Over the years, both the significance and relevance of flexibility increased in my personal life and my coaching.
Subtle aspects of flexibility make it challenging to train, and their applications make them rewarding.
In reviewing the existing flexibility definition, you would notice how one dimensional they are. Flexibility is often reduced to a very limited physical aspect like hamstring tightness.
An expanded definition of the term flexibility fits a wider range of application in a more productive way when it reflects the significance and relevance of flexibility.
In my teen years and early twenties, I preferred doing stretches for splits I used in martial arts. I did not want to stretch my imagination beyond what I could see in front of me.
Those I trained over the years didn’t necessary like doing painful hamstring stretches. But they definitely preferred them to flexibility exercises that made them see another point of view and thought pattern. Their resistance was creating tensions that showed up in physical rigidity.
There is a thread of flexibility that connects thoughts, emotions and motions. Flexibility is a spiritual trait. However, we focus on the neuromuscular aspects of it.
Before we get into how I view flexibility, let’s look at some of its elements.
Rigid Structures Within Flexibility Training
One element is a rigid structure like your bones. How to improve flexibility for a hamstring, for example, has meaning when you can move the rigid structure of your thigh bone around the rigid structure of your hips.
If you surgically removed the hamstring, the term flexibility no longer applies.
The existence of rigid structures is necessary for the term flexibility to apply. The term flexibility does not apply to limp structures like a string.
This distinction helps apply flexibility to other areas of life including goal setting.
A defined and rigid evaluation of the current position and a clearly defined goals form rigid structures in goal setting.
Adapting to new circumstances as you move toward your goal is an application of flexibility. Without successful adaption, the stress level caused by rigid structures make it challenging to continue.
Abandoning goals is not a sign of flexibility but complacency.
Pivot Points in Stretching Exercises
Application of flexibility is around pivot points. Joints form these pivot points in your body. For example in a hamstring stretch, the pivot points are your hips. In stretching exercises for various muscles of chest and shoulder, the pivot is the shoulder.
You can harm yourself if you shift the natural pivot points of a motion.
For example, shifting the pivot point to the low back instead of the hips in a hamstring stretch weakens the spine stabilizers without benefiting the hamstrings. In a quad stretch, shifting the pivot point to the knee, could easily damage the kneecap.
In life, core principles form rigid structures, and your point of view forms the pivot point. You can effectively and without changing them move your principles around to another point of view, just like you can move your shin bone and your thigh bone around your knee joint without breaking them.
The ability to view any event from another point of view is a flexibility exercise.
Origin and Insertion
Often, not always, flexibility includes motion between two points. One point acts as a stable origin and the other acts as a movable insertion point.
In effective quad stretch, the origin is a pelvis stabilized by glutes and core muscles. The movable insertion point is your kneecap. If you lose the stable pelvis, it is likely that you lose the effective stretch and move the kneecap out of alignment.
In life, your identity forms the stable origin. The deeper and more stable your understanding of who you are is, the more you can exercise flexibility through your actions and interactions with others.
When you place the origin of an experience externally, you move with the tides and flexibility no longer applies.
Specific Range of Motion In Stretches
Flexibility is a motion between rigid structures. It has a beginning and an ending. It is not a continuous motion.
The beginning of the flexibility exercises is usually the natural and neutral state and the ending is the stretched state.
A flexibility exercise happens within a specific range of motion that through repetition makes the natural and neutral state comfortable and alert. This is part of what is called length-tension relationship.
Too much or too little tension in the beginning state impacts the motion before, during and after the exercise.
In the body, these ranges are measured by an instrument called goniometer that measures joint angles. Flexibility standards are set based on the degree you can move the joints within their track.
In life, a neutral, unattached mental and emotional state should be our norm. From there we move to states of excitement and then return.
However, for most people, the normal state is an excited mental and emotional state. Almost all our modern day activities create stimulation, and we do not take the time to even attempt to return to an unattached state that is relaxed and responsive.