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How to become Flexible | Functional Stretching for Survival

When I was coming up in martial arts as a child, I was impressed by the flexibility demonstrated by Jean-Claude Van Damme. He would perform beautiful high kicks, drop into splits across chairs, and even jump into the air to perform split kicks. As I grew older, I took the discipline of stretching as seriously as my martial arts- they went hand in hand and when completing my Diploma in Fitness & Nutrition, I also completed my Stretch Therapist certification. This increased level of flexibility has served me well throughout my life. I’ve avoided injuries, bounced back from illness faster, and have remained quite agile.


The most important stretching exercises

Believe it or not, the most critical stretching exercise you can do is a full-body stretch upon waking up in the morning, right in your bed. If you study the movements of your pets, predators, or even babies- after long periods of inactivity, some light stretching takes place. Some people call this limbering up. Stretching before getting out of bed can help wake up the body and improve circulation. This stretching also turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, which puts us in a more relaxed state right when we get out of bed. When camping, the morning stretch is vital to maintaining good hip and lower back flexibility and relieving muscular tension from a rough night afield.


How to become Flexible

The Types of Stretches

Dynamic, Active, Passive, and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) are the four types of stretches we utilize.


  • Active stretching is a targeted stretch of a specific muscle or muscle group. For example, if you point your toes, you flex your calf muscles, now try to raise your toes toward your shin instead of pointing them while maintaining calf stretch tension. One muscle group is lengthened while another is contracted, and this alternate tension enables you to focus on specific muscles.

  • Passive stretching is the most common style used. This stretch applies tension to a muscle group for a time, usually for around thirty seconds. As you reach the outer limit of your range of motion, hold that for 30 seconds; the target muscle is lengthened. Now, relax, then do it again, which will enable you to perform a slightly deeper stretch. Passive stretching is excellent for balance, mobility, and overall increasing flexibility.

  • Dynamic Stretching relies on momentum and flow to achieve progression. For example, when you perform a kick in a pendulum fashion to stretch a hamstring. With each pendulum, you reach a higher lift and more significant stretch.

  • PNF Stretching is one I often used in my martial arts training to achieve a full split. This stretch refers to a set of techniques that involves table stretching or resistance weights/bands. PNF stretches promote the restoration of weakened or injured muscle groups. A stretch pose is held in place; then resistance is applied. As the stretch pose is held, you work against resistance for 20-30 seconds. Then you remove the resistance and relax completely for 30-40 seconds. A Certified Stretch Therapist is typically used within healthcare settings to perform this laborious and, at times, complex style of stretching.

The well-rounded survivalist engages in regular hiking, hunting, trapping, shotting, fishing, self-defense training, camping, and prepping, which involves carrying and moving various loads (gear and supplies) regularly. These activities require physical effort, which means they also need some degree of flexibility to perform. We must face natural obstacles in an actual survival scenario, or while hunting and trapping, crawling, jumping, stooping, and climbing. Stretching will enable us to be better prepared for such obstacles and will allow us to circumvent them much easier with a lesser chance of injury.


Stretching for Hiking and Outdoor Activities

Stretching for Outdoor Activities

Here are five combo stretches that will not only improve your flexibility but your performance while engaging in outdoor activities. Don’t get in a rush trying to make yourself look like the photos I’ve provided- everyone begins at a different place- so do the best stretch you can do for now, and be okay with that. You will make micro-progress daily, and you’ll notice a difference in your flexibility and even how you feel each week.


For each stretch, I recommend 30-seconds followed by 5-10 seconds of rest between body areas. Repeat the sequence up to three times, time permitting.


#1 Neck & Shoulder Roll

By first going side to side with the neck and applying light pressure with the palm, you stretch the sides of the neck (you may hear a pop). Then, lightly roll your head back and forth to loosen up. Follow with rolling the shoulders forward, then, by relaxing your arms and rolling your shoulders to include torso movement. This will loosen your entire upper body.


Neck Roll Stretch
Neck Roll

Shoulder Roll Stretch
Shoulder Roll


#2 Hip and Knee Circles

Grab your hips and rotate your body in a circle, keep your head stationary by looking at a fixed object. This motion will loosen your hips joints and lower back, repeat in the opposite direction. Then, squat slightly to grasp your knees and gently rotate in the same fashion (you may hear popping), this motion will loosen up your knees, calves, and ankles.


Hip Circles

Knee Circles

#3 Side Lunge

This is usually a difficult one, so start slow and work your way down into a full stretch with your base foot flat on the floor. This opens up the hips and stretches the hamstrings and calves while activating the muscles of the feet. Keep the toes of the leg being stretched pointing upward.


#4 Cobra Stretch

This is a great stretch for the hips, quadriceps, abdominals, and chest. By dropping your hip on one side at a time, you can achieve a deeper stretch in the hip flexors and lower back.


#5 Front Lunge

Begin by bracing yourself until you achieve stability and comfort with this stretch. Over time, continue to go deeper into the stretch until you can touch your elbows on the floor in front of you.


Safety Precautions

Never lock a joint when stretching, as this can cause hyperextension and may lead to pain and inflammation. Also, avoid bouncing while you stretch. Maintain steady tension, then relax fully.


Joint Care

About 15 percent of a skeletal muscle consists of collagen and elastin connective tissues, reports Human Kinetics. Collagen is quite strong, while elastin provides the elasticity needed for flexibility. Vitamin C is one of the most critical nutrients for synthesizing collagen and elastin because your body can't produce them without them. Your supplements should also contain copper because it works with vitamin C to produce elastin. Vitamin A, zinc, and iron are additional nutrients needed for collagen. Joint flexibility supplements contain glucosamine, chondroitin, and methylsulfonylmethane, or MSM. Glucosamine is essential for building tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and the cushioning fluid surrounding joints. Chondroitin helps keep cartilage healthy, while MSM may inhibit joint degeneration.




Don't forget to warm up!

Nowadays, I find that I need to warm up to doing deep stretching like this picture here. I usually do some brisk walking, the elliptical for 5 minutes, or some air squats to get the blood pumping followed by 10-15 minutes of stretching using the exercises I described above. I then work my way into a deeper stretch slowly. Again, deep flexibility takes time and dedication- but functional flexibility can be achieved within a few weeks- start today so you're better prepared for tomorrow!



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