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Friday, February 8, 2013

The One With A Twist

I have never been a bendy person. As a child I was a  disappointment to my gymnastics teachers. I was a consummate failure at basic moves like the splits or back bends. So when I started aerial silks in January I knew that something was going to either have to bend or I was going to risk breaking myself in the process.

My first silks class resulted in a struggle as all my fellow student gracefully went through their warm up stretches. While the teacher was encouraging them to touch heads to knees and hands to ankles I was left feeling grossly disproportioned as I groped desperately after my feet like a t-rex trying to tie a shoe. When it came time to straddle I was acutely aware of how little my legs would spread. To an outsider it probably didn’t look like I was even trying.

I did discover while the stubbornness of age has not improved my physical flexibility it has given me the fortitude to follow through and improve. Each session I committed to the fullest extent of my puny stretch and remembered given time even the most ridged tree can learn to bend. Before exiting each position I take one final exhale and try to reach just a bit further than I think I can. After a month I am just now starting to give my knees a kiss during warm ups.

The nice think about stretching is you can do it anywhere, it’s good for you and it doesn’t require equipment. For this blog I have included some of my favorite stretches that have helped to increase my flexibility over the last month. When I am not in class I do not like to feel like I am “working out” so these are things I can do while I am surfing the net or lounging around the house.

Shoulder Stretches
This is probably the first stretch I do each session. Even if you are stiff it should not be uncomfortable and warms up the muscles for some of the tougher stretches.

1. Spread your feet about shoulder width apart and make your back and arms as flat as possible and lean into the wall. If you have silk to grip that is another fine option.
2. After a few deep breaths move your hands down your support about 4 inches. Remember to keep your back as flat as possible. As you roll down try to point your tailbone up. This helps to keep you from slouching
3. Continue Step 2 a couple more time until your hands are on the floor

Ankle & Wrist Stretches
This stretch is easy to do directly after your shoulders because you are already down on the floor. Your hands and feet are important tools for silks and acrobatics so it is good to make sure they are ready for use.

1. With your legs and hands about shoulder width apart walk your hands up over your head. Splay your fingers and try to put your weight evenly into your hands and press the floor down. As you walk up roll up on your toes and flex the ankles.
2. Roll down off  your toes and walk your hands back between your legs. Palms should be on the floor with fingers pointed between your legs. Remember to keep your tailbone pointed towards the ceiling to keep your position as straight as possible. If you need to widen your stance to touch the floor go ahead
3. Repeat Steps 1 & 2 several times.

Your ability to split is going to almost always improve the ascetics of your routine as well as make reaching different positions easier. If you only work on one thing a day I recommend the straddle. It's not an easy move but persistence will pay off. There are many positions you can do from a basic straddle I have just included the one I use most frequently.

1. Spread your legs as far apart as comfortable. If that is only a small V fine go for it. Proper position is far more important than the width of the straddle.
2. Sit straight up with a flat back and point your hips to the floor. This should help give you a flat back. If you are arching your back it is not going to improve your straddle. Sitting correctly should feel like a slight tension where your inner thigh meets your hip
3. Lay your left elbow on the ground inside your left leg and reach your right arm over head toward your left foot.
4. Make sure your torso is pointed forward and your back is straight. For a better stretch try pointing your toes too.
5. Remember proper position is more important than how deep your stretch is. Time and persistence will improve the rest. 
6. When you bring your legs back together remember to do it slowly and shake them out as you go. Be nice to your muscles!

This is a simple stretch for your hamstring. I also feel like I can track my overall flexibility.

1. Sit with your legs together and toes pointed
2. Reach towards your toes while keeping your back as flat as possible
3. If you can't reach do not give up! Breath in exhale and try to reach a little further.
4. Once you can reach your toes you can further improve the stretch by trying to touch your belly and torso to your knees.

Roll Down
This borders on being conditioning vs a stretch but due to how simple and important it is I decided to include it. Your ability to be flexibility does not just depend on how much you stretch but also your core strength and ability to hold positions. The roll down is an low impact way to quickly improve some of your core

1. From a seated position with back straight tuck your butt under and suck your stomach in towards your spine.
2. Hold your hands either out at your sides or in front of you.
3. SLOWLY begin to lay back starting from your hips to your shoulders.
4. If you are doing it correct it should take an agonizing amount of time to actually lay down. You are supporting yourself with your abs and core only.
5. Once you are all the way down stretch your hands over your head and enjoy an leisurely stretch from head to toe.

Congratulations, you are on your way to becoming a more flexible person!

1 comment:

  1. I love those leggings! Once I nail down my evening routine I will share too. It does feel great to get more bendy/more muscular every time I do silks or stretch. :)