By Ed Shepherd CHC, CPT
Flexibility, the ability of your body to move through its optimal range of motion, is thus an important component of our physical health. One of the primary ways that you can maintain your flexibility is through stretching.
Inactivity leads to tight muscles. Thanks in large part to the advances in technology, most of us are sitting more and more, and moving less and less. This is not good. Your body was not designed to be still and the more time spent being inactive, the more health problems can arise. Another negative side effect of increased time spent sitting is tight muscles. Staying in the same position for hours upon end, day in and day out, can lead to shortened and tight hips, lower backs and more. One simple yet effective way to counteract the deleterious effects on our muscles from sitting is stretching.
Activity leads to tight muscles. It may seem counterintuitive after discussing how inactivity can lead to tight muscles, but, yes, physical activity can also have the same harmful effects on your flexibility. This is especially true when you engage in the same type of exercise on a regular basis. Running, cycling, swimming – you name it; when you perform the same repetitive movements over and over, utilizing the same muscles in the same way, problems can arise. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to engage in numerous forms of exercise; changing the muscle recruitment patterns helps to naturally prevent flexibility issues from occurring. But, regardless of the type of exercise you engage in, muscles will become tighter and stretching will help maintain your flexibility.
Becoming inflexible is not inevitable. It is indeed true that your chronological age is just a number. You have some control over the age-related physiological changes that happen as you age, especially those that correspond with the five components of fitness, including the loss of muscle mass (body composition), loss of muscular strength and loss of flexibility. Sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass as you age, can be slowed when you engage in strength training and eat adequate amounts of protein. Maintaining your flexibility is one of the five components to maintain as you age, the key being to keep active while practicing a consistent stretching routine.
Tightness can lead to dysfunction. Your body’s a very smart machine, yet it is only as strong as its weakest link. Your body is designed to function as a well-oiled kinetic chain, which simply means that movement in one part of your body sets off a chain of events that affects other parts of your body as well. When muscles are tight and unable to move in their range of motion, it can upset the natural movement patterns, resulting in discomfort and pain. It is therefore imperative that you maintain flexibility throughout your entire body to help keep your muscles performing well.
So, what kind of stretches should I do, and when?While the debate concerning stretching will indeed continue, top organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine agree on a few simple guidelines when it comes to static stretching:
- Stretch all your major muscle groups
- Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds
- You should feel a gentle stretch, not pain
- A great time to perform static stretching is after exercise, when the muscles are warm
True physical fitness comes from balance, from doing a little of everything on a regular basis. This holds true for cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and yes, stretching.
Flexibility is the range of motion around a joint. Maintaining good flexibility helps protect the muscles and joints from injury in all kinds of activity. A basic stretching program, such as 10-15 minutes of light stretching for the upper body, lower body, and core after a workout, may be all you need to improve this oft-neglected fitness component. Yoga, Pilates and Kickboxing classes can also add more structure to your flexibility program.Flexibility is increased by various activities, all designed to stretch joints, ligaments, and tendons. There are three types of exercise that are generally utilized to increase flexibility:
Dynamic stretching – the ability to complete a full range of motion of a particular joint. This type of flexibility is used in standard “warming up” exercises as it helps ready the body for physical activity.
Static-active stretching – holding the body or part of the body in a stretched position and maintaining that position for a period of time. One example of static-active stretching is the splits.
Ballistic stretching – only to be used when the body is already warmed up and limber from exercise, it involves stretching in various positions and bouncing.There are a number of ways to improve flexibility. A daily stretching regimen can be the simplest and most efficient way of achieving whole body flexibility.
The advantages of working on flexibility are:
- Unity of body, mind and spirit
- Elimination of stress and tension
- Muscular relaxation
- Body posture and symmetry
- Flexibility and lower back pain
- Relives muscular pain
- Injury prevention
Flexibility allows the individual to move elegantly, coordinated and relaxed. Many times the difference between mediocrity and excellence is flexibility. That is why is so important in the practice of kickboxing.