Here are benefits of flexibility and samples of exercises, which you may consider to improve it.
What Is Flexibility?
Flexibility is an important aspect of overall fitness. The common people think that flexibility is the ability of the body to perform stretching, but in fact, the definition of flexibility is much more complicated.
As the American Council on Exercise (ACE) states, “flexibility is the range of motion of a given joint or group of joints or the level of tissue extensibility that a muscle group possesses.” Thus, each group of muscles has its own flexibility, which allows performing certain actions. For instance, if your hamstrings are limber enough, then you can touch your toes. But it doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to bend backward easily because this ability is provided by the quadriceps.
There are some factors, which affect flexibility:
- Age. The older the person is, the lower is the flexibility level.
- Gender. Women tend to be more flexible than men.
- Time of the day. The level of flexibility is the lowest in the morning.
- Muscle elasticity and laxity of ligaments. After injuries, the flexibility decreases and muscles become tighter. Also, the ligaments become lax.
- Temperature. Warmth promotes flexibility.
- Types of joints. There some joints, which are more flexible than others. For instance, a shoulder is more flexible than the knee.
- Bony structures. Sometimes, spurs grow in a human’s body and they may limit the motion.
So, the overall flexibility of the body is affected by certain factors and is achieved through certain training. In particular, stretching improves flexibility. There are several types of stretching training.
- Static stretching
It implies that you hold the position, which lengthens certain muscles, for 15 – 60 seconds. The goal is to overcome the stretch reflex and to achieve a wider range of motion (ROM).
- Dynamic stretching
You move in and out of the position, which lengthens muscle groups. Also, sometimes a gentle bouncing movement is included into dynamic stretching. The goal is to develop an active ROM.
- Active isolated stretching (AIS)
This type is called to prevent the muscle imbalance. You move your joint through a complete range of motion, hold for some time, then return to the starting point and repeat.
Why Is Flexibility Important?
Being flexible helps to perform well in sport, reduces the risk of injuries, promotes the muscle balance. And these are the benefits, which lie on the surface. Actually, there are other advantages of flexibility, which are vital for the person.
Lowers the risk for injuries and prevents pain
If your muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments are limber, then you are more resilient to sudden movements, which prevents accidental injuries. For instance, such problems as disc strains, weak shoulders, which occur while lifting, back ache due to the sitting, bending, walking and standing may be prevented.
Improves performance in many sports
If your muscles are toned up, then you perform all activities easier. It happens because your range of motion is increased. In particular, cardio exercises such as running, walking and cycling become less effort consuming and their duration increases.
Enables muscles to work efficiently
It relieves tension in muscles because the circulation is improved. Thus, nutrients and oxygen are delivered to muscles and joints and eventually, they become more relaxed and more flexible.
A good posture
Flexibility fortifies a good posture, whereas a bad posture can trigger nerve compression, joint misalignment, etc. Studies show that a static stretching may reduce muscle tightness and contribute to the formation of a healthy posture.
A healthy sleep is vital for well-being. If you are too hyped in the evening, preoccupied with problems, it may cause sleep disturbances. If you take 15 minutes to do stretching before going to sleep, it will clear your mind and relax the body.
Reduces stress levels
If you are stressed out, then flexibility training, combined with proper breathing techniques, eliminates stress. You become concentrated on the exercises, abstract from the outside world and the stress level is reduced.
During stretching, you learn how to breathe properly. You relax and allow yourself to focus on breathing. If you breathe properly, then you stretch deeper.
It is very important because if the breathing technique is wrong, it may cause headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
Exercises To Enhance Flexibility
Stretching exercises improve the flexibility of the body, which contributes to the overall health. According to Canada’s Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living, it is recommended to perform flexibility training from 4 to 7 days a week. The intensity of exercises should be moderate, they shouldn’t be painful. As for the duration of each session, it depends on the needs of the person. But usually, the minimum duration of the training is 10 minutes.
There are some general guidelines you should stick to if you are engaged in flexibility training:
- Work within your limits. It’s better to go slowly, but surely.
- Use right breathing techniques. Breathe comfortably and choose an appropriate tempo.
- For each muscle group, there should be certain exercises.
- Modify your sessions. You may change the difficulty of exercises through interchanging single-joint and multi-joint movements. Alter the position of the stretch, the stretching technique and the effect of gravity (assistance and resistance).
- Stop if you feel pain, it means that the tissue may be injured. Stretching shouldn’t be painful.
- Make sure that your muscles are warm, then they lengthen more easily.
- Stay hydrated during the sessions.
Here are some samples of exercises for those, who want to improve flexibility via stretching.
Focus on: chest muscles
Bend the right elbow at the right angle, place the forearm against the door jamb and apply forward pressure with the right shoulder. Hold and repeat with your other side.
Focus on: deltoids (muscles on the outside of the shoulders)
Move the right arm across the chest, hook the elbow of the left arm around the elbow of the right arm and pull in. Hold for some time and switch sides.
Focus on: back muscles
These muscles may be stretched through different movements: flexion, lateral flexion, extension, and rotation.
Flexion – stand firm on your feet, put hands on your sides, bend forward and try to touch your toes. Hold for some time.
Lateral flexion – put arms at your sides, bend laterally as far as possible to each side.
Extension – put hands on your hips, bend backward while keeping the lower body still.
Rotation – stand firm, rotate the upper body to each side as far as possible. Hold each position for a desired amount of time.
Focus on: triceps and biceps
To stretch the triceps, place the left hand on the upper back, grab the elbow with your right hand and pull the arm toward the right side. Then release the pressure and switch the side.
To stretch the biceps, stand with your back to a wall, reach back and place your hands shoulder-width apart on it and turn your fingers in at an angle and hold. When doing this, bend forward slightly at the hips and keep your arms straight.
Focus on: quadriceps
Lift the right foot off the floor and bend the knee. Your lower leg should be behind the body. Carefully grasp the right ankle with the right hand and pull straight up until your heel is by your butt. Hold and then change sides.
Focus on: calves, hamstrings
Step the right foot forward, lower your chest down on your hip and place hands on the floor. Lean forward slightly and feel the stretch in the back of your legs. Note that there should be a straight line from the shoulders to the left heel. Hold for some time and alter sides.
Thereby, health benefits of a good flexibility cannot be overestimated. If you want to be healthy, have a harmonious muscle balance, don’t be afraid of small injuries and perform physical exercises without much effort, then you should develop it. The one thing for you to remember is that you shouldn’t push yourself beyond your limits and always listen to your body.
Written by Helen Rogers http://thecrossfitshoes.com/