You'd think that stretching 4 times a day would do it!
January 4, 2011 1:11 AM   Subscribe

I stretch 3-4 times a day (for about 10 minutes each time), and get 1-2 massages a week, but my muscles are still SO tight, and my flexibility isn't increasing! What can I do?

I'm a gym teacher, and so lead a warm-up/stretch before each of the (KG-7yo) classes I teach. The warm up is usually running/skipping/etc around the room. Then we spread out on the mats, and have about 7-10 minutes stretching from neck to toe. Admittedly, since the kids are so young, we don't hold the stretches for very long, maybe 5-10 seconds max for each stretch. (I know this is incredibly unideal)

My muscles, however, are still so tight! My flexibility hasn't increased at all over the past 3 months that I've returned to coaching. (I was a classroom teacher for 2 years prior to this)

Some relevant information:

- I was a gymnast/dancer until my late teens, competitively for a few years, and then moved on to coaching, so I was always quite flexible, and I know how to stretch properly, and know my own body quite well.

-Aside from leading the kid's stretches 3-4 times a day (increasing to 6, soon), I try to spend at least a 15-20 minutes a day doing proper stretches, while warm, staying in each stretch for at least 30 seconds.
-I also do yoga a couple times a week.
-I could stand to lose a few pounds (working on it), but I'm still in good shape.
- I get a pretty intense 30 minute massage 2x a week, but could increase this to 4x a week if if would help. I'm also aware that I still have a lot of knots.
-I have access to a sauna, but I'm not sure I want to stretch in a public sauna.

Does anyone have any suggestions as to how on earth I can loosen my muscles up, and continue to increase my flexibility? This has never been a problem for me before. I just don't understand what's happening.

(unfortunately, I'm in Vietnam, so suggestions like physio or Bikram probably won't be helpful).

Thanks hivemind!
posted by hasna to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This is all controversial, but there's been a few articles that have come out recently that basically say that static stretching is useless for warming up and preventing injuries.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:46 AM on January 4, 2011

Response by poster: I've read about that, here, and elsewhere. Let me clarify, then: I'm looking to regain (most) of the flexibility I once had. Ya know, being able to do the splits again, a proper bridge, stomach to the floor when sitting in straddle... I'm not stretching to avoid injury, per se, but to increase my flexibility. I lead the children in stretches before exercise because I don't think they're ready for such an unconventional idea as no stretching.

I'm also quite concerned about the muscle tightness. Sometimes even laying in bed I can feel how tight I am!
posted by hasna at 1:51 AM on January 4, 2011

Can you get back into gymnastics? It sounds counter-intuitive but static stretching alone doesn't seem to equate to being flexible.

I am far from being extremely flexible, but I'm the most flexible when active and making sure my various muscle groups are not imbalanced and I'm not doing any isolated resistance training (basically anything involving a machine).

Also, if you think massaging helps (and you want to work on getting some knots out) a foam roller is cheap enough to try - just warm up before using it - even a hot shower will help more than nothing.
posted by alex_skazat at 2:07 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe you have a lot of fuzz.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:18 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest completely switching gears and doing a basic strength program (as in compound barbell lifts). Do dynamic stretches after lifting and drastically reduce how much you static stretch. I realize this suggestion is a hard sell to an ex dancer, but you are doing a HUGE volume of static stretching during the day, with no corresponding gains in strength: as a gymnast, I'm sure you did a lot of flexibility work, but that was balanced out by getting stronger from the demands of the sport.

With a good lifting program you could add a remarkable amount of strength in a couple of months, then assess how you feel from there.
posted by Theodore Sign at 2:34 AM on January 4, 2011

I have heard Pavel Tsatsouline's "Relax into Stretch" highly recommended.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 3:05 AM on January 4, 2011

From what I understand about stretching, and in my own limited personal experience, dynamic stretching will achieve your goals better. Static stretching seems to work better on unbinding a muscle which is currently tight, not necessarily to expand your normal range of motion, but rather to get back to it. When muscles are in spasm from injury or heavy workouts static stretching seems to work fine. When you want to extend normal range of motion static stretching seems to work fairly slowly, while a slow dynamic stretching routine seems to work faster and still avoid injury. I must admit I should probably follow my own advice a bit more on this.
posted by caddis at 3:50 AM on January 4, 2011

I know you listed yoga in your activities - I think it might depend on the type of yoga. I have incredibly short, tight hamstrings and several years ago, in a forward bend, I could barely get my finger tips mid shin. I took Iyengar yoga classes twice a week over two years and found that I could get my knuckles on the floor. I attribute this to the repetition and duration as well as the instructors being sticklers for form and what you should feel. I have also taken yoga classes from instructors who focused less on form and more on relaxation and I couldn't help looking around at all the awful form.
posted by plinth at 5:49 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding the foam roller, though beware, it can hurt like heck. Warm up first, and give your knotty muscles a good roll. Seek out knots, and then basically hold still on the sore spot for a little while. Like-- count to 30 out loud or so.
posted by SaharaRose at 6:17 AM on January 4, 2011

nthing the strength routine recommendation. And not some silly high-rep malarkey with foo-foo dumbbells that weigh as much as a tin of beans, which too many people (no offence, but especially women, and especially dancers) end up drawn to.

A challenging program of progressive resistance training involving multi-joint compound exercises (squat, deadlift, overhead pressing, lunges, etc.) will do more for your flexibility than many stretching regimens alone ever will. Strong muscles are flexible muscles, and the health and athletic benefits don't stop there.

Also, and actually preliminary to beginning strength training: how adept are you at postural self-assessment? Inflexibility/impingement in limb range of motion can be symptomatic of more generalised posture problems. If you can figure out the misalignments that trigger compensation patterns in your bodily movement, you can go about targeting those weaknesses directly and avoid a host of problems down the line. Just stretching a joint over and over isn't necessarily the smart thing to do without first understanding why it's gotten so tight in the first place.

Neanderthal No More - an excellent starting resource for postural self-assessment (apologies for the somewhat NSFW bodybuilding awfulness)
Mike Robertson's site
Eric Cressey's site
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 8:34 AM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Could it maybe be an imbalance caused by tight hip flexors? We tend to sit a lot as we get older, which can cause them to tighten up, according to this Yoga Journal article.
posted by yarly at 8:34 AM on January 4, 2011

Acupuncture can help with tight muscles. I was amazed at how great my back muscles felt after one session. It has taken a few weeks of no sessions for my back to start tightening again (I'm in physical therapy trying to strengthen). Good luck!
posted by evening at 9:35 AM on January 4, 2011

Try doing yoga every day instead of twice a week. Get a dvd you like to guide you and do it at home.
posted by mareli at 9:44 AM on January 4, 2011

I'm not sure were people get these ideas that static stretching does not increase flexibility and, no, a strength program will not increase flexibility except for the movements you perform.

Static stretching (holding a stretched position for more than five seconds) will increase flexibility but is counterproductive prior to explosive and dynamic exercise. In that case you are looking for mobility work.

You have a long history of athletic performance. You probably still have really strong muscles and tendons. If your gymnast career suddenly stopped and you did not keep up with exercising/stretching then they probably tightened up a bit and have remained so.
The simplest answer here is to actually do a full range of stretches for a full thirty seconds, or more, daily. Relax and breath as you do them. You don't have to go and do anything else. Do that for two weeks and surprise, surprise, you'll be more flexible.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:28 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure were people get these ideas that static stretching does not increase flexibility and, no, a strength program will not increase flexibility except for the movements you perform.

I think people get it from Starting Strength, but I agree that it is BS.
In general, I would suggest PNF stretching as opposed to strict static stretching. For more mobility ideas, Kelly Starret's mobility wod is a great resource, he is a seriously awesome PT and trainer.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:24 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Second what ch1x0r said about KStarr and PNF stretching, plus foam rolling and some lacrosse balls.

Also, if you're not already supplementing with fish oil or eating high quality fish a few times a week, try adding that to your diet.
posted by telegraph at 5:33 PM on January 4, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions! I'm not marking any as a best answer yet, as I want to give the different suggestions a try, and see how it goes!
posted by hasna at 2:33 AM on January 27, 2011

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