Many people don’t understand flexibility and how important it is to an overall fitness plan. The three parts of fitness are flexibility, aerobic training, and strength training. All are important when developing a well-rounded fitness program.
What is flexibility?
Flexibility is how much movement you have in your joints. Some joints may be more flexible than others. Regular activity and different types of stretching can improve your flexibility. You can work on less flexible joints to make them more flexible.
About Your Joints
Each joint (or set of joints) is made up of:
- connective tissue and muscle
- cartilage (protective tissue)
Each of your joints has a different level of flexibility. For example, you might be able to reach your arm to scratch your low back, which shows you have good shoulder flexibility. Or, if you can’t reach your toes, you may have poor flexibility in the hips and low back.
Your overall flexibility is affected by:
- your gender
- your age
- how active you are
- your body shape
Improving Flexibility with Stretching
Stretching is really flexibility training. Using stretches correctly can increase your range of motion and flexibility of a joint.
There are two types of stretching:
Static stretching: Most people have done static stretching before. This type of stretching is when you slowly move a joint until you feel the stretch and then hold the position for 15 to 60 seconds. This type of stretching slowly stretches the muscle and connective tissue of the joint. For example, when you bend over to try to touch your toes and hold the position, you’ll feel the hip and low back muscles stretching.
Dynamic stretching: This type of stretching is when you move in a controlled way. The movement usually starts gently and then slowly increases in reach or speed. For example, you may start by doing some slow, gentle arm circles. Then you slowly increase making the circles wider and do the motion faster. You need to be careful with dynamic stretching because if you use too much energy or do sudden movements, it might be painful or you could get hurt.
Does stretching help you warm up before an activity?
No. You need to be warmed up before you stretch. The muscles and connective tissue around joints need to be warm
before stretching. Warm up your muscles by doing a 5 to 10 minute aerobic session. This will increase your heart rate, warm up your body, and it will make you start to sweat.
Does stretching before being active prevent injuries?
It isn’t known. Injuries from being active depend on the type of activity, your fitness level, or old injuries.
Does stretching before or after being active prevent muscle soreness?
It isn’t known. Whether you stretch before or after a vigorous exercise session, you might still have sore muscles right after or later on, which is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOM).
What are the benefits of stretching and improved flexibility?
To improve your flexibility, add more stretching into your exercise routines. Stretching more will:
improve your range of motion: Having a good range of motion in all of the joints is important for everyone. Each day, you reach, bend, and make all kinds of different body movements. If you don’t have good flexibility, then many of these movements can be very hard to do and they might also be painful. Even if you’re active and don’t have pain in your joints, better range of motion can help. With regular stretching, you might even find that you’ll be able to do activities easier.
make your muscles less tight: For many people, stretching helps tense and tight muscles. If your muscles are too tight, it can affect how you sit or stand, which leads to poor posture. This is why it’s a good idea to stretch at work. If you sit a lot for your job, do some stretching to help tight muscles in many parts of the body.
improve your mental health: Stretching is a good way to connect to your body and take time for yourself. This is why stretching and yoga are very popular. A yoga class will have stretching and a chance to have a mind, body, and spiritual connection. Stretching can also help you relax so you can unwind and manage stress.
Stretch and Flex into Your Future
Now that you know more about flexibility and the benefits of stretching, take time to add more stretching into activities and make better flexibility one of your goals. If you’re not sure what kinds of exercises or stretching to do, talk to a certified exercise professional.