Expand Your Flexibility Training (Part 1)
Teaching flexibility to adults is challenging. They tend to come with chronic injuries, wacky schedules that prohibit consistent training and a fear of pain they’ve had decades to cultivate. So how do you help adults reach their goals of splits, backbends and all the other crazy moves we polers want in an environment that is conducive to anything but progress? (Bendy Beast has some great general suggestions about teaching movement to adults that every teacher should read.)
I’m not naturally flexible and I don’t have a history of flexibility – at least I don’t have one from earlier than five years ago when I first made the goal to “get” my front splits. I have all sorts of unusual body things such as several metal medical devices in my leg, lots of scar tissue from five surgeries, and some unique body structures I was just born with – including the ability to dislocate my shoulders without pain, which I only discovered on accident one day while practicing lyra. Despite all these issues, I’ve managed to continue progressing and increasing my own flexibility goals and have become a flexibility teacher known for her unusual teaching methods.
My perspective on flexibility is very much that anyone – and I mean anyone – can achieve their flexibility goals. The trouble is finding the right movements, the right time and the right dedication outside of the classroom.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to flexibility and the following suggestions on how to improve your teaching (or even your own individual practice) can be taken individually or holistically. Experiment and find what works best for you, and if you’re teaching keep experimenting and trying new things. Solicit feedback from your students each time you teach because what works for you might not work for them. Encourage your students to track their progress photographically and to track how they feel – especially if they have specific goals in mind. And if they don’t have any goals but just love coming to your class to see their friends, take a break from their busy lives, or just to keep moving, remember that and adapt your teaching style appropriately.
There is a lot of ground to cover to help flexibility teachers expand and improve their teaching methods and options so we’ll be addressing three specific topics: “Keep Learning,” “Use Tools” and “Special Populations” in three different blogs over the new few months.
Never stop learning. Research new methods, exercises and stretches and seek out your own new teachers. If you’re a full time teacher taking other people’s classes – presuming there are other people around to teach you – can be challenging with regards to finding the time and the money to do so. Good news is, you don’t have to find (and fund) your very own Mongolian Contortion Coach – there are tons and tons of free, digital resources available at your fingertips and several pay-for resources focused more specifically on the pole and circus community that provide very targeted and relevant instruction for a reasonable cost. Many of the pay-for resources also have a level of free resources that are extremely useful and can help you improve your teaching or find new ways to teach if you’re on a budget.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of available or useful resources. This list does represent websites, videos and teachers that I have personally tried and have successfully integrated into my teaching to help my students flourish.
My favorite free resources (videos, blogs, images):
- GMB: Focusing on teaching functional movement to adults, this is an invaluable resource for strengthening and stretching. Poke around their blog or get on their mailing list to have new content delivered right to your inbox.
- Fit and Bendy Blog: Kristina Nekyia founded Fit and Bendy after finding contortion as an adult. A favorite in the pole community, her blog is full of great, relevant tips for wherever you are in your teaching or own flexibility journey written in an easy to follow, conversational style.
- Instagram: Too many to list. Search words like #flexibility #contortion #yoga to find ideas for poses and sometimes good videos and tips. There are some real gems and some real duds. Cross referencing several accounts will help confirm or discount things more easily.
- YouTube: Ditto Instagram. Try searching for specific issues such as “hip flexor stretch” but beware the labeling. Every video may be labeled as “the best stretch” when it probably isn’t.
My favorite pay-for resources (videos, Skype lessons, plans, books):
- GMB: Streamable videos, programs arranged around movement focusing on strength, control and flexibility for body-weight based movement.
- Fit and Bendy : Streamable videos, Skype lessons, in person lessons in LA and sometime workshops around the country expanding on the great blog.
- Emil Valentino/Valentino Brothers: Extensive streamable videos and very affordable Skype lessons with extremely creative stretches particularly for inward and outward joint rotation which I’ve never seen covered in such detail anywhere else.
- Contorture: Jonathan Nosan, also an adult before he started bending, has a comprehensive contortion program as streaming videos complete with a flexibility weight training component for more advanced benders. Some live workshops at conventions and in NYC.
- Bendy Kate’s Advanced Stretching Technique Book : A great and clear resource book on stretches including partner stretches across basic and more advanced poses.
- The Flexibility Challenge: inexpensive online community with video warm-ups, stretches and the ability share your goals and progress with other people. If you’re not interested in sharing your progress publically on instagram – this is a great way to find support.
- Cirque Physio: virtual workshops and training plans with some in-person workshops. Focused mainly on injury prevention which we all could be more proactive about.
In the next blog we’ll cover different tools that can help your students improve technique, intensify their stretch or even help loosen tight tissues and muscles. All of these tools can be used in conjunction with the resources listed above as well as your own, current routines.
What are your favorite flexibility, contortion and movement resources – free or pay-for? Please share!