How I Doubled My Hamstring Flexibility In 4 Weeks

Image by Dan4th

Flexibility is a hugely important attribute for anyone who is self-defense minded. Not only does it decrease risk of injury, but it increases our overall mobility. Mobility is key to surviving a violent assault. If you ever find yourself in a gunfight where you need to maneuver around cover or concealment or even find yourself entangled with your attacker, flexibility will certainly come in handy.

My own flexibility has always been above average. Training in karate from my youth has given me the skill and flexibility to kick to my own head height without too much difficulty. Despite my relatively good flexibility, on a good day with a great warm up and a lot of stretching, I might do a little better than just touching my toes.

When I sat on the ground and attempted to touch my toes, if I was lucky, I could barely touch my toes with my fingers. Embarrassingly, I couldn’t even sit straight up with my legs outstretched, instead I naturally needed to lean back.

One of my goals for 2012 was to improve this stretch. My measurable goal was to be able to comfortably place my palms on the floor out in front of me stretching from the standing position. As a corollary to this, I wanted to be able to reach my hands past my feet when sitting, and outright grasp the balls of my feet.

How I got there

I was quite surprised to reach my goal much faster than I had expected and with relatively little effort.

I started my path to improve my flexibility by following this guide with a three minute stretching routine. It offers several tips for loosening up and boosting your stretch. I found very quickly that by elevating my heels, I was able to add several inches to my stretch. This quick improvement that occurred literally in a several minute period was a huge boost and helped me get psyched about improving. With all goals, seeing measurable progress is one of the best motivators.

This short three minute workout would become a part of my warmup for the next week or two, and served as a great starting point to get me moving in the right direction.

So how did I really reach my goal in only four weeks?

Surprise, surprise – I stretched.

Every chance I could get, I worked on this stretch. At least a half-dozen times a day I would get up from my workstation, turn to face outwards in my cubical, and work on touching my toes.

For anyone unfamiliar with good stretching practice, here is what I would recommend:

  1. Take a deep breath, relax, and hang.
  2. Exhale on the way down.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds and then press gradually and try to get a little further.
  4. Hold for another 5 seconds.
  5. Bend your knees and then stand up.

Rinse, and repeat a few times each session. That is really all it took. Five times a day, five days a week for four weeks is 100 sets. Push yourself a little further each time. You only need to make a 1% improvement each session. If you are trying to add 6 inches to your stretch, you need to improve only slightly more than 1/20th of an inch per session.

For me the results were incredible. I achieved my objective. I went from just being able to touch my toes to getting my palms completely on the floor. Stretching on the floor, I can now more than just touch my toes, but get my hands entirely past my feet. No small improvement, and it took just a little diligence over a short period of time.

Give it a try, and tell me how you do.

Beginning Training Series: Getting Your Fitness Off the Ground Level

Today I will be discussing improving your base level of fitness as part of my series on beginning training.

I am a big believer that if you want to train to defend yourself in any type of confrontation, then you need to work on your fitness. Fighting is a distinctly physical activity no matter what tools you may be using. If you expect to survive the fight (or want to have any hope of surviving for that matter) then you definitely need to work on improving your body.

 For the purposes of fighting, there are five main areas that you need to work on improving: flexibility, strength, agility, endurance, and speed. Without training in each of these five attributes, you are severely limiting your performance when you need it.

 Flexibility

The most overlooked attribute is flexibility. Flexibility helps prevent injuries, and also gives you better mobility. After all, your goal in a fight is to stay conscious and mobile. This past year when I took Southnarc’s VCAST (Vehicle Combatives and Shooting Tactics) course, I had many of my older classmates jealous because of the way I could move around on the ground around the vehicle. My advantage in this arena isn’t because I’m younger (though it helps), but rather is because of my time training in Kyokushin. Not everyone needs to know how to throw high kicks, especially since they have limited practicality on the street. Everyone should, on the other hand, have functional flexibility.

The very beginning of you work on flexibility should be to work on improving range of motion in a handful of areas. Think back to the stretches you may have learned in gym class. An easy way to fit this in to your schedule is to stretch a little when you wake up in the morning. Try a stretching routine like this one, it’s a good start for basic flexibility. Another great option is yoga. Don’t knock it just because it’s a popular group exercise class for women. Many great fighters and trainers swear by it, and have great results.

Strength

Strength affects all areas of your self-defense. A contest between two technically equivalent fighters can often be decided on strength. Muscle allows you to absorb more damage and, if used correctly, deal out more as well. There are many ways to approach improving strength. This will all depend on your own exact goals.

If you have the time and resources, a full weight routine can give you excellent strength gains. If you cannot spare the time or money to hit a gym, you can do quite a bit in your home without weights. At a minimum you should be doing some basic body-weight exercises like pullups, dips, pushups, squats and crunches.

Agility

Agility directly affects our mobility. Mobility is key in any life or death situation, so you can see the value. Better agility will allow us to change directions, start moving, or stop moving very quickly.

The basics for improving agility involve performing agility-requiring movements. Work on changing directions quickly and starting movement from a dead stop. Playing some pickup games of basketball or another agility-heavy sport might be a good way to work on agility while enjoying yourself. Here is an article on improving agility you might want to check out.

Endurance

Endurance is often trained in an ineffective manner. Many people that think they are training endurance for the purpose of preparing themselves for fighting or a self-defense encounter spend significant time hitting the pavement or running on the treadmill. The reason this is so ineffective is that no fight is ever that smooth and continuous.

Fighting generally involves short periods of extreme exertion followed by other periods of milder effort. If you are attached to your running, consider adding intervals to your training. Spend 20 seconds sprinting and 20 seconds jogging or walking. You can vary the times for each. This will better simulate a fight than running at a constant speed.

The other reason that distance running tends to be a poor option for training fighting endurance is that there is minimal load. Combining strength training and interval training is a great way to push your endurance. When lifting, try using lighter weights with higher reps and decrease the time in between sets. Another option is to run, jog, or shadow box in between sets. There are plenty of options you can experiment with.

Speed

Speed is a very important attribute for us to train if we want to maximize our potential in a violent confrontation. Being fast allows us to get our sights on target faster, and hit before our adversary. Speed also allows us to out-maneuver our adversary. Remember that mobility is key to staying alive.

Speed is the lack of all extraneous movement. Believe it or not, we can improve speed by training slowly. Work on removing all unneeded motions and taking the most efficient path to where you are moving. If you want more detail on how to do this, check out my post about increasing your speed.

Improving

When you sit down to put together your plan, set goals for all five of these attributes. Set measurable goals, and choose exercises and drills that allow you to meet them. Practice as often as your schedule will allow. The only real obstacle to achieving your fitness goals is lack of training.

Do you have any suggestions for improving fitness? Please post a comment!

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