Flexibility training is all form of exercise where a muscle or group of muscles are lengthened by a stretching action force. The main purpose is improved elasticity, muscle tone and thus better range of motion, increased blood flow and more strength.
This increased circulation of blood is useful in the recovery process between training sessions. It can also play an inportant role at preventing injuries.
Lack of flexibility is for example one problem area in a holistic fitness program. Many of us concentrate most of our time with the necessary muscle contractions in resistance and cardiovascular training, and we tend to give too little time to flexibility training.
A person's flexibility can be defined as the range of movement possbile around a joint or a range of joints. By increasing this joint range of movement, performance may be enhanced and the risk of injury reduced. The rationale for this is that a limb can move further before an injury occurs.
A number of anatomical and physiological factors influence an athlete's flexibility. While some we are stuck with (such as age, gender, and joint structure), others are under our control. These include activity level, muscle bulk and stretching exercises.
With appropriate training, fexibility can, and should, be developed at all ages. This does not imply, however, that fexibility can be developed at the same rate by everyone. In general, the older you are, the longer it will take to develop the desired level of flexibility.
The main reason we become less flexible as we get older is a result of certain changes that take place in our connective tissues. As we age, our bodies gradually dehydrate to some extent. It is believed that "stretching stimulates the production or retention of lubricants between the connective tissue fibers, thus preventing the formation of adhesions". Hence, exercise can delay some of the loss of flexibility that occurs due to the aging process.
Strength training and flexibility training should go hand in hand. It is a common misconception that there must always be a trade off between flexibility and strength. Obviously, if you neglect flexibility training altogether in order to train for strength then you are certainly sacrificing flexibility (and vice versa). However, performing exercises for both strength and flexibility need not sacrifice either one. As a matter of fact, flexibility training and strength training can actually enhance one another.
Types of flexibility
- Dynamic flexibility -- the ability to perform dynamic movements within the full range of motion in the joint. Common examples include twisting from side to side or kicking an imaginary ball. Dynamic flexibility is generally more sport-specific than other forms of mobility.
- Static Active flexibility -- this refers to the ability to stretch an antagonist muscle using only the tension in the agonist muscle. An example is holding one leg out in front of you as high as possible. The hamstring (antagonist) is being stretched while the quadriceps and hip flexors (agonists) are holding the leg up.
- Static Passive flexibility -- the ability to hold a stretch using body weight or some other external force. Using the example above, holding your leg out in font of you and resting it on a chair. The quadriceps are not required to hold the extended position.
Main types of stretches
- Dynamic Stretching uses speed of movement, momentum and active muscular effort to bring about a stretch . Unlike static stretching the end position is not held. Arms circles, exaggerating a kicking action and walking lunges (without weights) are examples of dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretching is useful before training and has been shown to reduce muscle tightness. More recent scientific studies seem to suggest that dynamic stretches before training are preferably to static stretches, specially before resistance training.
- Static Active Stretching requires the strength of the opposing muscle groups to hold the limb in position for the stretch. For example, standing on one leg and holding the opposite leg out directly in front of you is classed as a static active stretch. The quadriceps actively hold the stretched limb.
- Static Passive Stretching is slow and constant and held at an end position for up to 30 seconds. Static passive stretching uses an external force to hold the stretch in position. No muscle groups are statically contracted to hold the limb in position - as they are with static active stretching.
Dynamic Stretching Vs Static Stretching
Dynamic stretches involve motion i.e., actively moving a joint through a range of motions, while static stretching requires you to hold a stretch and does not involve motion. As per some research reports, static stretching doesn't really aid in injury prevention and performance enhancement. Static stretching in fact, decreases muscle strength by up to 9% for an hour after the stretch. Static stretching is not recommended before a game or dynamic activity, as it doesn't optimize performance on the field. On the other hand, dynamic stretching exercises prepare the body for movement.
- Stretching and Flexibility - Everything you never wanted to know; Brad Appleton.
- The Physiology of Flexibility; Sports fitness advisor.
- Dynamic Stretching; Chandni Dwivedi
- Effects of a static stretching program on the incidence of lower extremity musculotendinous strains; Cross, K.M., and T.W. Worrell.
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