Stretching is an important aspect in training, yet it is one of the most overlooked. Adding Stretching to your daily training regimen will improve performance and longevity of an individual. This article is going to discuss what flexibility and range of motion mean, the different types of stretching, the purpose of flexibility training, the benefits of flexibility training, as well as when and how often stretching is appropriate.
Flexibility and Range of Motion (ROM)
Flexibility refers to the range of motion of a particular joint while range of motion is the degree to which a joint can be stretched. For example the shoulder joint naturally has a limited ROM, but if the surrounding muscles were not flexible it would cause the shoulder joint to not fully utilize its complete ROM. Poor flexibility leads to the development of relative flexibility, which is when the body takes the path of least resistance during functional movement patterns. This means that while performing a functional movement any imbalances will be compensated for in order to perform the movement. For example, during an overhead bodyweight squat, tight hip flexors will force the upper body forward in order to allow the legs to reach parallel or the proper depth.
Different Types of Stretching
There are two types of stretching:
1. Static Stretching, which refers to flexibility exercises that use the weight of the body or its limbs to stretch the muscle. There are two ways to stretch statically: free static stretching and passive static stretching.
· Free Static Stretching increases ROM by stretching the muscle while it is relaxed. An example would be to stand with your feet together and bend over allowing your body weight to stretch the muscles for an extended period of time.
· Passive Static Stretching uses a force or an external load to increase the ROM. For example stand with your feet together bend over while pulling yourself to touch your toes and holding for an extended period of time.
2. Dynamic Stretching uses speed of movement, momentum, and active muscular effort to bring about stretch.
· Ballistic Stretchinguses momentum to exceed the ROM of a relaxed or contracted muscle. This form of stretching can be done slowly or rapidly. For example stand with your feet together and either slowly or rapidly use your momentum to touch your toes, doing so numerous times.
· Active Stretching involves continuous muscle activity that exceeds static ROM. For example while doing a back squat you perform the exercise going through the complete range of motion.
· Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching involves intermittent or continuous phases of static or dynamic stretching, as well as patterns of activation and relaxation. This form of stretching is to be done with a partner. An example would be the butterfly groin stretch. Have one partner in the butterfly position holding their ankles, while the other partner pushes down on the knees. Hold that stretch for several seconds, followed by a period of several seconds where the partner getting stretched tries to close their legs while being resisted by the other partner. Following the period of resistance the partner being stretched then relaxes and their partner continues the stretch being able to push further down than before. This is to be repeated several times.
Purpose of Flexibility Training
For an athlete or the every-day fitness enthusiast flexibility training serves several different purposes. It corrects muscle imbalances and increases joint range of motion. Muscle imbalances and a decrease in the range of motion of a joint causes muscle inhibition. Inhibition is caused by a tight agonist muscle, which decreases the neural drive of its functional antagonist. For example if the hip flexor muscles are tight that will cause inhibition or a decrease in the ability of the gluteus maximus muscles to function properly. Flexibility training has been shown to decrease muscle soreness and muscle hypertonicity. Hypertonicity is an increased tension in the muscle, causing the muscle to be abnormally rigid hampering proper movement of the muscle. Increasing flexibility will relieve the stress on the joints, improve extensibility of the musculotendinous junction or where the muscle and the tendon connect and it will maintain the normal functional length of all the muscles. Maintaining the normal functional length of the muscles will result in more efficient and complete movement patters, which have a positive result on athletic performance (speed, power).
Benefits of Flexibility Training
Overall flexibility training will have a positive impact with anyone from the advanced athlete to the sedentary individual.
These benefits include:
· Decreased risk of injury
· Prevention of muscle imbalances
· Correction of existing muscle imbalances (remember, muscle imbalances increase your risk of injury and limit performance output)
· Improvement of posture and correction of postural distortion (shoulders rounded, head/chin too far forward, too much curvature in the lower back/lumbar spine region, etc.)
· Enhancement of strength, flexibility, and power
Studies have proven an increase in flexibility can improve and athletes strength and power. This fact alone is enough reason to incorporate flexibility training into your daily routine.
The main point to take from this article is that consistent flexibility training will be beneficial for anyone in their personal training program. You simply need to come up with a routine that you like and set five to ten minutes aside after your workout/practice/competition.
CSCS, MS in Exercise Physiology & co founder of Prolific Fitness
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