Yoga for Flexibility
Have you thought about training your flexibility lately?
This is one aspect of our training that a lot of us often overlook, but yoga for flexibility actually has a wide range of advantages, especially for martial artists, and there are lots of reasons that it should be considered a priority in your training.
In this post, we’re going to delve into the importance of flexibility for a bit. You’ll find why this is game changing in terms of your performance.
And then you’ll learn how to easily start benefiting from using yoga for flexibility. Ready?
Why Yoga for Flexibility Should Be on Your Radar
We used to think that training flexibility was a waste of time. We were all about performing better with higher jump heights, faster running and greater strength.
We were all looking for that toned, superhero physique. But we just didn’t have time for foam rollers or stretching!
And this laziness was given some support by a number of studies that actually show that stretching before a workout doesn’t reduce injury as previous thought (study).
In multiple studies and reports, it was shown that stretching only reduces injury risk in those people who had already introduced stretching into their training.
That is to say, if you are someone who has never developed that dependence on stretching, then you will never need to stretch in the future.
In fact, it’s somewhat possible that stretching more could actually increase your risk of pulling a muscle or dislocating something!
If you watch animals in the wild, you’ll notice that they never have a long stretch before they give chase after a rabbit or an antelope. They’re ready to go at a moment’s notice: like a coiled spring! That’s how we as martial artists should be.
Here’s a fantastic, brief video on the benefits of yoga:
Why Stretching Matters
This sounds like a nail in the coffin for stretching but it doesn’t rule out the importance of flexibility or, more specifically, yoga for flexibility.
Let’s take a closer look at those animals in the wild: and at your pet dog or cat in fact.
You may notice that although they don’t stretch and limber up before they burst into action, what they do do is to stretch and limber up all the rest of the time!
Cats and dogs are constantly stretching and yawning. They’re constantly trying to stay limber.
This is what we lack most of the time.
In fact, most of us lead incredibly static and immobile lives. Whereas animals are either sleeping or active, we exist in this kind of ‘limbo’ between the two.
We often spend long hours doing nothing much: either sitting in front of the computer at work, or sitting in front of the TV on the couch at home.
And this does a real number on our bodies. While in that position, you actually shorten your hip flexors because your legs stay bent for so long.
These become tight and inflexible, while your hamstrings and glutes (hip extensors) become stretched and weak. The glutes are highly powerful muscles and we spend 90% of our day in a seated position.
This was never how it was meant to be. Observe primitive man in the wild and you’ll notice that they spend most of their time in a squatting position when they aren’t active.
This keeps them in a permanent state of stretch and helps to work their core even at rest.
Meanwhile, our arms are stretched forward to the keyboard, our head is tilted down, our shoulders are rounded and our pecs are tight and shortened.
All this creates a number of health issues like kyphosis and anterior pelvic tilt. It can actually make you look shorter and less confident, it impacts negatively on your breathing and raises our stress levels.
It makes us more prone to injury and it causes us to ‘compensate’ in other ways with dangerous lifting technique, walking technique and running technique.
Throw in shoes and high heels and we’re like ticking time-bombs for a whole host of mechanical problems!
So, here’s the thing: we shouldn’t have to stretch before exercise. But in general, we should be stretching and using our bodies much more than we are.
We spend all of our time in fixed, motionless positions that are unnatural for us. And so it’s no surprise that we’re constantly stressed, achy, stiff and completely inflexible.
It’s no wonder that so many of us struggle with BASIC movements like linking our hands behind our backs, touching our toes or just squatting down with our heels on the floor (try it!).
Don’t worry: in a moment we’re going to discuss how yoga for flexibility can solve all of these problems!
How Flexibility Impacts Your Performance
One more thing to consider before we get into all that though, is just how all this impacts on your performance.
If you are any kind of athlete, then you need to be stretching at least once a day.
This is very true for martial artists for instance. As martial artists, we need flexibility to kick higher, to hold horse stances in wing chun or to perform a hip escape in BJJ.
Flexibility can also increase your speed and your strength. When throwing a punch, you use the triceps, deltoids, pecs, obliques and legs to push that fist forward and drive it at an opponent.
But the ‘antagonistic muscles’ – the ones that pull the other way – will actually be pulling that muscle back and offering resistance against the punch.
The greater your flexibility and your ability to control your muscle and this relaxation, the faster and more powerful your punches will be.
The same goes for kicks. And for the bench press. And in fact, by stretching the Tibialis Anterior, you can even increase your vertical jump in the same way. (Study)
One more thing. When you use yoga for flexibility or any other form of flexibility training, you’ll be surprised to find just what a difference it makes to your overall wellbeing.
Pain is eliminated. You feel less stiff and more energetic. You’ll even sleep better.
And all this does wonders for your energy levels!
Do you ever feel… just… old? Like everything is too much effort?
There are lots of reasons for this, but we’re willing to bet that one of the BIG issues is that you lack flexibility. When you get this back, you feel like a little kid again just bursting with energy and wanting to run and move.
Because you can.
Where Does Yoga for Flexibility Fit Into All of This?
Adding yoga for flexibility training can help you to fix many of these problems. And it will do this to a much greater degree than any other form of traditional stretching.
Why is that? Here are a few reasons why yoga for flexibility trumps the competition…
1. It’s Perfectly Structured, Regular and Social
Well, firstly, yoga provides you with a perfect structure for improving your flexibility. We’ve seen how it’s not sufficient to stretch just before your workouts.
And it also makes sense that doing ten minutes of stretching and a few workouts isn’t going to make up for decades of neglect and limited movement.
Yoga will help you to stay agile and active by providing you with regular stretching and regular routines to help make you more limber. And the social interaction is a nice added bonus AND a nice incentive to keep you on task.
2. It’s Mindful
What’s more, is that when you use yoga for flexibility, you’ll also benefit from the mindfulness that comes with yoga.
Yoga practices breathing techniques, it teaches you to breath in and out in accordance with the movements and it teaches you to be aware of all your muscles and how they’re working.
Not only does this ultimately do wonders for things like your posture, but it also helps you to improve your flexibility at a faster rate.
There are some thinkers out there – such as author Kelly Starrett – who believe the main reason we struggle with our flexibility is the myotatic reflex: our body’s inclination to shorten the muscle when it lengthens past a certain point.
In other words, they believe we lose flexibility due to a reflex designed to prevent injury. And this can only be unlearned by gently easing the body into those stretches.
3. It’s Gentle and Healthy
When you used to do warm ups before gym class, you may have started by ‘bouncing’ into the stretches. Your gym teacher meant well, but today we know that this is a surefire way to develop an injury as it places strain on the connective tissue.
With yoga for flexibility, you know you’re taking advantage of centuries-old teachings that have been proven time and again. Moves like:
- Triangle post
- Upward dog
- Standing thigh stretch
- Reverse triangle stretch
- Pyramid pose
- Downward dog
- Three legged downward dog
- Bridge pose
- Lizard pose
And more will all help you to gradually build up to a greater degree of control over your body!
4. There Are Many More Health Benefits
Lastly, there are many more health benefits aside from using yoga for flexibility. It teaches you better posture, while also helping you to combat stress and negative hormones.
You’ll learn ‘belly breathing’ which is incredibly good for you. And in short, you’ll feel and even look better than you have done for years.
It’s even a good calorie burner, meaning you’ll tone up muscle and lose fat at the same time too!