Let’s figure out the mystery of muscles tightness, flexibility training and how to help you progress.
Stretching has so many benefits to the body, which is why it contributes to longevity and staying healthy as we age. Several benefits of stretching that help us stay (and feel) young include helping stress relief, improving circulation, helping to prevent injury, improving and preserving our range of motion (which means less joint and muscle pain), and promoting good posture. Let's not forget to mention that with more flexibility comes more possibilities as an aerialist :)
Flexibility is actually an ability we’re born with, but most of us lose it due to leading fairly sedentary or restricted lives. Through years of non-stretching combined with the aging process, our muscles lose hydration and we become less bendable. In fact, the typical person loses about 15 percent of their moisture content as they become an adult. Think about how an animal’s skin would harden as it turned to leather; that’s similar to the natural aging process our body goes through, our elastic fibers getting bound up and less pliable. Because of this natural aging process, if we don’t stretch, we FEEL bound up…because we are. Stretching not only increases the elasticity of connective tissues (the cells that bound muscle fibers together), but it actually slows the process of dehydration by stimulating the production of muscle lubrication.
Minus all the science speak, let's face it, the more you stretch and move the better your body will feel (and by move I mean move through your stretches and experience all different types of stretching. Don’t just sit in static stretches. Allow your muscles to experience dynamic, resistance and active stretching as well. Each type of stretch affects your muscles differently making you ultimately more mobile. Not to mention that improving flexibility with static stretching only takes a very long time to see improvement.)
TIPS to HELP your flexibility gains:
1. DRINK LOTS OF WATER – your muscles, tendons, & ligaments will love you for it
2. DECREASE YOUR CONSUMPTION OF INFLAMMATORY FOODS such as dairy, wheat, sugar, fried foods, & foods high in sodium.
3. STRETCH AFTER YOU WORK OUT – after you work out your muscles are nice and warm…perfect conditions for lengthening and elongating!
4. COMMIT TO YOUR FLEXIBILITY ROUTINE – staying consistent is the KEY to improving your flexibility. 4-5 times per week of flexibility training will make you see faster gains. Wishing you were more flexible won’t get you there, folks!
5. DO NOT BOUNCE IN YOUR STRETCHES – this can cause injury and even regression in your flexibility. Be careful with ballistic stretches that require bouncing. (Keep in mind bouncing is different than lifting)
6. FIND A BUDDY to go on your flexibility journey with you. Find someone who will keep you motivated, someone to stretch with on a regular basis, or just someone to relate to about how sore you are the day after a deep stretch sesh. Send each other pictures or videos of your progress, schedule days/times to stretch, and create flexibility routines together! Just someone to hold you accountable may be enough to motivate you to get off the couch & get stretching
7. TAKE CLASSES THAT FOCUS ON FLEXIBILITY such as a flexibility training class, yoga, or aerial yoga
My flexibility journey started shortly after I discovered aerial fitness. Just like with dance or gymnastics, flexibility is extremely beneficial to have when trying to progress in the aerial world. When I would watch professionals I always noticed that virtually all of them were not only strong, but also extremely bendy. I knew if I wanted to progress and continue to grow to my fullest potential as an aerialist, I’d have to get to work.
Throughout my entire childhood I was an athlete. I’d rather shoot hoops than play with dolls, rather play catch than take ballet, and would rather run around than focus on keeping my muscles elongated. In college I started running long distance, running in many half marathon races to stay active and motivated to live healthy. Let’s just say that long distance running is far from helpful for one’s flexibility. So after college when I discovered aerial fitness, I had A LOT of catching up to do to lengthen my muscles to where I wanted them.
My first focus in my flexibility journey was my front splits. I stretched 4-5 times per week with methods I had learned from professional aerialists and contortionists. Each workshop/convention I went to I made sure I signed up for the flexibility course, writing feverishly in my notebook whilst stretching so I’d have notes to take home with me for my nightly stretching sessions (nerd alert!). During my stretching sessions I would ALWAYS focus on my front splits, and would alternate training a bit for back flexibility and middle splits.
Through lots of persistent training I’ve become all around more flexible and met my goal of having over-splits on BOTH my good and bad side front splits. Now I’m working toward my next goal of having my middle over-splits, and still slowly training my back flexibility. It’s all about patience and persistence, my friends. In my mind I still have a long way to go, even though I’ve already made it so far. Always stay focused on that next goal! So come up with a flexibility plan that you can stick to and follow the tips I gave and you'll be sure to be progressing toward your first goal in no time.
Stay Fit and In Flight,