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Flexibility training falls into the same category as flossing every day, eating the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, and not putting anything smaller than your elbow into your ear. We know the advice is sound, yet many of us, for no legitimate reason, find ourselves not following it.
Flexibility training is the overlooked aspect of weight training and fitness, which is unfortunate because the benefits are real, and the possible negative impact of not following a regular flexibility routine can lead to serious issues.
The term "flexibility" refers to the range of motion (ROM) around a joint. It is the basis for good posture, reduces the possibility of muscle tension and soreness, and reduces the risk of injury. Inadequate flexibility can lead to poor posture and prohibit normal muscle function. For example, a lack of good flexibility in pelvic muscles, hamstrings, hip flexors, and quadriceps can lead to lower back problems.
You and your personal training clients, from professional athletes to senior citizens, can benefit from flexibility training. It basically involves stretching muscles, such as the hamstrings, hips, and lower back, before undertaking a workout or another form of physical activity. Also known as mobility training, this pre-workout routine will enhance performance by allowing joints and muscles to work at optimal levels.
"Stretching" and "warming up" often are used interchangeably but they are not the same thing. A proper warm-up, which could include 10 minutes of walking, jogging, or biking, should be done before performing stretching exercises. Stretching while the body is cold can lead to injury. Plus, an increased body temperature helps increase the joint's ROM.
There are two types of stretching: static stretching and dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretches should be done before a workout and static stretches after the workout.
Dynamic stretching calls for using momentum to propel the muscle into an extended ROM without holding the position at the end. In most cases, these movements mirror those that will be performed during the ensuing workout or sport.
The movements should be controlled in order to prevent injury. No longer than 10 to 15 minutes is needed for your clients to properly prepare for a workout or physical activity, and it should be considered time well spent. Stretching should be done to the point of mild discomfort in order to increase ROM. Remind your clients to continue to breathe normally during the stretching to enhance relaxation.
If you're training athletes, you can customize stretching and flexibility training to fit their sport by focusing on the muscles and joints that are most often used while participating. Any movements that are common while competing should get the most attention. The idea is to perform the movements at a low level and gradually increase the intensity and speed as the body warms up.
Static stretching, which, again, should be done following a workout, involves holding a position from 10 to 30 seconds. All weight training workouts should be followed by a few minutes of static stretching to allow the involved joints to regain their full ROM. It also helps reduce muscle soreness after exercise. In addition, muscles will remain in balance, which promotes good posture.
Muscles tend to become less elastic once the body cools down after a workout, so stretching immediately after the workout maximizes muscle length and ROM. Healthy muscle tissue can be stretched to approximately twice its resting length.
Genetics play a role in flexibility, so some of your clients will be naturally more flexible than others. The structure and shape of the joint have a direct effect on the amount of flexibility in that joint. No matter the starting point, flexibility can be enhanced by committing to a relatively brief stretching routine at least three times a week. Intensive stretching should not be done every day because muscles and connective tissue need time to heal.
While flexibility is important, so, too, is strengthening the muscles around the joint to prevent injury. There needs to be adequate strength throughout the joint's ROM, including working antagonist muscles equally.
Using light weights and going through the full ROM will promote improved flexibility. As fatigue sets in, ROM decreases because the muscles tighten due to the workload. That makes stretching after your workout essential in order to maintain full ROM.
Most people tend to lose flexibility as they pass middle age, but that is due in part to inactivity. When not in use, the connective tissue in the joint becomes shortened. Regular exercise and dynamic and static stretching can help maintain the full ROM.
Past injuries also can affect flexibility, and women are often considered to be more flexible than men. But the opportunity exists for all to improve their flexibility.
Interested in muscle-related pain and movement issues? Sign up for the ISSA's Corrective Exercise Specialist online course today.