I first discovered I was flexible in ballet class when I was six years old. I noticed it was relatively easy to slide into my splits and my teacher could painlessly push me down into a flat pancake stretch. At the time, this didn’t mean much to me and I just enjoyed having good lines and longer extensions during class. Over the years, I tried various styles ranging from modern dance to aerial fitness. I also became a regular gym rat and took up yoga. What did all these activities have in common? They all required a high level of strength and flexibility.

It’s only in the last couple of years that I specifically included flexibility training as part of my workout routine rather than just stretching as a cool down. It’s been a long and bumpy road since my first ballet class with chronic knee pain and long-lasting injuries being huge obstacles to maintaining my flexibility. I’ve since learnt to adapt and overcome which has also made me a better Instructor to clients who aren’t naturally flexible.

So, what do I know now that I wish I knew then?

1. Flexibility training can be uncomfortable but should never be painful

There is a myth around pushing past pain to break barriers in the fitness world. You want to bend, not break! That point where you feel your hip ball is about to pop out of the socket when training to do splits? Just don’t go there. This won’t make your muscles more pliable, but it may injure your ligaments. When stretching, actively engage your muscles to protect them and listen to the signals your body is sending you. Which brings me to the next point…

2. Active flexibility is absolutely essential

Having a wide range of passive flexibility is great, but this should come hand in hand with strength, i.e. active flexibility. I can’t stress how important it is to focus on building strength and engaging your muscles while stretching. You shouldn’t be passively sitting in your splits for ages without any active splits training. Passive stretching does develop flexibility and lengthen your muscles, however if this isn’t balanced out with active stretches, you are exposing yourself to potential injuries. Injuries tend to happen when you are coming out of a stretch too quickly, because your muscles are too weak to control the exit.

3. Warm up, warm up, warm up!

There is nothing worse than a cold stretch. It’s painful, frustrating and dangerous. Warming up your muscles makes them more pliable which in turn makes you more ‘bendy’. A 15-minute warm up should do the trick. Once you’re warm, you’ll find it so much easier to slide into your stretches and hold the different positions. You want to be like melted chocolate that flows, not frozen chunks that you break off!

4. There is no timeline to achieve a certain pose

We’ve all been enticed by ‘Splits in 30 Days’ flexibility training programs and similar challenges. In my experience, there is no way of measuring how long it takes to achieve a perfect backbend or flat box splits. Enjoy the process and celebrate where you are in your journey. Our bodies are capable of some incredible things, there is no need to rush. Removing the expectations from your practice will allow you to reach new levels without overthinking it. Take your time!

5. Let your injuries recover properly

If you have an injury, let it heal. Seek medical advice on how to go about recovery. Injuries are so frustrating and the urge to jump back into your training is real, but doing this too soon can result in much more serious and long-lasting damage. Some injuries take a very long time to heal. You may have to adjust your training or stop it altogether. My advice would be to not try and work it out yourself. Professional help goes a long way.

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