This Stretching Routine Actually Made Me More Flexible

This Stretching Routine Actually Made Me More Flexible
Photo: KeyStock, Shutterstock

Even though I started this stretching challenge with the idea of finding out whether I could become more flexible, I have to admit that I was kind of secretly hoping it would not work. After all, if it doesn’t work, that means I can quit guilt-free.

But, goddamn it, it worked, and now I have to suffer the consequences. Continue stretching, and put myself on a journey where I have to constantly think about how far I am from whatever I would consider success? Or quit, knowing that I could have gotten my splits if only I had put the time in, but I didn’t, because I’m a quitter?

That’s a dilemma for me to ponder on my own time, I guess. For now, let’s take stock of what happened:

  • I stretched 20 times over the past 6 weeks, for an average of about 3 stretching sessions per week
  • Most days I did this stretching routine or something very similar. It took about 15 minutes.
  • For my last 5 sessions, over the past two weeks, I did the same routine but with PNF (aka PAILS and RAILS) techniques, as described here.

A well-known phenomenon in flexibility is that you can go deeper into a stretch after any or all of (1) warming up, for example with cardio or other movement; (2) stretching for a few minutes; and (3) using advanced stretching techniques like PNF. This means that at the end of each session I would always be able to get deeper into a split or lower in a toe touch than I could at the start.

So, to give myself a fair basis for comparison, I decided to take my before and after pictures cold. I didn’t do any cardio first (I normally warm up on my spin bike) and I took the photos within seconds of getting into each position for the first time that day. If I can stretch further within a session due to my stretching technique, who cares? But if I’ve become able to stretch further cold, then I know I’ve actually become more flexible in a real-world sense.

Well, look at this:

Top row: before. Bottom row: after. (Photo: Beth Skwarecki)Top row: before. Bottom row: after. (Photo: Beth Skwarecki)

These are my attempted front splits. I’m clearly nowhere close to getting my butt on the floor, but there’s a noticeable difference between the before pictures (red shirt, top row) and the after (black shirt, bottom row). My front leg is lower to the ground, which you can tell by comparing where it sits relative to my forearm. That’s the result of better hamstring flexibility. I’m also able to keep my torso more upright, thanks to better flexibility in the hip flexor of the back leg.

(I realised a few weeks ago that if my ultimate goal is a front split where my torso is upright, it makes more sense to support myself with props so that I can be upright during the stretch. So these days I rest my forearms on two chairs while actually working on this one. But since I didn’t do that in the “before” photo, I made sure to pose accordingly in my “after.”)

What about upper body progress? Check this out:

Photo: Beth SkwareckiPhoto: Beth Skwarecki

Again, it’s subtle. In the before photos, I need to use an object (here, a red shirt) to pull my two hands together. But in the after photo on my bad side (right arm down), I am able to get my hands close enough together that I can actually juuuust touch my index finger to my thumb. On my good side, with my left arm down, I’m actually now able to hook my hands together without the aid of the T-shirt.

The difference is only about an inch. But man, the first time I was able to touch my fingers together without the shirt, I was shocked.

OK, one more. Recall that we started off this whole adventure with a video that took me from not touching my toes to putting my palms on the floor in three minutes. This is an example of that within-session adaptation. But for our final before-and-after, I compared my “before” pic from that earlier session to one of me touching my toes cold today.

Photo: Beth SkwareckiPhoto: Beth Skwarecki

Well, fuck. It works. I’m mad. And yes, the differences after stretching are comparable as well. The first day, after stretching I was able to get my palms on the floor with soft knees. These days, by the end of a session I can often get my palms on the floor with locked knees. Stretching works, and I’m probably going to keep doing it, and you can too, if you want. Blarg.

  

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