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Ways to improve flexibility

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Blythe24

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My DS is 8 and this is his first year competing (he was too young last year and could only do demo competitions). He is very strong and fairly well coordinated, but is probably the least flexible kid I have ever seen. In spite of working on his pike, straddle and middle splits for a couple of years, he has made virtually no progress. He bends at his back - not at his hips - in pike and straddle. His hamstrings are obviously really tight. So are his adductors and all those other lovely inner thigh muscles.

His coach last year just kept telling him to sit in the positions at home while watching tv etc., and that it would come. It didn't - not even close. I then started to get the feeling that the coaches thought he wasn't trying, and then just kinda gave up on him flexibility-wise. But it is impacting everything he does (bent legs in cartwheel, poor form on rings in an inverted pike, inability to learn a press to handstand because he physically cannot get his legs into the correct position, etc etc, the list goes on). His shoulders are fairly flexible, and his bridge is almost average. It's his legs and hips that are the real problem.

Has anyone had any experience helping their DS overcome inflexibility issues? I look up stuff on YouTube, but the stretches people show are impossible for my son - he can't even get into the starting positions! He is getting really frustrated, and I can't blame him. People have suggested yoga, but again he can't get into the starting positions. Like, if he sits on the floor with his legs in front of him, he can't actually even sit with his back at 90 degrees to his legs. His hips are tilted back. To make matters worse, his fairly bendy little brother has started pre team this year, and is already making great progress with his flexibility.

Any advice? Any particular stretches / exercises you would recommend? We have tried getting him to do pike and straddle with his butt raised - to have gravity help pull him down and tilt his hips - but maybe we need to add more?
 

kendo348

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Have you ever tried having him evaluated by a sports PT? The inability to even sit at 90 degrees would make me consider that he may need some regular massage therapy for those hamstrings at minimum, and possibly at the other extreme there could be structural issues at play? That’s what I would look into if it were my kid. If two years of stretching hasn’t made any difference, it’s time to try something new!
 

Madden3

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I agree with above, I would first check to see if there is some thing actually up physiologically, as there may be special exercises to address this. Some of this may be genetic. It may just be how he is built. But that does not mean there is not anything that might be done to improve it.

I am no expert, but here are my experiences with stretching and flexibility:

I was never an athlete, but I was a stage actor and a puppeteer for many years, and this is physically demanding and requires flexibility and agility and I was lacking in that department. So starting in my mid 20s, I took many movement classes. The best class I took was a yoga class that was very popular with professional ballet dancers. Talk about intimidating, as I was no dancer and I had to modify how I approached just about every thing, but I learned so much about mindful stretching and I was able to greatly increase my flexibility and learn to really listen to my body.

The stretching I learned was not about getting into some specific position and forcing the body into doing something it cannot (yet) do. Simplified, it was about learning to deeply breathe and relax into a stretch, rather than forcing. The key was to not rush, not force, but rather to breath and relax into the stretch. Until some flexibility is established, it is not helpful to worry about hitting particular starting or ending positions, you make adjustments with the approach to the stretch as it works for you. This loosey goosey approach can be really hard for kids- especially boys- to grasp and embrace.

I am not saying that gaining flexibility is all about breathing and relaxing. "Working" a stretch, pushing, contracting the muscles then relaxing etc. is really important to improve flexibility. But the breathing and relaxing is a very important component that I think it very often overlooked in gymnastics training. Also, you have to start somewhere.

For years I have suffered watching my sons strain and force themselves into stretch positions. This is how they were taught to stretch by most of their coaches, and they just would never listen to me when I tried to encourage them to try it the way I learned. My youngest is more naturally flexible and it mattered less, although now that he is going through puberty and really muscling up I can see he is losing flexibility. My oldest was never very flexible, and I know that not dealing with this properly earlier on ended up holding him back. For example, he was good at pommel and he would do challenging routines, but never scored well because he just could not keep his knees straight.

I also think that the problem with online videos is these are made by people who are really good at stretching- meaning, they already have awesome flexibility. It can be terribly disheartening as well as simply not helpful to try to learn while comparing oneself to someone light years beyond what you can do, while trying to learn! So you need to use ones where the person is a true teacher, start with basics, and modify as needed.

Did you take him to an actual yoga class? A real yoga or other type of mindful stretch teacher should be able to meet your son where he is at. If the start position is impossible, he needs a different place to start.

Here is a video that overall seems good. She offers suggestions for modified positions throughout so pay attention to those.
This guy seems good I think. he has a ton of videos addressing very specific areas. This is a whole body stretch which I think is a good place to start. two on pelvic tilt- might be helpful? and
Remember listen for suggested modifications and if none is suggested, your son should make his own as needed. Any stretch position can and should be modified so you can actually do the stretch.
 

Blythe24

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Thanks for the advice! I'll take a look at having him evaluated by a PT, and take a look at the videos.
 

Popcorn

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I agree with physio and massage therapy. Physio gives them a set of specific stretches aimed at their needs (as opposed to the one-size-fits-all stretching they all do at gym). Massage therapy helps too. The main issue (barring structural issues, which is why I say physio first and possibly a doctor if the physio suggests it) is getting them to do the stretches at least twice a day. The only time I see progress with my son (who has to stretch or he is in pain from the tight muscles and is naturally really inflexible also) is when he's actually stretching twice a day every day. His motivation to do this comes and goes.

Even most adults struggle to fit in exercises recommended by a physio twice a day. For a child...it takes a lot of patience on the part of the parent :)
 
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Gymnast_Christy

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My DS is 8 and this is his first year competing (he was too young last year and could only do demo competitions). He is very strong and fairly well coordinated, but is probably the least flexible kid I have ever seen. In spite of working on his pike, straddle and middle splits for a couple of years, he has made virtually no progress. He bends at his back - not at his hips - in pike and straddle. His hamstrings are obviously really tight. So are his adductors and all those other lovely inner thigh muscles.

His coach last year just kept telling him to sit in the positions at home while watching tv etc., and that it would come. It didn't - not even close. I then started to get the feeling that the coaches thought he wasn't trying, and then just kinda gave up on him flexibility-wise. But it is impacting everything he does (bent legs in cartwheel, poor form on rings in an inverted pike, inability to learn a press to handstand because he physically cannot get his legs into the correct position, etc etc, the list goes on). His shoulders are fairly flexible, and his bridge is almost average. It's his legs and hips that are the real problem.

Has anyone had any experience helping their DS overcome inflexibility issues? I look up stuff on YouTube, but the stretches people show are impossible for my son - he can't even get into the starting positions! He is getting really frustrated, and I can't blame him. People have suggested yoga, but again he can't get into the starting positions. Like, if he sits on the floor with his legs in front of him, he can't actually even sit with his back at 90 degrees to his legs. His hips are tilted back. To make matters worse, his fairly bendy little brother has started pre team this year, and is already making great progress with his flexibility.

Any advice? Any particular stretches / exercises you would recommend? We have tried getting him to do pike and straddle with his butt raised - to have gravity help pull him down and tilt his hips - but maybe we need to add more?
 

Blythe24

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I thought it would be a good idea to update my son’s progress. With the COVID shutdown, we’ve had more time to dedicate to his stretching. I also did a lot of googling to try to figure out what might help him.

(I took him to a couple of people who really had no idea what to do for him. So... nothing to report on that front)

He kept complaining that he felt a stretch on the outside if he legs when doing straddle. Well it turns out it was the back of his legs towards the outside - his hamstrings!

So we focused on his hamstrings. Did a “half pike” so he could concentrate on one leg at a time. He would kneel on one knee with the leg he wanted to stretch out in front. Then he bent the leg to be stretched so he could put his chest flat on his thigh - making sure to bend at the hips and not curve his back - and then tried to straighten his knee while keeping his chest down.

This has seemed to unlock things for him! He can now do a pike with chest flat on his thighs. And he went from not bending at the hips in his straddle at all to having his chest maybe 3” from the ground now. His side splits have also dropped down about 3” on each side. And all this over only three weeks, stretching maybe 20 min a day, five times a week.

His handstands have improved too (less arching), and even his posture while standing and sitting.

Yay!! Progress!!
 

Blythe24

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Also to add: I had to explain to him exactly where he should be feeling a stretch when getting into different positions. Turns out he was going into some stretches but wasn’t actually stretching anything. ‍D’oh!

Kids!

Also though it’s a bit annoying that none of his coaches made sure he was feeling the stretch he was supposed to. So it has been over 2 years of somewhat useless “stretching“!
 

txgymfan

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Thanks for the update L I glad you’ve found what works for him.
 
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