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3 Steps to Break Through Flexibility Training Plateaus

Uncategorized Jun 10, 2015

Have you ever tried to become more flexible and hit a big plateau? 

You may have experienced some big gains when you began, but after some time your progress can start to become less noticeable.

When you hit a plateau, and your results feel like they’ve flatlined, it can get frustrating.

You’re putting in the work and feel like you’re not getting much to show for it.

So what do you do?

Many of my students have found success by making some, or all of the tweaks to their flexibility training that I’ll be sharing in this post.

At the end of this post you’ll have some handy strategies to blast through the walls of plateau, so you can continue to become more flexible.

 


 

Step 1: Patience Young Jedi 

If you’re in a plateau at the moment, or you hit one in the future, it’s important to first be patient.

Sometimes the biggest problem is that we're always in reaction mode. Being in reaction mode can cause you to abruptly change what you’re doing, often out of fear that your current approach isn’t working.

You may actually be on the fringe of a breakthrough.

Sometimes you just need to trust yourself and not always expect that your flexibility training results will always be linear in nature.

Understand that your body has a natural cycle of adaptation specific to you as an individual, and it changes all the time depending on the seasons, your age, overall stress levels, where you’re at in your menstrual cycle (for the ladies), etc.

Patience and trusting in yourself is one of the most important foundations to overcome your flexibility training plateaus.

As George Michael said, "You gotta have faith."

Once you’ve built this foundation, the strategies I’ll be sharing next will become much more effective.

 


 

Step 2: Allow Your Body to Feel Safe (but not too safe)

Safety is an important factor to balance when it comes to overcoming flexibility plateaus and allowing long term progress.

When your body feels safe, it's able to grow and adapt more readily. But when there's too much, or too little of a good thing, problems can present themselves.

 

Too much safety …
  • If there's a lack of flexibility stimulus, your body has no reason to adapt.
  • This can be from not challenging yourself enough, or not challenging the physiological systems that create flexibility in your body.

So, if you’re one of those people who’ve been doing the same old stretch for years, it may be time to push your boundaries a little.

Quick tip: Practice creating a bit more tension in your stretching exercises, through contracting your muscles more.
 
Not enough safety … 
  • If there's too much flexibility stimulus, your body will revert to needing to protect you from injury.
  • This can be from challenging yourself too much, by having too much resistance in a stretch, or trying to force new range, despite the alarm bells your body is ringing at the time.
  • Your body can try to protect itself in the moment by switching off certain areas or creating more tension in certain areas.

So, if you’re one of those people who has been hitting it hard with loaded stretches etc, but you’re always sore, and not really progressing in your range of movement ... It may be time to pull on those reigns a little.

Quick tip: Practice letting go of the tension a little, through adding relaxation.

 

Next… let’s make things practical and talk about how you can keep the safety mechanisms of your body in better balance.

 


 

Step 3: Be Progressive with Your Flexibility Approach

In order to deliver your body the best flexibility stimulus, where it doesn’t feel too safe, or too un-safe, you can work on progressively and gradually improving the following elements, each time you practice your flexibility training.

 

Part 1 of 3: Progressively Learn to Relax Your Body

This is the more Yin side of flexibility training.

If you find yourself excessively stiff and tight, I recommend you focus on improving your ability to relax your mind and body.

Relaxing your body for improved mobility isn’t about becoming so chilled out that you’re a pile of bones on the floor. This would be relaxation as a static state.

What we’re talking about here is dynamic / active relaxation the mid point between contraction and relaxation.

Here’s some of the most effective approaches I’ve found to help you progressively develop the skill of dynamic relaxation ...

 

Relax Your Body with Breathing Exercises:
  • By focusing on the way you breathe and how it affects your body and mind,
  • You can learn to gradually dissolve stored tension in your body and your mind.

In this video, I’ll take you through a very simple breathing exercise that you can bring into your life. It’ll help you relax your mind and body.

 

 

Relax Your Body with Standing Meditation:
  • This can also be referred to a pole standing, or Zhan Zhuang – practiced by ancient Daoist / Taoist practitioners and martial arts masters.
  • This is the art of learning how to balance your skeleton, so your muscular, fascial and sinew system can learn how to work more efficiently and allow an even flow of energy around your body.
  • It actually goes much deeper than this.

  

Relax Your Body with Moving Meditation:
  • This involves practices like Qigong and Tai Chi.
  • Moving meditation is a combination of breathing exercises with gentle movements that stretch and strengthen the body on the inside and out.

 

Part 2 of 3: Progressively Increase Engagement in Your Stretching

According to Bob Cooley’s work in the Genius of Flexibility, it takes twice the amount of tension to truly stretch, than to strengthen your body.

Not being able to create enough tension in your desired new range of movement, is one of the big things that can cause plateaus in flexibility training.

Remember what I covered about safety earlier …

You need to give your body a reason to improve its flexibility. Animals instinctively understand this.

Methodically creating tension in certain stretching exercises can help to create the stimulus where your body naturally allows you to the deepen range of your movement in time.

Conscious Tension VS Un-Conscious Tension

It’s important that the tension you create in your body is driven by intention, not lurking in the depths beyond your conscious awareness.

  • Conscious tension can be created and dissipated, on your command.
  • Un-conscious tension not addressed in your body, will always create limitations.

This is one of the foundations I teach in the approach I’ve developed for flexibility training called ‘Rhythmic Strength Stretching’ © (taught in Physical Freedom Academy).

 

Part 3 of 3: Progressively Improve Movement Quality

Progress isn’t always as obvious as many people think.

When it comes to getting more flexible, it’s not always as logical as:

Step 1: This week I touched my toes with my finger tips.

Step 2: I stretched my hamstrings and other leg muscles.

Step 3: I can now go a little further and put my palms on the floor.

Step 4: If I keep improving at this rate, pretty soon I’ll be able to reach my chin to my big toe.

Flexibility doesn’t really work this way.

Sometimes you’ll go through periods where your range doesn’t improve for a while.

You may feel like you’ve hit a plateau, but all is not lost.

Instead of focusing solely on external improvements, a (potentially more) useful approach is to improve the internal quality of your stretching exercises. 

To do this, you must become deeply aware of whats going on inside your body while you perform a given stretch.

How to Gauge Improvements in The Quality of Your Stretching Exercises

Changes in the quality of your breathing:

  • As a general guide, your breathing is an indicator of how comfortable you are in the stretch.
  • Look for the breathing to slow down in time.
  • You may progress from holding your breath, to breathing rapidly, to breathing slowly.
  • Even if your range hasn’t improved, your breathing slowing can be a marker of progress.

Changes in the quality of your alignment:

  • Notice small changes in how your spine and hips are aligned in the stretching exercise you are performing.
  • It may be something small, so be mindful.

To sum this up… When things aren’t working out as planned on the outside, it may be time to look a littler deeper within yourself.

 


 

Re-Cap

Put what we’ve covered into practice in this article, and you’ll soon say goodbye to frustration and plateaus in your flexibility.

Here’s the essence of what we covered to help you move forward when you feel like your progress is at a halt:

  1. Be Patient: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and flexibility transformations aren’t either. Just keep practicing with a bit of faith.
  2. Stimulation: Balance the stimulus you give your body to improve flexibility. Make sure you’re not too safe, or un-safe in your stretching.
  3. Adaptation: Aim to develop specific qualities of relaxation, strength, and conscious tension in your body, to more naturally allow it to give you more flexibility. 
  4. Observation: Listen to what your body needs for it to give you more flexibility, and look for changes in your range of movement (external) and quality of the stretch (internal).
  5. Repetition: Based on your learnings, adjust and repeat the process.

This is the humble and honest truth (in my experiences), on what it really takes to keep moving forward sustainably in your flexibility training.

 


 

Kickstart Your Journey to Embody Flexibility Today

Stuck in a flexibility plateau?

I remember the days when I would stretch, hold and hope.

To be honest, it really sucked!

Flexibility training is full of misconceptions that hold a lot of people back. Poor practice habits can lead to injuries, wasting time, and you continuing to have to live in a tight body.

I don’t want to see another person confused about what works and what doesn’t in becoming more flexible and free in your body & mind, so I created this introductory course to mind-body development: Physical Freedom Challenge.

In it, you'll assess where your body's currently at, the strength of your mind-body connection, and identify your highest areas of need to focus on to improve your physical freedom.

Click here to learn more.

 


 

  • Straight graph image courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • Couple Stretching image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • Maze to success image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • 'Zhan Zhong (Standing Pose)' image courtesy of Brisbane Tai Chi
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