Legendary Flexibility (Book Review)

These are my notes on Legendary Flexibility by John Call (or Jujimufu). This year I’m working on getting better flexibility, mostly for (olympic) lifting, so what better time to read this book than now.

  • Do the hard work. I like this advice because he positions it next to doing ‘new’ or ‘exciting’ movements. Things like rollers etc, they are good and have value, but gaining flexibility (or strength for that matter) is about doing the hard work.
    • This also makes me think about YouTube videos on all these things, the incentive is wrong here. And by that, I mean that you can only make 5 videos about the basics and be done. But you can make 100 videos about crazy movements that are not the hard work.
    • “But from the start, which is right now, you have to accept that hard, direct, PAINFUL, and often BORING work is the only way to ever make it in the flexibility game. Brute force it.”
    • “Do 1000 reps. 1000 minutes worth of time deepening your splits or squats, or increasing your kicks. Whatever it is you want, begin brute forcing it now.
  • Find a strong enough why. What is your motivation? Mine is to 1) do the snatch (and likewise movements) full range of motion. And 2) to be able to touch my toes. And why these, because I feel better/good being able to do this.
  • Live the flexibility lifestyle. In your daily life, incorporate flexibility movements! Do them when picking up something from the floor, when doing the dishes, etc.
  • Strength and coordination (technique/repetition) are the keys to flexibility. It’s about training your nervous system those new movements.
  • Choose the right supplementary flexibility exercises.
    1. Select exercises that resemble your goal’s position or movement (i.e. you can only do so many snatches/aerials/etc per session)
    2. Always maintain full control in your flexibility exercises. (don’t force yourself into positions)
    3. Prioritize flexibility exercises that involve movement and tension (this can also mean moving against a wall (so no motion)
    4. Prioritize flexibility exercises that involve structure or make use of equipment (to help create tension and range of motion)
  • Book tip: Stretching Scientifically by Thomas Kurz. “when you’re fully stretched, flex your muscles”. Then relax and stretch a bit further. You can even increase the (power?) of the stretch by adding weight when doing the stretches.
  • Example, do stiff-legged deadlifts (on a platform) (with a straight back of course) to increase your back stretch! (goal 2) instead of just bending forward.
  • Get some tools to help you stretch. This can be weights but also things like a well-cushioned mat (thicker than a yoga mat). When was the last time you wanted to do a stretch on a hard floor?
    • “training in unnecessarily hard conditions is going to make you quit early or skip stretching.”
    • Other tools: walls, chair, fixed beams (lower squat), barbell, yoga blocks, rings, weights, (cossack squat with weights!), bands, stick/pvc, straps, timer, knee sleeves, etc
  • Part II: Flexibility Training Strategies
  • Collection 1: Circumstances – train flexibility when you train other things
    • “add movements that stimulate flexibility and ranges of motion during your warm up.”
    • E.g. light but very deep squats before going heavy
    • Also do them throughout your workout to target weak points (e.g. parts of the snatch)
  • “You get flexibility stimulation throughout the day in little bits here and there by living a flexibility lifestyle, but that’s not enough to develop very high ranges of motion. You must add in the intense stretches that are very uncomfortable to build the control and pain tolerance needed for those ranges of motion. That will do a great trick, but you also need to spend more time training flexibility in long sessions with relaxed and refreshing work. Particularly for the latter, you should be doing your long sessions in supportive and motivating environments with other people.”
  • Consider performance-enhancing drugs for flexibility (pre-workout supplements for flexibility). Jon suggests some painkillers (for relaxing the muscles). And caffeine, L-Tyrosine, DMAE?, ephedrine, L-theanine (etc)
  • Eat a flexibility friendly diet:
    • Drink a lot of water (duh) (Jon drinks 7-11 LITERS per day)
    • Eat anti-inflammatory (greens, fish(oil), curcumin?)
  • Collection 2: Tracking – Measure your flexibility progress
    • Do this via making regular videos of yourself
    • When doing flexibility exercises, 1min stretch, 4min rest, 5 sets is a good amount (25min total)
    • The rest period is there for a reason, for your nervous system and cellular machinery to calibrate themselves to the new range of motion demands you’re placing on them.
    • Make a log, just like one for lifting. Write what you did, but also write about your experience and tips for next time!
  • Collection 3: Parameters – Choose the right intensity and volume in flexibility training
    • As with weightlifting, you can do sets at 80% flexibility and still have positive effects. You don’t need to go to 100% each time.
    • Try and work on flexibility every day, but do it lighter when feeling crap (and cycle heavier and lighter days)
  • Collection 4: Programming – Correctly sequence your flexibility work within a workout
    • ‘traditional’ timing doesn’t really matter and although most ‘static’ stretches are useless, they also don’t hurt your performance by doing them before a workout.
    • you do want to warm-up before going all-out, so do that! active stretches and light-weight exercises (aka also stretching).
    • do stretches that resemble the movement that you want to do! (duh)
    • If you want to learn something, prioritise it for a cycle of 12 weeks! Take a week break every month or so.
    • “Flexibility improvement is not linear. Eventually, you will need to step it up, or back the hell off to make new improvements.”
    • “Backing off is not only hard to do, but it’s also completely counter-intuitive for flexibility training. Yet it is the best advice I can give people who are doing everything right already with any intensive flexibility training.”
    • Really do nothing, not even light training.
  • Collection 5: Psychology – Get rid of harmful flexibility expectations
    • You are influenced by everything around you and if you did a hard workout or a busy week, don’t expect the next time of the workout to be as good.
    • “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it…”
    • If you’re sore, stretch through it.
    • “For many people, the “mobility problem” they experience with some movements and skills aren’t caused by lack of flexibility, sometimes it is caused by not committing to the full range of motion. Not committing is a confidence issue. Commitment is scary!”
    • Please do know that there is a difference between letting yourself go to max depth and forcing (bad) yourself.
    • Build your confidence by visualisation!
    • “So now, here’s a secret about sport confidence: it’s best developed by physical preparation and difficult performance. So the best way to push yourself past your physical limits is to prepare for, and perform in, high-pressure situations.”
  • “flexibility gains last a very long time. With a proper flexibility training cycle to build it up initially, then general maintenance after that, and retention of confidence throughout your training lifetime, you can achieve something seemingly akin to permanently increased levels of flexibility, even high levels of flexibility can become seemingly permanent.”
  • Attain permanent flexibility – when you incorporate other exercises than the one you want to keep, you will still keep that flexibility (it’s about control and keeping your central nervous system still active).
  • Part III – Flexibility Training Programs
  • Routine 1: The splits
    1. The full splits are a worthy goal (good for reputation)
    2. Full front splits are easier than full side splits
    3. The full splits are not an advanced skill (Jon compares it to being easier than 2.5x bodyweight deadlifts)
    4. Not many people have full splits because not many people train them
    5. The splits are a technical skill (like a flip or lift)
  • Workout 1 – Extreme relaxed splits (1 hour)
    • Do 2 of these 3
      1. Front split with left foot in front
      2. Front split with right foot in front
      3. Side split
    • Set up mat, get timer, 10min warm-up, 1 min mildly uncomfortable, 2 min moving relaxation, repeat 3-4 times, then 3 min instead of 1 min depth, repeat 2 times, repeat for second type
  • Workout 2 – Weighted Splits
    • Ditto exercises
    • Set up mat, 10 minutes active warm-up (thoracic extension variations), some weightlifting (optional) with focus on flexibility, 1min split/2min rest, repeat x times, add 5kg, 3-5 sets/3-10 (side) or 6-20 (front) sec hold, rest 3:30/5:30
  • Example 12 week split program: 1. Monday/Wednesday, 2. Thursday/Sunday (see page 167)
  • Routine 3: Ass to grass squats
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xm3-OeZp1k&feature=youtu.be&t=1s
    • use movement (up-down/left-right/etc) instead of only static stretching
    • goblet squats
    • Hmm no more guidance here, but I can do 2 routines of 30min per week / combine it with day when I squat
  • Universal flexibility routine
    • These do not have to be done in any particular order.
    • These are not done for X amount of reps or sets. Although, I generally spend 20 minutes doing this daily, usually before training.
    • Stay in constant motion and move in and out of the positions. It’s best to combo these movements. What you should be doing is fidgeting around.
    • Do not pause for more than a couple seconds at any range of motion.
    • You should actually be feeling blood flow to the muscles as you do this. A very mild muscle pump is possible.
    • Rely on support initially, but then wean yourself off of it. Afterwards, begin using a structure (or weight) to increase the difficulty.
    • Add in a rest period of 2-3 minutes every 10 minutes or so, even if you aren’t feeling any fatigue.
    • Exercises examples: Cossack stretch, squats, warrior lunge, extending spine, twisting, bending, reaching, kicking, etc
    • Thoracic extension: do it with large pvc pipe. Butt on floor, foot on floor, back on the floor, arms across body (or behind back etc), head/top-body back (hunt for tight spot) Upgrade: use weight overhead/horizontal. 3 sets, 1min set/3min rest.
    • The kick: also do knee stretches here
    • “The most important step you can take toward legendary flexibility development is to move into and out of the most stable, full range of motion positions possible every time you move.”
  • Conclusion
  • Just do it (ghehe)
  • And for myself, develop a flexibility (and strength, and coordination) routine for myself! based on this book and further reading

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