Shut Up, Flexibility
Greg Everett

A couple weeks ago, I sent out a newsletter in which I talked about the secret to flexibility being no secret at all, but simply commitment over time to work and consistency. In other words, there are no magic tricks or secret formulas or fancy gadgets that will suddenly increase your flexibility without any work. I think a lot of people waste inordinate amounts of time reading, watching videos, planning programs in their heads, and doing everything other than actually stretching, and find themselves, unsurprisingly, just as inflexible as they’ve always been month after month and year after year.

One of the readers of my newsletter pointed out that it’s much easier to maintain flexibility than develop it, and that the real secret was maintaining the natural flexibility of childhood into adulthood. Of course this is true, but it’s not very helpful to adults who didn’t have the foresight as 5-year-olds to stick with regular stretching for the next few decades.

Another pointed out that an athlete should have an appropriate degree of flexibility for his or her chosen sport, no more and no less. This is also true, and something I’ve been writing about since at least 2006 in this article; it’s also discussed in great detail in my book, Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches. My point is that I’m not overlooking this part of flexibility; I’m just not talking about it right now. I’m talking about getting more flexible and assuming that one is doing so appropriately.

I can recall several years ago reading an article that claimed it was impossible for adults to increase flexibility. This is memorable to me because it was such an absurd notion; I see adults in my gym every day getting more flexible when they put in the work. I think this conclusion is the product of inflexible people getting frustrated and discouraged because they don’t see stunning, dramatic changes in flexibility after a couple days of stretching or knotting themselves up with elastic bands.

As an adult myself (at least biologically), and having slacked on my own formerly great flexibility for the last few years, I decided to run a little n=1 experiment on myself to see how long it would take, and what it would take, to get myself back to being able to do the front splits, something I was last able to do about seven or eight years ago.

The trick, though, was that I didn’t want to have to invest much time or effort into it. I have plenty of other things to keep myself busy. I wanted to test the idea of frequency and consistency being enough with nothing but simple, common stretches and not a lot of time or brain power. I didn’t want to use bands, PNF tricks, or anything but basic, static stretches that can be done by anyone.

Here is what I did:

Start Date: May 20 2013
End Date: June 8 2013
Foam Roll Frequency: 1 time/day, 5-6 days/week
Foam Roll Duration: approximately 10 passes
Stretch Frequency: 1-2 times/day, 5-7 days/week
Stretch Duration: 30-60 seconds

Foam Roll Series:
1. Upper back
2. Lateral glutes
3. Hamstrings
4. Quads (lateral to anterior)
5. VMOs/Adductors

Stretch Series:
1. Lying hamstring (straight knee)
2. Lunge
3. Butterfly
4. Straddle
5. Modified Pigeon Pose
6. Modified Hurdler’s Stretch
7. Front Split

That’s it. During this time period, I would break from working around 11, spend a little time doing this flexibility work, some ab work and some shoulder pre-hab work. After I trained in the afternoon/evening, sometimes I would stretch again depending on how much time and energy I had; this was maybe every other day.

Last Saturday after I trained, I did my stretching series and when I got to the front split, I was there again. Was it a perfect split position? Not really, but good enough for my purposes--my front hamstrings were pressed flat against the mat. That’s about three weeks of not much work and effort. Now, I’ll be fair and concede that I have historically been more flexible than the average person, and I did have this level of flexibility previously. I have no doubt that allows me to get this kind of improvement more quickly and easily than someone who has never been very flexible, but I also feel that letting that flexibility go for almost 10 years was a pretty good reset.

The point is that while you may not respond quite as quickly as I did, you will respond, and if you’re not getting more flexible, you’re doing something wrong—and I’d be willing to bet that’s not being consistent enough for long enough. Knuckle down and put in the work and time.

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Greg Everett is the owner of Catalyst Athletics, coach of the USA Weightlifting National Champion team Catalyst Athletics, author of the books Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches and Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, director/writer/producer/editor/everything of the documentary American Weightlifting, co-host of the Weightlifting Life Podcast, and publisher of The Performance Menu journal. He is an Olympic Trials coach, coach of over 30 senior national level or higher lifters, including national medalists, national champion and national record holder; as an athlete, he is a fifth-place finisher at the USAW National Championships, masters national champion, masters American Open champion, and masters American record holder in the clean & jerk. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, and sign up for his free newsletter here.

Read more by Greg Everett

Josh 2013-06-12
If only all of this were true for ankle flexibility :' (
Andrew 2013-06-12
ankle flexibility is a bitch. Especially when you had surgery on your ankle 5 years ago and never fully regained the mobility because you didn't notice you didn't have it until your knee started hurting from it. If I could wear WL shoes all day I would haha.
Jake 2013-06-21
Sprained both ankles badly the beginning of this year. They sure are slow to heal. Good article.
Ben 2013-07-21
Do some functional calf stretching. Hang out in the bottom of an air squat and shift your weight (controlled) from one side to the other while keeping your heels on the ground. As a soccer, volleyball, and basketball player Ive found this has been the best way to counter tightness and prevent injuries. Just my experience.
Mike 2013-08-27
Any chance of a video of how to do the routines you posted... just learning about stretching now and am one of those who wished I had the foresight as a 5 year old to have kept up stretching on a regular basis!
Joe 2013-11-26
As a sports therapist there is a big part to stretching that will help a lot. I have used it in my injuries to ankles as well. This would be myofascial work. Have someone work the skin for you in the lower leg. Fascia adhesion can inhibit flexibility greatly. I have 95% range of motion back from an injury with a prognosis of 50-60% ROM. It has taken me years but I am back at it with minimal pain.
Erica 2014-03-11
What about people who have NEVER been flexible? Even when I was a little girl in ballet class, all the other girls could do the splits and I couldn't... should I give up hope?
Steve Pan 2014-03-11
Erica -

Things can't improve if you don't work on them. Keep working and you will get at least some benefit.
Greg Everett 2014-06-25
Agreed, which is why I recommended foam rolling before stretching - this is the practical alternative to having a manual therapist work on you 7 days/week.
Greg Everett 2014-06-25
Don't give up hope. Just like with anything, consistency and persistence will pay off eventually.
Bill 2014-07-06
What do the "modified" stretches look like?
Su 2014-11-03
I'm not sure if it's the same to get _back_ flexibility you already had compared to getting flexible in the first place. I was inflexible even as a child, though I was athletic. I was never able to do the splits or any other big flexibility feat. I can barely touch the ground when I bend forward even though I strech regularly after every workout. I'm not 100% convinced that flexibility is very trainable - I do notice a difference when I stretch, but I don't make huge progress.
EasyFlexibility 2015-01-06
Traditional stretching is not really effective for MOST adults who want to increase flexibility, you can do your own research, plenty of studies prove that. But as you see, there are exceptions, which are mosty people who are flexible already or achieved certain level of flexibility at a young age.
Hard work is ALWAYS needed. A good method is needed as well, and traditional static stretches simply do not work for the majority of people.
Greg Everett 2015-01-06
You mean exactly what the article says? "I’ll be fair and concede that I have historically been more flexible than the average person, and I did have this level of flexibility previously. I have no doubt that allows me to get this kind of improvement more quickly and easily than someone who has never been very flexible..."

It's also pretty clear that it's not a quick or easy process. Obviously the less flexible you are to begin with, the more work and the longer it will take to reach a given level of flexibility. No surprises there. You can quit and get zero more flexibility, or you can stick with it and get more, even if it's not as much as you want as quickly as you want. Up to you.
Greg Everett 2015-01-06
EasyFlexibility -
I would argue that there isn't a single flexibility study that proves anything other than that it's not easy to do conclusive studies. I covered this in detail in an article years ago. Huge amount of contradictory results in a wide array of test subjects, protocols and circumstances.
However, in the 17 years I've been in this industry, I have seen plenty of flexibility improvement in non-naturally-flexible adults as the result of static stretching in addition to other training, so quite honestly, I don't particularly care whether or not research "proves" anything one way or another.
Lucas 2015-01-07
I find that voodoo floss bands work great for ankle flexibility. Also slightly elevating the front half of the foot for more of a stretch in the bottom of an air squat.
Steve 2015-10-31
Don't really agree with the article. Greg is ignoring here skeletal prepositions. Ability to stretch, range of motion, depends also on your skeleton, shape of your joints, which is different for each individual. One cannot stretch bones, just damage them by overstretching.

I started with competitive acrobatic rock and roll as an adult and was really inflexible back then. But in the early 90's there wasn't much theory about it. So I started stretching regularly, daily, trying to achieve e.g. splits. After few months I was just a little bit more flexible. I mean, my muscles were, but the shape of my hips joints didn't alow me to go lower. I developed a chronic pain in my hips - even walking was painful. I first thought that it was from overtraining rock and roll kicks, but after few months of reducing stretching, the pain was gone.
I am not advising not to stretch. Stretching for dancers is useful. But do not expect to achieve full splits, if your skeleton doesn't allow you!
It's not just my opinion, physio experts would also agree with me.
Johnny Zakharia 2015-11-25
What is

Butterfly and Straddle
Butterfly and Straddle

Steve Pan
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