You should perform flexibility and stretching exercises every day to help your body feel and perform better. Flexibility is the normal extensibility (capable of being elongated or stretched) of all soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons) that allow the full range of motion of a joint.
Flexibility training integrates various stretches in all three planes of motion to produce maximum extensibility of tissues. You may have to undergo some corrective flexibility training based on your postural assessment or based on previous injuries incurred.
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Summary of Benefits of Flexibility Training:
a. Corrects muscle imbalances
b. Increases joint range of motion
c. Relieves joint stress
d. Decreases excessive tension of muscles
e. Maintains the normal functional length of all muscles
f. Helps to achieve optimum neuromuscular efficiency
All tissues contribute to joint stiffness to different degrees as follows:
a. Joint capsule and ligaments, 47%
b. Muscle and its fascia, 41%
c. Tendons, 10%
d. Skin, 2%
The tissue properties of the muscle and fascia allow for greater elasticity and are more adaptive than ligamentous tissue. The tendons have less elastic tissue than muscle, and over-stretching can produce unstable joints. Instability leads to altered length-tension relationships, altered arthrokinematics, and synergistic dominance—all of which initiate the cumulative injury cycle.
4 Stretching Tips to Improve Dynamic Flexibility:
1. Static Stretches - Static stretching is generally safe and a good place to start for beginners and sedentary individuals. These stretches are performed without movement. The individual gets into and holds the stretched position for 20-30 seconds. The different types of static stretches are:
a. Passive - This type of stretch requires you to use another person or object to assist you. The person who assists you should be careful when applying the stretch and any object used should be stable.
The advantage of this type of stretching technique is that it allows you to reach a greater range of motion. Passive stretching is often used to stretch the chest and shoulders.
b. Active - Active stretching uses opposing muscles (antagonists) to stretch the targeted muscles (agonists or prime movers). The opposing muscle is contracted and the targeted muscle is relaxed and stretched. Lifting your leg straight out and holding that position while standing is an example of an active stretch.
c. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation(PNF) - This type of stretching should be used with great caution. Your partner should also be knowledgeable about PNF stretching techniques. This type of stretching is good for targeting specific muscle groups, increasing range of motion and improving strength.
The hamstring stretch is good for applying this stretching technique. While lying on your back, you would contract your hamstrings while your partner holds your leg in place during the stretch.
The stretch would last for about 5 seconds. The hamstrings are relaxed, the partner then immediately and safely pushes the muscle group past its normal range of movement for 20-30 seconds. That would be one repetition. Rest for about 30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times.
d. Isometric - This form of stretching is similar to passive and PNF stretching except that the contractions are held longer. Isometric stretching is very demanding and is not recommended for children or adolescents still growing.
Only one isometric stretch per muscle group should be performed. An example of an isometric stretch would be to contract the calf muscles for 10-15 seconds during the leaning calf stretch. Relax for 20 seconds and repeat 3-5 times.
Static stretches should be done after your workout to return your muscles to their normal length.
2. Dynamic Stretches - Dynamic flexibility stretches are performed with movement. The individual uses movement to increase range of motion and flexibility. The different dynamic stretches are:
a. Ballistic - I do not recommend this type of stretching because it uses rapid bouncing and swinging motions to force the body part past its range of motion. Other forms of stretching are available and less risky.
b. Dynamic - This type of stretching uses controlled movements to increase range of motion. Unlike ballistic stretching, the body part is never forced past the joints normal range of movement.
Shuffles, backpedals and running-in-place are exercises that can be used during a dynamic warm-up. Research shows that a dynamic warm-up prepares an athlete's body best for competition.
c. Active Isolated - This type of stretching works by contracting the opposing muscle group which causes the stretched muscle group to relax. The stretch is held for 2 seconds. Repeat the stretch 5-10 times.
3. Self Myofascial Release (SMFR) is like getting a massage. The foam roller is one of the most effective techniques for releasing tension while improving mobility.
Foam rolling exercises will release and organize your muscles, as well as release and align your skeletal system. Muscle injuries such as strains and tears and broken bones can be avoided with proper flexibility and skeletal alignment.
You'll immediately feel the effectiveness of SMFR and its something you can do every day at home. You will basically be your own massage therapist. Listed below is a summary of the benefits of SMFR:
a. SMFR releases tension in your muscles due to overuse, tightness and aging.
b. The SMFR process restructures and realigns your skeletal system.
c. The SMFR process improves balance and body awareness.
d. SMFR can be used in the rehabilitation process and massage therapy.
e. SMFR can be used for Pilates exercises.
Here is an example of a SMFR hamstring exercise:
a. Place hamstrings on the roll with your hips unsupported.
b. Crossed your feet to increase leverage.
c. Roll from knee toward posterior hip.
d. If a "tender point" is located, stop rolling, and rest on the tender point until pain decreases by 75%.
4. Sports Massage Techniques - The benefits of sports massage include improved flexibility, tension release, relieving of swelling, alleviation of fatigue and prevention of injuries.
Your flexibility should not be underestimated. Failure to prepare your body for competition will cost you dearly in the form of pain and injuries.
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Mark Dilworth, BA, PES
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