Part of my job is separating myths from the facts. However, it wouldn’t be if some idiots on the internet and the media weren’t be spreading tons of lies. That’s why I now feel obliged to bust a few flexibility myths. Allow me to uncover five dumb myths regarding becoming limber. On my YouTube channel I kick down another five flexibility myths. Don’t take any offense from my writing below if you took these myths for granted before. It’s for you that I wrote this blog as I hope this information to be helpful for you!
Myth 1) You have to hold a stretch for at least 60 seconds to be effective
First things first, let’s get started with the amount of time you should hold a stretch to become more flexible. Admitted, this is kind of a tricky one as the perfect amount of time necessary to hold a stretch is not really known for sure. There’s a lot of controversy around this particular subject. What I’ve learned is that your muscles got two things that are essential for flexibility. One is the muscle spindle. This is a receptor in your muscle belly that responds to a lengthening of your muscles. It tries to keep your muscles from overstretching (to avoid damage), but while doing that also makes it impossible for you to stretch any further. The discomfort or sometimes even pain makes you want to stop the exercise and go lay in bed checking YouTube videos about cute kittens. At least, if that’s what you’re into. Luckily we also have the Golgi tendon organs. These fellows combat the pain and discomfort and overrule the spindles. When you overstretch you first feel the discomfort, but after 20-30 seconds that should fade away. You’ll be able to stretch further and hence become more flexible. A quick adaptation of the Golgi tendon organs allows you to gain flexibility over time. According to this theory you’ll only need to hold a 20-30 seconds. However, I often recommend stretching for 3 sets of 10-15 seconds per exercise too. This usually works just fine as well. Beginners shouldn’t hold a stretch for too long, but should rather do a couple of shorter sets.
Myth 2) Stretching makes your muscles longer
One of the most stupid flexibility myths I’ve ever heard of is that of lengthening your muscles with flexibility exercises. In the YouTube video I made about flexibility myths I already show my frustration regarding people who think you can grow taller by stretching exercises. This one is a little bit different, yet still pretty bad. Stretching increases your ability to get a greater range of motion, but does not actually make your muscles become longer. Maybe they’ll stretch up a little bit while in a stretching position, but they’ll just ‘bounce back’ like an elastic band when you get out of the stretch. Not only does stretching have zero effect on your muscle length, it also does NOT make your muscles look leaner or change it into any other shape whatsoever.
Myth 3) I can’t become more flexible because I am too old
This myth can easily be destroyed by the anecdotes I’ve heard personally. Over the past 5 years as an online fitness trainer I’ve had the privilege to get inside information from various people that can put one of the most stubborn flexibility myths behind us. I’ve had a client who actually learned to do his very first split at the respected age of 58! That’s right, not 18, not 28, but 58 years old! Age is important for flexibility, but not for determining your chances of getting flexible or not. The younger you are the more flexible you are naturally. With age your flexibility decreases, but your ability to become flexible remains the same throughout your life. Let me explain this to you. Flexibility is all about training. Even the least flexible person in the world could touch his toes with his legs straight after training properly. Maybe this person would achieve a split sooner if he or she was younger compared to someone of older age, but their chances are equal to achieve a full leg spread at some point. Personally I started training my flexibility at the age of 15 and with infrequent, yet consistent training I managed to do a split 6 months later, when I was 16 years old. I get a lot of questions about people who are 26 up to 35 years and older who are concerned they’ve started too late. Let me assure you that it’s never too late to become flexible!
By the way, women are also more flexible than men (generally speaking), but that’s just a side note as most people are already aware of that fact.
Myth 4) Injuries make it impossible to become flexible
Even though I often have used the excuse that I haven’t been able to do a front split since I injured my right hamstring, having injuries shouldn’t be much of a problem. Three or four years ago I was filming some skills to show in the intro clip for my videos. Without proper warm up I tried to ‘fall down into a front split’. I heard a loud snapping noise and felt an agonizing pain in my right hamstring, right below my gluteus maximus. It took me about 6 months to really get rid of the pain when I was stretching or working out, but ever since that moment I haven’t done a proper front split again. So is it due to my ‘damaged muscles’ that I can’t get into a split anymore or does it have a different reason? I can assure you that there’s a different reason for that. After the injury I didn’t properly stretch my hamstrings anymore, nor did I pay much attention to my hips (which also does a lot in the front split). Besides I was kind of scared to overstretch for a long time. The pain and trouble it caused me back then was not really something I wanted to risk another setback for just to be able to show off my front splits on YouTube. Basically our body is perfectly capable of thinking of different ways to become flexible. If you have scar tissue in a certain muscle then your body simply thinks of something to compensate that injured muscle. Hence, you’ll find new ways to become more flexible. Never let a past injury be the reason for not trying to be more flexible. Be careful though and don’t overstretch. Current injuries are best taken care of my taking plenty of rest and getting personalized advice from a medical doctor or physical therapist. For those wondering if I still use that intro clip, the answer is ‘no’. I’ve used it only twice so far I think.
Myth 5) Flexibility is pointless, I just want to gain muscle mass.
The final example out of the many flexibility myths is the one that states that flexibility is not useful in general fitness. If you work out just to look good there’s no point in getting more flexible too, right? Wrong! Flexibility is actually one of the main components of fitness. Let’s assume you’re one of those people who think looking good is the main purpose of fitness and working out. That’s a solid reason I think and don’t forget that you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your goals. If that’s what you want, then go for it. Anyway, how can doing flexibility exercises make you look better? A flexible body allows you to use a greater range of motion during exercises. The bigger your range of motion the more muscle mass you could potentially build. If you are as flexible as a Chinese vase (I thought that was an original comparison) and want to do a squat you won’t get down far enough getting the full potential out of the exercise. However, if you are flexible enough to squat in between your legs so that your butt is almost touching the ground you’ll get a very big range of motion. The benefits and dangers of ‘full squats’ is another controversial topic, which I’ll save for later, but for now it’s just an example of how a full range of motion due to a flexible body can help you improve your looks.
If you can’t get enough of flexibility training you should check out the videos I made about this training style. Check out my YouTube channel for more and stay tuned for the five flexibility myths that are busted in my recent video (online on the JeromeFitness channel: January 11th, 2015).