Slow and steady wins the race
A few days ago, a student messaged me with extreme excitement about the improvement in her needle scale flexibility that she had discovered during class that night. After a whole month of being away from classes due to performance work, she had found her goal of the ‘needle scale’ so much closer within reach than the previous month however she couldn’t understand how that was possible! I told her that taking a break from extreme stretching can be very beneficial to the body as it has time to recover and that I take breaks from time to time too! Like some of you may think also, she found it hard to believe that someone as flexible as me would take breaks from stretching!
This whole conversation made me curious to find out when the last time I had actually practiced a chest stand was. I picked up my phone and scrolled through all my pictures to find a photo 4 months ago of when I was properly training my chest stand!
Many people think that when it comes to contortion training, if you don’t use it you lose it. However, I think it actually works in reverse – if you ABUSE it, you will LOSE it. Stretching is about
1. getting into a familiar posture
2. stretching to the next limitation and familiarizing yourself with this new-found pain
3. becoming comfortable with that feeling
4. recovering from the whole experience
Photographer : Jasmine Monrouxe
Now, When I say to take a break I don’t mean from stretching in general, I mean taking a break from contorting – especially contorting into the same shapes. For example, I hardly ever train my Rainbow Marchenko. My body, knows the steps because I have learnt it before. My body knows the amount of time it takes to get into it, and knows where it needs to be on the pole. As long as I am stretching daily and contorting every now and then, my flexibility won’t go away from me and my Rainbow will always be accessible. If I were to train my Rainbow Marchenko every week there would be no doubt that one of my hips would sit higher than the other, my back would be out-of-place and one shoulder/leg would be more flexible than the other alongside all the bad things that happen with training one side! Plus, I would have no time to train all the other awesome flexible moves out there in my 1 contorted training session a week.
So, When I train contortion (once a week or sometimes every 2 weeks), I pick 1-2 poses to focus on for that session. First, I get into the shape that I am familiar with, I then find my new limit within the posture (maybe just a centimeter further than the last), after holding it/pulsing the posture for a few breaths I then repeat it 3-4 times (plus conditioning in between). When I am finished, I leave the posture for 2-4 weeks or even months before trying it again. In doing this, my body meets the new sensation of pain, has time to familiarise myself with it without abusing the shape, and then has time to recover afterwards.
All in all, the moral is – Don’t spend too long focusing on that one shape – Eagle, Rainbow, Needle Scale, Chest stand etc.. Stretch as a whole body as much as you can, and when you are feeling super bendy (hydrated, well rested and happy) then pick a couple of shapes you want to work on changing it up from week to week. The more you focus on that 1 particular shape, the more your body gets tired, ruined and broken and it can feel like a constant yo yo trying to get it! Forget it for a month and then come back to it and you may be pleasently surprised at what all your other stretching has helped you achieve!