For the sake of this article I’m using the term flexibility broadly to include joint mobility or range of motion, as well as the ability of muscles and other tissues to lengthen. While there is much debate over the two terms “mobility” and “flexibility, for simplicity sake I’m sticking with the one.
A Quest for Flexibility
I first became familiar with the GMB Fitness’s Focused Flexibility program when I went through the GMB apprenticeship to become a certified trainer. I have a background in dance and prior to that a short stint in gymnastics as a kid. However, I am, by no stretch, a naturally flexible person. In fact, I’ve had to work really hard over the years for every ounce of flexibility I have. I do remember a time before I got really into dance in college, when I could not touch my toes. Even though my flexibility did improve from my ventures in dance, I was again hit with the harsh reality that I was still not very flexibile when I started training circus arts a few years later. Relative to other wanna-be acrobats, I was the tin(wo)man! My handstand used to look very arched and banana-y because my shoulder range of motion was so poor. Through all of those years of circus training did I ever get anywhere close to the splits and my backbend always looked more like a table top than a bridge, and felt like garbage.
Because I have wanted (and needed) more flexibility to do acrobatics, I have spent a lot of time sitting in painful stretches, being stretched forcefully by a coach or teacher, and trying really in-depth, time-sucking stretch techniques. I did see some improvement, but for the amount of time and energy I was putting in, I was getting minimal results. GMB’s Focused Flexibility (FF) program changed my view of stretching and flexibility work, both of myself and how I approach it with clients. It also actually changed my overall flexibility.
What is Focused Flexibility?
The FF program is simple in its design and implementation. The techniques are based in physical therapy exercises, yoga positions, and both static and PNF stretching.
To start off, there is an 8-position assessment that takes about 10mins to go through. The 8 areas cover all your major joints in various positions. What I love about this assessment is that you score yourself not only on how the position looks, but also how it FEELS. This was huge for me. Because while several of my assessments looked good, they felt terrible – think pinching hip joints, shoulder/neck muscles pulling, etc. You score your movements from 1-10. Positions that are harder or don’t feel good get lower scores.
Once you have done the assessment, you pick two areas to work on, usually the areas which got the lowest scores. There are several stretches for each of the assessments that you can pick from. For each area, you pick 2 stretches, so 4 total. (If you are new to flexibility the program suggests stretches for you!) You then work with these 4 stretches for 4-8 weeks before reassessing yourself.
The protocol for FF is mostly the same for all of the stretches – a combination of a static hold with an active movement. Most stretches take about 2mins (or 4mins for bilateral stretches). To see the most improvement, you are advised to do your 4 stretches 4-6 times per week. And really, they don’t take long – 10-15mins tops!
For those of us who like to geek out on tracking ourselves and getting gold stars, GMB even provides you with worksheets to write out your assessment scores, stretches and notes, and help you track how often you a stretching. Free downloads, whaaa?!?!
No pain, no gain??!
It is also noted in the program that you are not to stretch to the point of pain. In fact, pushing to the point of pain will actually be a step backwards in your flexibility training. To make any flexibility gains, your body cannot be guarding itself, which is what happens when we push into painful ranges. The FF program emphasizes only stretching to the point of mild discomfort, but never pain. Again, this was a new experience for me.
What I have noticed with my clients is that 4 stretches 4-6 days a week is doable. I’m not asking them to sit in uncomfortable/painful stretches for hours. I’m not asking them to do super active stretches that cause cramping and a higher ramp in the nervous system. FF provides an attainable program that is not unpleasant to do – this is, in part, why it is so affective. People actually DO it!
A New Mindset and Physicality
After working with the FF program for the 3 months I did the apprenticeship, I was sold. My backbend looked and felt the best it has in my adult life, my pancake (or straddle) stretch was lower than it has ever been – even as a kid. And I actually felt like the splits were going to be attainable in this lifetime!
I still feel like keeping the FF program going, I continue to see things shift for me physically. My handstand alignment continues to improve. My skill level in general continues to improve as I don’t have to continually struggle again so many flexibility limitations.
I also see my clients’ and students’ flexibility changing more rapidly as well using this program. Even some of my younger students who are relatively flexible have gotten amazing results to get even larger ranges of motion.
I don’t hate stretching anymore. In fact, I look forward to it because it doesn’t feel terrible – it actually feels good now. I also see how focusing on my stretching leads to larger skill gains, which is what I’m constantly working towards.
If you are interested in flexibility coaching, please see my rates and services page or contact me for more information.
Wanna go solo? Click here to check out the full GMB Focused Flexibility program available for purchase.