Flexibility

Flexibility is an important component of every fitness program.

Flexibility Programs can be performed everyday. With Resistance Training, you should always take a day off between training muscle groups. And with Cardiovascular Exercise,  you should plan on one or two days of rest each week.

Adding a Flexibility or Stretching element to your fitness program will improve your results in many ways. That’s because there are many benefits to improving your Flexibility, including;

  1. Relaxation of Stress and Tension
  2. Muscular Relaxation
  3. Self-Discipline
  4. Body Fitness, Posture, and Symmetry
  5. Relief of Low Back Pain
  6. Relief of Muscular Cramps
  7. Relief of Muscular Soreness
  8. Injury Prevention
  9. Enjoyment and Pleasure
  10. Union of the Body, Mind and Spirit

There are several common Stretching Techniques that you can utilize to improve and achieve optimal Flexibility.

The first (and most obvious) is Self Stretching.  This is the easiest way to get started, and that’s because you are always available to stretch yourself. Plus you are always with you. So you can Self Stretch any place, at home, the gym, hotel room, etc.  There are  three general sub-categories of Self Stretching.

  1. Static Stretching
  2. Ballistic Stretching
  3. Dynamic Stretching

 

Static Stretch – With a Static Stretch you will move into the stretch and once you feel the stretch, hold that position. Typically the stretch is held for a relatively long period of time (20-60 seconds). To get the most out of Static Stretching you should exhale into the stretch and relax as much a possible. You’ll also notice that after 20-40 seconds the sensation of the stretch will decrease. When that happens you should move into the stretch a little bit more and hold that “new” position for an additional 20-30 seconds.

There are several benefits of Self, Static Stretching. It is convenient. You can do it anytime, and anywhere. It feels good and is very relaxing. And it is very safe.

The downside of Self, Static Stretching is that the improvements that you will experience during the workout are often times transitory. Meaning that you’ll notice an improvement in your range of motion during the workout, but those gains are quickly lost. It’s common to be right back where you started at the beginning of your next stretching workout. While you can improve your flexibility over time, the process with Self, Static Stretching is very slow and will require a lot of patience.

Ballistic Stretching– Ballistic Stretching is also a Self Stretching technique. Its different from Static Stretching in that you will bounce in and out of the stretch at the end of your range of motion.

There is one benefit to Ballistic Stretching. If you are about to perform an activity that requires quick, explosive movements, then ballistic stretching can be used as part of the warm up to prepare you body for that activity.

But there are several downsides to ballistic stretching. There is a risk of bouncing too far into a stretch. This could result in a muscle strain. Which can lead to pain and soreness. Also repeatedly over stretching and straining muscles can lead to damage and scar tissue. Scar tissue, unlike muscle tissue is not elastic (it doesn’t stretch), therefore over the long term you could experience a reduction in range of motion/flexibility. Also there is a nervous system protective mechanism that will cause your muscle to contract if they are rapidly over stretched. This contraction’s purpose is to prevent a muscle pull. By performing ballistic stretches you can trigger this response. If you do, a contracted muscle is more tense than a relaxed muscle, thus you limit your ability to stretch it.

If you plan on integrating Ballistic Stretching into your program, make sure that you are fully warmed up and stretched out. Then perform the ballistic stretches prior to your event (game/practice). Also your ballistic stretches should replicate the activity that you’re going to be performing.

Dynamic Stretching– The final type of Self Stretch is a Dynamic Stretch. With Dynamic Stretching you will move into and out of stretches. But unlike Ballistic Stretching you won’t bounce at the end of the stretch. Instead you’ll move slower and through your entire range of motion into and out of the stretch. These movement are more complex than typical stretches. Think along the line of a flow Yoga class, Tai Chi, or a dancer warming up. These type of movements have been merging into athletics so you might be familiar with some of them.

There are a ton of benefits to Dynamic Stretching. First of all it takes strength to move into and out of the stretches. As you develop an increased range of motion you’ll simultaneously be developing strength in that new found range of motion. That is the key to maintaining flexibility and seeing rapid improvements. It is safe. You can easily replicate the movement patterns of your upcoming activity. You’re body temperature will stay elevated. Being properly warmed up is vital to an effective Flexibility workout.

The only downside to Dynamic Flexibility is that the movements can be complex. It’s easy for people to perform them incorrectly. So you’ll need to take some time and learn how to do the stretches the correct way.

The Second Type of Stretch is an Assisted Stretch

Assisted Stretches utilize a partner to help you achieve a greater stretch. No matter how much you know about Flexibility, a stretching partner will always be able to generate a deeper stretches than attempting to stretch on your own. The obstacle is that you are dependent upon some one else. That person may not always be available.

The three general sub-categories of Assisted Stretching are;

  1. Passive
  2. Active Assist
  3. PNF

Passive Stretch– With a Partner Assisted, Passive Stretch the stretchee should relax as much as possible. The stretch partner will move the stretchee into all of the stretches. Once a full stretch is achieved the Partner will hold that position for a specific period of time. This time is similar to the Self Static Stretching (20-60 seconds).

The benefits of Passive Stretching is that it is very safe. You can experience a deeper stretch than you’re able to on your own. It can be done anywhere.

The only downside is that you are dependant on someone else to assist you who may not always be available. And progress can be quite slow, like the Self Static stretch. It may feel like you’re starting at the same level at the beginning of each workout.

Active Assist– Active Assist is similar to Passive except the Stretchee is engaged in the process. For an Active Assist stretch, the stretchee will move into the stretch (using the opposing muscle group) as far a possible. At that point the assistant will push the stretchee into a deeper stretch. This type of stretch takes advantage of a physiological response in the body called Reciprocal Inhibition. Reciprocal Inhibition can be somewhat difficult to understand. But just know this. In order for your body to move, muscles must contract. To perform a specific movement you have to contract specific muscles, also the muscles that perform the opposite of your desired movement must relax. Those relaxed muscles are neurologically inhibited.

That inhibition results in a deeper stretch. The Active Assist stretch begins to utilized some of the principles of the final type of stretch PNF.

The benefits of the Partner Active Assist Stretch is that you’ll experience deeper stretching and improved results compared to Static and Passive Stretching.

The downside is that you’re still dependant upon a partner.

PNF– PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. Proprioception is subconscious awareness of your body in time and space. Try this. Extend your right arm out to your side then close your eyes. Slowly bend your elbow and bring your finger in toward your nose. Stop just before you touch your nose. Now open your eyes. Your finger got pretty close to your nose with out touching it, didn’t it? That is because you have proprioceptors (sensory nerves) in every joint in your body, including your elbow. You had a sense of the angle of your elbow and the position of your finger even though you couldn’t see them. That’s proprioception.

So in PNF Stretching the assistant takes advantage of our knowledge of how the nervous system and proprioceptors work. There are several techniques available within the realm of PNF Stretching.  Including;

  1. Repeated Contractions
  2. Rhythmic Initiation
  3. Slow Reversal
  4. Slow Reversal-Hold
  5. Rhythmic Stabilization
  6. Contract-Relax
  7. Hold-Relax
  8. Slow Reversal-Hold-Relax
  9. Agonistic Reversal

The benefit of PNF is that it is very effective at increasing Flexibility within a workout session. It also results in rapid flexibility improvements over time. It has been studied extensively and it is very effective. In addition to improvements in Flexibility it also helps improve strength and joint stability. In my opinion Dynamic Self Stretch and Partner Assisted PNF are the way to go.

Now for the downside of PNF. If you’re interested in improving your flexibility, but you’ve decided to go to school and pursue a career in something other than fitness you are probably unsure about how to implement PNF into your workouts. That’s because it’s complicated. You have to have an extensive background in exercise science and specific training in the administration of PNF stretching techniques. That is a huge downside. You can’t just grab your spouse or a friend and head out to the gym and do PNF stretching.

If you’re serious about your Flexibility and you want to incorporate PNF into your routine, then you should seek out a professional in your area for help. It will be worth it. Otherwise stick to the other techniques I’ve addressed in this post. But do add a Flexibility component to your routine. You’ll feel great and your body will thank you.

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