By Zach Lail
Flexibility is a crucial component of any exercise or sports performance program and here are some of the reasons why.
First of all, a supple muscle will be able to tolerate physical stress much better than an inflexible one and will be much less prone to injury. Second, the increased range of motion allows for greater speed and force production as well as more freedom of movement. This will lead to greater comfort when performing any movement or while exercising and will also lead to improvements in athletic performance. Finally, stretching helps increase total and specific range of motion and enhances recovery from exercise by assisting in the flushing of metabolic waste from the muscles. Tight muscles also lead to muscle imbalances that can cause injury and lead to pain. This is especially common in the lower back of individuals who run, cycle, or just sit at a desk all day whose hamstrings and hip flexors are tight.
Here are a few methods for working on your flexibility as well as a few resources for information or services regarding stretching and flexibility training.
Dynamic warm up: In a dynamic warm up, the limbs are taken through a range of motion about eight or more times with a ½ second hold or stretch. This is done in attempt to warm up the body through specific ranges of motion for the sport or activity about to be performed. This elevates the core temperature of the body, mimics and prepares the body for the movements about to be performed, and gets the muscles and joints lubricated to enhance performance and prevent injury. Example: taking the arm across the chest and holding with the opposite arm for one second and repeating to warm up and stretch the shoulders. Try exercising with and without a warm up and see which one works better.
Static stretching: Best performed after a cardiovascular workout or warm-up when the muscles are warm and supple, and the joints are lubricated. Each muscle or muscle group is stretched to the point of tolerance and held for at least 30 seconds. This is where your flexibility improves and recovery is enhanced.
Partner Stretching: It is always nice to have someone else stretch you and it might make this laborious process more fun.
Yoga: Here is an excellent way to improve your flexibility while also enjoying the other benefits of an ancient practice.
Professional: Get your personal trainer, massage therapist, or other allied health professional to educate you about flexibility, or even better, to work on you on a regular basis. Most people do not know that this is a service offered by these professionals and do not take advantage of this wonderful resource.