A lot gets said about improving flexibility. Well… What exactly is flexibility?
Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move throughout a full range of movement. Muscles surrounding the joints are usually responsible for poor flexibility so it is important to stretch regularly to allow for muscle tension reduction and a greater range of motion to be achieved.
So what is the best way for you to increase your range of motion and flexibility?
The activity you are performing will help dictate which type of stretching method may be most beneficial for you. All of the methods listed below have their advantages and disadvantages and are important during different phases of exercise. The different types of stretching methods are:
Static – this involves holding a stretch at the farthest most comfortable point. This is the safest and most common type of stretching.
Dynamic – is an activity specific stretch that involves moving a joint through full range of movement in a more movement focused approach. It may be performed after static stretching but must be performed before activity.
Passive – This type of stretching uses another person or object to take a joint through range of movement without any effort from the subject. It is generally used in the rehabilitation process where one or more muscle groups may be weak.
Ballistic – This type of stretching involves bouncing or rhythmic movement, which takes a muscle to the maximum joint limit. It is not recommended to perform these types of stretches, as they do not allow the muscles enough time to adapt to the lengthening which sets off the stretch reflex, causing tension of the muscle and increased susceptibility to injury.
PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) – This type of stretching involves the contraction and relaxation of muscles in a stretch position. The theory behind PNF is that once the muscle has contracted, there should be less resistance to the stretch, allowing the joint to move in a greater range of motion. PNF should be done with a partner so that the subject can apply force to something and then the partner increase the stretch after contraction occurs. These must be performed after the muscles are warm, with a partner and contraction held for up to 10 seconds.
The most important time to undertake a flexibility program is after exercise as research shows that this is the time when the muscles are most susceptible to lengthen as a result of the muscle being completely warm.
Stretching has many benefits to many people. Stretching increases the joint range of motion/movement; as a result of this the risk of injury is dramatically decreased. Stretching can decrease stiffening/tightening of muscles after exercise which helps promote recovery. An improvement in muscle coordination between muscle groups is also another benefit of stretching.
Having an increased range of motion can also aid in being able to achieve a more optimal posture. Studies have also shown that flexibility training can help to improve maximal force production and 1RM performance. In other words stretching can make you stronger!
Flexibility training is important for all ages however the appropriate method needs to be taken into consideration. The most important time to stretch is post exercise after which the muscles are completely warmed up. The most common and safest type of stretching is static. Stretching has many benefits, including decreasing the risk of injury by increasing the joint range of movement. So make sure after your next session you get nice and stretchy!
Stay tuned for our flexibility ebook that is coming out soon. It will help you to get the most out of a full body stretching program.