Both genetics and lifestyle affect your flexibility levels. Some people are naturally more flexible than others. Think back at your childhood- do you remember being very flexible or quite stiff when you were a kid? If you were very bendy and lost your range of motion and flexibility, when did it happen? What events or lifestyle changes led to it? Did you have injuries, surgeries, or major stresses in your physical body that could have affected your muscular-skeletal system? Basically, I’m asking you to determine your “base” flexibility level that was given to you by your parents. For me personally, even as a kid, I wasn’t able to do splits, ever. I always had an OK flexibility that allowed me to do all things kids do comfortably, but my parents quickly decided that ballet school wasn’t meant for me.
What about your flexibility levels today? How much tighter did you get and why?
It is a well-known fact that as we age, our flexibility decreases, and we need to stretch regularly to maintain our current levels. By regularly, I mean every day for at least 30-40 min a day! Once or twice a week is not enough!
Also, what kind of stretching have you been doing? Do you passively hold positions, do you flow through your stretches, how long do you hold your stretches for? I recommend holding each position for at least 30-45 seconds in order to achieve a relaxation response from your parasympathetic nervous system. Make sure to also breath deep and move the energy of your breath into the muscle you are stretching. My personal opinion, backed by science, is that the most effective way to improve flexibility is by gently loading the muscle at the same time as you are stretching it, instead of just using passive holds. For instance, a standing split exercise requires you to balance on one leg as you stretch it, which loads your hamstrings. Another example is holding a reverse plank in order to stretch your front shoulders . Both yoga and pilates routines incorporate plenty of active stretching positions.
Diet-wise, drinking a lot of coffee and/or eating a lot of processed foods full of sugar and chemicals will make your body dehydrated and deprived of proper nutrients. All this can lead to inflammation in your muscles and joints, lack of energy, feeling sore , achy, and tight. Make sure to eat plenty of whole foods, sustainably sourced proteins, and drink a lot of water. When your body receives proper nutrients, it will feel more energetic and more limber.
Another important factor is your sleep quality and quantity. Make sure to get good night’s sleep for preferably 7-8 hours per night. I also suggest to tune in with nature and go to bed soon after sunset and get up with sunrise. If you are sleep-deprived, you are less likely to improve much not only in your flexibility, but other motor and cognitive skills. Being sleep deprived will also lead you to making poor food choices, which as discussed above is going to only make you feel tighter.
Last but not least , your overall lifestyle can directly affect your flexibility. If you are mostly sedentary, it will be harder for you to get limber, because your body doesn’t get enough blood and lymph flow during the day. If you have to sit for many hours during the day, I suggest for you to get up every 45-50 min for 5-10 min to stretch or walk. Also make sure to take at least 30 min in the evening to do some deep stretches for your front body (quads, hip flexors, stomach, chest) to counter the effects of prolonged sitting. On the opposite side of things, if you are too active and workout excessively like a professional athlete, this lifestyle could impede your flexibility improvements too. If you workout every day for more than 2 hours a day, your muscles are probably overworked and don’t have enough time to recover between exercise sessions. If possible, make sure to have at least one day a week as a recovery day when you don’t train and do active recovery such as swimming, stretching, sauna, etc.
I hope after reading this article you make some positive lifestyle changes that would make your body more flexible and youthful! If you do decide to seek professional guidance, I can definitely help you to improve your flexibility by teaching you yoga and pilates. I am currently available for in person pilates in Beverly Hills, in-home yoga sessions in Los Angeles area, and online yoga sessions. I would love to help you increase your flexibility and finally get to touch those toes:) I offer a free trial session, flexible payment plans, and I am here to answer any questions you might have. Don’t hesitate to reach out!