Chances are we sit most of the day starting with our commutes in the morning to sitting at a desk with a computer. We put in a full day of sitting hunched over our desktop and get back in the car and end the day sitting at the dinner table and on the couch watching TV. You probably feel stiff and achy at some point during the day and that’s because sitting for extended periods of time leaves your body tense and shortens the connective tissues that link your muscles to your bones.(3)
What is flexibility and why is it important to me?
Everyone knows that resistance training and cardiovascular exercise are beneficial to your health but it seems as though less people view flexibility the same way. Flexibility is needed to perform everyday activities with relative ease. Things like getting out of bed, lifting our children and putting away our groceries all require flexibility.
Flexibility deteriorates with age and without adequate flexibility, daily activities become more difficult to perform. Over time, we create body movements and posture habits that can lead to reduced mobility of joints and compromised body positions. Staying active and stretching regularly help prevent this loss of mobility, which ensures independence as we age.
Flexibility exercises can also help protect you against injury. You know Those achy knees and back from sitting all day? Flexibility exercises can alleviate those aches and pains by lengthening those connective tissues. Being flexible also significantly reduces the chance of experiencing occasional and chronic back pain.
Adding flexibility exercises to your workouts is a great way to complete your program because they help with your everyday activities allowing you to move with a full range of motion and be able to move with less effort or pain.
How do I add flexibility exercises to my routine?
Many people know flexibility exercises as stretching. An excellent time for flexibility training is after your workout is complete because the muscles are warm and pliable, allowing them to stretch farther. Stretching reduces stress in the exercising muscles and releases tension developed during the workout. It also assists with posture by balancing the tension placed across the joint by the muscles that cross it. Proper posture minimizes stress and maximizes the strength of all joint movements. (4)
There are several exercises to incorporate starting from your neck and working down to your ankles. Here are just a few examples:
Stand back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart and arms at shoulder height.
Bend your elbows so your fingertips point toward the ceiling and touch the wall behind you. Stop when you feel a stretch or slight discomfort, and stop immediately if you feel sharp pain.
Hold position for 10 to 30 seconds.
Let your arms slowly roll forward, remaining bent at the elbows, fingertips now pointing to the floor.
Hold this position for 10-30 seconds.
Standing in front of a wall, keep your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
Place hands on wall at shoulder height.
Slowly push your arms back, while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Stop when you feel a stretch or slight discomfort.
Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds.
Start on all fours with shoulders over wrists and knees hip-width apart.
Arch the middle of your back up toward the ceiling, and gently let your head and neck hang down toward the floor.
Keep your arms and thighs straight.
Lie on your back with left leg extended and resting on floor.
Raise right leg, keeping knee slightly bent.
Reach up and grasp right leg with both hands. Keep head and shoulders flat on the floor.
Gently pull right leg toward your body until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg.
Hold position for 10 to 30 seconds.
Repeat other side.
Once you feel more comfortable you can pull leg back without the knee bent.
As with all other components of your workout, flexibility training should be based on the FITT method. (4)
Frequency- Should be included at the end of every workout, can be done every day.
Intensity- Start at your comfort level and adjust to increase the stretch as you become more flexible. Stretches should not be painful and you should stretch to the point of discomfort.
Time- Should last 5-10 minutes.
Type-There are two types of stretching, static and dynamic.
Are there different types of stretching?
There are more then a couple types of stretching. Here are the two most common types.
Static– This method of flexibility training involves taking a specific joint or set of joints through a range of motion (ROM) to a comfortable end point (at least 20 seconds), resting for approximately 20 seconds, and then repeating the stretch two to three times.
The goal of static stretching is to overcome the stretch reflex (the automatic tightening of a muscle when stretched, which relaxes after approximately 20 seconds) to coax a joint into a wider ROM. This is done by holding the stretch gently and not overstretching the muscle. (4)
Dynamic- This method of flexibility training uses increasingly dynamic movements through the full ROM of a joint. Dynamic stretching develops active ROM through the process of reciprocal inhibition, where the agonist muscle is contracting while the antagonist or opposite muscle is carried through the lengthening process. (4)
When performed correctly, dynamic stretching warms up the joints, maintains current flexibility, and reduces muscle tension. The exercise begins at a slow pace and gradually increases in speed and intensity. This method of stretching is best performed before exercise or activity that is movement based, like tennis or golf.
What are the key guidelines to safely stretch?
- A stretch should be smooth and slow, never jerky or bouncy.
- Breathe normally throughout the stretch.
- Don’t lock your joints when stretching, keep a slight bend to prevent injury.
Remember, stretching can be done every day.
Flexibility training is a must for a well rounded exercise program. The examples of flexibility exercises above are just a small sampling of stretches that can be done. For more information and examples, please contact us.
1. ”Flexibility Exercise (Stretching)”. Accessed 23, June 2015. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/Flexibility-Exercise-Stretching_UCM_464002_Article.jsp
2. ”Flexibility Exercises”. Accessed 23, June 2015. National Institute of Health. NIH Senior Health. http://nihseniorhealth.gov/exerciseandphysicalactivityexercisestotry/flexibilityexercises/01.html
3. “6 Simple Stretches for Flexibility’. Accessed 23, June 2015. Independence Blue Cross. http://savings.healthycoupons.com/ibx/article/fitness/6-simple-stretches-flexibility
4. “ The Importance and Purpose of Flexibility”. Accessed 24, June 2015. Human Kinetics. http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/the-importance-and-purpose-of-flexibility
5. Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net