How Can I Work On Forward Bending When I Am Very Tight?

March 5, 2024

Transcript of: How can I work on forward bending when I am very tight?

Hey everyone! Welcome to this month’s question of the month. I’m David Keil. I answer your questions on a monthly basis. If you’ve got a question that you want me to answer, go to yoganatomy.com/myquestion and I’ll get it done for you. Alright, this month’s question comes from Daniel. It’s about how to work on your forward bending when you are very tight.

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The Question:

Hi, I am a whitewater kayaker looking for some help with forward bend. [DK: Daniel, you don’t have to be a kayaker to be looking for help with forward bending.] I have done yoga sporadically throughout my life but am still a beginner and can’t figure out how to stretch myself effectively. I do a niche discipline of whitewater called squirt boating [DK: I’ve never heard of that.] where your boat is as small as possible and you use currents to sink underwater. [DK: Oh, that doesn’t sound dangerous at all!] When I am in one of my more traditional boats and my knees can be bent I still have some trouble getting my body weight forward but I am able to do it.

In squirt boats, however, my legs are straight with toes pointed and either no bend in my knees or only the slightest bend and I have difficulty even sitting straight up, let alone bending forward. How can I work on my forward bends to increase my range of motion starting with this amount of flexibility? Everything I can find online assumes that I am starting with better flexibility than I am. I realize it will take a lot of time to see results but I just can’t figure out what I should be doing to start. Thank you.

The Answer:

Daniel, that’s a very common question. A lot of people are focused on forward bending, and how you increase forward bending, especially when you start from that place where you’re super tight. From what you’re describing you have difficulty even sitting up straight. Forget being in a kayak and sitting on the floor.

The forward bend pattern

So, if you haven’t read my book, you can always get a copy of it. It’s called Functional Anatomy of Yoga. And in there, we talk about the forward bending pattern. And usually, the other thing we talk about is converging histories. So, it’s safe to assume most people have done some decent amount of sports in their lives. They run, they cycle, they play sports on the weekend, whatever it is, or sit a lot—inactivity so to speak. That doesn’t sound like you. I’m just saying. And then there’s the genetic history as well. Do we have generally tighter tissues or not? And that matters.

Consistency is key

So, regardless, you’re talking about how you progress in forward bending from where you are, which is very tight. As you said, you recognize it. Just like everything else, consistency is always the key to progress. So remember, on a daily practice level, you don’t see the progress on a daily basis. You see it only—you know—in the rearview mirror when you’ve been in a year. So, if you’ve been sporadically doing yoga, I would say that’s not enough to make a change.

Flexibility research

And most of the research that’s out there on flexibility—and there’s some good stuff that’s come out as of late; there’s the whole fascial component, there’s the nervous system component, there are multiple factors going on—the consensus tends to float around a 30-45 second holding of a stretch, done repeatedly and consistently over a long period of time. Unfortunately, most of the research out there on flexibility includes very short-term studies, meaning from 0-3 months. So, my anecdotal information kicks in. I’ve met plenty of people who struggle with forward bending because they are super tight in their hamstrings. They have an inability to fold forward, and an inability to sit up straight from the beginning. So, one year, two years, three years, you’ll have to send me another email if you practice at a minimum of four days a week I would say.

How to stretch your back line

So, I’ll give you the really basic setup. I’m not going to go into how to create a whole process for you. But, just doing forward bends, think of the entire back line of your body as one piece of tissue. That means from the soles of your feet, including your toes, your calf muscles need to be stretched, your gluteals need to be stretched, and your back muscles also need to be lengthened. Okay? You might also have to release these tissues in other ways, whether that be through massage, or foam rolling, or other methods of self-treatment.

But there’s nothing beyond consistency to find out if you can increase your flexibility which most people can, especially when it comes to the hip joint and forward bending. If we’re talking about rotation of the hip joint or the shoulder joint in a particular way, then there’s more possibility that you could be running into a bone-on-bone type of bumping. But, in your case, chances are you’re just super tight from doing activities and sports. Okay?

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So, consistent practice of forward bending is necessary if you’re very tight. If it’s really hard to sit up, you can always put a bolster or a block underneath your bottom. Sit up on that so that you can get a little bit of leverage to go forward. But, do not forget the bottom of your feet, your calf muscles, and your hamstrings at a minimum. And then, keep going up the chain and the whole back line of the body. Alright, I hope that helped a little bit, Daniel. Anybody else, if you’ve got a question, go to yoganatomy.com/myquestion.