I've made many mistakes in my health and wellbeing over the years. Each mistake has contributed immeasurable amounts to my learning and ability to help others not make the same mistakes.
One big mistake I made in the past was neglecting regular practice towards flexibility exercises.
I put strength before suppleness, and it lead me to joint pain and a debilitating spinal injury.
[This is what my spine looked like]
As much as the injury and joint pain wasn't fun, the road to recovery taught me a thing or two about the importance of regular flexibility training, which you'll learn in the next few minutes after reading this post.
Let's get on the same page for a moment. My definition of true flexibility (I also refer to it as suppleness) is the range of movement your body can contract and produce force in.
It's not just purely range of movement, as it can often be confused with. This movement trait can also be referred to as mobility.
So to be clear, suppleness is about having control over your body in specific ranges, not being like a rag doll in those ranges.
Keep that in mind as you read the upcoming article.
The biggest problem I’ve noticed when it comes to physical training (especially in the west) is flexibility is mainly practiced as something you do before or after the 'actual workout.'
Often strength training, HIIT, cardio, or even movement skills, are placed as the priority.
To be honest, I don’t blame you if you put other physical training before focusing on your suppleness. Because the way most people approach it either involves a lot of pain, for not much gain, or it’s plain old boring.
But it doesn’t have to be this way!
If you’re tight or limited in your body in any way, shape, or form, you may need to learn how to get more flexible.
The only way to do this is bring your mobility practice into the spotlight by making it a priority in your training.
This means you need to begin practicing it with clear intentions and enough frequency to make the difference you need to create big changes in your body.
Getting a more supple body was an important tool in my healing journey from a spinal injury I had back in 2013.
I wish I realised the natural side benefits below earlier:
I've always loved strength training, but didn't realise just how much improved mobility would enhance all areas of my movement (including strength, power and endurance) until I practiced and progressed it consistently.
Here's how I've learned a more supple body can improve your performance:
One potential cause of joint pain and injuries is the degree of asymmetry or imbalance in your body.
This was a big factor that contributed to my injury when lifting that big ass tyre. It wasn't the tyres fault, but my lack of preparation to handle it.
At a physical level these asymmetries are often caused by a lack of strength in complete range of motion (aka. mobility).
It's not about being perfectly symmetrical, but being too asymmetrical places excess stress in specific areas of your body.
If your tissues (muscles, and all that jazz) are tight on one side, it's common for your body to compensate by tightening the balancing muscle group.
These asymmetries can be caused by lack of movement or as a result of trauma or injuries, and lead to imbalances in your posture and movements.
Stress of course isn’t always a bad thing, but an excess of it can take your body away from its natural state of balance and harmony.
Stress can be defined as pressure or tension exerted on a material object. The material object in this case can be you.
Tension can manifest itself in the body due to physical / emotional trauma and lack of / over use of movements in specific patterns. There can be many other causes, but these are some of the big ones.
By increasing your flexibility and strength in required areas of your body (by following an appropriate approach), you can progressively reduce tension through making improvements in your active range of motion.
By active range of motion I simply mean the range of motion you have strength and flexibility in - this is what I often call cold or easy range.
In essence, your tissues (muscles, tendons, fascia etc.) can only do two things when it comes to helping you to move the vehicle that is your body:
All movement is the result of a balancing equation between contraction and relaxation. For one area of your body to contract, the opposing area must be able to relax. Pretty simple yeah? This doesn't necessarily mean it's easy though.
When you lose strength and flexibility, or create imbalances in certain areas, your body has to work harder to contract and relax. It's like having a constant tug of war going on with yourself.
Sounds tiring right? Well, the vast majority of people I’ve taught have this tug of war going on underneath the surface, and they’re completely unaware of it.
When you learn how to stretch and strengthen your body effectively and get more flexible, you’re learning an important part in the puzzle to create a more balanced body.
Balance is about returning to a zero point, or like the Zen Monks say - a point of nothingness. From the space of nothingness, everything is possible.
Through too much strength training, and not enough flexibility training, I created a physical prison for myself. This was the worst kind of prison, as the walls were within me.
There was a specific moment when I was playing with my friends daughter. She was sitting in a squat playing blocks for at least an hour.
I thought, 'that looks fun', so proceeded to attempt to adopt the same position as her. Within about 30 seconds I was slapped in the face with a wet fish called limitation.
I couldn't even sit in a squat for 30 seconds. The question popped up: "How free are you in your body... really?" Sure you can lift lots of heavy sh#*, but at what cost?
I confronted this demon and realised that I needed to learn how to get flexible fast!
The process of overcoming the many limitations in my mobility was the vehicle to more ease and freedom in simple, yet critical natural human positions - like the squat.
For me, I experience great inspiration from children and their natural embodiment of freedom. It's something that becomes more of a reality with every inch of new range I gain through practicing the approach to full body flexibility I've developed over the years.
The practice of stretching my limits has taught me a thing or two over the years. I hope these learnings may help to inspire your journey.
First - I realised I needed to acknowledge the importance of mobility practice as a significant part of my health and wellbeing, with equal (or potentially more) importance than other physical endeavours like strength training.
Second - To overcome significant physical imbalances and my spinal injury, I needed to start small in my journey to a supple body, and make gradual improvements through consistent, daily practice.
Third - Learning to get more flexible and strong at new ranges dramatically improved my performance in more areas of life than you can imagine.
If you’d like to be guided through a proven process to get more flexible from head to toe, the first step we'd recommend is to assess where your body's currently at and to identify your highest area(s) of need to focus on.
You can do that with our Physical Freedom Challenge.