If there was ever an area or subsection within fitness that could be labelled ‘bi-polar’ it would be the beast that is mobility work.
While strength and skills are still temperamental and like to fluctuate a fair bit, they’re nowhere near as up and down as mobility can be.
We’ve all had days where we reach new depths in different positions to then need weeks or even sometimes months to hit them again! This can make for a disheartening and testing journey where you’re never quite sure if you’re actually improving.
Obviously anyone worth their crop in the mobility coaching world will tell you to see long lasting, drastic changes in your overall mobility capacity, you’ll need to think in 12-18 month timescales. We know it’s a long game. We know it’s a non-linear game. So how can we tell we’re making progress even when we get days where our overall range is less than it has been before?
I’d like to share with you a few markers I use both with myself and clientele to know improvements are still occurring………..
1. Less sets needed to hit regular range
What’s brilliant about this marker is it prevents you from only judging flexibility progress by sheer development of range. As we know, range isn’t developed linearly and can often be a game of steps forward and back, leaving a very scattered progress graph to illustrate your journey.
Whereas on the days you can’t hit a range personal best it’s key to also look at how long it takes to get to your regular range. You’ll find across the span of some weeks, maybe even months, you’ll enter the range far quicker and thus, need less overall flexibility work to maintain (or gain) flexibility in this pattern/position.
This happened to me while I was restoring my internal shoulder rotation. When I first started I needed 3 sets to even get to a semi respectable range. Then I’d get full range at the end of the third set, gradually it would happen on the second and now I’m down to where I can achieve full range on the first!
For example, you might have a personal best in the pancake stretch of forehead touching the floor, that once took the whole session to get but now comes quite easy even though you may not have gotten lower in the pancake overall, in terms of personal bests (chin to floor, chest to floor and so on).
This would still be gains in flexibility. As your accessible range has improved and less warming up is needed to get ‘super deep’.
2. Cold flexibility improves (overall)
Somewhat related to the last marker, you’ll gradually find your cold, day to day flexibility will be better. Again, there’s always going to be variance here so we have to look at it overall and across an aggregate time frame, but you will be in random places at random times and you’ll try a position and shock yourself with how accessible it is.
OBVIOUS DISCLAIMER: You’ll still be susceptible to those shit days where you get out of bed and can’t touch your toes at all, despite having a full head-knees pike when you’re warmer. This happens. BUT it will be more sporadic as the body gets used to more and more flexibility work.
3. Level of ‘comfort’ in longer passive stretches
I remember when I first ever embarked on side split stretching and would use 2 minute weight supported holds to loosen up the target muscles……….
It used to feel like my scrotum was being pulled off and my knees were going to blow out of line. I’d find it hard by the 3o second mark! And this wasn’t even at a deep split at all.
As time went by and strength was built in the active ranges I now find a 2 minute side split done passively no problem at all. I can step out of it casually without sounding like I’ve been raped against my will. This is the body recognising and being able to yield more into the stretch.
Again, another important marker for progress overall.
The range will come when it’s ready
Range, just like rep counts and weight on the bar and even skill levels in bodyweight training, is another ego feeder. It’s the show off marker. It appeals to our pathetic attention spans. We see someone lower and we like their photo. We see someone with 2 photos looking similar and a write up describing how they find it easier to enter the position, along with an explanation that it now takes them a set or 2 less to get there as well, and we just aimlessly scroll past.
If you want a solid mental disposition with flexibility training, arm yourself with markers that matter just as much as overall range. Because believe me, the race is long and bumpy and the range will come when the body knows it’s ready. When it’s ready, nobody can tell you but if you’re consistent and improving across all subsections, you’ll get there as soon as you’re ready.
Thanks for reading.
Everything I’ve ever written on flexibility (some resources):
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.