During this endless season of cancellations and time at home, I’ve had to look for new ways to entertain and challenge myself. Like many of you, I baked a lot of bread. I reorganized my closet, twice. I finished Netflix.
When one of my recent YouTube rabbit holes led to a video for a “Stretching Challenge,” I was intrigued. We runners aren’t widely known for doing the strength and after-care required to stay limber and injury-free. Also, my cranky, middle-age lady hips were begging for some attention.
I scrolled through several apps and settled on “30 Day Splits Challenge.” (I didn’t plan on being able to do front splits in the next year, let alone in one month, but it was free and had good all-around stretches.) It would lead me through 30 days of stretches, giving me a little satisfactory checkmark next to each day I completed the routine. Each day lasted about 15-20 minutes, and I made a pact with myself: I would to the stretching challenge if could watch mindless TV as I limbered up.
Day 1: After an easy warm-up, my first thought was, “This was a terrible mistake.” I didn’t know the Heron Pose was going to be a part of the routine. When that popped up, I had to stop everything, and Google Heron Pose images to confirm the actual position. There might have been some swearing while I attempted all kinds of nonsense to get my body to bend in a way that did not even remotely look like the woman in the picture. I was not off to a great start.
Day 6: I had to talk myself into stretching because the reality of how inflexible I had become over the years was disappointing. I usually do some calf stretches and call it good. This was much more intentional, much more time-consuming, and much more ambitious.
Day 11: I had hoped it would get better. It did and it didn’t. I swore less, but I still looked like a seal on a beach, trying to make its body do things that were better suited to an animal with more joints. I wasn’t as sore, but I still had trouble balancing and would tip over in the middle of a quad-stretch. A new low in my fitness journey.
Day 21: I had the sequence of stretches memorized and didn’t really need the app anymore, but I liked the little dings and appreciated the timer that kept me on task. I was more impressed with my consistency than the actual stretching. The Heron Pose—and the front splits—was never going to happen, but going through the routine and holding each stretch as best I could was a win in my book.
Day 25: I noticed some physical changes that made me happy. Touching my toes no longer felt tight. I felt—dare I say—flexible. My right hamstring that usually barked at the end of a long hike wasn’t as grouchy, and it didn’t take as much effort to hold each stretch the way it had on day one.
Day 30: Hallelujah! I made it. While I’m never going to be Cirque Du Soleil material, I was definitely more limber and none of the stretches (aside from, of course, my pal the Heron) felt difficult anymore. Repetition does have some rewards. Yay me!
My thoughts on a stretching challenge: I want to be the kind of person that will keep stretching every day. I’m returning to running after several months with a grouchy Achilles, and I have no doubt stretching helped. Even if I don’t stretch every day, a variety of stretches a few times a week will go a long way to making my body happy.
My thoughts on streak challenges: A good challenge can move you out of your comfort zone and help you flex that consistency muscle. During these days of uncertainty, it can be soothing to stick to a routine, even if it is just for a few weeks.
But if any kind of challenge brings you shame or utter frustration, let it go. Life is too short for that nonsense. That said, if you can successfully get into and hold a decent Heron—or shimmy on down to the splits—I am in awe.
How flexible are you?