5 Best Stretches for Calisthenics to Improve Your Performance!

Performing calisthenics exercises often requires a good deal of mobility, improving your flexibility will make calisthenics exercises easier, safer, and better looking. Keep reading to find out how!

The different types of stretching: you need to know!

Before getting into the stretches it is good to have a basic understanding of the different methods you can use to gain flexibility. Therefore I have made a brief explanation, so you can get the most bang for your buck when it comes to stretching!

There are two main categories of stretching:

Static stretching which involves holding a stretch for an extended period without movement.

Dynamic stretching which refers to stretching that involves movement and uses the muscles themselves to produce a stretch.

However, it does get a bit more complicated than that when you dive in deeper. Under these main categories, there are also several other categories the most important being:

Active stretching which involves using your muscle contraction to achieve and hold a stretch.

Passive stretching which involves external assistance to help you achieve and maintain a stretch.

All of these types of stretching are useful in different scenarios, we will discuss when to use each type in the programming section.

Most important stretches for calisthenics

Now you know about the different types of stretching, it is time to get down to business. That is why I have compiled a list of the 5 best stretches you can do to improve your calisthenics performance, enjoy!

1. Middle Split

Training the middle splits can greatly benefit your calisthenics performance by enhancing overall lower body flexibility. This flexibility is particularly important for movements that require a wide range of motion and is essentially a hack for the straddle planche, front and back lever.

How to do the middle split:

There are serval ways you can train the middle split, if you are interested in a in-depth tutorial check out this video. One of the cornerstones of middle split training is the static active hold, here is how to do the static active hold:

  1. Anterior tilt your pelvis, and point your toes slightly out to the side.
  2. Slide your legs out to the side until you feel a deep stretch and hold this position for some time, once your muscles have gotten used to this position, try to go a bit deeper.

Use the programming section as a reference for hold times and volume parameters.

2. Pancake

The pancake stretch is an effective exercise for improving flexibility in the hips, hamstrings, and lower back. The pancake stretch is valuable, especially for those aiming to improve their handstand presses as having good pancake mobility makes handstand press and stalder press much easier.

how make pancakes:

  1. Begin by sitting on the floor with your legs spread wide in a straddle position. Ensure that your toes are pointing upward, and your knees are facing the ceiling.
  2. From the seated position, initiate the stretch by hinging at your hips.
  3. As you hinge forward, reach your hands forward along the floor. Your goal is to reach your hands as far as possible without rounding your back or compromising proper form.
  4. Once you reach your maximum stretch, hold the position. Breathe deeply and consistently throughout the stretch. Deep breaths can help relax the muscles and facilitate a deeper stretch.

Practice the middle split as well to improve the width of your straddle, and Jefferson curls to improve your hamstring and lower back flexibility.

3. Skin the cat/German hangs

Skin the Cat and German Hangs are excellent gymnastic exercises that both stretch and strengthen the muscles in the shoulders, bicep, and chest. These movements are prerequisites for more advanced skills such as the back lever and iron cross, an also work great for opening up the shoulders for that beautiful handstand line.

How to skin the cat:

  1. start in a dead hang.
  2. Lift your knees towards your chest, tucking your body into a “ball shape”.
  3. As your knees come up, start to rotate your body backward, passing your legs through the arms. Contiune the movement until you feel a deep stretch in the shoulder.
  4. In this position, your arms will be extended overhead, and your body will be hanging down this is called “german hang”.
  5. Reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

4. Jefferson Curls/Foward fold

Jefferson Curls and forward folds are two very similar exercises that target the same muscle groups. Both exercises contribute to flexibility, particularly in the hamstrings and lower back. The Jefferson curl is a dynmaic weighted stretch while the forward fold is a static stretch.

How to do Jefferson curls like Charles Jefferson:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell or a light-weighted object in front of you with an overhand grip.
  2. Slowly begin to round your back, starting from the neck and moving down vertebra by vertebra.
  3. Continue to round your back until you reach a fully bent position with the weight lowering toward the ground, as deep as you can go.
  4. Hold this postion for a few seconds, and reverse the movement by gradually uncurling your spine, starting from the lower back and moving up to the neck.

Be careful with the jefferson curl, only start this exercise once you are very proficient with the forward fold, and load it very gradually. Otherwise you risk serious injury.

5. Split Squats

Split squats are a unilateral lower-body exercise that both stretches and strengthens the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors. They also engage the stabilizing muscles of the core to some degree.

Here’s how to perform split squats:

  1. Stand with your feet together. Take a step forward with one foot, ensuring a stride length that is comfortable for your mobility. Both feet should be pointing straight ahead, and the feet should be approximately hip-width apart.
  2. Lower your body straight down by bending both knees. The back knee should be sligthly bend and hover just above the ground. Keep your torso upright and your chest lifted throughout the movement.
  3. Hold this postion for time or perform the exercise as repetitions.

Once you get good at the Jefferson curl and split squat you can combine them to do the front split.

Choosing the stretches that are most relevant to your goals is key. For example, if you are trying to learn straddle planche improving your middle split is helpful or if you are trying to learn press to handstand the pancake stretch is helpful!

Flexibility programming for calisthenics athletes

Dynamic stretching should mostly be done before your workout as a part of your warmup because it helps access your available range of motion and thereby increases performance.

Static stretching on the other hand is more useful for improving your range of motion, and should generally be done after working out because that is where you have the best potential for stretching since your muscles are warm. You can alternatively do static stretching (or dynamic strength with the emphasis on improving range of motion) on separate days or times of the day from working out, then you just have to warm up properly beforehand.

Stretching at least 5 minutes per week per muscle group may be the minimum dosage for promoting ROM improvements (1). Frequency also matters, stretching a muscle group 2+ times per week is better than 1, even when volume is equated.

Holding a stretch for at least 30 seconds or more seems to be best for gaining flexibility (2), as you hold a stretch the muscle fibers relax gradually. Initially, there might be resistance, but as the seconds pass, the muscle’s natural reflex to resist the stretch diminishes, enabling you to get a deeper and more effective stretch.

When it comes to intensity, discomfort is a normal part of stretching and can often indicate its effectiveness. In order to prevent injury, it’s important to differentiate between discomfort and pain. Stretching should not cause sharp or intense pain.

Example of a flexibility program: you can do!

Superset 1: Middle split & German hang

Middle Splits Stretch (2 sets of 30 seconds)

Get into the static active hold as described in the exercise above. Hold the stretch, focusing on your breathing and gradually getting deeper.

German Hang (2 sets of 30 seconds)

Hold the stretch or perform for reps, you should feel the stretch in your shoulders, chest and biceps.

If this exercise is too hard you can replace it with broom stick shoulder dislocations.

Superset 2: pancake, split squat, and jefferson curl

Pancake Stretch (2 sets of 45 seconds)

Sit with legs spread wide, hinge at your hips, and reach forward toward the floor. Hold the stretch, aiming to keep your back straight.

Split Squats (2 sets of 8-12 repetitions per leg)

Perform split squats, focusing on a controlled descent and ascent. Ensure proper knee alignment and engage your core for stability.

Jefferson Curls or forward fold Stretch (2 sets of 8-10 repetitions)

For Jefferson Curls, stand tall and slowly round your spine forward, reaching toward the floor. For forward folds sit with legs extended or stand up, hinge at your hips to reach toward your toes. Hold at the bottom for a stretch.

Top tips for success:

  • Remember to always warm up before doing this or any other routine.
  • Apply progressive overload, by progressively going deeper, holding for longer, or applying external resistance.

Final Thoughts

Using extra range of motion during regular exercises is another great way to improve your flexibility. So for example when you do dips go past 90 degrees of elbow flexion for a “free stretch” and do ATG squats instead of stopping at 90 degrees of knee flexion. That way you will gain extra without doing much extra work.

If you are short on time another great “hack” is to do your flexibility exercises between your sets of strength exercises. That way you will use the rest time effectively and won’t need to spend extra time stretching after your main workout.

If you have any specific questions or need further guidance, feel free to ask. Happy stretching!

References
  1. Thomas E, Bianco A, Paoli A, Palma A. The Relation Between Stretching Typology and Stretching Duration: The Effects on Range of Motion. Int J Sports Med. 2018 Apr;39(4):243-254. doi: 10.1055/s-0044-101146. Epub 2018 Mar 5. PMID: 29506306.
  2. Bandy WD, Irion JM, Briggler M. The effect of time and frequency of static stretching on flexibility of the hamstring muscles. Phys Ther. 1997 Oct;77(10):1090-6. doi: 10.1093/ptj/77.10.1090. PMID: 9327823.

 

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