How do you get more flexible, mobile, and strong? How do you get good at your sport? It comes down to how clear you are with your goals.
Hey, everybody! It’s Matt Hsu from Upright Health and welcome to Episode 11 of the Upright Health Podcast. Today’s topic is “be specific to be successful.” I know that sounds a little bit like I’m talking about some kind of Tony Robbins business improvement kind of idea. And in some ways, I kind of am talking about a business improvement idea. I’m talking about your business — your body business. When I talk to people or I get comments online, I often hear or read sentiments like, “I already exercise a lot. I already do yoga. I already play golf three times a week. I already play basketball five days a week. How could I possibly be injured or how could I possibly be out shape? How could I possibly have some sort of conditioning problem if I do activity x this many times a week?”
I actually got a comment the other day on one of my YouTube videos from somebody who said, “I knew I had a problem with tightness in my hips. I was told I needed to stretch more, so what I did was exercise five days a week; did yoga one day a week; and then stretched one day a week — and it didn’t help my flexibility problem.” So I hear comments like this all the time and it drives me a little bit nutty because there is such a lack of proper education coming from professionals to the everyday person who needs help stretching and getting better with their flexibility and their mobility.
So I want to give an analogy for this. As many of you know, I’m really big into hockey, so I’m going to give you the analogy of Wayne Gretzky. Wayne Gretzky, if you are somehow too young to remember who that is (which really would be upsetting to me) he’s the all-time leading goal scorer in the National Hockey League. He is the best of the best – all-time point scorer. Just historically incredible. Just dominant; destroyed all of his opponents, all of his competitors. Wayne Gretzky did a lot of shooting practice in his day. As a kid growing up, he would shoot tons and tons and tons of pucks.
Now, the question you have to ask yourself is would Wayne Gretzky have been such a good goal scorer if he hadn’t been practicing — in the dedicated way — shooting pucks? The answer is no. No matter how talented — or naturally talented — you are, if you do not practice a specific skill, you are just simply not going to get much better at it, nor will you achieve a superhuman level of mastery of that skill. Now, when you’re talking about your body; when you’re talking about getting out of pain; when you’re talking about getting over some sort of hurdle in flexibility or mobility, then you need to think about how specific you’re being with the things you’re doing as practice to achieve the level of mastery you desire.
So the person who ends up being mediocre at, let’s say hockey, like, I’ve seen this too; a guy who says, “I don’t know why I’m not getting better. I play hockey three times a week and I’ve been doing that for years.” Well, that’s great. It’s wonderful to be playing hockey that many times a week. It’s wonderful to consistently get out and skate, but if you aren’t practicing specific skills, is it reasonable for you to expect that you’re going to get that much better? No. Probably not. It’s the same story with basketball or football; if you’re not creating an environment where you can work that specific skill — let’s say you wanna be a wide receiver and you never practice catching a ball outside of in a game — are you going to be a good wide receiver in football? If you play soccer and all you practice is running, are you going to be good at making moves on the pitch? Probably not.
So, how does this all come back to your flexibility and in your mobility? Well, a lot of times, I hear people say, “I stretch. I stretch and it never makes a difference.” And there are studies — allegedly scientific studies — that talk about how stretching doesn’t make any difference to a person’s range of motion. The biggest thing that I see in this realm is that people are not: number one, paying attention to stretching the right things; and then number two, paying attention to stretching in the right way.
So if for example, you are attempting to increase your flexibility in, let’s say your ability to touch your toes, if you are somebody who’s already really flexible, you may not need to spend all that much time stretching, right? A lot of women are often able to do that right away, but a lot of guys (I had a friend in high school who could barely get below his knees with his hands), but a lot of guys ran into a lot of trouble getting any lower and don’t do stretching for like fifteen seconds at a time, once every two weeks and they decide that stretching just doesn’t do it for them. In the meantime, in all the time that they are not stretching — outside of that thirty seconds total that they’re not stretching — they’re running; they’re playing their sports; they’re squatting; they’re deadlifting; they’re sitting in a chair at their desk. They’re doing things that actively negate any possible effects their fifteen to thirty seconds of stretching may have had; they’re completely demolishing by doing any other activities.
So when you are trying to build your flexibility or trying to increase your mobility in a certain range of motion — and by “mobility”, I mean your ability to achieve a range of motion with control; not just go lax and do a position, but actually have control in different piece of your range of motion — when you’re doing those things, you need to make sure that you’re actually training your body very, very, very specifically. If I just wanna be able to do the splits, if I just sit around and do squats all the time and play hockey, I’m never going to achieve my goal. I need to make sure that the practice that I’m putting in is very specific towards that goal and that I define that goal clearly and then really work backwards and analyze what I need to do to achieve it.
Too often, people are unaware of what’s necessary to get to where they want to go, and so they’re going will-nilly in every direction and wondering why just plain exercise isn’t getting them where they wanna go. If you want to be stronger at something, you need to gradually build yourself towards that goal. If you want to be more flexible, define the angles of the joints that you really want to see more flexibility in, and then determine which muscles might be blocking that achievement, then make sure you’re establishing practice, training parameters that help you progressively build towards what you want to achieve.
I’ve given the example hamstrings; if you want your hamstrings to be more flexible, you are looking a problem in the sagittal plane (meaning front and back); you’re looking at hip flection; and you’re looking at maintaining proper position of the whole rest of your body while your hamstrings learn to adapt to the position you want to achieve. So that means you need to pick stretches that don’t let you cheat. That means you need to hold your stretches for long periods of time, to make sure your body has time to adapt. That means you need to breathe properly so that your body can adapt and relax. And it means you have to be consistent enough for a long enough period of time for results to show up.
I hear people say all the time, “But, I do yoga.” Again, yoga can be good for building flexibility and mobility, but it does matter whether or not it’s specific to your specific issues. If it addresses your specific issues, it can be a godsend. If you’re somebody that certain positions are actually bad for you, the whole thing’s gonna be bad for you and that’s something you should know going in. So, remember to think very clearly about what you are trying to achieve. Lay out your goals and then work backwards to try to figure what you need to do to really achieve the body, the health, the strength, the flexibility, or whatever it is, to really achieve whatever it is you’re looking for.
So I hope those ideas help you. My name is Matt Hsu. This was the Upright Health Podcast Episode 11. Please remember that pain sucks — life shouldn’t.