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THE HOLY GRAIL/TALE OF FLEXIBILITY

Updated: Mar 11, 2022

"When will I finally become more flexible?"

"Can I learn the splits at all? How long does it take?"

Yoga is known to improve flexibility and ROM (the Range Of Motion of the respective joint). Yoga is by no means exclusively about improving your mobility, but flexibility is definitely promoted through asana practice. The goal should always remain to promote freedom of movement but at the same time also the stability of a joint. After all, “over-flexibility” (so called hypermobility) is a not uncommon syndrome that can lead to problems for the affected 15-20% of the population. More on that in another article.


As a yoga teacher, I am often asked: "When will I finally become more flexible?", "Can I learn the splits at all? How long does it take?"

There is no simple answer that applies to everyone. So if you read about programs like: Learn the splits in 28 days, then I advise you to be skeptical!


What does it depend on whether you can learn the splits, for example, and how long it will take?


Eight factors are relevant to answering this question:

  1. Your age: As you get older, the connective tissue surrounding muscles, which plays an important role in stretching, loses its elasticity. The good news is that this process is highly dependent on your activity level. If you exercise regularly, you can keep this aging effect to a minimum.

  2. Your gender: According to studies, women actually seem to be a bit more flexible than men. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that men, thanks to their stronger muscles, are less concerned with mobility (than, for example, with building strength), but it is also due to the different structure of the connective tissue in men and women. In addition, women enjoy, on average, a greater tolerance for stretching. For example, women feel relaxed and more flexible after passive stretches, while men tend to struggle with stiffness in the stretched areas afterwards.

  3. The joint: Type and structure of the joint defines ROM. In principle, every individual has the same joints as their fellow human beings, but there can also be small individual deviations. For example, the position of the hips plays a role in mobility not only directly in the hips, but also in the back of the leg. Incidentally, flexibility within the same body can vary greatly depending on the joint: For example, someone can touch the ground with straight legs without problems, but cannot clasp their hands behind their back.

  4. Your background: Have you always enjoyed exercising regularly? Then your connective tissue and your neural network are better prepared for the flexibility training. Either way, your background matters. However, weight, height, and body proportions don't seem to have much of an impact on your chances of success in terms of agility.

  5. Mental state: Flexibility training not only leads to relaxation, it is also necessary to gain flexibility. Better results are achieved through breathing and conscious relaxation (internal and external).

  6. Warmth: Whether it's through an active warm-up (best and always recommended) or a hot shower, warming up not only prevents stretching injuries, it improves the results.

  7. Resistance training: Resistance during stretching, or alternating muscle activation and relaxation (PNF), helps improve flexibility.

  8. Pregnancy: This point obviously does not concern everyone. Pregnant women benefit from the hormone relaxin, which makes their connective tissue more flexible during pregnancy. After pregnancy, this hormone decreases again.


These eight points are far from saying everything about flexibility. But the good news is that almost anyone can learn the split. If you would like to become more flexible, you can do it with the right training. Yoga is well suited for this, although this of course depends on the respective yoga class and teacher. In the next posts I would like to go into more detail as to why you should work on your flexibility at all, give some examples of how an effective and safe stretching sequence could look like, and also write about the fact one can become too flexible.


Sources:


Flexibility Training, Len Kravitz, Ph. D. and Vivian H. Heyward, Ph. D.


Flexibility, UC Davis Sports Medicine


Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes, Jay Polsgroce M., Brandon M. Eggleston, Roch J. Lockyer



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