Being a martial artist who is fortunate enough to be given natural flexibility, it seems real odd to me how come others aren’t flexible.
For the past few weeks, I have been working with some teens that can’t touch their toes to save their lives. Me being able to go to a split at a moment’s notice felt like saying “WTF”.
So I took these two kids, one being a basketball player (with horrible spine problems). Both were only able to reach their knees while standing up so I decided to take them and work with them for a couple of days to see if I can make them improve.
The basketball player (let’s call him “D”) could not squat without lifting his heels no matter how many times you told him not too (which according to his chiropractor was partly due to his spinal problems). The other (let’s call him David because that’s his actual name) and D could not touch their toes while standing up.
On separate occasions, I took them one by one and worked on a couple of things that worked.
Actually, it worked really, REALLY well.
My main goal for D was to get him to finally squat to parallel while keeping his heels on the floor throughout the exercise. My main goal for David was to get him to at the very least reach his ankles, if not his toes.
Everything I did was pretty much unplanned and contained a lot of experimentation but by the end, I was able to make a crude but effective system for improving flexibility and mobility in a certain position.
It is a 3 step system and it starts with:
1. Foam Rolling
I firmly believe that self myofascial release is EXTREMELY important when working on flexibility issues. Time and time again I see trainers just recommend stretching, which obviously works (when done correctly) but from what we know now, is NOT the first thing to focus on.
Foam rolling has a lot of benefits from improving tissue quality to increasing tissue length (without decreases in power). Not to mention it feels so fucking awesome, except when it’s your first time. Especially when that first time is my 6 inch in diameter PVC pipe with no foam!
Along with the PVC pipe, I used a tennis ball to get some areas like the pec minor, plantar fascia, and hip flexors.
2. Dynamic Warmup
Dynamic warm-ups are all the rage right now in the fitness world. They help increase flexibility, mobility, body temperature, and general awesomeness.
Most “lower level” trainers would opt for regular static stretching minus everything else as the cure for “inflexibleness” but I beg to differ.
My reasoning for choosing a short dynamic warm-up was due to the ballistic nature of some specific exercises such as leg swings that would allow for gradual increases in movement during our session as well as get in some mobility drills just in case that was also a problem.
Although from what I saw, the improvements were minimal it still help a lot for the third and final step.
3. Assisted Ballistic Stretching
Here is where I got put into use my background in martial arts and the memories of having 4 black belts on me to keep me in a perfect split for minutes at a time.
Obviously I wasn’t going to kill the kids but I needed to figure out a way to reach farther and go WAY beyond than they have gone before even if it was only for a split second.
In this situation, I would have them get into the position and pull or push them into a much deeper position while instructing them to breath.
We would continue to do this in a rhythmic nature and increase the range of motion at every rep.
After this I would tell them to do the movement/stretch themselves and compare to how they were from before to see the improvement and what I saw was freaking awesome.
But before that, let me explain what I did to them specifically.
If you can re-call, D’s main problem was that he could not squat with keeping his heels on the floor and squatting to parallel at the same time.
After a short 5 minute foam rolling session where we emphasized the calves, quads, hamstrings, adductors, and plantar fascia we went into a dynamic warm-up.
Knowing that one reason he could not squat with his heels down was just a neural problem or in other words, he just wasn’t used to it, I focused the warm-up on actually squatting with some isolated ankle mobility drills such as rocking ankle mobs.
For a good 10 minutes we worked on ankle mobility and constant practice of keeping the heels down, regardless of his squat depth where sometimes we past the point of his ability to have his lower back in proper position.
I’m sure a bunch of “functional” trainers are going to get me for this blasphemy but oh well.
After those 10 or so minutes, I made him finally work up to a 35lb goblet squat and got him to get to parallel with his heels DOWN and in perfect form.
1 for me and D.
For David, his main problem was not being able to touch his toes.
Again, I made him go through a 5 minute foam rolling sessions where we emphasized the same areas.
After the foam rolling session, I made him go through a series of dynamic movements to gradually get him to feel slight stretches that surpassed what he could normally do statically.
The ones that I think helped him the most were leg swings and the stretch kick which is just a more extreme version of leg swings.
Last, I really emphasized the ballistic assisted stretching with him. In this phase we did 2 things. The first were assisted Cossack lunges and sitting toe touches with me pulling his hands to his toes gradually.
With the Cossack lunges, my goal was for him to stretch his hamstrings and adductors dynamically while working on ankle mobility on the opposite leg. I would assist him as he couldn’t do it himself.
We then did the sitting toe touches were I instructed him to breath in and out at every rep to not only promote relaxation but also set a rhythm for every time I would pull him down.
We did around 6-8 reps of this and every time I would pull harder and harder.
At the end, I told him to stand up and touch his toes.
Remembering that before these 20 minutes of stuff he could barely even reach his KNEES, actually seeing him be able to grab just above his ankles was mind blowing.
I felt like one bad ass coach.
There is actually nothing new to this system, at least not to me as my warm-ups are like this (minus the ballistic assisted stretching) but for some, it’s pretty revolutionary not to mention kick ass.
It is just foam rolling to “untie” the knots, dynamic stretching for movement in conjunction with reaching the limits of your flexibility and then assisted ballistic stretching to surpass what you can normally do.
If you are inflexible like my guys D and David, I would do this every day for 30 days.
For others, every other day is fine.
Again, this is crude and the way I went about it might have been a little chaotic as there might be a better way to do this but so far, this is what has worked for me without tearing up a client from the inside out.
Get back to me in 30 days and let me know how it goes.