I’ve already got an article about pandiculation on this blog. Which itself is just an additional comment on an external link. The link to my older article is here
When people are asked about their flexibility, they’ll always tell you about how easy or tough it is for them to touch their own toes.
It is a worthy goal. But it is not the *only* goal.
Flexibility is a requirement in all parts of the musculoskeletal chain.
The main components that influence flexibility are
1. The actual architecture of the bones and joints. The actual anatomy. This is difficult to change if you’re an adult
2. The resting length of your soft tissues
a. Resting length of muscle tissue
b. Resting length of tendons and ligaments
c. Resting length of the fascia surrounding the above two structures.
All of these 3 sub components have different amounts of give/pliability/stretch inbuilt. Therefore I’ve sub divided them.
3. Your nervous system response to a stretch
4. The stability of your joints as perceived by the nervous system.
About the bony architecture, not much can be done, once you’re an adult. The shape you’ve got is the shape you’re stuck with. Except with the skull, jaws and ends of ribs. Change in the rest of the bones are usually because of trauma or degeneration. There can be a change in thickness and density, but the overall shape remains the same. So we’re not going to talk about that, at the moment. When it comes to the bony structure, your goal will be to maintain what you’ve got, in terms of flexibility. And improve what you’ve got in terms of strength, density and load bearing capacity.
Resting length of your soft tissues is a place where you can reap rewards with long term consistent practice. But quitting your flexibility practice will lead to rapidly reverting back to your default setting on the flexibility/stiffness continuum.
Response to a stretch, by your nervous system, and it’s perception of your joint stability are closely interlinked (points 4 and 5) and I’ll deal with them together. Your nervous system is the overall governor of your body. It has evolved to help you move and keep your mobility apparatus safe. Your neck, spine and limbs are considered essential for your well being as a living organism and therefore your nervous system will try and protect these parts from self induced damage. Excessive stretching of a joint, either by self or by an external force will therefore be resisted by pain or by tightening of the soft tissues automatically. Ordered initially by the nervous system.
Therefore, a human under stress will be tighter/less flexible. A human in pain, will be tighter. Someone who’s inflamed due to disease or poor digestion will be tighter. A dehydrated person will be tighter. Someone who’s not slept properly will be tighter. Someone who’s muscles are not strong enough or coordinated enough to keep the bones and joints in alignment will be tighter.
If the above inputs to the nervous system is continuous, in the way modern lifestyle gives, for example, the signal from the nervous system will be to tighten everything and lock everything down.
If the signal for tightness goes on for long enough, the body will undergo mechanical changes in the soft tissue lengths to reduce energy expenditure in the nervous system. Kind of like optimising hardware to reduce energy expenditure instead of running software continually.
So, if you’re tight and inflexible, the nervous system is where you need to look at, because that is where you’ll get most rewards. Only after that do you look at changing the soft tissue lengths to increase flexibility. Stuff like stretching is secondary. Fix your lifestyle and flexibility improves automatically.
I’ll post some “hacks” to help with resetting the nervous system in the next part.