You know those people who say who say that they used to be flexible as kids, or or that they just "lost their splits" after neglecting them for a while?
I am not one of those people.
(Okay, while I'm sure that I was probably more flexible as a kid, I still was never one of those kids who had amazing splits or anything like that).
I had never had my splits, nor was I ever close. Once I found pole, and the longer I stuck with it, I eventually began to feel like I needed to start to build that flexibility. (I was talking to my friend and pole instructor last night, and we were discussing how the level of flexibility we have is beyond most average, non-pole people, and yet in the pole world having basic splits sometimes feels like the bare minimum). I wanted to see if, with time and training, I could get my splits for the first time. I tried, on and off, to make this happen.
As of April 2015, here's where I was:
You can see I even needed the support of the barre to keep me upright!
I tried a few different videos in hopes that they would get me to my splits. While they may have if I'd stuck with them, I never really did. I'd do them on and off for a week or two and then forget about them entirely. I would do a quick stretch at the end of a pole class and count it as "splits training." I was super inconsistent, so I never really saw any progress.
I really do best in a class where I can commiserate with others and have an instructor to keep me on track. When I decided that this goal was truly a priority for me, I finally decided to sign up for a four week flexibility class, which consisted of a weekly 90 minute class in a warm room. Attending this class meant I had to travel to a different studio from where I teach and train, but I hoped it would be worth it.
Here's where I was week one (July 6th):
That photo was taken without a warm-up, the evening after my first flexibility training class.
My classes consisted of active and dynamic flexibility training, strength work, a little PNF (or "resistance") stretching, static stretching (including holding my "splits"--more of a lunge then--for longer than I ever had before, with the help of some yoga blocks), and partner stretching. I wish I'd taken a photo right after class so I'd have an truly accurate starting point. (For a quick overview of different types of stretching methods, I think this post from FitandBendy.com is quite helpful)
After four weeks of classes, I was here:
At this point, I was really starting to see some progress...which was exciting! I signed up for another four weeks of class and really started to feel like I was making progress. I had a very hands-on instructor for this session, which helped me really get deeper into some stretches and work harder than ever.
While teaching, I started getting in the habit of having my pole students stretch for splits after class. (While we had always done a nice stretch and cooldown, I started to tailor it to more of a splits-focus. It helped me get in some extra stretching time, and the students were excited to start making some progress here too. Win-win.)
Here's where I was at week five of my splits journey:
Sweaty and worn out, but getting closer to having that front calf touch down!
I teach PiYo as well as pole. It's always been great for cross-training, but I started to really take advantage of the time after class (when I was already super warm and feeling fairly limber already) to do 30-60 minutes of thorough stretching. This helped me add in an additional day of flexibility training, which I think was really helpful.
Finally, on week six of training, this happened:
Calf touchdown! This may seem like such a minor thing, but it was such an exciting feeling when it happened. And when I compare this photo to the first ones, I see such a huge difference.
And then it happened again on week seven:
(Those butterfly leggings are from Liquido. Obsessed.)
At this point, I was doing one 90 minute flexibility training class, one PiYo class followed by a deep stretch session, and a weekly brief post-pole splits stretch. This was occuring more or less every week, so I was getting pretty consistent with my training.
At week eight in my splits journey, I took this photo:
This was taken yesterday, after teaching a PiYo class and about 30 minutes of stretching. Calf on the floor and hips getting lower and lower all the time!
What's Coming Up Next For Me
I'm so glad I have photos of this journey, because seeing the progress really helps me stay motivated. Flexibility progress can feel incredibly slow and the training can be challenging and uncomfortable. Tracking my progress is turning out to be essential to making progress. I plan to continue that during my next month of training.
After my stretch session yesterday, my instructor and friend (from my regular studio) taught me to use the aerial silks to stretch my splits. It was super helpful and I think will add some much needed variety into my training routine. I can't wait to explore this over the next few weeks.
Additionally, I have been focused on staying very hydrated, especially on stretching days. I've spoken before on how drinking water is essential for developing flexibility and now I'm definitely seeing it in action. I would like to emphasize that even more in the coming weeks by ensuring that I'm drinking plenty of water on rest days too. Sometimes I slack off on that.
I'm also fairly good about incorporating flexibility-supportive foods (like leafy greens and healthy fats), but I would like to make that even more consistent in the coming weeks. I'd additionally like to try minimizing some of the foods that may be working against me. (See more about those in the bottom of this post).
Finally, though I totally didn't mention it before, I have been working on back flexibility a bit in my classes as well, but I haven't been tracking my progress. It just hasn't felt like a priority yet...but perhaps it will this month! We'll see. I've also been stretching for middle splits, but they seem so far out of reach that I haven't been tracking them at all--something I should probably start to do so I can at least see the tiny peeks of progress.
That's where I am as of today. Can't wait to dive into another four weeks of training!