Another 100 days complete, with about 100 hours of stretching throughout.
When I first started focusing on my flexibility, every single move I do today was a serious struggle. I may have been able to do it, but not at all comfortably. The last 3 challenges or 300 hours of consistent stretching routines has helped me to gain muscle mind control, breath during intense exercises, and an understanding of body positions to achieve different poses.
This time around I focused mainly on balancing my flexibility and strength, focusing first and foremost on my posture in all exercises and poses. Almost all of my routines are flexible strength focused, because it is super important to build strength in these new ranges of motion to prevent injuries. I also focused on performing poses on apparatuses, trying to make clean movement into difficult stretches.
I achieved some goals this year! Only 2, but hey progress is progress, and I’m happy nonetheless.
The Rainbow Marchenko on Day 67 and 97!!!
Okay so it’s not perfect, but it’s a start and I’m so happy that I can even grab my foot with my opposite arm. This was not even close to possible last year because my shoulders were so tight.
The first time I practiced this move I had to use a strap attached to my foot to be able to grab. My second attempt is this one, and as you can see I was able to grab my foot without a strap! Each time I practice I have a feeling I’ll get better and better. However from this footage I can tell I need to start serious work on my hips flexor, quads, glutes, gracillis (inside thigh) and IT bands (outside thigh).
Another inhibitor is that I have to engage my upper back and shoulder muscles on one side and then completely relax the other side to be able to bend and push my leg back while pushing my arm up behind my head, trying to lengthen and extend it straight. Plus a bunch of other things like straightening that back leg downwards engaging the hamstring to hold it against the pole but yet trying to relax the quad and hip flexors to bend backwards. If you’ll also notice this is supposed to be a turned out split, it’s important to work both your square split with your knee facing under, and a turnout split for some poses.
One of my goals was to have a solid straight handstand, I’d say I achieved that consistently on day 90! I still have a tiny arch, but I am successfully able to straighten my arms above my head and hold myself in proper form; right side up and upside down. It is becoming easier and more natural the more times I practice the full handstand and forearm stand routine with proper form.
In the previous years I had severe banana back handstands. My shoulders were not strong in a neutral straight position. I had become hunched from improperly building my muscles and there for my upper back was too stretch out and strong in a hunched position, very common in the aerial and pole world, and even weight lifters. Wrestling, weightlifting and heavy backpacks in my younger high school days, really set me up for bad case of “the hunch”.
My hips and quads were also tight in the beginning, so I was forced to use my lower back flexibility to compensate, furthering my banana back and excelling me at fang/scorpion handstands with shoulders in a familiar pushup angle. I had no flexible strength in my upper back and shoulders. The yoga wheel with weights helped me to gain even strength throughout the spine and the straps helped me to use my own arm strength to push me into position, similar to if I were grabbing my leg from behind. You’ll see these exercises down below.
Forearm stands have also become easier with the practice of posture, and shoulder exercises. As you can see forearm stands with back bends require a push back into the shoulders, this helps me to achieve balance in my new range of flexibility. You can also use a wall to help you balance while you find your strength in the shoulders pushed back.
Posture has been a main goal of mine since my very first challenge back in 2013. I had a severe case of the “hunch”, and often found myself hunching over while working at my desk, while standing, cooking, walking, etc. For the longest time, when I corrected my posture, it felt like I was leaning backwards; when in fact I was still a little shy of completely straight up. From then on, all day every day I started checking my posture.
The consistent breathing, form, and posture routine helped me achieve better form, by remembering key points and cycling through them overtime I found myself out of alignment.
My posture also improved significantly because I made habit of checking myself and completed the entire upper body stretching routines, at least twice a week.
Also because my posture has strengthened, and my range of motion has increased, it has improved my hollow body handstands without a banana back!
Shoulder Flexibility & My Favorite Exercises of 2016
When I tried shoulder and upper back stretches 3 years ago, my right shoulder would get stuck and feel like it needed to crack in order to move. After focusing on opening my shoulders for 2 years with the dynamic stretches, found in the upper body routines, my shoulder loosened up significantly and essentially cracked back into position allowing me to have proper form and work strength in this new position. The worse I hold my posture the more I have to crack my shoulder back. My goal is to strengthen the muscles to hold my posture so it never has to crack. 😉
The exercises that really made a difference were all the exercises with a strap like the one below and the yoga wheel with weights. See below, check out the complete upper back and shoulder routine for more exercises.
Strap over head arm push ups with many different variations.
Yoga wheel back extension with shoulders and arms engaged.
As you can see my back is folding at my lower/middle back because my upper back is not relaxed when trying to use arm strength above and or behind my head, with time I will learn how to properly control my muscles in all ranges of motion. All it takes is time, patience, and dedication.
Upper Back – Trapezius and Rhomboid
My tight upper back causes me to hinge at my lower back instead of a nice balanced arch throughout the entire spine. My upper back was frozen to start but with the exercise above, I’m evenly distributing the load a little bit better. I just need to keep doing my consistent upper body routines and I think I can get it too loosen up even more.
This is my favorite pose to illustrate my increased shoulder and quad/hip flexor flexibility. I also was able to loosen up my upper back a bit too! The angle definitely makes it appear more flexy than it is, but it’s still the flexiest, I’ve ever felt. Getting into it, I pulled my foot close to my head, then pushed my arms out straight. The more I brought my foot over to the side of my head, the better I could push out, it was something I never really experienced before, it was one of those aha moments!
My left leg split is extremely flexible and strong, especially when there is leverage, however there is still room for improvement in my quads, hamstrings and hip flexors for active flexibility poses.
I had a lot of catch up work to do this challenge to get my right leg split up to speed with my left leg split, and my right leg split has been my main focus, therefore no significant progress was made on my left split but back bends in splits have increased significantly. 100 more days and my right split should be just as flexible as my left leg split, I hope.
Middle splits didn’t improve, they still hurt and I’m beginning to think it will take me another 10 years to get flat comfortably; like my left split is now without even warming up. These next hundred days I’ll definitely give a little more love to the middle split. For now this is what I got.
My middle split actually decreased from last year’s challenge at the beginning of this challenge. Then 7 days later I got back to my original, and now I’ve only maintained. And these are both after 4 rounds, at my most pliable, if I’m cold I’m about a foot off the ground. ?
Helpful Tools & Apparatuses
Our studio, Chic Physique, put up a trapeze, aerial silks, and a lyra hoop alongside the poles; and now my life is compete. All of these apparatus have been extremely helpful for building strength and achieving new flexibility poses.
I used many tools throughout my 3rd flexibility challenge such as, straps, yoga wheels, foam rollers, railings or stall bars, weights, yoga blocks, resistance bands, and more. They were so helpful I wrote an entire post about it. Check out the stretching tools I used.
Favorite New Poses of 2016
Not every pose is as it seems, many times I have realized I completely misjudged the positions and have an aha moment and bam I did the pose! Like this one, the arm goes straight down to the side with my elbow also facing outwards, it’s completely different from a back bend where your elbows are facing forward. So this pose is actually more of an oblique backbend, making it much easier.
This pose to me signifies the strength and balance I’ve built in my back bends, it’s not perfect but I’m progressing little by little each time I practice!
A 200 Day Flexibility Challenge?
Since I am preparing for a competition in October, I’ve decided to do another 100 days on top of the 100 days I’ve just completed to further solidify the flexible strength I’ve built. So I guess I’m doing a 200 day flexibility challenge!
At the moment I’m satisfied with my back bend and split flexibility, I just need to maintain and keep thinking about relaxing my upper back.
These next 100 days will not be about improvement, they will be about maintenance. My main goal is to sharpen my movements into my flexibility to create a crisp and clean routine.
Before working on my routine I will still be completing my warmup, dynamic stretching routines and some of the static stretching poses. Find all of these routines and more at flexibility.purifiedlifestyle.com
Hi Amanda, your videos have helped me a lot and give me new ideas for stretching. I want to offer you a tip to help your middle split, something I read many years ago that helped me. When you go down, try squeezing the ground with your legs for a while and then relax for a while. Go down further and repeat, squeeze your legs together like you’re trying to lift yourself back to standing up and then relax. When you get as low as you can, squeeze and try to balance yourself on just your legs without using your hands. This will train the muscles that need to stretch further until they can carry your entire body weight so you can eventually go all the way down.
Hey Michael, thanks for writing in! So I actually always have to inhale contract my muscles like you said and then exhale relax my muscles and sink. I feel like I’ll snap my legs off if I don’t lol! I will certainly follow your advice on taking my hands off the ground more, it sucks but I know I should just do it haha 🙂 Thanks!