In this next section I will answer the question of how long does it take to get flexible and give you a stretching for flexibility routine. It’s important that right from the beginning to develop strength as your flexibility improves. Increasing your joints range of motion without also improving the strength of the surrounding muscles can be an invitation for injury.
When you improve your flexibility to the point where an additional range of motion exists, the stretched muscles now have a reduced amount of overlap between the muscle fibers, resulting in a substantial reduction in strength. Strength and flexibility programs should be done together to avoid this problem.
This is why the stretches below should be done between sets of the working exercise. Does it make you a little weaker? Studies say yes but I believe you recover and now possess the strength you lacked in the stretched position. From here you continually get stronger and more flexible.
The question of how long does it take to get flexible is tricky. It depends on how inflexible your are to start and what is your standard that you call flexible?
How long it takes you to get flexible also depends on how diligently and frequently you practice as well as lifestyle factors. This includes things like stress, diet, recovery and hydration.
Long story short, the answer to how long does it take to get flexible is you get better the more you do it. So stop researching how long it will take and get on the floor and do something. In a year, you’ll be way better than you are now if you apply yourself. You may also be way behind other people. We are all different. It doesn’t matter.
I have a different stretching for flexibility routine to do on its own (without weight training) that would be called “resistance stretching.” It’s more of a pure PNF routine which increases mobility and flexibility. The mobility routine differs from this stretching routine because it gives you the strength to control your body in the stretched position while flexibility simply allows you INTO the position… but you are useless there.
That Which Doesn’t Bend, Breaks!
Weight lifting is awesome when done properly. However, doing a limited range of movement (chopping your reps short of full extension) over a prolonged period of time can create shortened muscles. This is commonly seen with “ILS” and “MAS”. The “Invisible Lat Syndrome” and “Monkey Arm Syndrome” are where the person walks around like they are carrying a beer keg under each arm.
Examples of shortened range of movement activities are partial barbell curls and bicycling-activities. In the later, the hip flexor can become shortened due to long periods where the hip flexors contracts repeatedly but does not fully elongate. Weight training exercises if continually performed in a shortened range of motion (without full extension or flexion), can make you vulnerable to injuries when outside the gym.
Chronically shortened muscles can be the first step in a series of events leading to injury. Shortened hip flexors, like mentioned above, can over time lead to a reduction of the normal lordotic curve of the lumbar spine, which can impair the spine’s load-bearing and shock absorption capacity. Over tight hamstrings have the same effect on the lumbar spine.
Over tight quadriceps on the other hand, can pull the knee cap upward, causing it to track abnormally high in its groove. This situation can result in a roughening of the underside of the knee cap (chrondromalacia patellae), leading to pain, inflammation, and eventually put you on your butt.
Train Right And You Don’t Need To Stretch Much
Having said that, weight training done properly over a full range of motion, can be beneficial to your flexibility levels. The two key points to remember are to perform your weight training exercises through the joint’s full range of motion, and to work opposite pairs (antagonistic) of muscles equally. In other words, do the same amount of work for the back as you do your chest. This will prevent muscle imbalances that would place undue stress on the joint that is between the two muscles.
If you have rounded shoulders with shoulder or neck pain, take note. You probably work your chest more than your back and your Pec muscles are pulling your shoulder joint forward causing pain in the shoulders or tightness in the neck area.
When Being Cool. Isn’t
Body temperature is important when stretching. Increased temperature increases the range of movement of a joint, while being cold has the opposite effect. Think elastic band. If it’s cold, it snaps.
Before performing stretching exercises, your body’s temperature must be elevated. The warm up can be passive, like a hot bath or sauna, or active, by doing a couple of light sets of the exercise you are about to do. The latter is preferred in the gym because most people take offense to people doing bench presses in only a towel.
Some people think that stretching IS the warm-up, but this is a mistake. Getting warm before stretching is important for two reasons. First, core body temperature is elevated. Second, muscles are subject to thixotropy (look it up if you want), which is the tendency for body fluids to become less “sticky” following a period of being shaken or otherwise disturbed by outside forces.
Ever see sprinters shake their legs before running? Now you know why! When you don’t move for extended periods of time, you get stiff, turn to stone and die (just kidding, but you get the point). The best time to stretch is after training. The target muscles are warm and less “sticky”, and at this time research has shown that your stretching will produce long term improvements in flexibility
Last point; don’t hold your breath when you stretch. Besides raising your blood pressure (that’s sure relaxing) you will be tense and unable to “sink” into the stretch. Proper breathing should enhance relaxation while stretching. Exhale with the elongation phase of the stretch and r-e-l-a-x.
A Stretching For Flexibility Routine
The actual routine is to hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds between sets of the muscle you are resistance training. Since you will be doing 3-5 sets of resistance training in the workout, that is the amount of sets of stretching you will be doing.
For example: You do a set of bench presses (compound chest movement) and on your rest you do a chest/shoulder stretch for 30 seconds to a minute and then right back to your bench press again.
Again, this is just ONE of the many styles of stretching for flexibility. You could also hold the bottom position of the bench for 20 seconds at the end of your training set. Then reduce the weight, take a little rest and hit your next set. It’s really about just getting comfortable at the end range of movement and then learning to express strength there after.
Chest/Shoulder Stretch: Standing parallel to a wall, extend your arm back so that its full length is against the wall and turn your body away from the wall as far as the chest muscle allows until you feel a comfortable stretch.
Shoulder, Arms and Back Stretch: With legs bent under you, reach forward with arms on floor. You can also do this one arm at a time. You can stretch the sides, upper back and lower back by slightly moving your hips in either direction.
Forearm and Wrist Stretch: Start on all fours. Support yourself on your hands and knees. Thumbs are pointed to the outside with fingers pointed toward knees. Keep palms flat as you lean back to stretch the front part of your forearms.
Latissimus stretch: While holding on to a bar or pressing into the wall with hands shoulder width apart, bend forward at the waist. Make sure to be far enough away from the bar or wall to elongate the torso. It helps if you try to imagine that you are dragging your hands down the wall. That, or just hang relaxed from a chinup bar for as you can.
Back and Triceps Stretch: Reach arm up and over, bending the elbow. The arm is now positioned behind the head. If you lean to the opposite side, you not only stretch the back but also the triceps.
Shoulder Joint/ Chest Stretch: Holding a stick or towel in both hands, slowly raise it over your head until the stick or towel is behind you. As your shoulder flexibility improves, you will be able to perform this movement with your hands closer and closer together.
Lower Back Stretch: As you lie flat on your back, bend one knee. Allow that knee to fall over the opposite leg as the hip rises off the floor. Be sure to keep shoulder and upper torso on the mat. You should feel this stretch through the lower back muscles. Take deep breaths and relax into the stretch.
Groin Stretch: In a sitting position bring the soles of your feet together. Sit up straight and gently press knees toward the floor. By leaning forward slightly you will feel a deep groin, glute, hamstring, and low back stretch.
Groin Stretch #2: You can also stretch your groin by squatting down with your feet flat and toes pointed out at approximately 15 degrees. Keep your heels 4-12 inches apart and to add an added degree of stretch, push on the insides of the knees with your elbows.
Double Quadriceps Stretch: Kneel down and put your hands on the ground or mat behind you. Slowly lean farther and father back by sliding your hands backwards. You’ll feel your quads being stretched. Hold the stretched position for about a minute, remembering to relax in the stretched position.
Piriformis/ I.T. Band Stretch: In a seated position raise one leg. Allow hip to rotate outward. With both hands hold the lower leg parallel to the floor. You can add intensity to the stretch by bringing the lower leg closer to the chest.
Another version of this stretch that emphasizes the lower back a little more. Exhale as you rotate the left shoulder towards the right knee and pull it into your chest. Don’t forget to vogue.
Hamstrings Stretch: In a seated position, extend on leg out in front of your while keeping the other bent. Bend forward at the waist until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg.
Spine Ball Stretch: This is a great one for maintenance of your lower spine. Walking running and lifting all day puts a lot of stress on your lower back and this stretch helps get rid of the tightness and stress you feel after heavy training. Relax into the stretched position and hold it for about a minute or so. Plus it’s fun to roll up into a ball and have the dog or cat sniff your ear while trying to stretch.
Calf Stretch: Stand facing the wall in the lunge position. Lean against the wall and push the heel of the rear leg downward to feel a full stretch in the calf muscles of the rear leg. This version with a straight rear leg will stretch the calf nearest the knee. By simply bending the knee, you will feel the stretch closer to the ankle.
Ankle and Achilles Tendon Stretch: Bring the toes of one foot almost even or parallel to the knee of the other leg. Let the heel of the bent leg come off the ground one-half inch or so. The bent forward leg is where you will feel the stretch. Lower the heel toward the ground while pushing forward on your thigh with your chest and shoulder. If your lower back feels vulnerable, then you can support yourself by placing your hands on the floor.
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