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How do I get flexible fast?

We’re going to tell you how to get flexible in three easy steps! Just follow the guide below and you’ll be flexible in no time at all!

This is becoming a common clickbait line on social media. But at what cost?

A good number of blog posts, youtube tutorials and Instagram post profess to be able to help you with gaining flexibility in the fastest way possible. With social media bursting at the seams of beautifully photographed, mind-bending poses it’s hard not to want a piece of that action for yourself. This goes for a large chunk of those interested in circus arts, contortion or flexibility as many people follow these guides as their main source of training. Unfortunately these approaches can ultimately leave your training hollow, without a true understanding of what their body is doing and how to work with it.

Common claims

Get your splits in one day!

This is a pretty ridiculous to claim for anyone except those that are hypermobile. While the splits would be considered an intermediate level pose, they are still an essential part of a good foundation for contortion training. Learning strong, true splits takes longer than a day. These tutorials can often leave people feeling discouraged that they aren’t making the fast progress that was claimed when they started watching.

Things to watch out for

In tutorials that are making this claim, take a closer look at a few things that might be telltale signs that they’re not the best source of coaching.

Firstly, are they very young? It’s an obvious fact that in youth our body is much more flexible than when we get older. Also younger contortionists that have this natural flexibility probably don’t fully understand how their own body works, let alone be able to teach the masses on the internet.

Secondly is form. Are their hips square? Are they arching a lot in their lower back? These are telltale signs of rushing into splits and not taking the time for correct technique. Having un-square hips can put unnecessary stress on your hamstrings and can also cause you to have limitations in your backbending later on. Something else to watch out for is the fact that the person leading the tutorial may already be very naturally flexible and potentially doesn’t understand the methods of training that someone without natural flexibility is more suited to.

What to do instead

Accept that your splits aren’t going to come to you in a day in 99% of cases

Be smart about your training, find out what is your limiting factor? Is it your hamstrings, or is it your hip flexors? Or perhaps both areas that are stopping you getting your splits

Once you’ve figured out which areas need work, focus on them until they start to see improvement.

Re-asses what needs to be worked on and then change your focus and repeat

Get insane flexibility fast!

This is another common claim that you see people making. Promises of deep flexibility in a short period of time are also something to be taken with a pinch of salt. This is especially true when it involves backbending. There is no quick solution to advanced flexibility training, unfortunately it is that simple.

Things to watch out for

Tutorials that suggest that you can get very deep backbends, or over 180 degree oversplits in a very short period of time. This is simply not now it works. In the same way that strength and balance take time to hone, so does flexibility. Tutorials that tell you otherwise are unfortunately misleading.

What to do instead

Set your expectations in a realistic way. If you’re a beginner, look at the basics poses and master those before moving on. There are progressions for everything and there is no shame in not being able to do something, that is what training is for!

“Basic” Contortion

Videos that show very advanced poses and tricks under the guise of being “basic” tricks. These can be demotivating to those that aren’t already at that level. Social media makes it very easy to compare yourself against others. This can be motivating, but also it can be very demotivating if you’re just starting out! Remember that like all things, flexibility training is a process. What is basic to someone that is naturally flexible, may not be basic to you. Remember that is fine. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Things to watch out for

Videos, blogs or tutorials that define “Basic” as something that is very much not. Take a look at the Contortion Poses page to get an idea of what would be considered Intermediate or Advanced if you’re unsure.

What do do instead

Keep your eye on your own training and don’t worry about the level that other people are at. Trying things you’re not ready for can be dangerous and discouraging. Work your way through poses at your own pace. Contortion isn’t a race!

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New year goals in contortion training

Goal setting is key when you’re wanting to progress in an achievable way. I talk about goal setting in a previous post. In this post we’re going to look at good methods of figuring out what your next goals should be.

Rewind to the beginning of the year

What were your contortion goals this year? Maybe it was to get your split down? Or perhaps it was to stay in chest stand for longer? A great starting point is to look back to the beginning of the year. Think about what you aimed to achieve. Did you achieve it?

With this in mind you should have an idea as to what your progress has looked like. What didn’t you manage to do? Potentially you set the bar too high for yourself. Or perhaps you didn’t manage to dedicate enough time to achieving your goals.

What makes a good goal

Good goals to pick are things that will challenge you but not be impossible to achieve. When thinking about the goals you want to set yourself think about things that are hard for you. The best goals to work on are weaknesses. While these aren’t fun in the short term (nobody likes to do things they’re not good at!) you’ll get a much greater feeling of accomplishment if you commit to achieving the goal and actually follow through with it.

Keep your goals S.M.A.R.T

When planning out your goals it’s easy to get carried away with wanting to do too much all at once as well as not take into account where your skills currently lie. This is why when we’re planning our training, keeping the idea of S.M.A.R.T goals in mind is really helpful. Here’s a breakdown of what this means.

Specific

Making sure that you have a specific goal is important. If you set yourself a wooly goal such as “I want to be more flexible” there is no real way of being able to say you’ve achieved that goal. A better example would be “I want to have my left leg front split flat with square hips” or “I want to have my arms straight in a bridge”. The more specific the goal the more likely you will be to achieve it.

Measurable

The key to keeping yourself motivated is being able to see improvement. As anyone that has trained flexibility for a while knows, progress doesn’t happen in a straight line and improvement is slow. To be able to track your progress, making sure that your goal is measurable is important. Recording your training is a great way to do this. Many people have phones that can record video. Recording your sessions and taking screen shots of the things your working on provides a good way to track progress.

Achievable

Setting goals that are actually in your reach means that you’ll be able to attain it quicker and move on to the next goal. If you’re just starting your contortion training and have no existing flexibility, having advanced poses as your goals is not achievable. Choose something that is closer to your ability level and work from there. Take a look at the Contortion Poses to get an idea as to what would be right for you.

Realistic

Closely related to having your goal be achievable, your goal being realistic is important too. Keeping your goals realistic is usually linked to the timeframe or how timely the goal is. For example, achieving front splits is achievable for most people however planning to get it down in a week is not realistic. Think about how your previous training has progressed before and which things that you struggle with.

Timely

Remembering that flexibility and contortion training is a fairly long and slow process. When you’re setting goals remember that improvement doesn’t happen over night! Setting short, medium and long term goals is a good way to keeping your goals realistic.

Write down your goals and keep reviewing them

One of the common mistakes people make when goal setting is to set a goal and work towards it and then not come back to review how their progress is going against the goal. This is why keeping the goals timely is super important. If you have set yourself a target for getting your pancake flat over eight weeks you can track your progress week-to-week. If after four weeks your progress is stalling this is a good opportunity to review your training as well as how realistic the goal is. You might have to move it to a longer-term goal, or you might need some help from a coach to help you achieve it.

Check out our handy template

Map out how you’re going to get there

Setting your goals is half the battle. The next step is actually getting there! Once you know what you want to achieve the next step is to figure out how. If you’re just starting out with your flexibility training you might want to take a look at our Getting Started with Flexibility pages. One of the key things to remember is consistency. Flexibility training is hard work and a fairly large commitment. You will only see improvement towards your goal if you dedicate time to it. Planning your sessions each week and scheduling when you’re going to train can help you with this.

In summary

Setting goals is a great way to make incremental progress. Make sure that your goals are very specific and that you can record your progress. Write your goals down and set a timeframe for them. Make a plan for your training.

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How do they bend like that?

Contortion and hypermobility questions answered by Betsy Shuttleworth

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The questions I am asked mostly as a flexibility specialist/Contortion trainer is

“How do they bend like that?”

“Is she double-jointed?”

“Does she have a spine?”

Especially after they see this:

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Shelby Miller@twisted_shelby Photo by: Brent Clark @brentclark20965

Well of course she has a spine. And while Hypermobility is frequently referred to as being double-jointed, technically that does not mean there are two joints that allow these flexible positions to happen. It is possible to have extra bones but the real reason behind the flexibility is an increased range of motion. Sometimes this is a condition you are born with, Joint Hypermobility Syndrome (joints are unstable) or a condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). Unstable joints can cause sprains, tendinitis or bursitis. Hypermobility can be created however EDS cannot. For more information on EDS visit www.mayoclinic.org.

Is it better to start contortion at a young age?

Yes. When we are younger we have more collagen fibers & less calcium in our muscles and joints. This allows the body to move more freely. As we age we have less collagen and more calcium hardening the muscles & joints so becoming more flexible can be a slower process, but not impossible.

Am I too old to start contortion?

If you research it, the books will tell you not to start after the age of 26 however I have a Skype client that proved that theory wrong.

Meet Lisa. Lisa is a skilled pole dancer. She decided to break into the art of contortion at the young age of 47. She asked me if it was too late. I said, “There are no limits”. And boy did she prove that theory wrong.

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How can a spine bend this way?

Your spine is made up of 3 sections. The lumbar/lower back (made up of 5 vertebra), Thoracic/mid-back (12 vertebra) and the Cervical/Neck (7 vertebra). In between each vertebra is a disc. Each disc supports a vertebra and acts as a cushion, a shock absorber. Important to remember how vital water consumption is to keep this cushion hydrated.

The muscles that run along the spine hold the vertebra in place and this is why strengthening the back muscles are super important.

So lengthening the muscles along the spine and with the support of the discs, extreme flexibility is possible in the back.

“Stretch what you strengthen and strengthen what you stretch”, the golden rule for contortionists.

Strengthening increases muscle tone and shortens the muscles so stretching after strengthening is highly recommended to any athlete. This shortening you see sometimes in body builders when they are unable to have their arms straight down. Why can this be harmful? If you happen to go into a flexible move with shortened muscles I’m sure you can figure out what could happen. Muscles could get torn and strained. The reciprocal of this is if all you did were to stretch, you would have no muscles to protect joints.

How long should I hold my stretches?

At least 15-30 seconds to lengthen a muscle. When you are doing stretches it means that the cells in your muscle get longer and skinnier. If you are not holding this, chances are not much will happen. I have also noticed over the years that some stretch and unknowingly squeeze their muscles. How can you lengthen something your squeezing? Make perfect sense, you can’t.

What I will continue to preach is if you are interested in learning the art of contortion do search out qualified trainers.

We are educated on the importance of appropriate stretching and strengthening practices. There is a lot more to it than just mimicking a picture off of the Internet. When it comes to your spine and neck, you can never be more careful.

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Goal setting in your contortion training

Many beginner contortionists start flexibility training with the intention of a final pose, or trick in mind. This is good as it provides your training with purpose and keeps you motivated. It’s easy to get demoralised when you don’t see any progress and you’re falling short of the expectations you have set yourself. This is why realistic goal setting is important. Let’s have a look at the different types of goals.

Immediate goals (days)

The types of things that fall under this category aren’t necessarily to do with your flexibility progress itself, but about getting organised. Plan for tomorrow, use a few days to consider what it is you want to get out of your training, how often you’re going to train, and when you’re going to do it. Working out a schedule is very useful, especially if you’re particularly busy and have to work around work/school/socialising etc. I use Google Sheets in order to organise my weekly training schedule. I’m not massively precise about the timings either, I just break it down into morning, afternoon and evening and then fill the block with the activity I intend to do. This is also quite useful as it gives you a record of what you’ve done previously and keeps your habits in check

It’s not pretty but it gets the job done!

Short term goals (weeks)

I would count short-term as 4-6 weeks for flexibility training. The process is slow, and steady if you train regularly, but it takes time to be able to document progress. I’d expect to see slight changes, but you probably won’t see any massive sweeping changes in this time. Using short term goals can allow you to build up to longer term goals. This is best done through the breakdown of skills and areas of flexibility.

Long term goals (months and years)

These are the goals that we’re all working towards. They’re the bigger skills that the smaller elements build towards. Goals should be set with the long haul ahead in mind. You should assess every few months if you’re making progress towards your long term goals throughout your regular skills training. I talk about ways to document your training in another post.

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5 mistakes a beginner contortionist makes

Many of the people starting out in flexibility and their journey to be a contortionist seem to suffer from a selection of similar issues. It’s easy to get your head into all of the stuff that looks cool and impressive – it isn’t a competition, when ultimately if you don’t prepare correctly you, as a beginner contortionist will ultimately lose out in the long run.

You’re a beginner contortionist but you don’t want to start at the beginning.

Everything we do in life is based on progression. Crawl, walk, run. You don’t go to the gym for your first time, load up a barbell with 200kg and have a go at squatting it do you? Flexibility is exactly the same, especially when it comes to training for contortion. You have to progress your contortion stretches correctly in order to get to where you want to be. If you’re just starting out and you can’t do any actual poses, that’s fine, start building your foundation. I know it’s boring and it doesn’t look as cool as the cheststand that you want to start working on, but this will pay dividends later on. This is especially important when thinking about things such as alignment. A number of contortionist poses require good alignment in your practice to help keep you safe as well as helping your progress. Keeping your hips square in splits, for example, is super important.


Take a look at some beginner poses

Start your training off right by investing in the foundations that will let you be successful later on. Take a look at some good poses to get started with, if you’re not sure where to start, perhaps you should look at assessing your flexibility.


You ask loads of questions, but you’ve not started stretching yet.

Asking questions is great, and I greatly encourage you to ask questions of those more advanced than yourself in order to better your practice. There is a point, however, whereby you just have to dive in there and start learning practically. It is after all called practice not study. One of the most enjoyable things about training to become a contortionist is figuring out how your body works in its own specific way (everybody is different!). ****Once you’ve got some actual training time under your belt you’re in a much better place to ask questions, as you’ll have started to gain a better understanding of how your body works in different exercises.

You don’t approach contortion training in a smart way

This one really isn’t your fault, you’ve just started and you’re really not sure as to what you’re doing. Especially if you’ve never ventured into physical activity before, or at least not in something that has flexibility as a main component. Something that comes with time and dedication is that you start to learn how your body works and reacts to things, unfortunately it takes just this, time.

So how do you train smart if you don’t really know what you’re doing? You take things slowly and you explore things in a logical way. For example, you might be starting on a foundation skill like splits, before you just jump right into trying to do them, look at the component parts and think about the exercises you might need to do in order to train these parts. Splits are accomplished using your hamstrings and hip flexors, so these are the areas that you should focus on.


Ready to start training?

Head over to the Getting started guide where you can see


Not knowing how to ask the right questions

Again, this comes with time – you can’t ask about something that you don’t know exists, right? Even if you don’t know what you’re asking about initially, it’s the way that you ask that matters. For example:

“Does anyone know any good hamstring stretches?”

This is such an open-ended question that it’s hardly worth asking or answering. What are you trying to achieve? Where is your currently your ability level? Have you tried anything before? Is something not working, or do you literally have no idea where to begin? So many unknowns!

A better example would be:

“I’m an absolute beginner and I’ve started trying to work on my front splits, I’ve found some stretches online, but I’m not sure if they’re the best for what I want to do. I’ve included examples.”

This is a much better way to ask as you’ve set out your intention, we know what you’re level is and you’ve provided examples – best in the form of photographs. This allows whomever you’re asking to have enough information to give you a helpful reply.

Working on on your strengths, and not your weaknesses

This is something unique to beginners, however it is a good idea to build productive habits from the outset. Even if you’re getting started you may have areas that you are naturally inclined to gravitate towards. Things such as the innate ability to split, do a decent bridge or having particularly open shoulders are definite advantages. These can however very quickly become the focus of your training because it is easier for you than some of the other aspects of training, such as conditioning, or a certain aspect of the foundation flexibility that you should be working on.


Find a coach today

Contortionists Unite! can help you find a coach to get you started on your contortion journey. Take a look at our list of global coaches.