The essential requirements of flexibility – for EVERYONE (yes that means you too)

I spend my time around people that can do some pretty mad stuff: back flips, advanced ring work, lift stupidly heavy weights and all that. While I absolutely love training with those guys, that high level stuff isn’t really important to most of people, and I understand that.

But I think we can all agree that no matter who you are and whatever your interests, you would rather not have a sore back or joints and feel like you’re made of cement every morning when you wake up. I have been there and it’s just not a nice way to start your day.

The most crucial thing to realise is that if your body feels weak it will tell you by giving you pain. Everyone needs look after their body, even if you are not the “sporty” type or have any interest in being “as big as Arnie”. Bear in mind that if you’re hunched over all the time your back is going to take a gradual pounding, it may not hurt right now but I’ll tell you this much: 1 bag of sweets didn’t give me this pot belly, it was the bag of sweets every day that did. Unfortunately just going for long walks isn’t enough, while walks are great to get you moving your hips need a full range movement to stay pain free. The biggest thing that terrifies me is losing my independence as I get older. With people sitting longer, working longer and using technology more and more the average person is going to start looking like a gargoyle.

So where do we start? What is the bare minimum?

 

TEST 1: THE FLOOR

First things first, I want you to push your granny over and if she takes longer than 10 minutes to get up, then she now has a time to improve on next time! Everyone has to start somewhere.

If she gets stuck there forever then that’s not good, and you’ll probably feel a bit silly, maybe even mean – but you’re teaching her a lesson, she’ll thank you one day. Every memory of older relatives that I have is them never sitting on the floor, they were always shuffled from chair to chair with a mound of pillows placed behind their back. How does this happen? Because it’s not an over night thing. When I see 80 year olds still practicing yoga and having the time of their lives I’m kinda wondering how my relatives all messed up so badly.

There’s a cool study on the correlation between life expectancy and how hard you find getting up off the floor*, it’s scored on how many times you have to use another limb for assistance, I can’t quite remember the figures and don’t want to be a scaremonger, but I’m pretty sure if you have to put your hand down on the floor to get up that you will die in the next ten minutes or something.

How to test:

1. Can you get down to the floor with relative ease and sit up in the cross legged position with your back nice and straight?

This is a simple way to see if you have a basic level of hip mobility, are both legs down to the same height or is one halfway up beside your ear? Little details like this can influence how you move all of the time, having a crazy tight hip on one side can cause a whole host of issues like back pain, knee pain and even hip pain itself. Are you having to hunch over? Told to hold your knees just to stop you from falling? Make a note as all of these things point to a diminished level of mobility.

2. How easy is it for you to get back to your feet?

Are you jumping up to run for dinner or having to get to your hands and knees like you have the hangover from hell? Can you do this? Can granny and grandad do it too? Remember this is just minimum requirement flexibility.

This is something I could not do from a very young age, and when I started strength training in my twenties my joints and back severely suffered to the point of multiple surgery-required injuries. Luckily for me I was able to reverse all of my issues and now have better hip mobility now in my thirties than I did when I was 10. However I know that many people try exercising, get an injury, decide training isn’t for them and end up picking a sedentary lifestyle; eventually finding themselves overweight, in constant niggly pain or generally unhappy with what they’re doing or how they look.

It frustrates me that this could have been completely avoidable with a little education… not even really education – all I’m doing is telling you to sit on the floor more and hopefully you can easily see why it is so important to be able to do so… Granny.

So that’s your hips and basic lower back. What about upper body and core?

TEST 2: THE BOW


How to test:

While lying on your tummy, can you reach back and grab your feet/shins?

The bow pose may look fancy but it is nothing more than a great movement to see if you have the basic capacity to move well through lateral flexion (side bending) and if your pecs, biceps and upper back have any movement in them whatsoever.

If you are lacking in any of these areas then when you’re trying to grab your feet you will just be flopping around like a floppy fish, y’know, as if you were a crossfitter doing pull ups. If your obliques are locked up and you have no side to side movement your torso just becomes a block, this is a big cause of back pain as the pelvis will not be able to move well and your spine will take a constant hammering hammering. Failure to execute even a low bow position probably means you have a forward head posture problem, with the pecs and biceps being tight they will pull everything forward and the head will follow.

If granny can’t do this one without any prior practice I wouldn’t jump onto standing her back and pulling her arms behind her head…. for her, putting a belt or strap round her feet and gently pulling it with her hands will start to improve the range of motion. However, if you are younger than 60 and can’t do this then you have a lot of work to do.

Lastly,

TEST 3: SINGLE LEG BALANCE

If you give granny a dead leg she had better have good balance on the other leg… Otherwise we have another incident of earlier and her taking 10 minutes to get up again (although this time she might only take 9, Grannies learn fast

How to test:

Can you stand on one leg for 1 minute? On both sides?

Your ability to balance directly relates to your core and hip strength. Everyone  I work with has differences in things that they struggle with but I’ve found that anyone that can’t easily stand on one leg for at least 1 minute at a time are the ones that have hip, back or knee pain – it’s then the development of single leg balance that helps in eliminating those issues.

It almost sounds too simple. People will search out for fancy stretches, foam rolling techniques, pay chiropractors a fortune whenever the reality is that they are just weak in a very easily corrected way. The development of your vestibular system is incredibly important, people that have solid coordination move better in general, and learn faster.

If you don’t struggle to stand on one leg for a minute then start to change the dynamics of it, move your head left and right, close your eyes, do both of those things at the same time. Try juggling with one leg up, challenging your body in those ways is stupidly beneficial but  not taxing! You can use it to increase your athleticism in between sets or on rest days.

The most advanced and injury free athletes that I work with do not struggle with any of this stuff …and generally look at me like I’m joking when I ask them to do it.

Don’t just waste your time reading through this! Straight after I want you to tag someone that needs this! No matter who they are AND I want you to try the movements! If you can’t right now, set an alarm in your phone to do them later!

If you really want to take your mobility more seriously then I also recommend going through The Simplistic Mobility Method, the videos are really easy to follow and it will help guide you to moving and feeling better with very little time investment.

 

Don’t accept pain! It is not normal to constantly hurt, you have the power to change it.

Happy training!

 

 

*Barreto de Brito. LB, and Ricardo. DR, and Soares de Araújo DSM, and Ramos. PS, and Myers. J, and Soares de Araújo. CG (2012) Ability to sit and rise from the floor as a predictor of all-cause mortality