Why am I not making progress? 10 common mistakes about flexibility

Not long ago I wrote a post about the top 10 excuses about flexibility training, today I want to talk about which common mistakes I see people do (and I did too) that set them back with progress and makes flexibility training uneffective and at times dangerous too. So here we go, in no particular order:

1. You don’t know what you’re looking for.

What does flexibility training mean to you? A way to learn a difficult pole move? Better balance? A sense of connection between body and mind? Relief from sitting all day? Getting splits? Handstands? Deep backbends? There are several schools out there that uses flexibility in different ways (contortion, gymnastics, yoga etc), with different technique, goals, training philosophy. Make sure you know what you want out of the time you spend training and what better fits your needs.

2. You don’t commit to a method/teacher, rather jump from one thing to another.

This is very common. You started out following someone’s DVD, then got into this circus stretching class, then suddenly switched to more yoga, but then changed your mind and went back to the DVD, taking in the meantime a couple of private classes with different instructors as well. WOW your body must feel confused ! It’s highly unproductive to jump from one thing to another, and this apply to any training (and diet as well). Your body is a creature of habit, and needs TIME and lot of the SAME STUFF over and over to actually show you it’s capable of improvement and change. So make up your mind, pick a studio, a gym, a class, a coach and COMMIT to it. Spend a good amount of time (1-3 months) before deciding if what you chose is not working for you. Few things works better than too many, always.

3. You don’t know how to warm up.

This is very common too! You just do few arms circles, couple leg swings, some cobras and then… 5 minutes have passed and you think it’s time to get to the hard stuff. Not really! I’m not saying to warm up an hour (even tho I can spend an hour warming up easily!) but at least give your body 20 minutes to raise its temperature, start greater blood flow and gentle opening up what’s about to be stretched. I love warming up because it’s also the time I start getting my mind ready and focus.

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4. You jump to the hardest stretch without allowing your body to gradually open.

No wonder you feel stiff… You need to go from easier stretches to harder ones. Stretching is like a video game: you can’t go to level 5 before passing through level 1,2,3,4, right? The easier stretches are necessary to open up your body, gradually and safely, so that when you attempt to do something harder, you put your body in the best condition for it. Do you think I go to the gym and flop into a cheststand? It takes me at least half hour 😉

5. You stretch only when you feel good.

If I had to stretch only on “good days”, it would be probably once a week lol. But that doesn’t make any progress happen! You need to get your body accustomed to the stretches, on good and bad days. Once I was told actually, the biggest growth you make it on bad days, not good ones. So if you decided to stretch 3 days a week, you will do it, no matter what.

6. You avoid stretching when stiff.

This is similar to the previous point. You’ll need to stretch even when you feel you’ll suck. Obviously you won’t go so hard (keep in mind stiffness is one thing, being injured is another), but you gotta do it, because of what said in mistake #5. You’ll feel better afterwards, and most probably you’ll get rid of some of the stiffness, too!

7. You take long breaks.

This is highly counterproductive, and another very common mistake. You are trying to get your body more bendy, and you started maybe later in life, like me. You’re basically trying to domesticate your muscles, tendons, ligaments, nervous system to another way of being, which is pretty uncomfortable at first if you ask me. And you think you can take 2 weeks off? Your body can’t wait for that and reverse everything back to the previous state (before stretching), especially at the beginning. But that means basically flush down the toilet all the efforts and tiny changes in progress. Do not stop stretching especially if you’re a beginner.

8. You switch your routine/exercises too often.

You try few times a certain pose, take a good picture of it, move on to something else. Or you keep getting distracted by Instagram craze challenges, or something you saw on Pinterest but wait, you already forgot. Get your brain out of social networks and into YOUR TRAINING, YOUR GOALS, YOUR PROGRESS. Forget what others do, and don’t think just because you’re getting tired of the same stretches, they are no longer effective. You can always get deeper and add variations to them. Have a stretching routine and do not change it, beside after few months, to add something new.

9. You look for stretches on Youtube.

Youtube if full of crap, be aware. Following a 10 year old doing triple folds doesn’t sounds like a great idea, anyway.

10. You get out of a stretch the moment it feels uncomfortable.

There is a difference between uncomfortable and “I’m gonna die here, now”. The uncomfortable is where the stretching process STARTS. The “I’m gonna die here, now” is where you actually make the real progress and set a new limit. Of couse I’m exaggerating, but what I mean is, you need to keep in mind flexibility involves a good dose of uncomfort, that sometimes it mixes with fear and desire to get out of a stretch right away. But as long as you’re well warmed up, breathe, take it slowly and are in good teacher’s hands, you’ll be fine. Try to hold your stretches little over the uncomfortable level, just few seconds more and will make a big difference in the long run.

Hope you enjoyed this post, questions are welcome, and if you like, you can share it too!

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28 responses to “Why am I not making progress? 10 common mistakes about flexibility

  1. what you call soreness is for me extreme muscle pain. Like I’ve been working out my legs in the gym for 2 hours. I don’t think i stretch to deep or too long. (30-45sec?) It’s hard for me to keep a routine with stretching when every time I end up with muscle pains. I dont want to stretch through the muscle pain because im afraid I end up with injuries. Any tips for me?

    • How long have you been stretching? When I started I used to be deeply sore after training and couldn’t stretch for at least 2-3 days. But with time it got better, now I recover way faster and I’m not as sore. I think it’s different from person to person, but if you stretch and get extremely sore all the times you probably should alternate lighter sessions to heavy ones. Some soreness is normal, extreme soreness that doesn’t go away in days can be dangerous and lead to injury.

      • Thanks for the reply! I’ve been stretching on and off for 1,5 years now. Not constantly, because the muscle pains were so demotivating. So basically i’m still a beginner at stretching. Everybody kept telling me muscle pains are not normal and that I was doing something wrong but no one could tell me what I was doing wrong… so now I’ll try lighter stretches, to avoid extreme pain and keep doing them regulary! Thanks for the advise.

  2. Yes getting your body into a routine is key! Stretching on and off shock your muscles instead of creating a habit. Be more consistent and go lighter 🙂

  3. Thanks so much great article. I can see now that i pretty much do all of these mistakes. I have never been good with stretching. And you make good points about sticking to a routine and not changing it all the time because of watching too many youtube tutorials.

  4. thank you very much for this post, very usefull and interesting !
    It confirms what i was already thinking, even if I’m still almost beginner, i always keep doing the same exercices and with the same professor !

    By the way, i love the body leotard on the last picture, do you know where I could find it ?

    Thanks a lot

    Charlotte

  5. I try stretching not too heavily at least twice a week, besides my normal stretching (i´m a pole instructor) and i always wonder if when my muscles are soared and tight after a good stretching session (the next day) should i stretch even more to loose the stiffness or let it rest.

    Thanks! amazing blog btw

    • Hi Amy, I suggest you to not push a sore muscle, better massage it and stretch it gently. Sore means in recovery phase, so it’s not at its best yet. If you try to stretch more often , maybe 3 times a week, you’ll force the recovery process to become quicker , remember it’s always better a less aggressive but often stretch, than an aggressive one done inconsistently. Hope this helps !

  6. Hi Sophia!
    I’ve recently started contortion training once a week, I was wondering is once a week enough to advance?

  7. hello sofia , I really liked this article, I am a teacher of pole dance, took several years practicing this discipline , I have a lot of physical strength , but not much flexibility , making many moves that require flexibility can not be performed in the same way a more flexible person , I worked for many years the flexibility , I am fairly constant , and performed up to 4 times a week , but I see a lot of progress , particularly with the middle split and flexibility of the lower back, I do a warm-up about 15 minutes and always try to stretch slowly , you recommend me to do more warm up time ?, or pull with more intensity ( feeling a deeper temsion ) and what time should keep the tension ?

  8. Ugh I’m so guilty of #3! I have such a hard time making myself warm up when I’m at home (so boring!) – but it makes SUCH a huge difference. My preferred warmups are either a 20-30 min run or better yet, strength training at the gym. The only time I can ever get a full straddle is after I’ve used free weights at the gym. Not sure if it’s just because my legs get super warmed up, or that the muscles are fatigued to start with and too lazy to resist…

  9. Ciao Sofia, vorrei chiederti un consiglio: il mio warm up consiste nel fare il sun salutation per circa 7 min, e spesso (non sempre) a quel punto sono già calda perché ho già fatto 1 ora di esercizi per tonificare+cardio con previo warm up.
    Quello che mi preoccupa è che visto che la mia stretching routine dura circa 1 ora, ho sempre paura di “raffreddarmi” nel frattempo!
    Quindi mi viene la paranoia, magari proprio all’ultimo esercizio dove devo scendere in spaccata, che potrei fare di più ma che non riesco perché mi sono raffreddata /: mi spiego? allora mi rimetto di nuovo a fare un po’ di riscaldamento XD ha senso come cosa, o è impossibile “raffreddarsi” e non serve fare altro riscaldamento?
    help , grazie (:

    • Se fai una spaccata, devi riscaldare i muscoli che vengono usati in spaccata. Rimanere “caldi” inteso come generico senso di calore corporeo dato da movimento, non serve. Focalizzati su esercizi mirati all’ esercizio che vuoi fare, per esempio allungando flessore, bicipite femorale etc prima di scendere in spaccata

      • ok… quindi allungare i muscoli che userò nella spaccata è già di per sè un riscaldamento sufficiente?
        E poi volevo chiederti quanto tempo ci hai messo tu per fare spaccata frontale e sagitale? grazie (:

  10. Hello sofia I was doing the practice to increase my flexibility it was giving me the results as well but i suddenly went on traveling because of my work and later after a week i found that i am unable to bend forward and i cant even touch my forehead with my knees, earlier it was a piece of cake, now my hamstrings are phewww they don`t support me now suggest me something to make it better and flexible. As you said youtube is full of crap so can you suggest the stretching routine or warm up exercises. i`ll be thankful to you.

  11. Hi, just wondering what stretches to do with a hyper-flexible back? Normal back stretches do nothing for me, because I bend really well, but my thighs are tight (working on it, though) so doing “Thread the Needle” doesn’t quite work yet.
    I’m a ballet dancer, and actively stretch every day.

    • If you’re already very flexible, I’d work on cheststands variations and focus also on strengthening the core to stabilize the flexibility you already have. Also I’d work on your hip flexors since sounds like that’s what you need more!

      • Oh my gosh! I kept working on it, and worked my hip flexors, and my core. I’ve just about got my “needle” now, and can do both front splits and almost the side splits (only about 3 inches to go). Thank you SO much!!!

  12. Hi! I’ve been stretching all along but realise I have pain in my butt area so the doctor told me I strain my hamstring and I should rest it. How did I go about it? I’m so scared to lose my progress’

    • Yes rest it for a week or so, but then restart your stretching gently and stops before the pain occurs, you need to keep moving to help healing process but definitely don’t push. ALso I’d focus on other body parts till the hamstring is healed.

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