flexibilityFlexibility training can sometimes be considered the most undervalued component of fitness conditioning. We feel flexibility regimes should be a regular component of your physical fitness training routines for optimal performance. We consider flexibility as a major part of your fitness training to help achieve better performance and healthier living. It is also a "must do" routine for all athletes. Although there are different kinds of flexibilities and different methods of stretching to increase flexibility, your stretching routines should be training-specific to what you are trying to accomplish.

Even if you are not physically active frequently, the more flexible one's body is will allow more energy to flow through the body easier throughout the day. Exercise routines will improve more quickly and you will feel better as well. Greater flexibility also allows for better body posture which makes the body easier to move and balance. Overall strength can improve as the body is able to increase its range of motion and injuries may be prevented along with reducing muscle tightness.

Flexibility for Sports

Flexibility is an important element of training for athletes. A more flexible athlete is a more mobile, balanced and stronger athlete. Athletes involved in dynamic sports require speed, power, timing and agility. Sports that are dynamic require an athlete to have lighting speed reflexes, perform quick changes in positions and directions, and need to be able to react in seconds.

Some specific sports such as martial arts, gymnastics, skiing, etc. require the body to be in constant balance flux while having to exert power, speed and timing at the same time. In this case, the more flexibility an athlete has, the faster the neural and muscular reflexes will be. If flexibility is not properly maintained regularly, the athlete's performance is going to diminish over time. This could also sustain serious injury if the body is quickly forced into a position where the joints or limbs lack the proper range of motion.

Flexibility for General Fitness and Wellness

Incorporating flexibility training in your exercise routines regularly is not just for athletes nor does it have to follow the same guidelines. Regular stretching routines should be considered in all areas of fitness if you want to achieve maximum health and fitness benefits. However, practicing flexibility does not necessarily mean you must increase your range of motion per body part every time you attempt stretching routines for it to be worth your time. Many people who are not athletes or who are not involved in high levels of physical fitness sports use the flexibility practices of yoga, Tai Chi or other therapeutic flexibility methods to achieve better mental awareness, increased energy, better mobility and a more balanced body.

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Flexibility Routines

Below are effective flexibility routines that will help improve athletic performance and general health and fitness goals.

Dynamic Flexibility and Stretching

This form of flexibility and stretching is more sports-specific, generally for athletes although we find it can be quite helpful in use with strength training and general fitness. It helps increase range of motion, improve mental awareness and endurance. Dynamic flexibility usually consists of moving a joint at increasing speeds within its full range of motion. This type of flexibility is generally helpful in exercise movements and sport routines that usually require compound or two-jointed movements.

Example sports: Martial arts disciplines often involve frequent changes in balance while performing controlled quick actions. Kicking and lifting the leg above its normal range of motion are common movements. This requires movements from the lower back, hips, legs, groin and knees. Therefore, using dynamic flexibility routines as a warm-up will help prepare the practitioner to set the mind and body in better balance and harmony and allow for more precise movements.

Example routines

Static-Active Flexibility and Stretching (while using the tension of the agonist muscles to hold the assumed position)

Static-Active flexibility involves a range of motion that only allows the antagonist muscle(s) to stretch with using the tension of the agonist muscle(s). In other words, there is no external assistance involved. Usually the assumed position being focused on is held for a few seconds. This type of flexibility is often helpful in use with a dynamic stretch before performing exercise routines, sports, etc. It can also be used as a cool-down when finishing your exercising routine to help reduce tightness or soreness in fatigued muscles. If you use this stretching at the beginning of your workout it is more beneficial to use it after the dynamic stretch. This particular flexibility works well for people using more passive exercising routines who are not seeking to have maximum flexibility results. It can also be used by those who have sustained ongoing injury and is not limited to just athletes.

Example Static-Active Routine

Lying on your back on the floor, raise your leg up and as far back as possible. Hold this position for about 10 seconds. Note that you are not trying to go beyond the stretch reflex here. We are just moving the joint and muscle to its present range of motion and letting the antagonists comfortably relax while the muscles are lengthened. This can help with tight or sore muscles. Active stretching is generally not designed to achieve maximum flexibility results.

Example Dynamic Routine Followed by an Active Routine

Swinging side leg raises for repetitions (dynamic)
Once you feel you are ready for a further stretch, raise your leg up slowly to the stretch reflex without forcing it beyond. Hold the assumed position in a controlled manner for a few seconds and then let the muscles relax as they are lengthened (active).

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Static-Passive Flexibility and Stretching

Static-Passive flexibility involves taking a position and holding it in depth with your own body weight (e.g., the splits) or a external object (e.g., floor, chair, partner). This type of stretching is primarily for dramatically increasing flexibility and strengthening isometric contractions to lengthen muscles. Note: this should be only be attempted in post-workouts. Static-Passive stretching can often lead to a sense of feeling muscle fatigue due to over-stretching them. Over-stretched muscles can lose their elasticity before engaging in exercising that requires quick reflexes and precision coordination. Passive stretching can be used for both athletes and general fitness but is highly recommended to not be performed before attempting high intense exercising or sports-related activity.

Example of Using Static-Passive Flexibility

Some forms of yoga routines consist of stretches where the limbs are taken to their furthest range of motion and held for longer periods of time. Yoga practices do not require the body to perform speed, power or agility movements (yoga is not a sport). In this case, yoga is a routine where this type of stretching can be used solely by itself.

Improving flexibility for dynamic sports such as martial arts, gymnastics, etc. requires stretches that allow the joints and muscles to be stretched to their furthest range of motion. This type of flexibility must be not only be maintained but also improved upon as much as possible. In some cases often this training will involve routines in which muscle groups will be stretched to their furthest range and then held in position while an isometric stretch or contraction is applied. This allows the lengthened muscles to be fatigued and then a second stretch is applied for achieving greater flexibility. This idea can also be referred to as the PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) routine. PNF is a combination of a isometric and static stretch done usually with a partner.

Example of PNF Flexibility and Stretching

Take a assumed group of muscles (e.g., hamstring) and raise the leg up to its furthest range of motion. Then have a partner push against your leg while you push your leg into his force (this is the isometric contraction). Contract the muscles while the opposing force is applied for about 7-10 seconds. Hold the position and then relax the muscle. Stretch the muscle again while trying to get a further range of motion than the previous time. The stretched muscle should be relaxed before the second stretch is attempted. Note that this works well for several repetitions for each muscle group and should only be performed post-workout prior to a warm-down.

Dynamic Warming-Up and Stretching for Sports and Fitness

Stretching prior to your fitness routines should be included as part of the warm-up - not the warm-up itself. We define warming-up as a sports-specific routines used to help center and balance the mind and body so the athlete is mentally alert and the body is moving in a precise manner. Our general rule is that the warm-up should mimic the specific movements that resemble your sport or exercises.

Warming-up usually should consist of three phases. A moderate aerobic routine (sports-specific) followed by a warm-up of joints. The final phase of the warm-up should be the flexibility-stretch routines. Depending on what type of fitness or sports goals you are aiming for, you should determine the type of warm-up and stretching routine which is best for you. Typically, dynamic stretches are used as part of a warm-up and static flexibility training are used for increasing range of motion after a workout.

Dynamic Warming-Down and Post Stretching

Our definition of warming-down is similar to the warm-up phase, except in reverse order. We often like to end our training with a feeling of mental alertness, re-centering of the mind and body and a feeling of balance and harmony. Warming-down usually consists of a (sports-specific) aerobic routine followed by a dynamic and static-passive stretch. The final phase usually involves some meditation to help re-focus.

A dynamic warm-down and post-workout stretch are key requirements to achieving increased flexibility, relieving soreness and reducing post-workout tightness. This should be performed as soon as possible. If you do not stretch after exercising or wait until the body is cooled-down too much, your chances of increasing your flexibility are slim over time. You may also experience less range of motion if you do not practice flexibility training. This is particularly true if your area of fitness is to build lean muscle tissue (e.g., body building).

The more muscle a person acquires without regular flexibility routines, the less likely are the chances of increasing flexibility. Also if you do not stretch at all or not very often, muscles that are put through constant rigorous strains usually will experience constant soreness, fatigue and loss of energy. The greatest gains of increasing flexibility will be made when muscles and joints are stretched on a regular basis to a maximum capacity. This allows lactic acid to be removed from the blood stream and will help reduce tightness, soreness and provide help with injury prevention.

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