Snap poll! Who around here can touch their toes? Or squat below parallel, without lifting their heels? How about holding a weight above your head? Or, dare I ask, do the splits??? Ok, ok, that last one is a bit unfair. But when it comes to your flexibility…how do you stack up?
Today I’m chatting with Zap Fitness PT and flexibility expert Peter Vayne about the benefits of flexibility training.
“Coming from a background in contemporary dance and training aerial circus arts, I have dedicated my life to movement and activity to get the best out of my own body.” Says Peter.
“My ethos has a strong focus on fitness as a lifelong journey. I want to help empower my clients with the knowledge, skills and resources to assist and inspire them to live their healthiest and best life.” He adds.
And, according to Peter, an integral part of living your healthiest and best life includes ensuring your body is flexible. As Peter explains,
“Flexibility training increases your range of motion. Having a broader range of motion will help with strength development and will generally aid with your ability to perform exercises.”
Peter references squats for example, “By working on a client’s flexibility, I’ve seen their range of motion improve to the point where they can get into the deepest, most beneficial squat without risk of injury.”
Speaking of a reduced risk of injury, Peter suggests his sure-fire combination of dynamic stretching and static stretching as the ideal way to protect our muscles, while also encouraging flexibility. “I like to utilise a combination of both dynamic stretching when I’m warming up as well as static stretches at the end of my work out. Static stretching will have a greater effect on your flexibility, but it is still beneficial to do both.” He explains.
Peter recommends that a beginner should hold a stretch for at least 30 seconds and work up to 1 minute in order to see tangible flexibility development. “With my background in dance, I can often hold my stretches for up to 10 minutes, but that is definitely for the more experienced.” He laughs.
Peter strongly advises that one his non-negational coaching cues includes always demonstrating a movement, “I believe that it’s important to show my clients how to hold the movement, to point out where they should be feeling the stretch and helping them to identify when they have reached the right position. If you’re unable to have a stretch demonstrated for you in person, I would recommend finding a YouTube clip or a series of photos in a reference book to help guide you.”
Breathing is another important coaching cue, according to Peter “It seems odd to remind a person to focus on their breath, when they are in an uncomfortable position, however it does help them relax and therefore go deeper into the stretch. A cue I like to use with my clients is that they should aim to reach their full range of motion at the end of their exhaling breath.”
Peter is careful to point out some of the movements he wouldn’t recommend for beginners, “I would definitely advise beginners to avoid doing any ballistic stretching. An example of this would be high kicks. As a dancer, these kinds of stretches are expected from us, and we have the control to maintain the movement. But for the inexperienced stretcher, the high kick or other kinds of ballistic stretches may force their body to go beyond their normal range of motion and can cause injury.”
Another key point for beginners, is to ensure they are warm prior to doing any kind of stretches, be it dynamic or static.
When it comes to his favourite movement, Peter is a big fan of the PNF stretch, aka Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. While there are many variations of this type of stretch, one of Peter’s go-to’s is the hamstring stretch. Best done with a partner, begin by lying on your back. Extend your legs on the floor and lift your right leg up as high as you can. Have your partner resist your right leg. Gently push into your partner’s arms for six seconds. Relax your hamstrings by contracting your right quadriceps and hip flexors. Draw your right leg closer to your face for six seconds. Repeat at least three times. Make sure to keep your left leg glued to the ground. If you need assistance, have your partner hold your left leg down. Repeat on the other side. You can also do this stretch on your own with a band.
Here’s to being able to touch our toes!
– By Prue Houston