The beginner's guide to flexibility

Discussion in 'Health and Fitness' started by Van Zandt, Feb 6, 2009.

  1. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Hi Patrick,

    Thanks for your question. The problem with PS (also called Runner's Knee) is that it can be caused by just about anything, including muscle tightness, bursitis, overuse, fatigue, skeletomuscular imbalances, and so on. What cause did your physician diagnose?

    And as you know, if you're still growing you want to avoid isometrics altogether. You would be better served by doing full ROM strength exercises like adductor flies and pulldowns. But until you tell me what your doc said (about the cause of your condition), I can't really advise you on the isometrics part of your question.

    All the best,

  2. Patrick Smith

    Patrick Smith Tustom Cuser Uitle

    I am not yet 18 years old (almost 17), and I have not performed any steady isometrics (besides a *very* light tension once or twice) since I learned I should not perform them.

    Before I started therapy (and also before I learned about not doing isometrics), I would get a sharp pain in the medial meniscus area during and after the tensions. After discussing it with you, I stopped doing isometrics entirely, but my knee pain (which was accompanied by popping and clicking) just got worse. I had a sharp pain under the knee cap a few times which was so bad that I had trouble walking for a few days at a time.

    After reading Thomas Kurz's article about PS, I went to a orthopedic doctor and he examined my knee, said he found no basic problems, but just in case, arranged for me to have an MRI done. The MRI did not show any major damage or problems either, so the orthopedic doctor set me up with a therapist for a few months. The therapist diagnosed me with PS, and I started doing a few weekly sessions with him. If it helps, the sessions consisted of things like wall squats, short lunges, knee extensions, squats (on an incline machine), short step ups/downs/overs, hamstring curls, and a fun exercise where I balanced on one foot (on various platforms) and threw and caught a 2 lb. medicine ball. Later on, as I progressed I began doing marching with bands (forward, side, back), good mornings and full squats with 20 pounds, squat jumps and hamstring curls on an incline machine.

    My therapist told me that the pain on my inner knee was caused by a lack of strength in the stabilizing muscles of the knee and that as I got stronger the pain would dissipate. This seems to be the case so far.

    As you say, the best thing for me to do since I cannot do isometrics is to full ROM exercises like adductor flies and pulldowns, and I am incorporating them into my program. I doubt that I will be able to do adductor pulldowns for a while, though, because I think it would put a lot of stress on my knees.

    I want to get as flexible as I can, as fast as I can, and I can arrange my daily schedule to match practically anything that it would require. That said, besides doing dynamic stretches in the morning and evening, relaxed stretches in the evening (2x30 seconds per stretch), and working through full the full ROM, is there anything that I can do? Would holding relaxed stretches for half an hour or a full hour have an effect?

    And my last question (I hope you don't mind). When doing relaxed stretches for the side split, I often do not feel that my adductors are really being that stretched, although my hips feel as if they've gone as far as they can go. Is that normal? Are my muscles simply a little further ahead of my hips? For that matter, even if my hips do not feel like they are being stressed, sometimes they hurt a little when I'm coming out of the side split stretch.

    Thanks for all your help, Van Zandt.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2010
  3. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Take your time mate.

    Honestly, it sounds like you're doing pretty much everything you can. Holding relaxed stretches for longer than you're doing now won't give you any additional benefit, so you're best off investing that time elsewhere. As much as a pain in the ass that it is, you just need to be patient buddy (which can be difficult when you're so eager to drop to the floor like roadkill).

    Sort out your strength issues first. Make sure your knees are solid and worry about your flexibility later. Don't do like one client I'm working with at the moment, who ignored his doctor's advice and rushed into his splits. Like you, he had weak knees. He also ended up dislocating his during a stretch.

    The fact that you're not feeling the stretch in your adductors but feeling a "stop" in your hips suggests two potential problems:

    1) Your posture. Use a mirror to check you have your ankles, knees and hips in alignment and that you're fully rotating your pelvis. A lot of folk think they've rotated as much as possible but haven't actually done it enough. If you wish, PM me a photograph (side on) of you doing a split stretch at your max so I can assess your posture and alignment.

    2) An underlying problem with your hips. Are you able to do the Tom Kurz side split potential test? (Leg up to the side on a chair)

    If you need anything else, just post back.

    All the best,

  4. Alansmurf

    Alansmurf Aspire to Inspire before you Expire Supporter

    ultimate flexibility

    Van Zandt will get you this flexible !!


  5. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    I would sell my kidney for a night with those sisters :love:

    Just noticed this thread has hit 10,000 views. Awesome :)
  6. Patrick Smith

    Patrick Smith Tustom Cuser Uitle

    You're right. :bang: There's no point in rushing into the splits if I end up injured, possibly permanently, and have to wait even longer in the long run. I'll concentrate on getting as strong as I can and slowly improving flexibility with relaxed and dynamic stretches. I do the relaxed stretches that you list in your "Stretching for high kicks" thread every evening.

    Another positive of the situation is that I'll be building a lot of static-active flexibility and that will improve my kicking skills too.

    I don't think it's a problem with my hips, since I've gotten down to 1 ft from the side split and 4 inches from the front. I can do the Tom Kurz side split potential test easily.

    I mostly get that feeling when I perform the stretch like this:


    But since I'm only doing dynamic and relaxed stretches, my regular side split stretch is either like this:


    Or this:


    Except I keep my back straight and I don't hold onto my feet on the last one.

    When doing the first relaxed stretch (for the side split) I have to be careful that I don't let my stretch go too far, because it may not feel uncomfortable at the time but when I get out my hips feel a little sore. Are there any specific guidelines about hip angle doing the sitting (or lying) side split stretch or am I simply stretching too hard?

    Thank you very much, Van Zandt.

    Last edited: Apr 28, 2010
  7. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    The key to relaxed stretches is to give your muscles enough time to relax. It could be that by timing yourself in the stretch you're causing them to tense up, which is the opposite of what you're trying to achieve.
  8. Patrick Smith

    Patrick Smith Tustom Cuser Uitle

    I wouldn't be surprised if that was it. I've been concentrating less on time, and more on getting the muscles to relax. It feels better.
  9. MaxZ

    MaxZ New Member

    Hi, I'd like to ask what is considered strength training - as in when to avoid PNF.

    Are calisthenics considered strength training? And what if one was to do bodyweight squats, crunches etc. on a daily basis. Is it still safe to do isometrics on the same day?

    I'm asking from a 'newbie' point of view :) Thanks in advance.
  10. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    My rule of thumb is to leave at least 48 hours between strength workouts. This includes free weights, calisthenics (bodyweight exercises) and isometrics. Just because you don't feel sore doesn't mean your body isn't still adapting to the loads imposed upon it in the previous workout. If you do too much too often, you will just hurt yourself. Unless you are a sick puppy and that is your goal :D. Try to do all your strength exercises in a single workout.
  11. Smitfire

    Smitfire Cactus Schlong

    OK Flexi peeps.

    I flat out can't do the dynamic stretches in the morning. I have a young daughter that I can't ignore in the morning which means I can't get straight out of bed and do some stretching (not unless I want to do it to the sound of a hungry crying baby). She doesn't wake to a set time so I can't set the alarm 20 minutes earlier to get them in before she wakes up.

    Can I increase my flexibility without them?

    I manage to train in the evening OK as she is in bed at that time so is there anything I can do then?

    As the morning stretches seem to be the bedrock of the flexibilty programme is it the end of flexibilty training if you can't do them?

    For context I've always been naturally flexible and can kick to head height when cold easily enough. However I'm finding my effective ROM is getting less as I get older and my natural flexibiity is fading. I've never worked my flexibilty before (never needed to to be honest) but now I'm noticing that my form is suffering on certain kicks as I can't quite get my legs where I know they need to go.
    Is there anything I can do to maintain what functional flexibility I already have?
  12. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    I was saving this for my book, but here it is anyway: dynamic stretches are old news. So are relaxed stretches. One of the recent breakthroughs my associates and I recently made was that all you need is full ROM weight lifting and isometrics. And you only need do them two times per week, three at most, to increase your flexibility in the quickest time.

    Your flexibility is decreasing as you age because you probably relied on elasticity of connective tissues. This elasticity relies on a combination of elastin and collagen; as you age, the ratio changes in favour of collagen. There is nothing you can do to reverse this process. Thus if you rely on tissue elasticity for your flexibility, you will eventually become as stiff as a board. This explains why there is a myth that old people can't stay flexible (they can).

    The bottom line is: you need splits. Your kicking ROM is determined by your flexibility in splits. Work on your strength drills (especially isometrics!) to decrease resistance in your kicking antagonists (hamstrings and adductors) and slow kicks to increase strength in your kicking agonists (hip flexors, abductors and core). The good news is that once you achieve full splits you can maintain them with just one or two applications per month.

    Dynamic flexibility, and dynamic stretching, is a fallacy. It is no more safe or effective than ballistic stretching, which is a big no-no. Don't use methods which rely on tissue extensibility for flexibility, but those which focus on building strength in extended positions.

    Hope this helps.

    PS. Strength training - and isometrics - is best done in the evening anyhoo. ;)
  13. Smitfire

    Smitfire Cactus Schlong

    Cheers man.
    Damn the world of flexibility training changes more often than I change my duvet cover.

    So...isometrics are when you take your legs to a stretched point, tense them against resistance for a certain amount of time and then relax while taking them further apart? Then repeat for something like 3 sets?
    That right?
    How do you do this with the hams?
    Where do dynamic stretches fit in now?

    I know you are endeavouring to make flexibility easier to understand (and achieve) but I have to say I feel I don't have a clue now. :(
    Your book can't come soon enough.
  14. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Hence why my book is taking so damn long - there is so much BS and confusion out there that I want to nuke away all the crap. The book will show you how and why there is only one way to properly increase flexibility, quickly and injury free - and keep it until the day you die. I won't reveal too much more at this stage (hey, gotta sell you guys something, right? :)), but other topics include why you never need to warm up and how men actually have greater flexibility potential than women.

    To do isometrics, move into the position (eg side split) until you feel tension. Contract the affected muscles for 7-10 seconds, relax and immediately increase further into the position. Hold the new range for a couple of moments before contracting again. Repeat until you can't go any further, then hold one final contraction (for that set) for 30 seconds. Rest a few minutes then repeat for 3-5 sets. Do this at the end of your strength workout.

    For the hamstrings, just use the front split. Add the side split and you've got all the positions you will ever need.

    Drop dynamic stretching altogether. Do slow kicking at the start of your strength workout and that will build the height of your kicks. Bill Wallace never used dynamic stretches and look how well he can kick. He also didn't achieve FULL side splits until he was 30.

    I know this is probably confusing and contradicting as hell. But when my book is done you'll smile when it becomes clear :)
  15. MaxZ

    MaxZ New Member

    I never realized - I thought calisthenics were safe to do frequently without rest days.

    So, in order to do PNF, I must have a rest day?

    And you can still achieve good results without catching that 15 minute period in the morning?

    Thanks :)
  16. Simon

    Simon Administrator Admin Supporter MAP 2017 Koyo Award

    I have a question Dan if you can help.

    Old school (like me) used to hold a stretch for 5-10 seconds. I am led to believe that there is a receptor in the brain that holds onto the tension in a muscle for the first 8-10 seconds of a stretch, meaning old school is hardly stretching at all. I now hold a stretch for 30 seconds to allow for the time it takes the receptor to let go of the tension.

  17. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Any form of strength training requires a sufficient period of rest for adaptation (to the training load) to occur. In the case of calisthenics, your bodyweight is the load. If you do the exercises every day, without giving your body enough time to rest, repair and rebuild itself, you're going to stagnate at best and get injured at worst.

    So yes, in order to do PNF/isometrics, you need to have a rest day (maybe more) between workouts.

    The fifteen minute morning rule applies to dynamic stretching only. This is because the first fifteen minutes after waking is when muscle tonus is easier to reset. But you don't need them (see my previous post for an explanation). You will do just fine with one or two strength workouts per week.
  18. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick


    There is no average time it takes to wait out the stretch reflex (the goal of relaxed stretches). Recent studies have shown that relaxed stretches are in fact counterproductive to flexibility training because they actually enforce the stretch reflex over a long period of time. Increasing flexibility should always be done in direct relation to building strength. It is the nervous system which prevents you moving into a greater ROM so you have to teach it to accept the new ROM as being safe. Strength training is the best way to do this. Relaxed stretches impair your strength in extreme ranges - kinda the opposite of what you're trying to achieve.
  19. MaxZ

    MaxZ New Member

    Could you still drop "balls to floor" without a warmup, without using dynamic stretching?
  20. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Yes. Dynamic stretches were never designed to make you do splits anyway.

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