using a wide combination of things to build that range and more importantly the strength and stability in that range.
You are really using your muscles if you’re doing any active flexibility correctly. From the engagement and extension to the antagonist muscles pulling you into the stretch. If you’re doing it right, you should be all a quiver and have a pump afterwards.
You are naturally flexible. Just look at passed out drunks. What inhibits that natural flexibility is your brain. Your brain won’t let you do anything it thinks isn’t safe and that you have a chance of fucking up.
So, if you’re not strong enough to get yourself out of a position then hell no will it let you get into it.
So, a way around this is to give your brain a task. The brain loves tasks.
If your brain has a task it will allow you to move into deeper ranges to accomplish that task and every time you move into those ranges you’re cementing those neural pathways telling your brain you’re not an idiot, you won’t get hurt and you’re safe in that range.
We can use weights to help us move into deeper ranges and build muscle and stability in those ranges. Which in turn will build neural confidence, after all you’ll always regret not training the position you got injured in.
You need to build the link between body and brain that says you have the strength to move through these positions.
So, let’s talk about how you can make these principles work for you.
I’ll cover one exercise for front splits. One for middle split and one for straddle fold.
Let’s start with the front splits. We’ll apply the task principle here. What we are going to do is get into a half kneeling position with a small ball in front of the lead foot.
Straighten the front leg and start to slide out into as big a split as you can while pushing the ball in front of you.
Now here’s the task part, as you reach the limit of your split you need to hook the foot press that straight front leg into the floor and bring that ball back with you as you return to the start position.
Watch the video here to see how it’s done.
Next we'll go with the straddle fold and the working muscles principle.
We are going to start quite high, so sitting on the couch is perfect.
Shuffle your bum to the edge of the couch. Get your legs into as wide a straddle as possible.
This is your starting position.
Lean forward and try to get your upper body as close to parallel to the floor as you can.
From there you’re going to really engage those glutes and adductors to help yourself stand up without momentum. Then you’re going to lower yourself back down, under control to the couch.
Here’s the video to get you started:
Lastly were going to bust out the weights for the middle splits. I’m sure we all know the horse stance as a conditioning tool but if not, I cover it in the video below.
We get into a nice wide horse stance holding a weight in each hand. We need to make sure we can still get deep enough that our knees are bent at 90 degrees.
We are then going to shoulder press the weights alternatively and every time we press up, we straighten the legs to stand up.
As the weight comes back down to the shoulders, we let that extra weight help us sink deeper down into the horse stance each time. Eventually we keep widening the horse stance until it resembles the middle split.
Here’s the full video:
Out of all these different aspects of active flexibility comes one thing and its true for all training.
Flexibility, movement and muscle activation lives in the brain. When you train at the gym you aren’t training your body.
You’re training your brain.
You’re giving your brain a task and to complete that task its building neural maps and increasing the muscles activation needed as it sees that task has to be completed regularly.
To accomplish any training goal, you have to convince the brain its safe and important enough to focus on because after all, your brains priorities necessarily aren’t your priorities. Your brain doesn’t give a shit if you want a six pack, it just doesn’t want you to fall off that balcony trying to impress Brenda from no 64.
Get some flexibility gains and some brain gains by taking a more neruo-biomechanical approach to your training. Think of the square of awesomeness. You’ll get hurry less and you’ll never look back.