So I got a call last week from a concerned parent. Her concern? She was worried her 17 year old was not flexible enough to do the high kicks like they show in movies and hence she was putting off her training. Leaving aside the bunkum that popular media portrays about martial arts and kickboxing, it got me thinking about writing a few things about flexibility.
How training flexibility in the right way can help?
- It frees you up physically and mentally where you don’t feel bogged down by aches and stiffness.
- Improvement in posture
- Better circulation and health of internal organs
- Improvement of endocrine and nervous system function
Your fears are a part of the nervous system
Every muscle contracts on an impulse from the brain through the central nervous system(CNS). Chronically contracted and short muscles develop a stretch reflex that makes it reflexive for the muscle to resist any kind of lengthening. In our classes, we train flexibility by first developing the interaction between the CNS and peripheral nervous system(PNS). So you learn to relax and override the stretch reflex with breathing and sensitivity.
DO NOT force a stretch. DO NOT try to touch ‘head to knees’ or ‘head to toes’. BE PATIENT.
Factoring in the fascia
Fascia is a dense matter comprised of mainly collagen that wraps muscles, tendons, ligaments and internal organs throughout the body. Think of it as one muscle running from head to the toes that effectively transmits force through the body’s structure. Repetitive movements and short muscles cause the fascia to adapt accordingly and become dense and excessively tense. Pull a taut bedsheet in any position you see the effect on the whole sheet.
Without removing the dense buildup around shoulders, abdominals, hips etc trying to force a stretch is futile. Try deep tissue massage, rollers, rolling around on the floor.
Correct alignment, partner assisted loaded stretching
We start with a focus on the absolutely correct alignment. Firstly this trains the CNS to release its tight control over the muscles. Secondly the density of the fascia adapts to the changing muscles. PATIENCE. You can get a partner to assist with an increased load once you’ve settled down into a stretch and can’t progress further.
If you want to split like Van Damme just remember the extreme stretches and high kicks forced him to have a hip replacement surgery!