Flexibility

Q: I’ve gotten really inflexible in the past few years. What
can I do to become more limber again?
A: The first thing I’d look at is making sure that your
tissues are warm and moist enough. Are you getting exercise intense enough to
warm your body up and get the fluids flowing? Are you drinking enough water?
Another aspect of well lubricated tissues is the quality of the fats you eat.
Are you eating high quality fats? How’s your blood sugar? Fluctuating blood
sugar levels suck fluid out of your tissues. A foundation of good nutrition and
regular exercise is essential before going further with trying to increase your
range of motion. I imagine a piece of dried up old leather. If you try to bend
and twist it, there’s a good chance it will tear or crack. If you oil it first,
though, it will become more pliable.
As for exercises, I’d start with a focus on lubricating the
joints. There’s a slippery goo called synovial fluid that your body releases
into joint spaces. You have to move to spread the synovial fluid throughout the
joint space. This is pretty similar to oiling a hinge. You don’t just drip the
oil into the hinge and walk away, you work the oil in by moving the hinge,
making sure it has spread out and that the hinge moves freely through its
entire range. Same thing with the joints. This action alone can be enough to
prevent loss of range of motion. The idea here is to stay within the
comfortable range, not to push the edges of your flexibility. According to the
consensus of exercise scientists, lubricating your joints once a week is
sufficient. This is pretty much the easiest workout possible, a great option
for when you know you should get exercise, but have very little energy. I think
of it as “checking my edges”. I ask myself “what can this joint do?” and
explore the whole range, rotating and bending until it moves freely and easily,
working through areas that stick or creak. There’s no particular number of
repetitions or duration here, it’s about doing what needs to be done to get
smooth movement. Every joint, at least once a week.
Once you’ve gotten your body warm and moist and the joints
lubricated, if you still don’t have the range you’d like, THEN exercises to
increase range make sense to me. The standard recommendations that I was taught
in personal training school were dynamic stretching at the beginning of a
workout and static stretches at the end. So, for example, to increase your
range when reaching your arms up, start a workout with arm circles as a warm
up. Then do your workout – a walk, or strength training exercises, or whatever
– then at the end of the workout do a reaching stretch that you hold for at
least 90 seconds. Don’t force it, just go to the comfortable edge and gently
ease into it, no bouncing.

Let me know how that goes. I’ve got a lot more I could say
here, but I’m afraid this may already be information overload.

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