Training your flexibility is a very different journey from training strength, endurance, speed, or even technique-based fitness like dance or sports. Many of the mental strategies that one uses to get through your standard CrossFit, weight lifting, running, or spinning workout are inappropriate for confronting flexibility fitness.
Your standard fitness philosophy can be summed up by some of the most prevalent inspirational fitness T-shirts and posters:
Go Hard or Go Home
Train Like a Beast
or my favorite Jillian Michael’s quote “Unless you Puke, Faint, or Die Keep Going”
This is a high-adrenaline, high-octane state of mind is all designed to stimulate your sympathetic nervous system, the body’s reaction to stressful states. This does not mean it is a negative state, there is good stress and bad stress, but when the sympathetic nervous system takes over the body goes into fight or flight mode and your blood starts pumping, your breathing increases, and you are ready to kick some ass.
Stretching—and many of the activities that require flexibility like dance, gymnastics, and circus—require a very different approach.
If you are all pumped up your muscles are tightened, ready for action. A tight muscle is not going to stretch. If you try to push into a contracted muscle you will only end up stretching the connective tissue, usually the tendon that attaches the muscle to the bone or the ligaments that attach the bones to each other. Connective tissue is not elastic and, once stretched, will not contract back. This can cause long term damage to your joints and acute injuries like tears and strains.
It is important to approach your flexibility training with a sense of calm energy. Even though you are most certainly working hard in as you train (check back for future posts on my problem with thinking of stretching as “relaxing”) that does not mean that you must be pumped up and ready to wrestle a tiger. Keep your breathing slow, your heart rate as normal as possible, smile often, and say nice things to your body. Your body needs to feel calm and appreciated to open up and unlock its natural range of motion.