Use It or Lose It: The Third Pillar of Fitness – Flexibility

The third pillar of fitness is flexibility. A healthy body needs to have good range of motion (ROM). If your ROM gets too tight, it will limit your ability to move freely around the body. When you are not able to move freely around the body, you become restricted from doing things like climbing stairs or even driving a car!

When your ROM becomes limited, you may experience pain and discomfort such as backache, knee pain or hip pain. These types of pains can cause you to miss work or school, which in turn leads to lost productivity and income.

What Is Flexibility?

Flexibility is the range of movement through joints that allows a person to perform various activities without pain. A joint’s range of motion refers to the maximum amount of freedom it provides when moving through certain motions. Joints with greater ranges of motion allow for better function and safety while performing these movements.

There are three main types of flexibility: static, dynamic and reciprocal. Static means that the joint does not change its position during movement; dynamic means that the joint moves up and down during movement; and reciprocal means that the joint moves both up and down during movement.

Static Flexibility

A static flexibility exercise involves holding a particular position for a specified time period. For example, if you want to stretch your hamstrings, you could hold them in place for one minute straight.

This type of stretching is typically done before workouts or sporting events for two reasons. First, it helps prepare your muscles for the physical activity you are about to engage in. Second, it increases your muscle’s ability to protect itself from injury during high-intensity exercises and sports.

Dynamic Flexibility

A dynamic flexibility exercise involves bending and stretching while your muscle is warm. For example, bending at the waist and touching your toes would count as a dynamic flexibility exercise.

Performing these types of stretches while your muscle is warm helps to protect you from injury because your muscles are less likely to tear. Additionally, it increases blood flow and range of motion.

Reciprocal Flexibility

This type of flexibility involves specific movements of a joint in more than one direction. For example, bending forward and then twisting to one side involves reciprocal flexibility in your spine. These types of flexibility exercises can help improve your posture and promote spinal health.

How Does Flexibility Relate to the Overload Principle of Training?

If you are lacking flexibility, your body will not be as able to handle the demands of training. A lack of flexibility will cause your muscles to become overtaxed, which can lead to serious injuries.

For example, let’s say you have tight hamstrings and regularly run long distances. If your hamstrings are constantly tight, they will eventually become overworked. This increases your chance of suffering a hamstring injury such as a pulled muscle.

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Furthermore, flexibility is important for performing the types of activities you engage in on a regular basis. For example, if you are a soccer player who lacks ankle flexibility, you will not be able to kick the ball as hard or run as fast as other players on your team.

Exercises that improve your flexibility will help your muscles handle more intense workouts and sports. As a result, you will experience fewer muscle aches and injuries when training or competing.

Other Benefits of Stretching

In addition to protecting your muscles and joints, flexibility can also have a positive impact on other aspects of your life. For example, if you enjoy activities that involve the use of your hands such as knitting or rock climbing, you can benefit from increased hand and wrist flexibility.

Stretching can also help people who suffer from conditions such as anxiety or depression. Practicing breathing techniques during and between stretches can help you relax. This, in turn, can also increase your flexibility because your muscles will be less likely to tense up.

Lastly, stretching can be beneficial for promoting a good night’s sleep. People who do not stretch regularly are more likely to suffer from restlessness or wake up with a sore back. If you want to be well-rested and feel refreshed when you wake up, you should try to incorporate stretching before going to sleep.

Tips for Stretching

Before we discuss specific stretching techniques, you should have a basic understanding of the different types of stretches that exist. Most stretches can be categorized as ballistic, static-dynamic, or static. In addition, stretches can be passive or active. These different classifications can help you customize your stretching routine to meet your needs and goals.

Ballistic

Ballistic stretches involve moving the limbs through a range of motion by using the momentum of the body or applying thrust to the limb. Common examples include bouncing at the knee when stretching the hamstrings or tossing a ball against a wall and catching it when stretching the arm. The thing to remember about ballistic stretches is that they should only be used by people who are already very limber. Most people should avoid ballistic stretches because they can cause small tears in the muscle and do not improve flexibility as well as other types of stretching.

Static-Dynamic

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This type of stretch involves moving a limb or group of limbs through a range of motion while maintaining a position at the point of maximum range of motion. For example, if you were stretching your hamstrings you would bend forward and try to touch your toes. Once you reach the point where your hamstring is as far stretched as it can get, you would hold that position for a period of 15 to 30 seconds. This stretch would then be repeated twice more.

This type of stretching is good for beginners because it involves a movement pattern that the body is accustomed to and can thus minimize injury potential. However, this type of stretching is not as effective as the next type, static-passive stretching.

Static-Passive

This is the type of stretch that involves holding a position at the point of maximum range of motion for a period of 15 to 30 seconds. For example, you would bend forward and try to touch your toes. Once you reach the point where your hamstring is as far stretched as it can get, you would hold that position without moving for 15 to 30 seconds. This stretch should be held 2 to 4 times with a 1 to 2 minute break in between.

This is the type of stretch that research has shown to be most effective. In addition, this is considered the safest because you are not putting any additional stress or momentum on the body part being stretched like you would with the dynamic and ballistic stretches. The only downside to this method is that it can be mentally tedious to hold a single position for a long period of time.

Passive Stretching

This is the type of stretching that most people are familiar with because it is commonly seen in gyms and achieved by having a partner push your limb to its limit of range of motion. A good example of this would be a person having a partner push their arm behind their back to cause them to stretch their muscles. This type of stretching should only be used by people who are very flexible because it can be dangerous otherwise.

The main danger of this type of stretching is that it can easily cause a person to tear their muscle or otherwise injure themselves if the partner forces them to go too far. For this reason, it is important for the partner to be very knowledgeable about the art of stretching and the limits of the person they are working with.

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Dynamic Stretching

This type of stretching involves moving a limb or group of limbs through a range of motion in a rhythmic fashion. A good example of this would be a person swinging their arm around in a circle. This type of stretching is not very effective for people who are not already very limber because it puts additional stress on the muscles and tendons which can cause them to tear.

For this reason, dynamic stretches are best suited for professional or experienced athletes who have already developed a fair bit of natural flexibility. However, they can also be useful in warming up specific muscle groups that are going to be used for a particular activity.

Ballistic Stretching

This involves putting a lot of force into a stretch by using quick movements and enthusiasm. This type of stretching is not recommended because it can easily cause injury to the person stretching. It can also cause more damage than good by increasing the flexibility of a specific joint temporarily, only to have it decrease again in a short period of time.

During warm up exercises or stretches, it is important to focus on your personal flexibility so that you do not cause any unnecessary physical stress on your body. By stretching the different muscles in your body throughout the week, you can increase your ability to perform better during your weekly game and prevent injury.

Stretching for Sports and Exercises

Stretching Exercises

There are many different stretching exercises that you can do to keep your body flexible. Some you can do at a moments notice since they require no extra equipment. Others need special equipment such as a yoga mat or exercise bands. No matter what kind of equipment you have available, you can use these stretching exercises to help improve flexibility in your muscles and the joints of your body.

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Some common stretching exercises are designed to be done to increase your physical mobility, while others are done to prepare and warm up specific muscles that you will be using during the day.

Whatever your reason is for why you want to increase your flexibility, by doing some of these stretching exercises daily, you should begin to see a positive change in your flexibility.

How to Stretch at Work

While it may be tempting to stretch your legs by rocking back and forth in your chair during one of the many mental lulls you experience while sitting at your desk, this is not a good way to increase your physical mobility. You can however fit some simple stretching exercises into your work day that will slowly improve your flexibility.

One of the simplest ways you can fit stretching exercises into your work day is by doing them whenever you go to the bathroom. Most companies give their employees ample time to do their business, which means you can easily spend a couple of minutes while you are at your desk stretching your legs and bottom. This simple routine will help improve flexibility in your hips, thighs and calves.

For your upper body, you can stretch when you stand up to get a drink of water. Most people just stand up quickly then sit back down, but spending just a few seconds raising your arms over your head will help stretch out your chest and arm muscles. This is a great way to increase flexibility in your upper body.

How to Stretch Your Legs After Hours

Once you leave the office and get home from work, there are even more simple ways that you can stretch and increase your flexibility. For example, every time you walk up or down the stairs in your house, take an extra step up or down. This will slightly increase the stress on your legs and force them to stretch just a little bit more with each trip.

While watching TV or sitting on the coach, you can easily spend a couple of minutes stretching your legs. Sit on the floor and stretch your legs out in front of you, then turn your legs inwards towards each other. Stand up and try to place your feet against the wall, then walk forward into a split. These simple exercises will force your legs to stretch in different ways and will increase flexibility in your muscles.

No matter if you choose to do some simple stretches at your desk, at home, or both, you should see an increase in flexibility after a few weeks of daily stretching. Take these simple tips and incorporate a few of them into your day to day routine to help increase your flexibility.

Photo by Edgar Chaparro

Sources & references used in this article:

THE EFFECTS OF MICROSTRETCHING ON TAEKWONDO RANGE OF MOTION COMPARED TO A STANDARD TAEKWONDO STRETCHING PROTOCOL by DJ WALLER – researchgate.net

Flexibility in host-search and patch-use strategies of Insect by LE Vet, L Hemerik, ME Visser, EE Lewis… – … Ecology of Parasites …, 2002 – books.google.com

Adaptation or expiration in family firms: Organizational flexibility in emerging economies by B Palmer, J Soest – 1997 – CREW SYSTEM ERGONOMICS …

“My Heart Opens and My Spirit Flies”: Musical Exemplars of Psychological Flexibility in Health and Healing by A Hatum – 2007 – books.google.com