It seems in my experience as a professional dancer that there are two types of athletic people: the kind that build mass by simply imagining a bench press yet struggle to touch their toes, and the kind that can wrap their legs Cirque du Soliel style around their ears, but remain lithe no matter how many burning reps they pursue.
Flexibility, since I am of the latter athletic proclivity, is my personal area of expertise. Here are a few practices I have found mandatory in acquiring and maintaining long, flexible muscles:
Warm Up Before a Workout, Stretch After – Before exertion, get the blood pumping, paying specific attention to stimulating the muscles’ insertion points by focusing on intentional repetitive motions in the joints. Only after aerobic activity is the muscle warm enough for safe, effective stretching.
Hold Stretches 30 Seconds Thrice Through – (if you need rules). I prefer paying attention and listening as the body communicates its needs, but if that just isn’t your knack, hold the stretch at least 30 seconds to increase flexibility.
Breath and Sweet Talk – Deep, singer breathing and auto suggesting “relax, relax” really work.
Isotonic Strengthening – Use the muscle at the height of the stretch. This does not mean bouncing. This does mean microscopic flexing and releasing of the lengthened muscle, so that we never have that predecessor to oh-so-many dancer injuries: flexibility without the strength to support it. Isotonic Strengthening is more a mental exercise than anything. For classes in such things, find a Bikram Yoga studio, and –
Be Consistent – It takes ten days to loose flexibility, but only ten minutes a day to maintain it.
And as an added bonus for all those professional dancers and aspiring bedroom acrobats:
How to Get Russian (Center) Splits Without Any Effort – Lie on your back with your legs 90 degrees, straight up in the air (like the letter L). Scoot your bottom up against a nice, clear wall and let your legs fall open. Do this for two minutes/day (that’s one commercial break, if you are a person who still watches the projection device). In three months, without ever having pushed, struggled or even groaned, gravity will have your toes on the floor. And let me tell you: reading a book in the Russian splits at the gym is the most effective passive pick-up line ever invented.