The Truth about Stretching and Flexibility
Stretching and flexibility are often associated with dancers, athletes, and yoga buffs. It is typically a missing component of fitness programs but one that is necessary if you're interested in becoming stronger and increasingly fit, and of course improving your flexibility!
Definition of Flexibility
What is flexibility? Flexibility is a joint's ability to move freely through a full and normal range of motion. Factors that affect flexibility include genetic inheritance, the joint structure, connective tissue elasticity within muscles, tendons or skin surrounding a joint, strength of opposing muscle groups, body type, age, activity level, previous injuries, and gender. Like strength training and cardiovascular capacity it's possible to dramatically improve flexibility with minimal effort. The following are methods used to improve flexibility. Some can be done solo other require assistance from a trainer or therapist.
Stretching and Flexibility, Some Common Methods
- Static stretching–moving towards the full range of motion of the muscle you're stretching and holding for 20-60 seconds (the safest method for most people)
- Dynamic stretching- swinging the muscle through it's full range of motion (common among martial arts experts, not recommended for the average person)
- PNF Method- angled, rotating, dynamic movements cued by a registered physical therapist
- Contract-Relax Method- also known as pnf, a contracting against resistance from a partner then stretching (inhibits the stretch reflex allowing you to stretch further)
- Contract Antagonist/Relax Method- isometric contraction of the opposing muscle before stretching (similar to above and very effective)
- Fascial Stretching- deep tissue manipulation by a professional to increase range of motion (ie. Rolfing, Thai massage, and neuromuscular therapy)
Why should you stretch? Being more flexible will:
- Increase Range of Motion- this contributes to proper form, faster strength gains, and decreases your risk of injuries.
- Release Tension- this alleviates stress, improves posture, and reduces soreness caused by strength training.
- Increase Blood Flow- this promotes endurance, faster strength gains, and healthy joints and cartilage.
- Improve Neuromuscular Coordination- this results in improved balance and coordination, as well as enhanced performance.
How often you do it depends on your training goal. If your goal is increased mobility, stress relief, or endurance, it's a good idea to stretch daily. Basic stretches, yoga, pilates, and tai chi, are all great ways to improve flexibility. If your goal is to get stronger and prevent injuries, stretch after your strength-training workout, between sets, or after your cardio training. Remember to stretch slowly into a position that feels slightly tight but not painful. Try not to bounce and hold that position for at least 20 seconds before moving on to your next stretch.
When to stretch is the key to a successful stretching and flexibility program. Stretching before strength training or cardio training can increase your risk of injuries so make sure to warm up before you get started. The best time to stretch is after 5-10 minutes of moderate physical activity such as walking, cycling, or calisthenics. You can also stretch after strength training or cardio training (as described above). If you want to guarantee your results use the contact form to find out how to incorporate a stretching and flexibility program into your training.
For more details about stretching and flexibility I highly recommend you read The Stretching Handbook , it contains photos showing you complete step-by-step demonstrations of more than 100 different stretching exercises!