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'If you can’t do X move, you just need to do it more’


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I’m hoping to generate some discussion on a technique I think of as the ‘just do it every day’, or ‘if you can’t do X move, you just need to do it more’. That is, the method of accumulating as much time as possible in a given position, every day, for anywhere between roughly 15 minutes up to several hours until you achieve said position. As compared to the ‘treat stretching like weight training’ with rest days, PNF, C/R, loaded stretching etc. type philosophy. Just, daily time accumulated pushing the position.

I think of this method on the spectrum of ballistic/pulsing training, as these programs also advocate an every-day frequency; so, programs like the Head to Toe, pancake and middle split ballistic routines from Emmet Louis, Ido’s 45-day Wushu protocol and experiments like the 90-day ballistic stretching challenge on this forum. Just like with pulsing, pushing stretches daily also seems to be engrained in the Chinese philosophy toward physical culture and flexibility.

So, I have been looking around for advocates, hoping to find empirical observations - so far, I have found:

1)      The most authoritative is Pavel Tsatsouline in his podcast on Tim Ferris. Transcript: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://tim.blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/55-pavel-tsatsouline.pdf. Referring to the middle split: “So you just get in this position, and you kind of pry a little bit for a while, and then you just relax…you have to spend a good half an hour, 40 minutes on this type of practice a day if you are really serious about reaching that level.”

-          Note, he does go on to say that you can achieve the position faster with isometrics.

2)      Jujimufu and his “how I got my full splits” routine = pushing it daily. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHBIKlluxkE). Some possible issues with this case-study are:

-          His age at the time. He was 15 (a common argument seems to be that this method only works for children and adolescence?); and, he did do stretch kicks in addition and took 10 days off at the end. Just things to note.

3)      Alan Show, chin to toe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEqe3jrILQ0&t=1s. He was 26, almost 27 years old and it took him roughly 1.5 years to achieve the position through pushing it every day. The question here I suppose is whether he could have achieved it faster with pulsing?

Then, there are the YouTube/influencer type posts. Perhaps we should treat these with more scepticism as there is an incentive to lie, exaggerate or oversimplify for views?

4)      Ranton and his time in China: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQs458EyIV4&t=55s). According to him, he entered the temple able to touch his toes and that was it in terms of flexibility. He claims that he achieved the front split in 1 month and his side split took a little longer. Things to note with this one:

-          He was forced into positions by an instructor, which is not really the method that I am referring to with this post.

-          They took Sundays off, so it was 6x a week, not 7.

-          His girlfriend was injured, although by the instructor forcing her into position rather than daily stretching per se.

-          I do not know exactly how old he was at the time, but from the pictures he was certainly an adult, perhaps in his 20s?

5)      There are a few ‘how I got the splits in X days’ type videos on YouTube, notably: Ben Echo claims he got the front splits in 30 days via stretching every day. Although, he does say that he used PNF (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-J0M3wIgrpI) rather than just accumulating time in the position. Leo Khanna claims middle splits after 153 days of a pretty generic stretching routing: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAkEmDbS2Po, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sf7_l3zKtO0&t=10s). Both are adult men (I mention this as I have come across people dismissing this method as only effective for females), although again, I do not know their exact age.

So, thoughts and opinions on this method?

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I'll start. All methods work, for a while, and at different rates for different people. We simply can't be objective about this, because the most significant factor is the willpower of the student. The reason we have so many tools in the box is that everyone will run into plateaus at some time, and it's what you do to get over these that matters in relation to any goal, like front or side splits. And then, once achieved, what an individual does to maintain this ability.

The only way to know whether this daily approach will work for you personally is to commit to it. By all means start a log here if you do decide to, and we will assist where we can.

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Understood on a micro level; in that, for myself I can play around and experiment. But I meant on a macro level. In practice, I never see it brought out of anyone’s toolkit or recommended (perhaps that is more reflective of my own circles that the flexibility zeitgeist).

For example, let’s take the straddle split, if someone were to wish to try an everyday, long-hold method; would they start by sitting in the position for 5 minutes per day? 15 mins? 1 hour? 2 hours? Is the more the better? Should they break it up into sets or complete it in one go? Should they ‘pry’ as Pavel recommends, or just try to relax. I have never come across a discussion on a podcast or forum as I have for ballistic stretching, PNF etc. apart from those I mentioned, and of them, only Pavel’s can really be considered an ‘expert’ recommendation and he doesn’t spend long on the topic. As far as I am aware, there are few/no free programs, recommendations, guidelines or anecdotal experiences from the community for someone to work off.

Really, this is coming off the back of the 90 Ballistic Challenge thread on this forum which I found so helpful, and from which sprang so many interesting programs and guidelines for people to follow (50 or 72 reps; pulse to a target etc.). For example, if one were to wish to get Head to Toe, they can take Emmet’s program and check the forums here; and, then of course experiment for themselves too. But the basic program and discussions serve as a starting point.

Further, many of the cautions that people used to give in the community for ballistics seem to apply to this method – that stretching is a stressor so one should treat it as weightlifting, not train every day and take rest days, for example. And I wonder if this topic needs revisiting and unpacking as ballistics were, so that it can be better incorporated into people’s toolbox.

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Hi, here is my opinion: It depends a bit on the end goal i feel and also on the pose one is trying to achieve. Think daily pike vs daily bridge, completely different effort is required.

Anyways, to fully own a certain position you have to be able to control it and control comes from strength. Hence, building these strength qualities in stretched positions should be the priority imho. And I feel this is where the "do it daily" approach is not optimal for most people unless you do this professionally. In my experience hitting an end pose 1-3 times a week with effort and going a bit into territory where your body has not gone before has to build the base of any practice. ST has many tools for this. I would consider anything beyond that auxilliary. This does not mean that this daily approach does not work. But I don't think it's the best tool. And it's just not practical for most people if they are no circus artists. It can be a nice limbering kind of addition to other stretching methods. I feel it works best with "tv watching approved poses" such as the pancake and even elevate progress.

I tried exactly this daily approach with the pancake. At least 15 minutes daily for 3-4 months. To tell you the truth it takes a certain kind of madness to stick to it and this is where the approach falls short in the first place. And looking back I could have gotten the same if not even better results from more focused sessions where you go deep, recover for a bit and then come back. So, does it work? Absolutely. Are there better methods? Probably. Is it practical for the average stretchee? Maybe not so much.
 

 

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18 hours ago, MichaelP said:

Further, many of the cautions that people used to give in the community for ballistics seem to apply to this method – that stretching is a stressor so one should treat it as weightlifting, not train every day and take rest days, for example. And I wonder if this topic needs revisiting and unpacking as ballistics were, so that it can be better incorporated into people’s toolbox.

@MichaelP: I still recommend treating stretching as a stressor, and recommend no more than two hard sessions a week with limbering on the other days, so not sure what you are pointing to above. I have canvassed the reasons for taking this approach many times, and honestly do not feel the need to re-explore this subject. In my view, no general recommendations (beyond what I write about HERE) can be made, simply because each of us is unique and will respond to the daily protocols differently. The deeper point is that I do not believe that the 'macro-level' can be usefully explored conceptually or theoretically—it can only be explored meaningfully at the individual level. Have you read all of articles I have linked to? The reasons we can't generalise about stretching techniques beyond what I have is explored there.

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@MarkusO Fascinating answer, thank you for sharing your experiences Markus.

I completely agree on the 'TV watching poses' and also agree that such protocols are hard to stick to and probably have a low adherence rate. I once tried to sit in a straddle split for 30mins per day, but only lasted a few days! Not becuase I felt that it was not working or any injury concerns; rather, because it was just too much to commit to at the time. I plan to complete at least a month of daily 30 min straddle split soon though; in the interest of experimentation.

On the adherence point, I do think that it is important to have an 'ideal scenario' in mind from which one can work backwards and then meet in the middle with what one is practically able to manage. For example, I would still like to know that if I could I should build up to running every day to prepare for a marathon; even if practically I can only manage 3 times a week.

Do you think that if you had both done the focused sessions combined with the long holds accumulating time in the positions, you would have progressed even further? For example, two 45 minute pancake workouts, ending with 15 minute holds (so two 1 hr sessions per week; 1.5 hrs 'strength training' per week, 30 mins sitting in the pose). Do you think we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater by not recommending the extended holds at all?

@Kit_L Thanks Kit. My point was that people seem to recommend not trying to accumulate extended periods of time in the position every day as it is too stressfull for the body, possibly resulting in injury or overtraining; but, that people have now tried extended periods of daily ballistic training and not experienced injuries or overtraining (necessarily). So, why would one be injurious but not the other. I am not trying to imply that you have said that approaches like sitting in a pancake for 15 minutes a day are necesssarily injurious, as you have just recomended that I try it out and experiment; I am just talking about an argument against it that I have commonly heard. 

To throw anouther case-study out there, Bill Wallace (the martial artist), often talks about sitting in a straddle split whilst watching TV and playing board games for extended periods of time. So, accumulating as much time as possible in the position. Has anyone tried something similar, like Markus or Bill? Any brave soul tried to do 30 mins plus? 

Also, what do people think about the Chinese pensioners who start later in life, stretch for multiple hours per day and achieve incredible results? See: 

For example. Is there anything that we can learn from their approach?

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@MichaelP: I have used extended periods in end positions in the past (and have definitely gone part the 30' you mention above), and I think it's likely that anyone who has become flexible has played with this, as @MarkusO notes above. But I do not think that this approach on its own is any more efficient, or better (however you construe this term) than the methods we recommend here, after tens of thousands of hours of collective practise and collaborative analysis, especially using the workshops and the many years of the Advanced classes we ran at the ANU for 27 years. I have found that advanced students find themselves wanting to do this quite naturally, but usually after they have achieved the ROM required. I am familiar with Bill Wallace's stretching techniques, but the sitting in straddle splits for extended periods was done after he had achieved that ROM, so would not have been a stretch for him at that point.

1 hour ago, MichaelP said:

I am just talking about an argument against it that I have commonly heard. 

I get this, but I am no longer interested in arguments, for or against, only insights gained by direct experience. Please do try this approach yourself, and post any images or links to videos that you want, and any insights that you think others might find useful.

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For the adult body that has not ever achieved* a particular end pose (splits, pancake, pike, etc.), practicing that end pose, for whatever length of time per session/frequency of sessions/any other parameter is the least efficient way to master the pose. Rather, finding what is your individual restriction(s) for that position, working on exercises to un-restrict that restriction, and then practice modified versions of the end pose that allow you to maintain form. Then, over time, work towards practicing versions closer to the end pose, once or twice per week, allowing recovery time – remember, it is during recovery that the body/brain is processing the new sensations and range of movement – and gauge how your body feels following each session.
 
Further to Markus' note above about 'owning' a position, unless you can do it cold from a flexibility perspective then you don't own it. @MichaelP I often do my reading on the floor in a near full pancake, and stay there for any period of time I choose to – I can do that position cold at any time, and find it more comfortable than sitting on a couch. It is not a 'stretch' for my body: I own that pose.

@MichaelP you wrote above:

Do you think that if you had both done the focused sessions combined with the long holds accumulating time in the positions, you would have progressed even further? For example, two 45 minute pancake workouts, ending with 15 minute holds (so two 1 hr sessions per week; 1.5 hrs 'strength training' per week, 30 mins sitting in the pose). Do you think we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater by not recommending the extended holds at all?

I've written here and elsewhere about long held positions – they have been gold for my practice. 'Hold' is a poor label because it suggests static. Much better is to add a variety of movements to the position being explored.

* By this I mean, if you have never been able to do that end pose, say perhaps as a child.

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I'll add my tuppenworth, as an older adult who has achieved splits all 3 ways at an older age, from a very poor starting point. My experience (admittedly guided by the ST program) is:

1. In agreement with earlier findings from Kit and his team, I found that hard stretching too often is counterproductive. I found it led to soreness which stopped the muscle from relaxing and therefore from stretching fully. Muscle stretching (in my view) involves producing slight damage to the muscle which forces it to remodel at the new length. I found if I tried to stretch again too soon, my range decreased, rather than increased. "Too soon" depends on how hard the initial stretch was - if VERY hard, you may need to let the muscle recover for 2-3 weeks before regaining flexibility. In this case, I suggest you are going too hard, because you cannot stretch very often. Having said this, this is the protocol that I am using at the moment for my straddle, as I have to go very hard to get the perfect straight line. So the results vary with how hard you stretch, I found.

2. How long should stretches be held? I have found differing results. If the stretch is clearly occurring (being felt) in the muscle, I have found that longer stretches (2 minutes plus) have led to the sense of muscle damage (feeling of bruising in the muscle) which has slowed my stretching. Now I aim to hold muscle stretches for only 30 seconds. However, if the stretch is occurring in the fascia, I have found that very long held stretches are better. However I usually get bored after 30 minutes (and usually a lot less). That's another thing - stretching needs concentration (on keeping the muscles relaxed, keeping form), so is not mentally relaxing.

3. But how to tell if stretches are primarily in muscle or fascia? Difficult! Some keys I use: 1. If the sensation is felt in a narrow line along part of the length of the muscle, I suggest its the muscle. 2. If CR works in generating relaxation, I suggest its the muscle. 3. If the stretch sensation does not align with muscle anatomy, crosses multiple muscles, or is felt in a broad sheet over the muscle, then I suggest that it is more likely in the fascia. In this case the fascia protocol (long held static stretches) is more appropriate. But also remember that sheets of fascia run within the muscles so the anatomical position may not always be a help. But all this is guesswork - I do not have any objective proof. I'd be glad to hear is anyone has some or has other ideas.

4. Some stretches are notorious for having a high fascial involvement. One example is the pancake in someone who is a long way away from achieving it. In this case, sitting in pancake for long periods (while reading?) is often recommended - in agreement with the fascial idea.

5. Many of these are my own speculations, though the protocols work in me (and in my students if I see them often enough). However (as a biological scientist) I don't believe anything unless there is objective proof, so at the moment I just class them as "good ideas".

6. I think age makes a big difference. Not only do young people (clearly) recover faster from injury (so can tolerate more injurous protocols), but I get the impression that adults have a greater fascial dominance. I suggest that people change over from the "child" pattern to the "adult" pattern somewhere around early to mid 20s (varying with the individual). I have no experience with young people - this is a guess based on the training protocols that people describe using in younger and older people.

Jim.

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This is a great discussion and a lot of valuable info has been posted by everybody.

10 hours ago, MichaelP said:

Do you think that if you had both done the focused sessions combined with the long holds accumulating time in the positions, you would have progressed even further?

Yes I believe so. It's always worth to spend a little bit of time each day in these poses, but only from a limbering perspective. I second what @oliviaa wrote (and I envy her for her pancake! 😁). But it always is a very individual thing and this cannot be understated. Some people (me included) enjoy a light stretching or limbering session while relaxing in the evening. Others don't or they don't have the time to or just don't want to. And that's ok. You can make progress without it, but it is a valuable addition. The only thing one has to be careful about is what @Jim Pickles wrote in his first point. To frame it differently: In my experience the daily limbering should not be used to explore new ranges of flexibility but rather be considered as a daily check-in with your body and some light mobilization. For increasing range you would have your 1-3 intensive sessions per week as the main stressors, those build the foundation and you can structure everything else around it.

@MichaelP, I encourage you to try it though for 30 days, it's a valuable learning experience and won't harm, but progress will likely be faster with the other approaches discussed here.

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