Most fitness trainers, exercise physiologists, and even health care professionals agree that flexibility training, although often overlooked is an important component of any physical fitness program. Stretching becomes even more important as you achieve advanced levels of muscular strength and endurance. If the goal for the fitness program is optimum performance, then adherence to a consistent flexibility program is required.
Long gone are the days where guys did not do proper stretching. I am guilty of that big time and I’m certain that that is why I used to get a lot too many strains and sprains and just not progress well with my fitness program. Hopefully, this will help guide you in the right direction
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Definition of flexibility and stretching
Flexibility is the ability of a limb to move freely about a joint through a full range of motion. Stretching, on the other hand, is a type of exercise that is used to increase flexibility. The range of motion is specific to each joint and depends on;
- Joint surfaces and the degree of movement required for the joint to function
- Muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue associated with limb movement around a joint
- Strength of the musculature surrounding the joint
Flexibility benefits for health and training;
Proper use of stretching increases flexibility and provides the following benefits.
- Improved performance
- Reduced potential for injury e.g. muscle strain or sprain
- Reduced muscle soreness
- Decreased risk and severity of low back pain
- Increased agility
- Increased blood flow to the joints
Stretching is an integral part of a fitness program and enhances performance by extending the range of motion in which one can optimally perform. Joint stability and consequent protection against injury are best achieved through a balanced physical fitness program designed to improve muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility.
Physical fitness and flexibility training should be considered interdependent since both are involved in the degree and quality of movement across a joint.
Muscles that are strengthened should be stretched and vice versa. An intense strength workout can cause micro-trauma to the muscles and the process of recovery can shorten the muscles and connective tissue. Stretching prevents this shortening which could contribute to muscle strains or other overuse injuries e.g. tendonitis /fasciitis
Flexibility training, without concurrent strength training, weakens the muscles and connective tissue and places the joints and muscles at risk of sprains, strains, and even partial or complete dislocations. Strengthening the muscles surrounding a stretched joint helps stabilize the joint and improve muscular function, thus decreasing the likelihood of injury.
Overstretching may lead to injury; however, as long as a flexibility program is well balanced with strength and conditioning, this possibility is negligible.
Types of flexibility/stretching
Dynamic or active stretching
This refers to the speed attained within a range of motion at the joint during physical performance. This type of flexibility involves intrinsic musculature surrounding the joint and its ability to overcome resistance to motion. In other words, dynamic stretching mimics a particular movement and does not require holding the stretch for any period of time. An example would be a swimmer doing arm circles before getting into the water.
It involves stretching a muscle or group of muscles to the farthest point it can go, then holding that position for a period of time. An example is gently pushing your head up through the chin for 10 seconds.
Most often than not, people take passive stretching to be the same as static stretching but that is not the case. Passive stretching refers to the maximal range of motion of a joint, induced by an external source e.g. a partner/equipment. The range of passive stretching is always greater than that of dynamic or static stretching.