Some questions on stretching and flexibility

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Markus

Level 1 Valued Member
Hi,

as I've gotten so much great advice here on this forum already, I would like to ask you another question about stretching and flexibility where I feel a little lost at the moment.

A few days ago I had my lower back checked by a doctor as I feel a little unstable from time to time combined with a little pain and I just wanted to double check that doing S&S is fine. He fully agreed with me doing it, but said that my sacroiliac joint seems to be displaced from time to time which can cause some minor problems. He showed me some good ways to fix this, but besides that noted that my overall flexibility is ... well ... not so good :) it actually took me some time to be ready for swings and now that is fine, but I think there is a lot of things I could improve to save my back and hips better in the future.

My question now is where to start. I already got "Super joints" and really like it and have done some of the easier exercises every day for quite a while now. But as I want to improve my flexibility seriously (maybe be able to do splits in the end), I bought "Relax into stretch" as well which I also like very much. However, I actually feel a little lost right now, as I don't know where to start and how often to do which of the exercises besides my S&S training. My problem, I think, is that there are really a bunch of exercises in the books which I just cannot do with my current level of flexibility. Is it true to say that these books are meant more for people who already have reached a certain level of flexibility and not for people who really have unflexible hips and backs and maybe a not so well posture at all?

What do you suggest for people who are really beginners in the field of flexibility?

Really looking forward to your ideas and thank you very much!
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
@Markus, Welcome to StrongFirst!

When I started working on my flexibility, I not only couldn't touch my toes, I couldn't touch past the middle of my shins. If you are patient and diligent, the results will come.

SJ and RIS are the pair I recommend people start with and you already have both. The Flexible Steel book completes the trifecta and is also recommended very highly, but first read and digest the other two - not that you have to, but I think it works even better that way.

You might want to seek out an instructor to work with in person or, if that doesn't work out, via Skype. The Flexible Steel web site has a list of both people who are certified FS instructors and the instructor specialist team - the latter is those of us who teach the certifications.

Start with things that target your hips - do the hoola hoop and belly dancing things from SJ, do the hip flexor and hamstring stretches from RIS, and see how those work for you. All those should help with your back.

If you'll permit a bit of immodesty, here's a link to a blog on this web site that I wrote shortly after StrongFirst was formed in 2012.

Strength Kept Me Out of a Wheelchair - StrongFirst

If I can do this, anyone can.

You may also wish to consider some of the other StrongFirst-friendly training modalities out there. Flexible Steel was created and is run by Master SFG Jon Engum; Ground Force Method was created and is run by Master SFG Péter Lakatos; Movement Restoration is a book authored by Senior SFG Brandon Hetzler; Original Strength was created and is run by former Master SFG Geoff Neupert and SFG-II Tim Anderson.

-S-
 

Will Moore

Level 3 Valued Member
@Markus

My first purchase from Pavel years ago was Super Joints, which I found helpful.

You may also consider a copy Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett, DPT.

Link: http://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Supple-Leopard-2nd-Performance/dp/1628600837

The most recent edition is set up in such a way that it benefits both the trainer/coach as well as the individual patient or athlete.

I have heard Kelly reference, positively, Pavel when discussing movement practice, if it matters. Also, there is a video on YouTube with him and Gray Cook worth viewing.

All the best as you cultivate your potential.
 

Deadlift13

Level 1 Valued Member
Steve - Your blog post is very inspiring. What drills / stretches from RIS and SJ do you feel have most benefited your posture and helped hold a neutral spine?
Thanks.
 

taedoju

Level 3 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
i would buy scientifically stretching by tom kurz or flexible steel book . I wouldn't recommend Kellys book for now - it focuses mostly on dealing with everything based on mobility and SMR which in turn do not have to be truth. :) But its good to have later on.
 

Markus

Level 1 Valued Member
Hi,

thank you all very much for your help and suggestions!

Steve - Thank you so much for sharing your story. I think it encourages many people to don't stop on the way despite all obstacles that may come along.

I'll definitely start with the exercises you mentioned. May I ask for your personal thoughts on some additional questions?

- How often a week should I do these exercises? The exercises from super joints I already do I do nearly everyday (before my S&S training as I'm feeling much better during S&S if I do them before), but I think it could be different with the RIS exercises?

- In the past I noted that extensive stretching might cause aching muscles the next day(s) combined with a highly reduced flexibility. Should one train through that or stop? And do aching muscles mean that the flexibility gains are actually gone or is there still an improvement left after the aching vanishes?

- Should I do the exercises before or after my regular S&S exercise?

- How much time should I spent on each session with these exercises?

Thank you very much! I also looked up some flexible steel instructors in Germany. There are a few, but it's an 8h journey. But I'll see what I can do in my summer holidays. :)
 
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taedoju

Level 3 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
i am not steve but
- do not stretch muscles when tired
- do not stretch them using PNF technique when they ache / relaxed breathing stretching is ok

What i find for me works :
dynamic stretching - in the morning and before workout - everyday
Isometric stretching - after strength workout no more than two exercises - 4 times a week
Relaxed stretching - basically whenever you want, they should be done after strength exercises - can be done everyday, for me ,i found when i need to rest from this stretching and i don't do any on sundays.

If after bouts of isometric stretching you feel ache and DOMS it means you must strengthen this muscle before you start using isometric stretching on it ( i.e strength train adductors before doing isometrics ). Relaxed stretching shouldn't cause ache as it is ...relaxed stretching (think yoga, breathing etc)
 

King Cobra Fit

Matt - CSEP-CPT, SFG I, FMS I&II
Certified Instructor
All of the suggestions above are great. Here's few additions I have:
1 - Look for someone in your area who can perform the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) on you. Its one of the best and quickest ways to find your "weak link" and systematically "attack" it. there is a listing of certified people on functionalmovement.com
2 - try some soft tissue work (foam rolling) before your stretching. Glutes, Upper back, Lats, Quads, Hamstrings. Follow that up with your stretching and mobility work.
3 - Physiotherapy and Registered Massage Therapy will go a long way
4 - S&S after some mobility work might help to "lock in" your added mobility esp. the TGU's
5 - with stretching and mobility work, Frequency trumps Duration. 5 - 10 mins a day 6-7 days per week is better than 60 mins once per week. I usually do 5 - 15 mins before all practice sessions and have one to two days per week where i'll spend 20 - 30 min on soft tissue, mobility, stability and motor control. I had issues with my hip and shoulder mobility and over the last couple years I've made big improvements. ie better and easier ROM, total absence or close to total reduction of pain, feel much much more stable.

Just don't get frustrated if your progress seems slow. Keep working on your own and once you have a chance to get some hands on help FS, FMS, working with an SFG you will most likely see a big jump.
Good luck and keep us posted.
 

Will Moore

Level 3 Valued Member
Here is the MWod video with Gray Cook (FMS) that I referenced earlier. Gray Cook talks about the role of the FMS. There is good discussion about how their two systems complement each other.

 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
That was great. Those two geniuses do have a lot in common, including the ability to string about 20 great sentences all together into one really long one. ;)
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
Steve - Your blog post is very inspiring. What drills / stretches from RIS and SJ do you feel have most benefited your posture and helped hold a neutral spine?
Thanks.
One-armed overhead standing kettlebell press helps build a resilient midsection. One-armed kettlebell swing does the same.

Cossack stretch and anything else related to splits - to perform a split, you have to solve some mobility issues, so going after a split can be helpful to a bad back.
- How often a week should I do these exercises? The exercises from super joints I already do I do nearly everyday (before my S&S training as I'm feeling much better during S&S if I do them before), but I think it could be different with the RIS exercises?
See Flexible Steel - Jon likes 3 times in 2 weeks. I agree and have also had success with 2-3 times per week. It's a form of strength training, so how hard you push will dictate how often you should train.

- In the past I noted that extensive stretching might cause aching muscles the next day(s) combined with a highly reduced flexibility. Should one train through that or stop? And do aching muscles mean that the flexibility gains are actually gone or is there still an improvement left after the aching vanishes?
It sounds like you may not be stretching correctly - the goal is to learn to relax the muscles, not stretch them. While a little soreness is OK, "highly reduced flexibility" sounds like you're going backwards, and therefore isn't good.

- Should I do the exercises before or after my regular S&S exercise?
The best time is at the end of your day - I often would work on my flexibility at 10 PM while watching TV with my wife. Before your strength is not usually good because RIS training will mess with your stretch reflex.

-
I also looked up some flexible steel instructors in Germany. There are a few, but it's an 8h journey. But I'll see what I can do in my summer holidays. :)
Come to Prague (CZ) on July 16, when fellow FS instructor and fellow Senior SFG @Pavel Macek and I will co-teach a one-day Flexible Steel workshop. Make a vacation out of it!

-S-
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
The book is called _relax_ into stretch. The gold is Pavel's, not mine.

-S-
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
True, but some of us are thick headed (I speak of myself, because I own the book, and yet still learned something from your restatement!) which is why we are so glad to have you here. :)
 

Jon_Frost

Level 6 Valued Member
True, but some of us are thick headed (I speak of myself, because I own the book, and yet still learned something from your restatement!) which is why we are so glad to have you here. :)
Amen to this! I am still struggling to close the door on splits. Always looking for more info:)
 

Markus

Level 1 Valued Member
Hi, thank you very much for all your help!

Just to make sure that I understood correctly what you said about the frequency of flexibility exercises:

I understood that when you are referring to for example RIS you speak about the isometric / pnf / forced relaxation kind of stretching which basically involves tensing the muscles you want to stress and then letting all tension go in one act of "relief" while increasing the stretch a little bit. I hope I'm right up to this point :)

If you say that for example 2-3 sessions a week is a good number then my question is if it is right to say that one does not do any flexibility exercises at all on the other days? I remember one of my former jiu jitsu coaches saying (some 20 years ago) that you have to stretch daily and even better several times a day. Although in retrospect the guy wasn't an expert in his field at all, this sentence still resonates with me. But if you say that this is not the correct approach I'm happy to get rid of it :)
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
True, but some of us are thick headed (I speak of myself, because I own the book, and yet still learned something from your restatement!) which is why we are so glad to have you here. :)
OK.

You know, Pavel used to ask me, in front of people, how I achieved a side split. I always gave the same answer: I bought the book, I followed the instructions. It was, as I say in my blog (and thank you, @JamesO for the kind words), simple but not easy.

Amen to this! I am still struggling to close the door on splits. Always looking for more info:)
Jon, you should attend a one-day Flexible Steel workshop - it's the latest iteration of our approach to flexibility training.

@Markus, one can train strength several times a day, every day, or only do heavy squats once a week - there are necessarily things that change in _what_ you do based on the schedule you choose, and the combination of the two should be dictated by your goals.

Flexibility training, as we teach, is a form of strength training. It differs, however, from the lifting teaching we do, where the focus is often on frequent, sub-maximal training. Flexibility plays by different rules, and going at it hard but only once every few days is the best route to take. Remember, we're not stretching, we're learning to relax our muscles - that's a significant difference. The program I teach in is the creation of StrongFirst master instructor Jon Engum, and its approach is not typical of most stretching programs.

I understood that when you are referring to for example RIS you speak about the isometric / pnf / forced relaxation kind of stretching which basically involves tensing the muscles you want to stress and then letting all tension go in one act of "relief" while increasing the stretch a little bit. I hope I'm right up to this point :)
Yes, but ... There are many details which matter here, and is not all "forced relaxation" or "letting all the tension go in one act of 'relief'" Yes, it can be that, but it can be other things. I could write a book in response to your post, but Jon already has. :)

-S-
 

Markus

Level 1 Valued Member
Hi,

I just thought about recycling this thread to give a short update on my stretching approaches and to ask one question.

I took Steves advice and started working on the hip stretches which actually has given me a better feeling in my lower back. I think I'm making slow improvements here regarding my flexibility.

I also started to incorporate the frog series from the flexible steel book (great recommendation, thank you again!) and RIS stretches for front and side splits. I have the feeling that I'm slowly progressing here as well, so that is fine. :)

However, I have one problem which I cannot solve on my own. I hope I can explain it and that it won't demand too much of my English skills :)

Whenever I do these stretches there comes a point where I feel a sharp pain on the outside of my left hip. What I mean by outside is that the pain is not in the muscles that are primarily stretched in the exercises. Furthermore I would say the pain is behind the bone I can feel on the left side of my pelvis. Like between the gluteal muscle and the bone. I'm sorry, but I think I cannot describe it any better. The pain occurs when...:

- ... I do the first part of the frog series. When pushing my body back the pain occurs on the left side.
- ... I do front splits stretches with my left leg back and my right leg in front of me, especially when I try to have my legs on a straight line (I mean in the sense of being parallel).
- ... I do side splits stretches. The pain occurs at a certain depth.

Do you have any ideas what this could be and how I could solve it?
 
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