Updated: Jun 28, 2020
Flexibility is a poorly understood and poorly executed pursuit within the health and fitness industry.
Unfortunately, this has resulted in it being discarded as a physical attribute to pursue in regular training.
This is to the detriment of the body and one’s health. Many people who specialise in flexibility training speak more of the psychological benefits of stretching and the connection with one’s body than the actual physical alterations.
To understand flexibility training, one must view it as a physical attribute that needs to be approached with the same intent, attention and structure as strength or endurance training.
Improving range of motion in the adult population is a completely different ball game. If the nervous system and tissues have never practised contracting at end ranges of motion, there is no reason for the body to suddenly provide such positions.
Muscles are either over facilitated or inhibited
Tight = over facilitated: The muscles are receiving too much input & are being told to contract to an Inappropriate level. We assess this by a basic range of motion testing.
In this instance when a muscle appears tight or hypertonic, applying a slow stretch would actually make it tighter.
Slow, static stretching of muscles, for approximately 10 seconds or less, stimulates the muscle spindles. Firing a muscle spindle will increase the potential contraction of the associated muscle. This is known as muscle facilitation
Weak = Inhibited: The muscles are not receiving enough input & appear weak. We test this via orthopaedic manual muscle testing.
A basic understanding of the reflexive motor control systems of the body will allow you to focus on the correct techniques to increase flexibility & discard all other forms of stretching that would be ineffective & wasteful of time.
Unfortunately, not all joints, fascia, collagen, injury and sporting histories are created equal. Some people are naturally more flexible, and it is often due to a combination of these factors, that allows their bodies to maintain and attain higher levels of flexibility than others.
However, most people have the ranges of motion that they have asked for. The extensibility of muscle tissue, to a large degree, is controlled by the nervous system.
If an individual has never stretched, only weight trained with bad form and has poor body awareness, they are going to be tight. Essentially, this individual has become very good at being tense. Producing tension and maintaining it within their structure, through only utilising limited ranges of motion, whilst never practising relaxation results in an enhanced capacity to be tight.
While not everyone is going to be able to achieve box splits or even a full pike fold, everyone can improve their levels of flexibility. It is not really a question of can I get more flexible, rather how much flexibility can I achieve and how long will it take.
The methodology we utilise at Body Contrology to increase flexibility is based on working with adults and understanding that one size doesn't fit all. People have different starting points and may require more of one type of approach than another.
The inverse relationship between flexibility and strength
On the other side, the more flexible you are, the less strength is necessary to perform many high-level callisthenics strength - skills.
Where body control is concerned, the interplay between flexibility and strength is paramount and inversely proportional.
Hannah T, Somatics, reawakening the mind's control of movement, flexibility & health 1988, Decapo Press
Blakeslee S, Blakeslee M, The body has a mind of its own, how body maps in your brain help you do (almost) everything better. 2007, Random House trade
Baniel. A: Move into life, The nine essentials to lifelong vitality, DVD 2010
AMN Academy- Fundamental to applied movement neurology