By: Alex Dial of Share It Fitness
When we think of flexibility, two things usually come to mind: Dancers or gymnasts, and pain. An often overlooked aspect of fitness, flexibility is crucial to the body’s sound structure, and a cornerstone of any decent exercise program. Movement is only as possible as flexibility allows, and in many ways, strength is contingent upon the flexibility of any given joint and the structures surrounding it.
So what, EXACTLY, is flexibility? Flexibility is defined as the range of motion about a joint. For us, this means that a flexible joint moves painlessly and with ease to a given position within its plane of movement.
It’s best to think of flexibility in two ways: Static flexibility and dynamic flexibility. Static flexibility defines how far a joint can flex in a static, or unmoving position, such as a gymnast holding a split. Dynamic flexibility defines how far a joint can flex in motion, such as a dancer performing a split leap. Static flexibility begets dynamic flexibility, meaning that the more flexible a joint is in stasis, the more range it will have in motion. This is important to athletes because it means that static stretching on its own will improve dynamic flexibility, which has many benefits for any athlete.
A more flexible joint facilitates health and fitness by increasing the range through which exercises can be performed, as well as encouraging economy of movement. Stretching prior to and after exercise is thought to reduce soreness and improve blood flow throughout exercising muscles. Flexibility, when paired with proper exercise and muscular balance, has been shown to improve posture, reduce back pain, improve digestion, and enhance performance. With all those benefits, who can say no to a little stretch with every workout?
There are a few key things to remember when stretching the muscles. The first is that every major muscle group should be stretched after any workout, or at least three times per week. Secondly, each stretch must be held for a *minimum* of thirty seconds (longer than you think! Use a clock or count aloud) in order to be effective. If you can do a full minute per stretch, that’s even better. Third, remember to breathe evenly and deeply throughout the entire stretch. Breathing helps to relax the muscle group and oxygenate the tissues being elongated. Progress from one major muscle group to the next in any order you like, and don’t forget the little ones! Be sure to stretch your quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, chest, shoulders, calves, sides, adductors (inside thighs), and rotator cuff muscles.
Take the time on any day to stretch for a few seconds, after driving, sitting for long periods, or watching TV. You’ll feel so much better