Usually, people use cardio for heart health and weight lifting for strength, but there is a third form of health that needs an equal amount of attention; flexibility. Flexibility is being able to move through your full range of motion and can help with some of those pesky aches and pains you may have. Keep reading to learn the basics!
What is Flexibility?
Flexibility is the ability to have optimum range of motion (ROM) and neuromuscular control throughout ROM to prevent injury and increase functional efficiency. In other words, you want to be able to move your joints through their full ROM without any pain or restriction. Flexibility looks different on different people. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to flexibility and stretching routines, so it’s okay if you can’t do the splits or fold up into a pretzel or whatever this lady is doing🤷♀️.
There are many variables that may cause a lack in normal joint flexibility such as injury, inactivity, or the obvious, a lack of stretching. Your ROM is also influenced by the mobility of the soft tissues surrounding the joint (muscles, tendons, ligaments, joint capsules and fascia). It’s also important to note that activity without stretching can lead to a shortening in these soft tissues overtime causing fatigue, and no one wants that!
There are two types of flexibility:
- Static flexibility, which refers to a person’s ability to hold a position with the use of an outside force such as gravity or manual assistance. An example would be holding yourself in a split or a hamstring stretch.
- Dynamic flexibility is when you can actively work through a ROM quickly, with control and without the help of an outside force. Think of a martial artist doing a high kick or a gymnast flipping in and out of a back bend.
Flexibility is sport specific, meaning, a baseball player doesn’t need the same flexibility as an MMA fighter. For the average Joe’s and Jolene’s, you only have to worry about moving easily through you daily routine, having good posture and safely completing your workouts.
What are the benefits of being flexible?
When your soft tissues become stiff, you experience a decrease in ROM which can lead poor movement patterns. If you regularly stretch, you can improve your posture, have a better ROM, decrease your aches and your daily activities will become easier. A decrease in flexibility also leads to an increase in work required to move certain parts of your body.
Less flexibility = More work = More fatigue = A more stressed you.
Plus, having good flexibility potentially means you are less likely to get injured because your muscles will be better equipped to handle impact. Be sure to stretch according to your sport and daily routine. If you are not sure what you need to stretch, speak to a trainer or physical therapist to help you out.
Did you know there are also psychological benefits of stretching?!?
Stretching has been found to decrease the levels of muscle-tension, stress-related hormones and can also decrease sadness. I don’t know about you, but I could really use some help with those stress-hormones!
How to get more flexible.
Flexibility training integrates various stretches in all three planes of motion to produce maximum extensibility of tissues.
When you’re stretching, you’ll want to get to the point of slight discomfort and hold for about 30 to 60 seconds for 2 or 3 reps. Do not push past the discomfort! Doing so can increase your chances of pulling or straining the muscle; or at the very least, make it tighter (gotta love that Golgi Tendon Organ).
As you’re stretching, be sure to not bounce your body and try your best to relax your breathing and your muscles while keeping a slight bend in your joints. You’ll also want to warm up your muscles before hand to prevent injury.
There are two modes of stretching you should know about:
- Static stretching is what first comes to mind when you think about stretching. You ease your way into a stretch and hold for 30 to 60 seconds. This type of stretching is most beneficial at the end of a workout. Static stretching can be either active or passive. Active static stretching is when you do the stretching yourself and you’re using other muscles to help you to stretch a specific muscle. Passive static stretching refers to when you have a partner help you stretch or you simply let gravity help you.
- Dynamic stretching is usually included in the warm up before your workout. In dynamic stretching you’ll use control to repeatedly move through ROM of specific muscle groups to prepare those muscles for a particular exercise. Think walking lunges, air squats and inchworms.
Common tight muscles.
Here is a quick list of muscles that often get tight when you sit for long periods of time.
HIP FLEXORS. Hip flexors are at the front of your hips, and as the name implies, they flex your hips. So, when you’e sitting down, they stay in a flexed position, making them tight. Tight hip flexors can cause low back pain and poor posture. Here is a quick visual explanation of the hip flexors and how you can stretch them.
PIRIFORMIS. The piriformis lies behind the glute muscles and helps to rotate your hips outward. This muscle runs through your greater sciatic foramen which is why you may have sciatic pain when this muscle gets tight. Trust me, it’s VERY uncomfortable. Here are some ways you can take care of your piriformis.
PLANTAR FASCIA. The plantar fascia is the soft tissue located on the bottom of your foot and supports your arch. You may have heard, or even experienced plantar fasciitis, which is when the plantar fascia becomes irritated and inflamed. To prevent or ease plantar fascia pain you should stretch your calves and your foot. If you’re still having pain, you can try night splints and/or getting shoes with better arch support.
PECS. There are multiple muscles in the front of your chest, but what we are looking at for this example are your pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. People who sit for long periods of time often begin to slouch. Slouching causes those pectoral muscles to get and stay tight, thus leading to consistent bad posture (which will your mood and your confidence). Follow along with this video to relax those pesty pecs.
There is one more thing I want to mention while we are on the topic of sitting. When you sit for long durations, you may develop an anterior pelvic tilt. This tilt in the pelvis implies you have weak glutes and weak abdominal muscles while also having tight hip flexors and spinal erectors. Here is an example of an anterior pelvic tilt and how you can fix it.
Please please PLEASE visit your doctor, a chiropractor, and/or a physical therapist to help if you have chronic pain or if you have severe discomfort during or after stretching.
I really hope this was informative and helpful as you embark on your journey to better flexibility.
Feel free to comment below or message me with any questions you have!
The next post in the flexibility series will be a quick run through of beginner stretches and will be published June 11th, 2020. Is there something specific you want me to include? Let me know below!
As always, just keep going. Becoming flexible is a process that takes daily consistency, but it’s 100% worth it.
NASM stretching course