I can’t tell you how many times I hear the “I’m not flexible” excuse so I can’t do yoga (insert, I’m not even going to give it a try because I am closed minded). Usually people claim they can’t touch their toes. This is the typical example I hear the most.
And yet again… Last Saturday night, I was talking to a man who elaborated past the typical “I can’t touch my toes.” He went on to describe in detail to me he couldn’t cross his arms to touch his sides/upper back area and he couldn’t extend his arms out laterally to touch his shoulders (like as in biceps curls). As I listened, I must of had some sort of look on my face because he even demonstrated his lack of R.O.M. and repetitively. Wow! He really couldn’t.
So of course, I asked him a question as he is a big body builder. Do you stretch after working out? (I know some body builders think stretching will counteract their “Bulking” efforts and thus they avoid it like the plague). Surprisingly, he actually didn’t provide that excuse though. His excuse was… “No, not really or not how I know I should stretch. I just don’t. I usually don’t have time or I half-ass it.” Basically, in his mind, he believes stretching isn’t important. But he is not the only one out there that is guilty of this.
THIS IS WHY YOU AREN’T FLEXIBLE!!!
A well balanced exercise program is like a triangle. Δ
At one point, there is cardio. Cardio can be anything such as walking, running, aerobics, and so forth. At another point there is resistance training which could be lifting weights, Pilates, or using body weight exercises like Yoga or T.R.X. Now, finally at the third point, there is flexibility. This is stretching or Yoga. No matter what your favorite part of the triangle is, a person’s program is incomplete if all three points aren’t regularly targeted. Key word being “Regular.”
Focusing on the last point of the triangle. Everyone should stretch after working out and it is a very important part of your routine so give yourself time to do right by it! No half-assing it. This could be just your basic stretching exercises or it could be including yoga. (This is a yoga blog so this is where I’ll elaborate). Yoga is for everyone, even body builders and athletes. Yoga can be a triple dipper too. In general, it incorporates lots of strength moves in addition to stretching moves especially with some poses. Yes, body builders, we have strength moves too. If you go Vinyasa style, you’ll get a light cardio workout in as well.
YOGA and STRETCHING:
1. Let’s debunk the popular excuse. It is not a requirement to be flexible in order to do yoga or to even to begin for that matter. Do you have to be dirty to enjoy a bath???? Nope! So come as you are. A regular yoga practice will definitely increase anyone’s range of motion (R.O.M.)! But it doesn’t happen overnight. It might take several months or even a year. Have you seen those Progressive Yoga Pose posters on Facebook or Pinterest? Be patient! The key phrase is “REGULAR PRACTICE” and if you took pictures of yourself, you’d see your progression too. Aim to stretch properly after every exercise session and try to pop yoga into your schedule at least twice a week. You’ll evolve!
2. Yoga has a different mindset than what you hear in other exercise formats or even sports conditioning. You know…”no pain, no gain.” Yep, quite the opposite! In yoga, when you stretch or pursue a pose, you want sensation and not pain. If you experience pain, back out of the pose a little, use a prop, and/or modify. In yoga, we never say NO PAIN, NO GAIN. So it is OK to back out, do Child’s pose, and let go of your ego. Come back and revisit the pose or stretch later. You’ll get there. Good thing you don’t have to get there over night.
3. BREATHE!!! Yoga instructors regularly tell us to breathe deeply, fully, and slowly. Proper breathing is central to stretching, relaxing, oxygenating muscles, and increasing a person’s flexibility. On the flip side, breathing shallowly and rapidly or even holding your breath will encourage your body to stay tense making it difficult to stretch properly. So breath into you stretching regardless of whether it is plain old stretching or in some yoga pose.
4. When you approach a deep stretch, take your time. Inhale and lengthen first. Exhale as you pursue your stretch. You maybe have to visit the breath several times before you get to today’s stretching destination.
ANOTHER APPROACH – PROPS AND EXTRA TOOLS TO ASSIST R.O.M.:
You may have heard that our muscles are enclosed in fascia which is the soft tissue component of connective tissue. It is the fascia that provides support and protection for most structures within our body to include our muscles. But it can be to taunt. Tight fascia can affect a person’s flexibility and strength.
Let me elaborate. All in all, we workout doing our favorite exercises like body building, running, swimming, aerobics… and as a result our muscles grow and become stronger which we like, but the bad news is that the fascia remains unchanged. Eventually or possibly, our muscles are restricted/hindered by the fascia. Because, essentially, things are squished! Now, you find yourself complaining of tight hips, knee pain, you get those layman massages where they keep telling you to relax repeatedly and you are relaxing… There is something you can do about it. It’s called myofascial release.
Deep Tissue Massage, Foam Rolling, Stretching with/without props…
1. Deep Tissue Massage – Make an appointment with massage therapist. See them regularly. A skilled therapist will assist with myofascial release. But it can cost!
2. Foam Rolling:
Way cheaper than a massage. For approximately $20 dollars, you can buy a foam roller to keep. Once you have the foam roller, rest on it and roll yourself out. This will also cause myofascial release which will allow for strength gains, increase flexibility, and yep even the pain will start to subside.
Greater flexibility is necessary for some yoga poses. A foam roller can be a tool to help you get there. Also, a foam roller can make yoga poses and Pilates exercises more challenging. For instance, try putting hands on a foam roller for plank. Feel that core.
Some Foam Rolling Exercises for Yogis.
Get yourself a foam rolling chart.
i. IT BAND: See chart #4. Try rolling for a minute. Yoga Results: A deeper chair pose.
ii. THORACIC SPINE: See chart #9. Yoga Results: A deeper Locust or Camel… Great for any spine strengthening poses and for upper back pain.
iii. CALF: See chart #1. Yoga Results: A deeper Downward Facing Dog.
iv. BOTTOM OF FOOT: Use a tennis ball. Roll the ball back and forth from big toe mound to heal, from small toe mound to heal, across the arches, and then small circles. Yoga Results: More grounding for balancing poses, a deeper forward fold, Plantar Fasciitis…
3. Straps – Think of straps as extensions of our limbs. Can’t quite connect those hands in binds such as Cow Face Arms, Bound Angle, Bound Garland…? Can’t pull off standing hand to big toe pose? How about Lord of the Dancer, King Pigeon, Mermaid? … the strap will help you get there and with practice eventually you will bind without the strap.
4. Blocks – Like straps, blocks can be extensions as well. I like to think of blocks as bringing the floor closer for poses such as forward fold, triangle, half-moon, the splits… (Don’t have a block, use that foam roller as a stand in).
So revisiting that ever popular excuse… All and all, you don’t have to be flexible “before” to include yoga, foam rolling, or even stretching for that matter to begin working on increasing your flexibility. A daily practice will benefit you tremendously! Flexibility will keep you younger, help you get and stay stronger, help your posture, keep you pain free or less, and also enhance your athletic performance.
Besides, do you really want to be that guy who can’t reach his back? I guess it really sucks when his back itches since he can’t satisfy that itch. Shaking my head… And no, I’m not hating on body builders, just wanted to reinforce how important stretching is.