Why flexibility is important
If you were to bend over right now, would you be able to touch your toes? Don’t worry if you can’t, because honestly, I know I can’t do it either. I have never been flexible and for the longest time, I believed I had zero flexibility potential within me. Who needs to be flexible anyways? At least, that’s what I thought until Sifu Dan began hinting to me every session that flexibility is important and he strongly suggested that I become more flexible. Yikes!
I am proud to say that I have gotten closer to being able to touch my toes, but I feel like I still have a long way to go.
You’ve probably heard your P.E. teacher or coach yell at you to do stretches before and after each workout. I know mine used to tell me that stretching is the most important part of any exercise routine. Turns out, they’re not too far off with what they told you. Stretching helps to lengthen the muscles and increase flexibility, which in turns helps you in so many different ways.
Flexibility increases your range of motion
Yes, that’s right. My sifu is pulling and pushing my body to bend in ways I didn’t think was possible all for the sake of being able to kick the head of a target standing behind me.
I swear my body wasn’t made to bend in so many ways. But if my siblings can do it, then so can I.
Flexibility improves circulation
Stretching will increase the blood flow throughout your body and to your muscles. Better blood circulation allows oxygen and nutrients to be carried to your muscles. By doing this, waste can be removed from muscle tissue. This encourages muscles to recover faster after a hard workout.
Flexibility improves posture and balance
That’s good news for me since my posture has in the past been described as “far from elegant”. Having the right amount of flexibility distributed in the muscles around your core can help keep your spine in a natural arch. This will allow for your weight to shift so that it is even across your back and hips.
Flexibility reduces injury
The more flexible you are, the less likely you will pull a muscle or risk injury since flexibility helps your joints be able to extend and rotate through their full range of motion without putting stress on the tissue around them.
Flexibility in kung fu
In just about every form of martial arts, flexibility is very important. A lot of the stances and forms depend on the ability to use your full range of motion. There are especially a lot of kicking techniques that are only effective if you can stretch your leg to the farthest in a direction that is out of the norm for most people. But being flexible doesn’t mean that you should be able to fold yourself in half or cross your legs behind your head. At least, I hope that’s not expected for me in the near future… Anyway, from my understanding kung fu was designed for combat and self-defence. So while being able to kick opponents on either side of you while doing the splits in the air is pretty cool, extreme flexibility is not going to happen over night.
That being said, working on flexibility should still be a priority. On top of the benefits listed above, flexibility will definitely increase your performance.
How to become more flexible
Whether you are learning kung fu, another type of martial arts, or just want your body to be more limber and balance, you should keep a positive mindset and remember that anyone can become more flexible. Muscles and tissue are shortened by lack of activity. Stretching daily will help lengthen the muscles and increase their movement.
Here are the three steps to improve your stretching for more flexibility:
1. Figure out which muscles are tight
It could be that you have trouble lifting your arms over your head, or maybe you want to be able to do the splits in three different ways. The first step to becoming more flexible is understanding your body and where you want to increase flexibility. For me personally, I want to increase the motion in my legs and stretch the muscles in my back.
2. Include stretching with your workouts
Don’t skimp out on stretching. Not only will stretching help increase flexibility, but some studies have claimed that it can also help build muscles.
There are two kinds of stretching, dynamic and static. Dynamic stretching is active movements that momentarily stretch your muscles. This type of stretching is ideal for before a workout because it helps to activate and prepare the muscles before your workout.
There are conflicting theories about whether static stretching before a workout has any real benefits. However, a number of people, including NerdFitness believe that stretching after a workout will help quicken the recovery process. It stretches the muscles, increases blood flow, and encourages muscles to heal.
3. Don’t be tense
As you are stretching, try not to tense your muscles when you pull a little farther than usual. Just relax and only going as far as you feel you can without pulling a muscle or causing injury. While you should feel some discomfort, it shouldn’t be too painful to hold the position for 15-20 second intervals.