Air load for stretching:
Certain annoying stretches make it difficult to breathe while you maintain the position. Simply being aware of this will allow you to have a better stretch in certain movements.
Acknowledge which stretches impede your breathing and put them at a point in your stretching routine when you are most relaxed or least winded. Or don't do them when you're out of breath. Or catch your breath before you do them (like you're about to have a breath holding contest!) Glute and torso stretches usually bother me in this respect.
Flex it in relaxed stretches too:
These days I'm becoming more convinced that the majority of stretches, even ones that do not have an isometric tension component included in the target muscles, benefit from some type of flex. I have two examples,
I find the splits much more comfortable than this freakin' stretch. I really hate this stretch. If I'm not doing isometric contractions in the stretch itself, I sometimes find it helpful to at least clench my fists hard or tense up my upper body. It's fucking painful for me, so this is kind of a tension release.
Try switching your emphasis: Switch it from focusing on the stretch to the force you must use to maintain the stretch. You'll be surprised at how you'll achieve a better stretch by not focusing on the stretch! Haha!
Take a back off week:
I get lots of e-mails from people who've stalled in their flexibility training progress. I usually preach the same things: get stronger, flex your muscles in the stretch and focus on technique. But a few times I've had to recommend the unexpected: Take a backoff week.
If I were to chart my flexibility and strength levels day to day, from "Feeling great!" to "Feeling awful!" ... Then I would always find that whenever I am really strong and feel powerful, my flexibility is always super high as well. Whereas, when I have a terrible strength training day or feel weak or unmotivated, my flexibility suffers too. They are the same wave. My splits will easily fluctuate several inches between days of the week depending on how I feel.
- "Wednesday: Tired. Felt stiff, splits were not deep."
- "Saturday: Energetic! Felt fantastic, Oversplits, I could have sat in the splits all day long!"
I get the impression that many people expect flexibility to be something that's consistent day to day. That expectation is completely WRONG. Just like your strength, your tricks, your energy levels, your motivation, your libido, etc, your flexibility fluctuates too! And when it's been going in the crapper for a long time, maybe you should consider a recovery block in your training and quit stretching AND training for a short period.
Stretches are technical exercises:
Some stretches are less technical than others. Much like any trick, you name it: a cheat hypernine is more technical than a 540 kick, and more difficult in part due to that technicality. A sidesplit is more technical than a sitting butterfly groin stretch, and more difficult in part due to that technicality. Acknowledge that this technical element is inherent in your stretching exercises. Maybe the reason your splits aren't getting deeper is because you're being lazy with the technical component of the position.
Strength and stretches:
When you alternate flexing of your muscles with relaxation during static stretching you're doing isometric stretching. The stronger those muscles are, the greater your range of motion. Why? Because doing tension-relaxation cycles during a stretch shuts down the nervous system's stretch reflex which prevents you from achieving greater ranges of motion. Stronger tensions are more effective. So, this is why I would recommend increasing your strength on exercises like lunges, deep squats, glute-ham raises, etc: Because the strength has carry over to your flexibility.
Superset these strength exercises with isometric stretching, you'll like the results.
The underestimated utility of stretching exercises:
Stretches are more than just exercises for developing range of motion or flexibility. Stretches are good for strength on their own. Try lifting yourself off the floor using only your legs while in the splits. Do this several times with rest per split and do several sets of this exercise with rest in between. I've gotten some impressive hamstring pumps doing this. Try really focusing on force of contraction in a variety of isometric stretches for an ambitious number of sets. Muscle pumps, soreness, and rapid results in range of motion might result. You want "functional training" for tricking? Well, do that.
Stretches, and mobility training in general, provide benefits to specific strength exercisers too. Deep squats and olympic lifts demand it. However, if this is your goal (meaning: better range of motion in your strength exercises) I recommend "grooving" out those positions deeper and deeper, rather than doing what you probably intuitively think of as stretching. Just get in the squat position and jam yourself down into and out of it in different ways, accentuating the range of motion. Do the same for dips and rings and whatever.
Stretches are also excellent for developing coordination. More challenging stretching exercises require tricky postures, movements, and position maintenance. And some tricks require... amplitude... So chalk up another reason to train your stretches with your tricks. However...
Some tricks are stretches:
Aerials, my favorite type of trick, are awesome for flexibility all around. Aerial'ing for flexibility gains. Also it's to be expected, that improving your flexibility has humongaloid carryover with your aerial type tricks. Any type of trick that has a kick coming out of it too; butterfly round, cork round, split double leg, x-out, crowd awakeners. While I'm definitely pro-flexibility training for tricking, I'd like to point out that you should account for all the tricks you do too in your total flexibility training volume. I'm hyping up stretching a lot here, but I don't think you need to stretch every spare moment you have (you should be tricking every spare moment you have instead!)
"How much should I stretch?"
So, how much should you stretch? This is a very common question I get, but it's difficult to answer (without being sarcastic or mean-spirited hehehe.) Try this though: instead of asking how much should I stretch?, try asking something like,
- Which two stretches would help me the most to reach my goals?
Do those two stretches.