Active flexibility

Passive stretching assisted by an external force whilst active stretching only relies on muscle strength

Active flexibility is an important element of both pole and calisthenics. It’s not enough to just passively stretch, we need to work on our active flexibility. What’s the difference, I can hear you ask. Passive flexibility is what most people work on when they are stretching. It is when you use external forces to put you into a stretched position. It can be your weight, gravity, dumbbells, etc. Active flexibility is when you only use your muscles to hold you in a certain position. For example when we think about a hamstring stretch when someone lifts your leg in the air or you’re sitting in a front split on the floor vs. holding it in the air without any assistance.

Ideally we should train both. If you have a big difference between your active and passive flexibility, the chances of getting injured increases as even tho you might be able to push yourself into positions, you’re not strong enough to hold them without assistance. For example you can lift your leg next to your head with the help of your hands, band or a partner but when you let go, your leg drops significantly. This is the point where most injuries happen as your body is familiar with the position but without external help it doesn’t know (as it’s not strong enough) how to support you in it.

Hypermobility

If you have hypermobility you are at an even bigger risk of getting injured if you don’t strengthen your end range mobility. Hypermobility is when your ligaments are generally looser around your joints. (If your knees or elbows bend backwards or you can touch your thumb to your forearm you are likely hypermobile.) To strengthen end range of motion there are different options available to you. For example you can passively lift the body part into end range and by loosening the support you try to keep it in the same position.

Active flexibility doesn’t just look good but makes certain moves a lot easier. Thinking about things like a handstand press, if you can keep your legs closer to your body it will be a lot easier to lift them in the air. As an overhead athlete probably the most important part of your mobility is overhead mobility. Tight shoulders increase the risk of injuries forcing the body to find the lacking range of motion elsewhere leaving other structures not designed for it to take up the slack.

Wall angels

Every training session should start with a thorough warm up followed by targeted soft tissue release. For example if I’m having a handbalancing session, I will target my lats, posterior delts and thoracic spine. At times I might feel tight elsewhere affecting my overhead mobility and roll my pec minor, upper traps or levator scapulae. If I’m working on presses, I give my hamstrings some extra TLC. After rolling/peanutting I’d strengthen the newly gained extra range of motion. Sticking with overhead mobility it would be some arm lifts in a childs position, pullovers, wall angels, overhead band lifts, etc. This step is probably the most important. This will strengthen the muscles at end range keeping you safe and confirming to your body that it can let you use this newly found extra range of motion. This won’t happen overnight, flexibility is the result of consistency. However if you keep to it, you’ll notice a huge difference. Due to time restrictions make sure that you’re prioritising. If you only do muscle ups and front levers, there’s no point focusing on your splits.

Active flexibility is an important part of training. It will make you stronger, bendier, and safer. You can unlock new moves and enhance the ones you can already do. It’ll make you a well rounded athlete. So don’t forget to dedicate a few minutes to it as often as you can – it’ll worth it.

Happy flexing!

Calisthenics

Handstand

You’ve probably heard about calisthenics. It’s gained huge popularity recently. But what exactly is calisthenics?

The word calisthenics comes from the ancient Greek words kalos (κάλος), which means “beauty” or “beautiful”, and sthenos (σθένος), meaning “strength”. Put together it would mean “beautiful strength”.

When you hear the word calisthenics, the first thing that comes to mind are crazy moves performed on a bar or on the floor. These moves are generally compound exercises requiring strength, coordination, balance, agility, endurance and power. Due to the nature of these movements you will not only be working the main muscle groups but your core and stabilising muscles too.

One of the biggest reasons of it’s rise to fame is that it can be performed pretty much anywhere, only minimal equipment is required. Rather than using heavier weights you play with your body position. Manipulating the lever (angles, how “long” your body is) will make an exercise harder or easier. You’ve already done it when doing push ups on your knees vs your feet. If you further want to increase difficulty you can add extra weights in the form of a weight belt, weight vest, resistance bands, etc.

Gymnastics, cross fit, poledancing and street workout is based on calisthenics principals. The main components are pushing and pulling and plyometrics. Bigger focus is normally placed on upper body development, however a well rounded athlete will perform lower body exercises too. The reason for this is that there are less lower body exercises and after a while you will need to incorporate some heavy weights in order to keep improving.

Due to the compound nature of the exercises it’s not possible to perform split training like with conventional gym exercises. You can either break it into pull and push days or upper body and lower body. Adequate rest periods between training sessions is necessary.

Calisthenics requires a great deal of skill development. As most exercises are compound, it takes time to learn how to use your body as a whole unit. Learning the basics of pushing and pulling is extremely important. All other upper body exercises build on these two fundamental principles. Only after you’ve built strong basics can you progress to the next level of moves. This desire to progress is another reason why calisthenics is so popular. Whilst in a gym environment if you want to progress you’d just increase the weight you lift, here you’d learn something new which keeps things interesting and fun.

Working towards the human flag

A lot of calisthenics moves can be well translated into our everyday life too, for example carrying your shopping will become a breeze. Each progression requires correct muscle engagement. To achieve that a huge focus is placed on injury prevention by stretching and strengthening key muscles. Correct movement patterns will not only help you become a lot more efficient and get that new move a lot quicker but will reduce your risk of injuries and improve your posture. Greater recruitment of stabilising and core muscles will have a great carry over to the unpredictable every day movements.

Communities are another big part of calisthenics. Likeminded individuals get together to achieve their goals. There are also several competitions where based on specific scoring systems a winner is chosen. Most competitions require participants to put a short routine together (street workout). This will challenge your endurance even more as you’ll be performing moves back to back. There are several calisthenics parks being built all over the world. These are very popular due to being outdoor, easily accessible and free. Street workout comes from here.

So calisthenics is basically compound bodyweight exercises with the aim of getting stronger and learning new skills whilst having fun often in a group environment.