The Three Pillars of Fitness: Flexibility Training

Everything I ever needed to know about flexibility, I learned from cats.

This little sweetie can teach us a lot about flexibility. Just watch how cats stretch out in the morning before they jump into their day. (Image courtesy of Gualberto107 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
This little sweetie can teach us a lot about flexibility. Just watch how cats stretch out in the morning before they jump into their day. (Image courtesy of Gualberto107 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Ever check out a cat first thing in the morning? They take their time getting started for the day. They lengthen their backs, stretch out their legs, and take care to remember that their bodies are only as helpful to them as their ability to move through space. Cats move in a fascinating way – finding their feet when they jump from sofa to sofa…going from zero to sixty when they see an interesting box they want to jump into…and asking for love and support when they need it.

I’m thinking about flexibility training – and cats – this morning because I’m presenting at the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Summit this week in Atlanta, GA. Last night we had a terrific keynote speech by Chris Heeter, founder of the Wild Institute. If I could distill her talk into one sentence it would be this: “Everything I ever learned about how to manage people, I learned from my sled dogs.” Animals have a great deal to teach us about how to be healthy, fit, and active – not to mention how to motivate, shall we say, difficult personalities.

And flexibility is absolutely key in life if we’re going to be able to live happily and healthfully. I’ve had the opportunity in the recent past to observe a personality that is stunning in its inflexibility. This individual is inflexible to the point of having staked out a position on a sensitive topic that has made it impossible for her to create any sort of amicable resolution to a situation that should have been resolved amicably. I’m reminded of what criminal defense attorneys do when they know they have a guilty client: attack, attack, attack.

But I can’t help wondering, as I deal with this situation in a way that demonstrates (I hope) flexibility, and decency, and class, that this person’s inflexibility must spill over into other areas of her life. She might be healthy “on paper,” and she might look good in photographs. But in her world, it’s her way or the highway. Inflexibility. She’s made good people look like bad people by trying to have it all on her side of the table. And that’s sad. These things affect our long-term health, not just our balance sheets. Is is worth winning a battle if we lose the war for our long-term health? Not to mention the health of our relationships with others.

This is a Princess Flower. I did not have a picture of Princess Leia to put next to her quote, so this lovely purple flower shall be her stand-in. (Image courtesy of arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
This is a Princess Flower. I did not have a picture of Princess Leia to put next to her quote, so this lovely purple flower shall be her stand-in. (Image courtesy of arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Princess Leia to Han Solo: “You needn’t worry about your reward. If money is all that you love, then that’s what you’ll receive.”

That is not what I planned on writing when I opened up the computer this morning.

But flexibility in our bodies really is a metaphor for flexibility in our minds, and flexibility in life. Spend ten minutes a day working towards physical flexibility…and you never know: your mind might just follow.

Here’s an easy flexibility routine to get you started.

Take a few minutes in the morning to stretch before starting your day. Good for your body, good for your mind. (Image courtesy of sattva / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Take a few minutes in the morning to stretch before starting your day. Good for your body, good for your mind. (Image courtesy of sattva / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

1. Strrrrrrrretch your whole body, like a cat. You can do it in bed before you rise, or while standing, with arms extended overhead. Hold for enough time (10 seconds or so) that you really feel the stretch.

2. While standing, gently lower your upper body to the floor and try to touch your toes. Bend your knees if you need to (I always try to have “soft knees” – not locked knees – while doing forward bends).

3. Slowly, gently roll your body up to a standing position. Stretch your arms by crossing one arm across your body, then the other. Stretch your upper arms with a classic tricep stretch: extend one arm overhead and bend your elbow so that your hand is touching your back. Use your other hand to gently apply pressure to the elbow area until you feel a stretch in the back of your extended arm.

4. Do some runner’s stretches against a wall. Using the wall for support, bend your right leg and hold your right ankle with your right hand to stretch your right quadriceps and hip flexors (the muscles in the front of your upper leg). Reverse sides. Then, place both hands on the wall and step back with one foot. Keep both heels on the ground and bend your forward leg, keeping your back leg straight. You should feel this stretch in the back of your leg. Reverse sides.

That will get you going. Did I mention that I highly, highly recommend one or two yoga classes each week for flexibility, too? No? Well, let me correct that oversight…

I recommend one or two yoga classes each week, in addition to regular flexibility training/stretching at home.

Got that? Now, go stretch. Tomorrow, it’s time for the third pillar of fitness: Cardio! Preview of coming attractions: Prepare to pin a number to your shirt and do cardio with a few hundred of your closest friends.

Yesterday’s #every48 workout: SPINNING – 75 minutes. It’s always nice when someone else just forces you to work out. I became a Schwinn certified spinning instructor yesterday at the ACSM Summit, and the 10-hour training class includes two 45-minute full-bore spinning classes during the day. (I only did 30 minutes of the first class, so I’m giving myself credit for an hour and 15 minutes of intense cardio yesterday.)

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