Flexibility is determined by the amount of pain-free motion your muscles and joints will allow. Sometimes the term “range of motion” is used. Proper amounts of flexibility are important for athletic performance but also in the ability to do normal daily activities. If movement in a joint structure occurs beyond its range of motion capacity, tissue damage can occur.
There are many misconceptions about flexibility. People often think of flexibility as being able to touch your toes or do the splits. Flexibility has more meaning than being able to accomplish those movements. For example, proper flexibility in the hips, when combined with core strength, may help minimize low back pain. Many people spend their days sitting, hunched over a computer or other electronic devices. Flexibility in musculature like the chest and shoulders can be important for proper postural alignment and minimizing imbalances in muscle length. Lack of proper flexibility in the ankles due to tight calf muscles can affect the ability to walk, squat, or perform other essential movements. Lack of mobility in the ankles can also result in overload of the muscles around the knees, causing knee pain.
Think of it this way: If you are stiff and have limited motion, then you will experience a higher level of resistance from this stiffness as you try to perform movement. It takes more effort on your part to overcome this resistance to motion and you will have to work harder to achieve the motion you want or need. Flexibility training can help!
There are several modalities of achieving flexibility. Three types are listed here.
- Dynamic stretching involves movement. The goal is to move various joints through a pain-free full range of motion pattern. It is an effective way to warm up muscles and joints you plan to use in your workout. For example, if you plan to perform weighted squats or a leg press, moving the hips, knees, and ankles through a similar dynamic movement pattern can prepare those joints, surrounding muscles and other tissues for the load they are about to experience. Movements like leg swings, knee/ quad pulls, scoops, and ankle flexion movements are a good place to start. Performing several body weight squats progressing in depth is a functional way to get the body ready for squats with a load.
- Static stretching involves holding a position passively while muscles are lengthened. The optimal time to perform static stretching is after a workout, when body temperature is elevated. The goal of static stretching is to create a more permanent length change in the muscle and surrounding tissues. To achieve this, static stretches must be held for about 20 – 30 seconds at a point near mild discomfort. There is no need to stretch to a point of greater discomfort as it does not achieve better results.
- PNF stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. This stretching technique is done with a partner, often in rehab settings or with someone who has experience with this technique. It involved a contract-relax type sequence and will not be elaborated upon in this text. If you have questions about it, ask fitness faculty.