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Can you actually improve your flexibility?
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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Sep 9, 2012

My flexibility, specifically for high-steps, really sucks and I think it's hurting my climbing quite a bit. Have people out there successfully improved their flexibility with stretching or yoga or whatever, or is it just something genetic that you can't do much about? What has worked for you?


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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Sep 9, 2012
Sure, I can belay

David Horgan wrote:
My flexibility, specifically for high-steps, really sucks and I think it's hurting my climbing quite a bit. Have people out there successfully improved their flexibility with stretching or yoga or whatever, or is it just something genetic that you can't do much about? What has worked for you?


I am also fairly inflexible and would like to find something not too taxing to maintain what I have.

Meridian stretching helped me the most, but the increase in range of motion was limited. It was also expensive and painful.

I though gyrotonics helped some. Not much luck with Pilates, yoga, etc.


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By Marty C
Sep 9, 2012

I have been involved with gymnastics since the mid-60's as an athlete
and later as a coach.

I can definitely tell you that some people are born more flexible than others. But, just as some people are born stronger than others, all can improve upon what they were born with.

Increasing flexibility, like increasing one's strength is not an overnight job. It takes time and is often difficult and sometimes painful.

Don't give up; stay with it. There are lots of good resources out there.
There are several accepted stretching methods (static, dynamic and PNF-propriceptive neuromuscular facilitation).

Good luck.


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By Jeremy Riesberg
From Minneapolis, MN
Sep 9, 2012
Palisaid, SD.

I have done yoga for about 6 months now. Yoga does increase your flexibility, not over night, but just give it time. You will also learn better breathing habits and proper posture. It's worth the time investment of attending a class.


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By rgold
From Poughkeepsie, NY
Sep 10, 2012
The traverse out to the Yellow Ridge on the Dogstick Ridge link-up.  Photo by Myriam Bouchard

You can definitely increase flexibility. It takes time and a totally different mentality from strength training. Some people swear by yoga, but there are many different varieties of it and a vast spectrum of practitioners who run the gamut of competency. Many poses stress the back and knees and are nearly pointless for climbing. I think you can get all you need for climbing from a few appropriate stretches in a good modern stretching book.

High-stepping needs a combination of flexibility and strength---you have to be able to lift the leg high, after all. In addition to standard knee-to-chest type stretches, try some high-stepping exercises with ankle weights to strengthen the necessary musculature.


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By Old and Busted
From Centennial, CO
Sep 10, 2012
Stabby

I'll bet there's a good chance the problem is with your core strength instead of flexibility. Yoga can fix that, but doing hard gym routines will produce results faster. The most fundamental one is hanging from a chin-up bar and curling your knees up to your chest without using inertia from kicking or swinging. Increased flexibility will be a bonus benefit if you get really disciplined and hard core.


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By JesseT
From Portland, OR
Sep 10, 2012
25' drop...wheeeeee!

Yeah, yoga (esp. hot vinyassa) and/or martial arts are great for improving flexibility, balance and strength for climbing. I pulled a finger tendon pretty badly last winter and couldn't climb much for months. In that off-time I took Budokan classes (it's a martial art with heavy yoga influences). Now I'm more flexible than I've ever been in my adult life, I find I'm pumping out less often, high-stepping way better and my cardio has improved. As a bonus, I learned how to throw a mean roundhouse.


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By Jake Jones
From The Eastern Flatlands
Sep 10, 2012
Me and the offspring walking back to the car after a day of cragging.

I know what you mean David. High steps aren't my problem. Front to back, I am fairly flexible, although I could stand to improve. Side to side is where I suck. If there's a route that requires wide stemming, I can hang that shit up. Ain't happening. I work on stretching fairly diligently, although that could improve as well, but haven't really noticed much difference. I too would be interested in some sort of resource that clearly outlines an extended program to help improve overall flexibility with regard to the opening of the hips and groin. This half-assed shit I've been doing isn't really working.


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Sep 10, 2012

El Tigre wrote:
I'll bet there's a good chance the problem is with your core strength instead of flexibility. Yoga can fix that, but doing hard gym routines will produce results faster. The most fundamental one is hanging from a chin-up bar and curling your knees up to your chest without using inertia from kicking or swinging. Increased flexibility will be a bonus benefit if you get really disciplined and hard core.


This and the other strength vs flexibility posts are interesting. For me I think it's flexibility, but here is the scenario: I can usually place my foot where I want it, but I often have to bring my knee medially, and as a result bring my butt way out from the wall, requiring a ton of extra arm power to do the move. Feels like my hips are too tight to drive off my foot with my pelvis tight to the wall. Thoughts?


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By Jake Jones
From The Eastern Flatlands
Sep 10, 2012
Me and the offspring walking back to the car after a day of cragging.

Yep, that's me. I think it's the inflexibility in the hip/groin. I've found that if one leg is straight, I can keep my hips fairly close in to the wall, and lean my weight over my foot and get some power out of it. But, if one leg is already bent, and I'm moving the other one up to get in sort of a frog leg position, I'm basically worthless there. I had better be hanging onto a jug, because as you mentioned, that's when my knees refuse to flare out and my hips and ass come off the wall and all the weight that was supported by my legs and feet now falls on my arms and hands.

Wide stemming, as I mentioned, is tough too. Anything over four feet wide from toe to toe laterally, and I really start to feel the pull in my hips and groin. Even if I can get into the stem, getting out of it is just as difficult.

These two maladies in flexibility- the inability to flare my knees out and keep my hips in close with both legs bent, and the inability to stem wide while straight-legged really fuck me up on some routes.


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By Old and Busted
From Centennial, CO
Sep 10, 2012
Stabby

In the body-tension positions we are in when climbing, its less about how limber you are than how can lift your leg or drive your hips into those positions. Its a synergetic thing, the exercises you do to strengthen the core will also increase flexibility. Its alot easier to get into splayed-out positions on a floor when gravity is working with you, but when you are fighting it on the wall thats where the core strength needs to be invoked. The martial arts mention above is great too. That is a secret advantage many good climbers I know have in their background.


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By Old and Busted
From Centennial, CO
Sep 10, 2012
Stabby

There have been discussions here in the past about the value of stretching vs not, and whether to statically stretch or dynamically stretch. I hope the informed amongst us will chime in again.
Meantime, plan on doing leg lifts and hip flexors in various fashions followed up by stretching routines as a warm-down. Stretching as a warm-up is good also.
And this advice is big time 'do as I say not as I do' coming from a fat 50+ y.o. ex-football player


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Sep 10, 2012

El Tigre wrote:
In the body-tension positions we are in when climbing, its less about how limber you are than how can lift your leg or drive your hips into those positions. Its a synergetic thing, the exercises you do to strengthen the core will also increase flexibility. Its alot easier to get into splayed-out positions on a floor when gravity is working with you, but when you are fighting it on the wall thats where the core strength needs to be invoked. The martial arts mention above is great too. That is a secret advantage many good climbers I know have in their background.


I'm wondering though: the core strength exercise you describe (on the pullup bar) is done with your knees in front of you, and the issue I'm having (and I guess Jake above has it also) seems to occur when my knees are way out to the sides (ie "abducted", in med-speak). Intuitively, it would seem to me that since I'm favoring the "knees front" (adducted) I'm strong there (I run and ride quite a bit in what is basically that position), but either weak or inflexible (or both!) with knees abducted. Do you think the pullup bar exercise you describe will still help that? Wouldn't I need to focus on something that strengthened me in the abducted position?

The martial arts aspect is interesting as well...I remember a climber buddy of mine mentioning some Brazilian martial art practice that he thought would transfer well to climbing. Now he does a lot of Qi Gong, another practice with martial roots.


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By Old and Busted
From Centennial, CO
Sep 10, 2012
Stabby

You have to get all the different groups worked; the central core being the 'base' from which you start from. Lower back, the obliques, upper core, all have to be brought along in balance. At this point I'm going to stop and wait for the much better educated to start chiming in. I'll probably get corrected. They'll be piping in any time now.....


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By JerryN
Sep 10, 2012

I did Tae Kwon Do for several years (4th degree black belt). When I first started, I was not very flexible. I learned there are several things involved to become flexible. Being able to relax your mind and your body makes a huge difference. When I learned how to relax more, I became way more flexible - almost overnight. I am 47 years old and can almost do a complete splits with no problem.

Some days, when I am tense from work or something, I can't stretch at all. After I calm down and relax, I get a lot more stretch. I do both static and dynamic stretching. You have to be super careful when you do dynamic stretching because it is easy to over do it an tear a tendon or muscle.

I still have some issues with being able to relax muscles. When I stand up and keep my knees straight, I cannot bend over touch the floor (static stretch). I can kick a leg up an keep my knees straight and bump my knee up against my chest (dynamic). Seems like pretty much the same muscles but I can relax them more when I am kicking.


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By Sir Wanksalot
From County Jail
Sep 10, 2012

David Horgan wrote:
seems to occur when my knees are way out to the sides (ie "abducted", in med-speak).


My hip flexors are very tight. I have pulled them on more than one occasion doing what you discribe. You can look up stretches specifically for this, but I shit you not... yoga will do something for you. I have been practicing for a while, but I remember when I was doubtful, the instructor was talking about how we hold emotion in our hips, and we are doing this crazy stretch and I feel like a total tool when all of the suddent I am overcome with laughter! I could not stop... tearing up and cracking up! She was not BS'ing. My hips are much better, and I continue to practice yoga and be more flexible. Like other have said, it takes a while but keep after it.


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By RockyMtnTed
Sep 10, 2012

isolationist wrote:
I think it is pretty clear flexibility can be improved.


exactly.... I cant believe that is even a question.


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By Aerili
From Salt Lake City, UT
Sep 10, 2012
Duck face with Largo

To summarize an answer to your question which is both supported scientifically and also derived from my personal years of practical experience training and stretching people (athletes, normal people, injured people), here you go:

Flexibility can be increased but some muscle groups are more amenable to retaining flexibility increases than others. My experience with myself and also with stretching many of my clients in the past was that I could obtain good to sometimes significant flexibility gains, but if they were not maintained diligently with a consistent stretching regimen the muscle lengths would go back to baseline quickly.

High stepping requires flexibility in several muscles groups: these include the glute max, the hip external rotators (key), the adductors (inner thigh/hip muscles), and the knee extensors (quads).

One stretch that is simple and which will target many of the associated muscles is this www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=www.physiotherapynorthsydney.co>>> one. It is fairly intense if your range of motion really sucks.

By the way, I don't know why the link formatting isn't working above. Sorry about that string being inserted in the text...it shouldn't be.




JerryN wrote:
When I stand up and keep my knees straight, I cannot bend over touch the floor (static stretch). I can kick a leg up an keep my knees straight and bump my knee up against my chest (dynamic). Seems like pretty much the same muscles but I can relax them more when I am kicking.

It's not about being able to "relax" muscles. Although it may be counterintuitive, static and dynamic flexibility are not related. Many individuals have excellent dynamic flexbility but poor to moderate static flexbility. So you are normal.


El Tigre wrote:
Stretching as a warm-up is good also.

No! Nothing could be further from the truth.


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Sep 11, 2012

Aerili wrote:
To summarize an answer to your question which is both supported scientifically and also derived from my personal years of practical experience training and stretching people (athletes, normal people, injured people), here you go: Flexibility can be increased but some muscle groups are more amenable to retaining flexibility increases than others. My experience with myself and also with stretching many of my clients in the past was that I could obtain good to sometimes significant flexibility gains, but if they were not maintained diligently with a consistent stretching regimen the muscle lengths would go back to baseline quickly. High stepping requires flexibility in several muscles groups: these include the glute max, the hip external rotators (key), the adductors (inner thigh/hip muscles), and the knee flexors (quads). One stretch that is simple and which will target many of the associated muscles is this www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=www.physiotherapynorthsydney.co>>> one. It is fairly intense if your range of motion really sucks. By the way, I don't know why the link formatting isn't working above. Sorry about that string being inserted in the text...it shouldn't be. It's not about being able to "relax" muscles. Although it may be counterintuitive, static and dynamic flexibility are not related. Many individuals have excellent dynamic flexbility but poor to moderate static flexbility. So you are normal. No! Nothing could be further from the truth.


Thanks Aerili! That link is very handy, great to have some specifics with pictures.

I have heard as well (although not direct from the peer-reviewed articles that I'm guessing you're basing your assessment on!) that at a minimum, stretching when not warmed up is not helpful and may be harmful.


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Sep 11, 2012

isolationist wrote:
I think it is pretty clear flexibility can be improved. For hip flexibility in both high step and frog ( plie) positions try gently stretching these exact postions while lying face down on the floor. This lets your body weight do most of the work. I've seen one person read books ( well, climbing guides) in this position, with one leg up at their side. Expect slow progress. Stepping a foot up onto the counter or highstepping while standing at the base of a vertcal wall also works. The latter keeps you from cheating by leaning in. Grab lousy holds if you'd like, but not positive enough to let you move your hips away from the wall. I'm surprised some people say target strength. Isn't all you are resisting in a maxed out high step is your fully elongated muscles and connective tissue? Better to stretch that out before you get to the crux.


Thanks isolationist...especially the "expect slow progress" part, that is likely the best mindset.

I do think that there may be a point of the diminishing return with the "fully elongated" situation. My understanding (I supposed based more on the Starling curve for cardiac muscle than for skeletal muscle) is that a certain amount of "preload" or tension on a muscle is helpful in maximizing the power of a contraction, but if you increase the preload past a certain point, power starts to go down again. That anyway was my understanding of why I feel like I have so little power when I'm frogg-legged...everything's just way too tight to be efficient!


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Sep 11, 2012

Aerili wrote:
To summarize an answer to your question which is both supported scientifically and also derived from my personal years of practical experience training and stretching people (athletes, normal people, injured people), here you go: Flexibility can be increased but some muscle groups are more amenable to retaining flexibility increases than others. My experience with myself and also with stretching many of my clients in the past was that I could obtain good to sometimes significant flexibility gains, but if they were not maintained diligently with a consistent stretching regimen the muscle lengths would go back to baseline quickly. High stepping requires flexibility in several muscles groups: these include the glute max, the hip external rotators (key), the adductors (inner thigh/hip muscles), and the knee flexors (quads). One stretch that is simple and which will target many of the associated muscles is this www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=www.physiotherapynorthsydney.co>>> one. It is fairly intense if your range of motion really sucks. By the way, I don't know why the link formatting isn't working above. Sorry about that string being inserted in the text...it shouldn't be. It's not about being able to "relax" muscles. Although it may be counterintuitive, static and dynamic flexibility are not related. Many individuals have excellent dynamic flexbility but poor to moderate static flexbility. So you are normal. No! Nothing could be further from the truth.


Actually, one other related question for you: I've been getting into squats lately for core, alpine climbing, etc...do you think that a sort of "frog-legged" squat (simulating to some extent the position you're in for a high step) would be safe to do (knee-wise or otherwise)?


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By "H"
From Manitou Springs
Sep 11, 2012
Axes glistening in the sun

Hot Yoga might work best as the heat will warm up & loosen you faster IMHO. I agree some are more flexible than others, but it can be worked. I was born pretty flexible or am flexible cause I was doing a lot of stretching in my younger years; still flexible but have to work at it these days. Whatever you choose, it is not something you can do overnight for sure. I like the yoga as it not only increases the flexibility but it also helps with strength.

Here is an awesome old yoga video from SNL that could help with the flexibility SNL YOGA


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Sep 11, 2012

HBL wrote:
Hot Yoga might work best as the heat will warm up & loosen you faster IMHO. I agree some are more flexible than others, but it can be worked. I was born pretty flexible or am flexible cause I was doing a lot of stretching in my younger years; still flexible but have to work at it these days. Whatever you choose, it is not something you can do overnight for sure. I like the yoga as it not only increases the flexibility but it also helps with strength. Here is an awesome old yoga video from SNL that could help with the flexibility SNL YOGA


Wow, is THAT why yoga seems to take over so many people's lives? I'd always suspected that "finding inner peace" was some kind of BS cover story. Thanks for clearing that up!


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By Aerili
From Salt Lake City, UT
Sep 12, 2012
Duck face with Largo

David Horgan wrote:
I have heard as well (although not direct from the peer-reviewed articles that I'm guessing you're basing your assessment on!) that at a minimum, stretching when not warmed up is not helpful and may be harmful.

Stretching when "cold" is less helpful/useful than when warmed up/post-activity. But I would say it is unlikely to truly hurt you (especially static stretching) unless you are crazy aggressive with it. I would say it is more harmful to attempt to do powerful movements when not warmed up....but that is a completely different topic.


David Horgan wrote:
Actually, one other related question for you: I've been getting into squats lately for core, alpine climbing, etc...do you think that a sort of "frog-legged" squat (simulating to some extent the position you're in for a high step) would be safe to do (knee-wise or otherwise)?

As for deep, sumo-style squats being safe to do: it depends on many factors so there is no black and white answer for you. The biggest concerns would be your personal flexibility in the associated muscles/joints, your age, your overall conditioning, and how high of a load you are lifting (on top of your personal body weight).

P.S. I made a mistake in my first post and said knee flexor flexibility was a component in high-stepping. I meant to write knee extensor. I corrected it but it's quoted in all your posts. :-//


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Sep 12, 2012

Aerili wrote:
Stretching when "cold" is less helpful/useful than when warmed up/post-activity. But I would say it is unlikely to truly hurt you (especially static stretching) unless you are crazy aggressive with it. I would say it is more harmful to attempt to do powerful movements when not warmed up....but that is a completely different topic. As for deep, sumo-style squats being safe to do: it depends on many factors so there is no black and white answer for you. The biggest concerns would be your personal flexibility in the associated muscles/joints, your age, your overall conditioning, and how high of a load you are lifting (on top of your personal body weight). P.S. I made a mistake in my first post and said knee flexor flexibility was a component in high-stepping. I meant to write knee extensor. I corrected it but it's quoted in all your posts. :-//


Hi Aerili... So on the "sumo squats", nothing inherently lethal about them, just the usual cautions that would apply to any exercise (ease into it in terms of how much resistance to use, warm up beforehand, allow adequate recovery time, use controlled form instead of gunning it for that "one last rep", etc)?

Also, on that stretching link that you sent: how much time to hold the stretches and how often to do them? Aka, what do you think is the minimum number of sessions per week that would end up being beneficial?

Thanks again,
David


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By ElyseSokoloff
From Spokane, WA
Sep 21, 2012

There was kind of a jerky response in here the 1st time I read this thread and this article was more in response to that but it's still an interesting read:

well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/25/phys-ed-how-necessary-is-s>>>

According to the article, no you actually CAN'T increase your flexibility.


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