For the ambitious Pole athlete training does by no means stop outside the Pole radius. No, those who really want to get somewhere supplement their training with strength-, dance-, acrobatics-, and stretching sessions. I also realized quickly that a splits angle of 90° is probably not sufficient to achieve all the new crazy Pole tricks. And with this knowledge, my constant battle with my flexibility began.
Still in May last year, I cursed stretching. Stretching hurt. Stretching was uncomfortable. Stretching bored me. I just stretched because I finally wanted to get the splits and it did not take long until stretching turned into a battle against myself. I started telling myself that my muscles are particularly hard and short. I started talking of myself as especially inflexible, and I was at odds with my body because there seemed to be no stretching progress. When I attended a stretching class, I felt like crying. Everyone was getting better and nothing happened for me. Everyone left class feeling relaxed and stretched and I felt as if I had just stepped out of a boxing ring. A small part of me knew that I stretched neither continuously nor structured, but it was easier to hate stretching and my inflexible body. I hit bottom when I in one of those stretching classes my teacher pushed me forward and I caught myself pressing my hands into the ground and blocking the stretch. “Lydia,” I thought, “in all seriousness, you pay €XX for a stretching class just to block the stretch with all your strength” and I realized that it could not go on like this.
Recognition: First, I have accepted that in my current state of mind stretching classes in large groups are not the right thing for me and I quit. I promised myself that from now on, I will continuously stretch, but by myself, at home, and at my pace. I really needed to take the pressure off me. Stretching classes certainly work well for many and especially beginners can benefit greatly by them. However, I had gotten myself into a mix of flexibility envy, self-rejection, and total stress, which made it impossible for me to profit from a class. At home, I do not care how close I get my leg to my head because I have no direct comparison of how close I could get it. At home, I was not the weakest of the group, and I was able to take as much time as I needed.
The guts to train differently: Then, I researched intensively various stretching methods. I have always been a big fan of Kristina Nekyia (Fit&Bendy), but also StretchIt.tv, and the website Hybridperspective have helped me. I have tried all sorts of stretching methods and finally, I have selected different stretches that I feel comfortable in. For me, for example, static stretching does not work, and I can stand even less stretching where someone pushes me. I am an anxious person and I also have a relatively low pain barrier. When I am in stretching pain, I quickly panic and have to stop. So, I feel the most comfortable when constantly moving during my stretch, either by tension/release, flexing/stretching of the feet, rotation, or hip movements. I also prefer getting in and out of the stretch several times rather than holding it. Recognizing and accepting my peculiarities and creating my individual stretching program was a huge step in the right direction for me. So if you feel stuck with a certain stretch or a stretching method, have the courage to quit and go your own way. It is not that your body is unwilling, but it is just not your path towards your goal and that is OK.
A plan: Next, I put warm-up exercises together that specifically address my problem areas and support my stretching goals. My priorities are still my legs, so I looked up specific strength exercises for my thighs, glutes and hip muscles. I feel much safer knowing that I warmed up properly and I dare to go deeper into the stretch. Moreover, the warm up helps me to enhance my active flexibility.
Relaxation: Finally, (and this was the hardest part) I have finally learned to breathe during the stretch and relax. Before I begin my stretching session, I always try briefly to calm down and relax. I breathe deeply into my belly, calm and relaxed. With every exhalation, I try to go deeper into the stretch, with every inhalation, I enjoy the increase of the stretch. When I reach my limits while stretching, I deliberately breathe quietly. Instead of wildly tearing my muscles wildly and feeling frustrated working against my body, I now feel that I am finally communicating with my body. With every breath, I convince my muscles to let go more and more. Kristina Nekyia once beautifully put it that way :
Our muscles are like little animals who are in fear and have trauma. They think that they are the only ones holding the body together and you have to convince them to let go.
And I learned the hard way that this is only possible if they trust you.
Positive attitude: Finally, (after almost 4 years) I am at a point where I enjoy stretching and am actually looking forward to it. When watching TV at night, I stretch and I like to find time to stretch. My whole attitude towards stretching has changed. Stretching is not something anymore that I want and that my body denies me, but something that I do for my body. I no longer stretch to achieve the splits or the bridge or whatever but to help my body to a greater wellbeing and a greater freedom of movement. I stretch because it makes me feel good when I am sore and because it relaxes me. Now, when I stretch, I work with my body and I feel grateful and proud.
(All images display Yvette Dusol, Miss Pole Dance UK 2014 – contortionist, aerialist, Pole Dancer. Have a look at her breathtaking Facebook Profile.)
What is your experience with stretching? What are your biggest problems when stretching and how did you solve them? What is your stretching method and how long did it take you to feel comfortable?
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