This 15-minute routine is taken from the Yoga 15 Flexibility series.
About the series
The Yoga 15 Flexibility series is designed to increase your flexibility, improve your range of motion, take you out of habitual movement patterns and relieve joint and muscle pain. The routines get progressively more challenging throughout the series.
You stretch the calves and hamstrings in Forward Bends, the quads, abs and chest in Backbends, loosen up the hips with Hip Openers and increase mobility throughout the body with Sidebends and Twists.
You can download the full series or individual Flexibility routines here:
What is flexibility?
Increasing flexibility is one of the most consistently reported benefits of practicing yoga. However, by flexibility, I’m not referring to the ability to perform spectacular feats of contortion—as although putting both feet behind your head might be an impressive party trick, it’s probably not going to get you closer to your athletic goals.
Functional flexibility describes less the extent of your flexibility as much as what you can do with it. The aim is to be strong at your end range of motion, not to be effortlessly bendy but too weak to take full advantage of your flexibility. To be able to run, jump, climb, lift, push, pull, crawl, squat and throw effectively, pain-free and without causing yourself an injury.
Unlike our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we no longer move, bend and stretch sufficiently throughout the day to keep our bodies supple and healthy. So especially if you're training hard, you need to incorporate dedicated flexibility sessions into your exercise program to stay agile and pain-free.
The causes of inflexibility
The human body is incredibly efficient at adapting to its environment, even if that's not a healthy one. It's therefore the positions you hold most frequently and the movements you do most often that reduce your flexibility in certain areas. The most common patterns are:
- Sitting for prolonged periods, which causes certain muscles to atrophy and joints to lose full range of motion.
- Excessive training, which causes muscular imbalances and overuse of the joints.
- Injuries and the resulting compensation patterns.
Factors that affect flexibility
- Temperature - your muscles are more supple when they are warm.
- Time of day - most people are more flexible in the afternoon (when their muscles are warm).
- Injury - injured joints and muscles are likely to be less flexible.
- Age - we lose flexibility as we age.
- Gender - females are generally more flexible than males.
Benefits of flexibility training
- Increases range of motion.
- Relieves stiffness, discomfort and pain.
- Increases strength, power and movement efficiency.
- Helps to re-establish natural movement patterns.
- Increases agility.
- Take the edge off muscle soreness following intense workouts.
- Helps to relieve the tension that builds up from physical and mental stress.
- Reduces your risk of injury from overuse or accident.
- Improves posture.
- Relaxes the body and calms the mind.
Differences between yoga and traditional stretching
One of the reasons that yoga is so effective at increasing flexibility is that, unlike traditional stretching, it integrates a number of complex systems.
- Yoga combines static stretching with dynamic stretching and mobility exercises.
- Yoga balances muscular strength with flexibility, joint mobility with stability and concentration with relaxation.
- Yoga simultaneously trains flexibility, mobility, stability, strength, balance, agility, body awareness, breath efficiency, concentration, coordination, self-discipline and mental focus.
- Yoga enhances body awareness.
- The diversity involved in yoga stimulates a higher rate of neurogenesis (development of neurons in the brain).
- Sequencing. In yoga, we progress through a series of increasingly deeper, interlocking poses.
- Yoga is a form of functional exercise that involves multi-planar and multi-joint movements.
What time of day to schedule flexibility training
- In the morning. If you wake up feeling stiff and achy from lying in the same position all night, stretching out the kinks can relieve discomfort, realign the muscles and give you an energy boost to kickstart your day. Just be aware that your muscles and joints are not yet warmed up, so ease into your workout gently.
- After a workout. Your muscles generally contract and tighten when you exercise so incorporating stretching into your cool-down routine, when your muscles are warm and pliable, can increase your flexibility and range of motion.
- In the evening. Stretching is typically a calming activity so it can be a good way to wind down and prepare your body for sleep.
When not to stretch
There is some evidence to suggest that stretching muscles can temporarily weaken them—decreasing performance and increasing susceptibility to injury—if timed incorrectly. Therefore, I don’t recommend static stretching (holding a stretch for more than 60 seconds):
- Before running, sprinting or explosive plyometrics training.
- Before resistance or weight training.
- As part of your warm up.
Types of flexibility poses
- Backbends increase flexibility in the quads, hip flexors, chest and shoulders.
- Forward bends increase flexibility in the back, calves, hamstrings and hips.
- Sidebends increase flexibility in the obliques, intercostals, lats and shoulders.
- Twists increase flexibility in the hips, chest, shoulders and neck.
- Hip openers increase flexibility in the hips.
Avoiding stretching injuries
If you apply too much force to a stretch, your body’s innate reflex reaction will prevent your muscle from lengthening. However, it is possible to override the stretch reflex and cause yourself harm, so here are some pointers to keep you safe.
- Never use force to increase a stretch. Instead, deepen your breath and relax into it.
- Adapt poses as necessary, for instance micro-bending your knees in forward bends.
- Learn to differentiate between sensations of discomfort and pain. If you do experience pain, back off from the stretch and trust that your flexibility will increase gradually over time with consistent practice.
- Remember that it has taken a lifetime for tightness to build up in your muscles and dysfunctional movement patterns to develop, so try to be patient.
Consistency is the key to safely and effectively improving your flexibility and restoring your natural range of motion. Flexibility training is a slow and systematic process that feels as though you're gradually unlocking areas of tightness and tension that have built up over time. Commit to incorporating yoga flexibility training into your daily routine and you'll see significant progress over time.
Download the Yoga 15 Flexibility series
If you struggle with tight muscles, lack of flexibility or chronic muscular pain, you will find the yoga routine you need in this series.
You can download the Yoga 15 Flexibility series here:
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