Flexibility - What is Flexibility? What You Need to Know About Stretching

Woman stretching outside
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A person's flexibility refers to the ability of your joints to move through a full range of motion.  For every joint and every activity, there is a healthy range of motion that changes depending on what you're doing.

What Limits Flexibility?

I often hear clients say things like, "I'm so inflexible...I can't even do the splits like I used to!"  Um, that's actually normal.  What's abnormal is, well, being able to do the splits without training like a gymnast every day.

Yes, some of us have some limited flexibility and there are a variety of factors that go into that:

  • Your genes - Some people are more flexible than others and that may be because of inherited genetics
  • Joint structure - While we all have the same general structural foundation, our joints are all shaped a bit differently, which can change how flexible you are
  • Elasticity of the joints, tendons, connective tissue and muscles
  • The strength of the opposing muscle group

The Benefits of Flexibility

So, how often times do you skip the stretch at the end of your workout?  I do it all the time, but I'm reminded why it's important when I go through the benefits:

  • Increased performance:  If your joint is flexible, it requires less energy to move through the range of motion of the exercise you're doing.
  • Better posture
  • Less muscle tension and soreness
  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Increased blood flow to the joints
  • Increased coordination

That's a pretty good list and one that motivates me to do that stretch every day.

Should I Stretch Before My Workout?

This is something we used to do in the olden days, stretch before a run or workout, but studies now show that stretching really doesn't do much to either prepare you for a workout or reduce your chances of injury or soreness after a workout.

In some cases, stretching may make things worse, so experts recommend stretching after your workout, when your muscles are warm and pliable.

The Best Way to Stretch

When you stretch, you want to follow a few basic rules:

  • Stretch after your warmed up or, better yet, after your workout.  You can even stretch after a hot shower or sitting in the hot tub.
  • Stretch the major muscle groups you've worked during your workout
  • Hold each stretch for about 15-30 seconds.  Any more than that doesn't necessarily increase flexibility (but, if it feels good, go for it)
  • You can stretch every day but should shoot for at least 3-5 times a week
  • Don't bounce when you stretch - That could cause injury
  • Only stretch as far as you can.  You shouldn't feel pain when you stretch - It should feel good!
  • Stretching is just as important as any other part of your workout so I'll do my stretches if you do yours.

More Flexibility Resources

Sources:

Herbert R, Gabriel M. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. BMJ 2002;325:468.

American Council on Exercise.  ACE Personal Trainer Manual, 5th 2014. 

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