When I realised my lack flexibility was holding me back (and the reason why I kept getting injured) it really bugged me that I had no idea where to start!
The internet was full of Movement Gurus that had been into movement/mobility pretty much their entire life... I had been into it for about 5 minutes and if I’m honest I was a bit out of breath already.
One of the very first things I came across was a challenge to sit in a squat for as long as you can every day and it will improve your squat, seemed simple enough, so I tried it. My knees and back hurt straight away, so how long do I hold it? Will the pain go away? Should I be feeling sore? Do I keep just pushing through the pain?
The people who were recommending sitting in a squat for as long as you can had picture perfect squats and probably had done for years... my squat looked like someone had kicked me in a bad place after tying a rope around my knees and pulling my T-Shirt over my head. If I wanted to sit lower than parallel, I had to let my knees and ankles cave in, and it felt like I was going to fall backwards the entire time.
Already this was too advanced for me. So, when you can’t even sit in a squat, what do you do?!
By holding something such as a rig post or door frame, you’re taking away the need for balance while giving yourself a sturdy anchor to lean away from or to use to pull yourself straighter. Now you are able to stay there longer and move about in the position – you can try to get your knees tracking your toes, play with shifting your weight from the front to back of your foot shift weight to one side then the other – just get comfortable down there! Using this assistance, you’ll be able to get the right muscles working, rather than trying to balance badly on your joints.
Straight Legged Toe Touch
The next common flexibility move was touching your toes with straight legs. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed how far away the floor is, but when you’re inflexible it’s a mammoth task that you are doomed to fail. Flexible people make it look so easy... but I was barely grazing my knees… so where do you start?
First, make a note of where you can reach with straight legs.
Then stand up and repeat, but this time bend your knees as much as you need to allow you to touch your toes.
Keeping your fingers on your toes, see if you can straighten your legs a bit
Bend and straighten your legs for 10-15 reps and then stand back up
Then, keeping your legs straight, reach down towards your toes and you’ll see an instant improvement from your initial test!
Depending on how far you were away at the start you may even touch your toes! Even if you haven’t for 20 years! I successfully do this exercise with people all the time, the results are crazy. Essentially all you’re doing is getting your body used to that position through repetition and reassuring your CNS that nothing bad will happen – tight hamstrings are often a reaction from your body protecting your back.
It doesn’t matter which flexibility exercise you are stuck on, the biggest takeaway from this blog is to not be so focused on where other people are and instead work to understand your own current level of flexibility! Find your starting point and work from there, rather than trying to force yourself into positions you’re not ready for.
Some stretches may be off the cards to you at the moment, but, if you can improve your squat and be able to touch your toes with ease then a whole catalogue of new stretches will become available to you because you will have a new starting point!
Always remember that fitness and strength will come and go but you can forever improve your body awareness and how well you can move, and that is what is more important in the long run.