Admit it, it does. If you disagree, you’re a) not an adult dance beginner, b) very lucky or c) both. For the record, I’m talking about stretching for the splits here. The light stretching you do to ease up DOMS or limber up is perfectly lovely. Training your body to bend in ways it doesn’t want to is not.
I’m hypermobile (Gboard corrects this to «horrible», and it’s probably right about that), so stretching comes fairly easy to me. Still, it’s not exactly a walk in the park. It’s difficult, painful (in a reasonably healthy way) and gives me DOMS (which I understand is not unusual). In the past, I’ve tried to reduce these negative side effects to make it more enjoyable.
Apparently, that was the wrong thing to do.
It all started with the damned downward dog. I’m very good at the dog itself, but all my modern teachers favour the three-legged version. Ideally, the lifted leg would continue the line of your arms and torso. Mine completely refuses to do that and stays at an ugly oblique angle instead. I’m not certain if it’s strength of flexibility I’m missing. I’m guessing it’s both.
So I decided to up my stretching game. Or get a stretching game in the first place. I hit up r/flexibility for resources and learned several interesting things.
Thing number one: The science on stretching is patchy at best, so take everything with a grain of salt and listen to your body.
Thing number two: There exists an interesting theory that flexibility = strength. It states that we’re much more flexible when unconscious. I have not tested this particular statement for obvious reasons, but there is a test you can do by putting one of your legs up on the back of a chair or some other hip-high surface while trying to keep the pelvis parallel to the floor. This is half a side split. If you can do this (and I can), but not the side split itself, the issue is obviously not with the stretchiness of your muscles, tendons and ligaments.
The issue, this theory goes on, is with your nervous system. Most of your body is under the control of subconscious systems. When it comes to stretching, those systems don’t trust you. At all. So when you decide you need to do the splits, alarms labeled «STUPID THINGS ARE BEING DONE» go off in your subconscious and your nervous system overrides your feeble attempts to get your muscles to relax and tenses them up instead. The reason for this mistrust is supposedly a lack of strength: if you cannot get out of the position on your own (and clambering up laboriously does not count), you shouldn’t be in it, your subconscious reasons.
Therefore, many stretching regimens recomment strength training rather than stretching. This blew my mind, but I retrospectively realised it shouldn’t have. Many stretching regimens I have tried contained PNF. The amazing splits videos Asher sent me not only include PNF, but also standing in a lunge for half the video.
Unfortunately, I’m lazy and apparently quite obtuse and I never understood that strength played into it at all. I dismissed the lunge as being for people with more strength than me and propped myself up with yoga blocks so that I could «relax better». Turns out relaxing was never the point of the exercise. This is proooooobably why I haven’t been as successful training for the splits as I could’ve been.
Thus enlightened, I decided to try the videos again. And it was more difficult and more painful. Even back in my glorious karate days, I thought of stretching as painful. Maybe it’s just me. Anyway, the emphasis on strength makes it even less pleasant.
I was only able to do the videos a couple of times once or twice a week before my maelstrom of menial tasks overtook me. But when I next tried the splits after my workout, I had improved very noticeably!
The Reddit wizards have whispered to me that intensive stretching like that doesn’t need to be done every day – shouldn’t be done every day, in fact – and once or twice a week will suffice. I’ll try to do another session today, unpleasant or not. After all, barbell squats are unpleasant, and yet I can’t seem to get enough of those.