Please, Ask Away.
I get asked these questions often, and have finally compiled the answers here for you! I'm happy to discuss any of these in more detail, or answer others. Reach out and ask anytime.
- Aren't I too old? Can I really become flexible at my age?
- How long until I see results? When will I get my splits flat? Or my toes to my head?
- How often should I stretch, and for how long?
- Why would I work with a coach for stretching, rather than just doing it on my own?
- How are private lessons for stretching different than attending a group class?
- Is online coaching really effective?
- How should I prepare for my first session?
- What can I expect during my first session?
- How will I feel after my first session?
- Is stretching supposed to hurt?
- How does stretching help with pain relief?
- Can you help with my neck/shoulder/back/hip/knee pain?
- Contortion and extreme flexibility doesn't seem normal or healthy. Doesn't that cause injuries down the line?
- What is the relationship between strength training and flexibility training?
- I have a larger/older/stiffer/more-injury-prone body. Can I still train with you? How would you change what you teach for a person like me?
1. Aren't I too old? Can I really become flexible at my age?
You are not too old. I get asked this question from all adults. 22-year-olds think they're too old. 36-year-olds think they're too old. 59-year-olds think they're too old. And 70-year-olds think they're too old. If anything, the feeling that the body is no longer as flexible as it used to be is something that most adults have in common, regardless of age.
Yes, the adult body moves differently than the child body. Your bones are fully fused into their permanent positions. But that does NOT mean that you cannot become more flexible, very flexible, and with dedication and lots of patience, extremely flexible. The photos below show where I was as a child, and where I am now. I specialize in working with adult bodies and all of the wonderful history that comes with them. Stretching in an adult body will never feel the same as stretching in a child body -- that's just a fact of life. But you are never too old to make dramatic improvements. If anything, the adult mind is harder to change than the adult body.
A little #flashbackfriday. Top photo is age 11, after 2 years of gymnastics training, finally almost touching down in my splits! Bottom photo is a recent shot from @alloyimages, age 30. I'm so glad I found pole as an adult to bring me back to my fitness journey. Getting my splits to this point has been a ton of work, and it hasn't stopped - I train constantly. But whatever your age, you can do it. Never give up on your dreams, no matter how crazy! 🤘🏼 ... #flexible #flexibility #contortion #contortiontraining #splits #oversplits #yogafit #yogainspiration #yogajourney #yogalover #dancelife #dancerlife #aerialist #pole #poler #poleart #polefit #polelife #poledance #polefitness #poledancer #poledancing #poledancenation #poledancersofig #fitbody #fitwomen #fitfreak #fitnessjourney #fitnessgoal
Current state of the 2-chair oversplit. It's never been a goal of mine to touch down because it seemed too impossible, but this week made me think I can totally get there! For my #2016flexychallenge folks, don't forget that your final submissions are due by tomorrow night! Post your starting shot next to your ending shot, and make sure to tag me and include the hashtag. Who's winning that private lesson?! ... #splits #oversplits #contortion #contortionist #rhythmicgymnast #rhythmicgymnastics #flexible #flexibility #flexibilitytraining #stretching #flexible__people #aerialist #aerialnation #poledancer #poledancing #polelife #polelove #polefitness #poletraining #polesport #poledancenation #poledancersofig #yogainspiration #yogaeverywhere #yogagirl #fitchick #fitforlife #fitnesswomen
2. How long until I see results? When will I get my splits flat? Or my toes to my head?
Unfortunately, I can't give you an easy answer to this. There are so many factors that go into flexibility progress, and only measuring yourself by milestones like "a completely flat split" is a quick way to take all the joy out of the journey. If you stretch regularly, you will definitely feel results right away. Your body will move more easily. Your stress levels will drop. Your mind will become more focused. You'll see boosts in your self-esteem and your commitment to self-care. And these benefits will likely have a greater impact on your life than touching your toes to your head ever will.
There are many factors that will affect how quickly you progress towards specific shapes. One is age. Like any physical activity, the body heals/recovers more quickly when you are younger. Another is genetic - different people are simply born with different length limbs and muscles. Then we come to lifestyle. A high stress lifestyle will make it difficult to relax your body and stretch, and for someone who isn't used to decompressing, the hardest work may revolve around just breathing and finding patience. Other factors that affect your recovery time are diet and sleep. And then finally, next to all of that, comes your training habits. How often you stretch, and the length and quality of your stretching sessions. So how quickly you progress is deeply tied to how many aspects of your life you are willing to change.
But regardless of all that, I have been asked this question a million times and I know I will be asked it a million more, so here are a couple pictures that show what is possible with consistent, dedicated training.
6 months of dedicated training:
Check out this epic progress from @emz_poles! #hardworkpaysoff for real - I'm so proud. 😍 These were taken about 6 months apart. It doesn't happen overnight, but it doesn't take forever either. Can you commit to your flexy goal for 6 months? . "It was not too long ago that I was really excited about getting into a split, and only January that I was REALLY excited about getting into my first oversplit! And now I have almost conquered baby chair oversplits 👶🏻😄 Very, very validating for me as a not naturally bendy person who actually quit ballet as a teenager because my extension sucked so hard. This oversplit is 100% blood sweat and tears!!!"
3. How often should I stretch, and for how long?
Again, this is different for everyone, which is why we emphasize a personal training plan for all our clients. The amount you should stretch is very much tied to how active you already are in the rest of your life. If you are already a dedicated athlete exercising every day, you can easily incorporate a daily stretching routine, up to 60 or 90-minute sessions. If you are not currently exercising at all, then you should ease into it, perhaps beginning with a deep hour-long stretch session once a week, or a short 15 minutes every day.
The length of your stretch session is tied to what you're trying to achieve. For stress relief and general well-being, 15 or 30 minute sessions will be enough. To really create changes in your range of motion, you will need to set aside a full hour. And throughout that hour, you must go through a proper arc that begins with a warm-up, builds to difficult poses, and leaves time to cool down and recover. A dedicated 60-minute session is recommended for most people to make progress. For the advanced practitioner going after deep splits and backbends, 60 minutes can be too short. It may take 90 or 120 minutes to fully build to your maximum shapes.
No matter how active you already are, you need to make sure to build in rest to your stretching routine. This seems counter-intuitive to a lot of people, especially athletes, who view stretching as a rest activity. Stretching can be done in many ways - some is restful and restorative, and some is very active and pushing the body to its max. Too much stretching will cause soreness, and if you don't allow the muscles to recover, you will see stagnation or even become injured.
After an intense stretching session, make sure to give that muscle group a day or two of rest. In order to make the quickest gains in the shortest period of time, focus each training session on a specific area of the body (i.e. one day focuses on splits, the next on back.) Above all, listen to your body. Never force it. We focus on heightening your awareness of what the body is trying to say to you, so that you can work together. Your body and your brain are on the same team, really!
4. Why would I work with a coach for stretching, rather than just doing it on my own?
Stretching is a seemingly simple activity that a lot of us take for granted. It may seem so basic that you think, "Why would I need a coach?" There are several reasons that working with a coach gives you dramatically different results than working on your own. A big one is the simple act of accountability. When you have a time, a place, and another human that you have committed to, you need to show up. Most of us are great at doing things for other people, letting new demands that the world is placing on us cut away any time that was meant to be taken for self-care. When you are working with a coach, there is someone to check in on you, make sure you're practicing, track your progress, and hold you accountable to doing your very best.
The next big reason for an expert coach is to challenge you the correct amount. All of us are different when we work on our own -- some people tend towards being lazy, and some tend towards over-achievement and over-confidence. If you don't challenge yourself, you will stay right where you are. If you attempt things that are out of bounds for what your body is currently ready for, you're likely to get hurt and see yourself backtrack. My job is to design a custom program that pushes you just enough to make progress, but keeps you on the safe side of injury. I've seen 100 ways to stretch every part of the body, so I can keep you challenged and engaged with new things every time. I know which parts of the body tend to unlock in what order, so that throughout the course of a session you can achieve the maximum you're capable of right now.
5. How are private lessons for stretching different than attending a group class?
No two bodies are the same, and no two people's goals are the same. In order to get specific results for your specific body, you need 1-on-1 attention. Group classes are great for many reasons - accountability, encouragement, the wonderful energy of a group, meeting people and enjoying social time. But they're not the quickest way to a specific goal, especially if that specific goal is achieving a certain shape or healing a certain pain.
In group classes (which I have taught many of, and I do love teaching), the teacher is forced to teach to the middle of the class. You have to make compromises and work on things that are generally achievable for everyone in the room. Every single detail of technique, purpose, and alignment cannot be discussed in depth.
In a private session, we are fully focused on you. This is truly "you" time. This in and of itself is a gem - so rarely do any of us take an hour and truly reflect on how we're feeling and moving in this moment in time. The session is spent addressing everything you need to work on, and we can check and double check that the actual results are being achieved, without rushing on to the next thing. You will learn so much more about working within your body than a group setting will ever be able to teach you.
6. Is online coaching really effective?
If you've never received personal training over video, it can seem strange. After all, this is a physical discipline -- not something digital like writing an email or buying a pair of shoes. Then again, remember when buying a pair of shoes online seemed crazy? (Or am I just showing my age there? 😝)
The main components of flexibility training are accountability, alignment, and breath. Video coaching does a wonderful job of all three. There are some baseline rules: the space you're training in needs to be well-lit and quiet, you need to wear form-fitting clothes, and the camera of your device needs to be backed up enough that your entire body is visible in the frame. From there, the hard part is done. Once you've signed up for a session, someone is there waiting for you to show up. You are being held accountable. Once you've logged on and we've connected, I have 20 years of experience at looking at stretches in detail. You will receive constant attention and cues to adjust alignment and level of difficulty. Yes, I can tell how well you are breathing, and yes, I can tell how hard you are working!
Now let's talk about the actual advantages to training through online video. For one, you can do it anytime and anywhere. For most people, this means setting up at home. This cuts down on commute and prep time drastically, and leaves you more time to live your life. It also sets up the habit of practicing at home, which is probably the biggest indicator of long-term success. It starts with just the act of putting out the mat to work with your coach once a week, and then slowly becomes a more repeated part of your routine. Working with a trainer over video also means that when life interrupts your regular routine, such as for holidays or work trips, you can still keep your stretching routine on-track.
Another benefit of training over video is that (like it or not) you are framed on a screen for your entire practice. I can screenshot your position at any point. This visual aid is great for tracking progress, and also for letting you see alignment in areas that may have been difficult to understand. And believe me, nothing will encourage you to keep going like seeing with your own eyes how your body is capable of more than it used to be!
Had the most amazing skype lesson with @nycpolecontortion she helped me make so much progress, it's the closest I've ever gotten to the floor in my middle split 🙌🙌 if you're a bit unsure (like I was) about how effective a skype lesson would be I can assure you it is worthwhile! And this lovely lady is brilliant and hilarious, which helps when you're in a hell of a lot of pain 😂👍
Mama's little helper! @stamraz got some stretching assistance today in her session. 😍 #familygoals ... #flexibilitytraining #stretches #contortion #contortiontraining #nycpolecontortion #cobrapose #wheelpose #bridgepose #yogafun #yogafit #yogaposes #yogalover #yogalifestyle #yoginis #fitnessinspo #fitnessgoal #fitnessfamily #fitkids #fitmama #fitwomen #fitwoman #benddontbreak #bendyyogis #bendyoback #backbend #backbends #backbending #backbendlove
7. How should I prepare for my first session?
Once you've signed up for your first class, and we've scheduled a time, you're most of the way there! The beauty of stretching is you need very little in terms of equipment.
Decide where you would like to do the session, whether in your home or at a local gym or studio. Make sure that the space is quiet, well-lit, and there is a solid internet connection. We recommend beginning to set up 15-minutes early in case of any technical difficulties. In addition to getting your device (phone, iPad, or laptop) online, you will need to find a place to put the camera of your device so that it's far enough away from you to view your entire body. A tripod for your phone may be a good investment, but a yoga block or water bottle can also make a great camera-stand in a pinch.
Wear comfortable clothing that you can move easily in, and that is also form-fitting enough that it doesn't hide your alignment or movement. Leggings and a tank top work great. If you have them, a yoga mat and yoga blocks are helpful. Other toys that may be useful are yoga straps, elastic bands, light barbells, foam rollers, myofascial release balls, and yoga wheels. If already you have them, round them up, otherwise don't worry about it.
At your scheduled time, you will receive a call over Skype or Facetime, and we'll connect and get moving from there.
8. What can I expect during my first session?
The first session is a lot about getting to know you. Getting you know your goals, your limitations, and your likes and dislikes. Coaching flexibility is a delicate balance of pushing beyond where you are currently, but never pushing too far to the point of injury. As adults, our bodies all come with a past history - injuries and illnesses, strengths and weaknesses. In the first session we will begin testing how you move and how you can move better.
Over the course of your session, we will go through a discussion of where your body's at and where you would like to go. We will progress through a warm-up, various strengthening exercises, and eventually land in the deeper poses of the day: whatever that means according to your goals. We will take "before" progress shots so that you can forever see how far you've come! And then we will cool you down and rest briefly so that the body isn't jarred when you return to the rest of your day.
9. How will I feel after my first session?
This varies a lot from person to person, as each session focuses on something different. For someone who is working on deep backbending, they may feel very energized afterward. For someone who is working on stress reduction and breath work, they may feel very relaxed and even sleepy afterward.
Depending on how much you stretch already, you may feel sore the next day or two. If that's the case, take a hot shower or a hot bath with epsom salts and just listen to what your body is telling you - rest up until the soreness goes away. And then let's get back at it, because the cycle of soreness and then healing means you've changed something and progressed!
10. Is stretching supposed to hurt?
The short answer is "No."
The long answer is: stretching may bring up a lot of discomfort. We are going to ask the body to move in directions it hasn't moved in a long time, and maybe ever. It is going to resist at first. A lot of this resistance is going to come from the mind: wanting you to stay within the movement patterns you have already set. Resistance to stretching is also very tied to the general stress levels in your body. If your brain and body are stressed, then it's going to be difficult to release the muscles. We have to release the stress first.
The goal in stretching is never to force the body into a position. Opening happens in layers. First and foremost, with calming the mind and the breath. Working with the mind and the breath should always be the first steps to unlocking the doors of greater range of motion, rather than the body parts being forced into a shape by your own strength, your body weight, or external forces or weights. When you learn to relax yourself from the inside, the body will gradually ease into deeper and deeper shapes.
Will there be places where you want to stop and not go any farther? Yes. If the barrier is physical pain, then you don't want to push past. But there are many kinds of pain, and part of what will happen in our sessions is you will become more and more adept and telling the difference. Is this position uncomfortable because you've reached the maximum length of your muscle? Or is it uncomfortable because you're in a new position so you tensed up and stopped breathing? These are the nuances that need to be learned.
11. How does stretching help with pain relief?
Some people are very stiff and trying to move anywhere past their normal range of motion hurts. So stretching to "relieve pain" can seem like a crazy concept. Or, for someone who's living with chronic pain and dependent on pain killers, it may seem crazy that something as simple as stretching could make any impact on their quality of life. But it's not crazy - there is lots of scientific and medical research to back this up.
Pain is a crude way of the body telling us something's wrong. Like a baby crying, you're alerted to the problem, but you're not getting very specific communication about what is wrong. The wiring of our nervous system can cause some confusing signals. I had shoulder and elbow pain that I tried to manage for years by working the muscles around those specific joints. Finally it was discovered that I had herniated discs in my neck that were causing the issues all the way down my shoulder and arm. A conventional education doesn't teach much about "types" of pain, but there are many different kinds. The work that we will do in our sessions will help you become more and more of an expert in listening to and learning from your body's signals. As you fine tune your antenna, your ability to respond and fix the right problems will become more and more effective.
Stretching causes major benefits to the body as a whole. It can calm the nervous system, downshifting you from the sympathetic nervous system, or the "fight or flight" adrenaline mode that most of us live in these days, to your parasympathetic nervous system, or the "rest and relax" mode. If you can't downshift, you won't heal effectively, period. Once you've calmed the body, we then work on increasing circulation throughout all of the muscles, moving the blood and the lymph systems to clear out toxins. This decreases inflammation and begins to return you to a balanced body.
In a more specific way, stretching can alleviate pain caused by muscle tension and/or irritated nerves. Muscles that have clenched due to irritation or injury will not function properly, and will begin to throw off all the other muscles, joints, and nerves nearby. In this way, what seemed like a small injury one day can set off the dominoes to become a real quality-of-life affecting problem. By relaxing and stretching the affected areas, and coaching your body to restore healthy movement patterns, many problems can be alleviated. And it's cheap, non-invasive, requires no major equipment and has no negative side effects. Stretching is not a cure-all that replaces consulting with a medical doctor, but it is an amazingly powerful tool to help you to live a fuller, pain-free life.
12. Can you help with my neck/shoulder/back/hip/knee pain?
In most cases, yes. When the body is calm, the muscles are firing, and the blood is flowing, it's amazing how much the body is improved. Not to mention the mental aspects of healing: when you feel connected to your body, and you're taking the time for self-care and focusing on yourself, healing will be amplified.
A significant amount of common ailments are caused by tight muscles. These overly-tight areas, which have clenched up due to old injuries, stress, or overuse, begin pulling other parts of the body out of alignment, or pulling on the nerves of the spine. Targeted stretching can return you to correct postures and movement patterns that are pain-free.
There are exceptions where stretching is not recommended: torn muscles should not be stretched until they have healed. Broken bones and acute injuries and recent surgeries, etc., simply need rest before they can be moved. Please consult with your doctor to see if movement therapy is recommended for you.
13. Contortion and extreme flexibility doesn't seem normal or healthy. Doesn't that cause injuries down the line?
Short answer: It can, but it doesn't have to. What is extreme for one person is not that same thing that will be extreme for someone else. How do we gauge what is extreme?
To me, what is extreme, and what puts people at high-risk for injury, is trying to move into new, advanced poses quickly. If you work slowly and patiently, you are actually doing very little that is extreme. You are adding millimeters to your range of motion in every session, which adds up to inches and feet over years of practice. At the same rate you're adding those millimeters of motion, you should be building equal increments of muscle. Your strength needs to increase in proportion to your newfound flexibility, so that you are able to hold your joints firm and stable. If you do not train both strength and flexibility, then deep stretching is a high-risk endeavor.
Remember: the most extreme thing you can do is rush the rate of change. If you are pushing and forcing, you are doing something extreme. But if you are able to get into a pose that looks extreme to others with calm and ease, because you've worked at it gently for years and years, you are actually doing something less extreme than someone who's never touched their toes before and is suddenly forcing their hands down.
14. What is the relationship between strength training and flexibility training?
This is a very important relationship and one that is not often understood. Strength and flexibility will always affect each other, and all bodies need to work on training both. However, one tends to come easier for most people, which means more work will be required on the other.
For a body that is naturally very strong, and/or builds muscle easily, flexibility may be especially difficult. Muscles are structures that move and stabilize joints. If all of your muscles are very developed, your joints will be very, very stable, meaning there's nowhere for them to go. This can become a problem - because unless you're a professional bodybuilder, you probably would like to do more than just stand still in your strong, chiseled body. You need your joints to be able to move. And if your muscles are very stiff, you will have a difficult time absorbing impact and be more prone to muscle tears.
On the flipside, if you have a naturally very flexible body, your joints will have tons of movement but you'll be less able to control it. The joints will be prone to open past their normal range, which will strain your ligaments and tendons and cause a lot of pain. In flexibility training, we are always working to increase the length of the muscles and fascial tissue and not ligaments or tendons, which are meant to stabilize. This type of a body will need to do extra work in the strength department to be able to purposefully control their range of motion and stretch only in the tissues that can healthily stretch without injury.
Depending on your starting point with both strength and flexibility, your training routine will look different. The goal of successful stretching is to maximize the movement where your body is meant to move and limit the movement where your body is meant to be stable. You need both stretching and targeted strength training for successful results. It can be frustrating for someone who is naturally flexible who becomes stronger and sees their flexibility go away. It can be equally frustrating for someone who is naturally strong who becomes more flexible and realizes it's harder for them to use their strength.
While it may seem in the short-term like a slower path to balance both equally, keeping a balanced body will mean keeping a healthy body that doesn't have to stop training due to injuries. This is the only way to train if you're in it for the long-term. It IS possible to become both incredibly strong and incredibly flexible. But it takes work.
15. I have a larger/older/stiffer/more-injury-prone. Can I still train with you? How would you change what you teach for a person like me?
I hate the way the fitness industry has made people feel that you have to have a certain "type" of body to enjoy movement. This marketing has done so much damage to disconnect people from their bodies. All bodies are the right "type" of body for fitness. All bodies are the right "type" of body for stretching. There is much age discrimination, size discrimination, gender discrimination, and ability discrimination. Your body is yours and you have the privilege of living your life in it. Let's make that experience even more enjoyable every day.
Depending on your limitations, your training session will be modified. This is why I encourage private training sessions for the greatest benefit, because all bodies need modification, regardless of shape or size or age or wellness. I will help you work within the range of motion that feels safe and slowly increase that over time. I love working with props, such as elastic bands, yoga straps, blankets, bolsters, blocks, and chairs, to tailor exercises to your abilities. Don't worry about investing in an arsenal of exercise equipment right off the bat, but as we begin developing a custom program for you, this may become something we add.
I got to teach @stamraz's whole family this week - all 3 generations! So amazing 👶👧👩 Aaaand I've been talking about it for a while, but I'm finally launching stretching videos for KIDS. Mommas out there, if you want to be a beta tester leave me a comment. You'll get free access to the first round of videos 🎥 in exchange for giving me feedback. ... #familygoals #familystretch #familyfitness #familyworkout #stretches #flexibilitytraining #flexibilitynation #aerialnation #yogagirl #yoginis #yoginilife #yogafit #yogafitness #yogalifestyle #fitnessislife #fitnesswomen #fitnesswoman #fitnessinstructor #fitforfun #fitgoals #fitspirational #kidsdance #kidsfitness #kidsyoga #kidsyogateacher #onlinefitness #onlinefitnesscoach #fitnessvideo #fitnessvideos #fitnesstraining