Stretching and Flexibility
Stretching is one of the most important aspects of any exercise program, and usually one of the most ignored and/or misunderstood. Because it doesn’t burn a massive amount of calories or give you a six-pack, many people choose to skip the stretch
In technical terms, flexibility is defined as “the ability to move a joint through its complete range of motion.” This means that when a particular joint, like your shoulder, is in a fixed position, the shoulder’s range of motion is measured as the arm is moved. Stretching is the practice of elongating the surrounding soft tissue, or the muscles, around that joint. Over time, regular stretching can increase flexibility, but tight muscles aren’t the only factor limiting a joint’s range of motion.
Why don’t I have flexibility?
So if it’s not those tight hamstrings, what is it that limits flexibility? Joint structure, for any given joint, has a lot to do with range of motion. Ball and socket joints, like your hips and shoulders, are capable of the greatest amount of movement, while ellipsoidal joints, such as your wrist, are among the least flexible joints in the human body. As we age, our muscles undergo a process called fibrosis, in which muscle degenerates and is replaced by fibrous tissue, which limits movement. Connective tissue, like tendons and ligaments, can limit range of motion, as they don’t share the elastic properties of muscles. Athletic training programs that focus on a limited range of motion, including many sports, can cause specific areas to tighten up, creating bulk and decreasing range of motion. Also, the frequency and duration of the stretching program you undertake, along with your general activity level, can make a huge difference in the degree of flexibility you achieve.
What does stretching do?
Regular stretching helps to increase flexibility, warms up muscle tissues and joint fluids, prepares the brain for movement, increases heart and respiratory rates, gets our bodies ready for accelerated energy production, and prepares us psychologically for work. For many people, stretching is also very relaxing and a way to de-stress and refocus. And lastly, stretching can decrease the risk of muscle imbalances, joint dysfunctions, and overuse injuries.
What types of flexibility training are there?
There are different kinds of stretching techniques, all of which fall into either the active or passive categories. Active stretches, which means you’re in control, may be static, ballistic, or dynamic. Passive stretches, which give the control to someone else or a device, are usually static or dynamic. In active stretches, a static stretch is a constant stretch where the end position is held for 10 to 30 seconds. A seated toe touch is a good example of this. A ballistic stretch is one where a bouncing movement is involved and the end position is not held. Imagine the same toe touch, but quickly reach for your toes, and then return to your seated position immediately, at least 10 times. Dynamic stretching is sport-specific stretching that involves movement. A walking lunge is a good example of this.
How, when, and how much do I stretch?
Every workout should begin with a light warm-up and at least a few minutes of active stretching. You should at least address all major muscle groups that you’ll be using during your workout. As a runner, that would include quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and calves. You could hold them statically, or move through space dynamically. At the conclusion of your calorie-burning party, you should hit every major muscle group again.
The more you run, jump, lift, push, pull, and twist, the tighter your body can become. Based on the demands of the sport or exercise regimen you’re involved in, you should adopt healthy stretching habits that will help you avoid the injuries and increases flexibility.
Lisa Olson: Certified Personal Trainer / Fitness & Nutrition Consultation /
Independent Beachbody Coach ID# 117974