Flexibility: Definition and Examples

Flexibility is an important part of a complete fitness program

flexibility definition
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Flexibility is the range of motion in a joint or group of joints or the ability to move joints effectively through a complete range of motion. Flexibility training includes stretching exercises to lengthen the muscles and may include activities like yoga or Tai Chi.

Example: To improve her flexibility, April began attending a weekly yoga class.

What is Flexibility?

You probably know what it means when someone says they are flexible.

It usually means that they can reach down and touch their toes or bend deeply into a squat. But the definition of flexibility is more complicated than simply being able to do a single stretch.

According the the American Council on Exercise (ACE) flexibility is defined as "the range of motion of a given joint or group of joints or the level of tissue extensibility that a muscle group possesses." That means that each joint and each group of muscles in your body might have a different range of motion (ROM) or a different level of flexibility. Some areas of your body may be very tight, meaning that the muscles feel short and tight. Some areas of your body may feel very loose and you may be able to lengthen and move those muscles freely.

For example, you might be very flexible in the hamstrings, allowing you to bend over and touch your toes. But your thighs (quadriceps) muscles might be tight (inflexible) so it may be harder for you to stand up straight or bend backwards.

What is Flexibility Training?

Stretching improves flexibility. You can take a stretching class or do an online video that focusses just on stretching exercises to improve range of motion throughout the body. These programs generally begin with a gentle warm up to increase your body's core temperature.

Then they progress through a series of stretching exercises to lengthen the muscles in your feet, your legs, your hips and torso and finally up through the head and neck.

There are different types of stretching to improve flexibility.

  • Static stretching. You move into a position that lengthens a target muscle and hold the position for 15-60 seconds. 
  • Dynamic stretching. You move in an out of a position that lengthens a target muscle. Dynamic stretches often involve a gentle bouncing movement and are sometimes called ballistic stretches.
  • Active isolated stretching (AIS). You move your joint through a complete range of motion, holding the end point only briefly, then return to the starting point and repeat. 

You don't have to take a dedicated class to do flexibility training. Many exercisers simply add a few minutes of stretching to the end of their daily workout to relax muscles and improve range of motion. Or you can take 5-10 minutes to stretch in the morning after you get out of bed. Just a few minutes of flexibility training each day can provide benefits.

Benefits of Flexibility

Exercisers who include flexibility training as part of a balanced fitness program enjoy many benefits. Stretching exercises can help to decrease stress and improve the way your body moves and feels throughout the day. Improved flexibility can even lead to better posture.  All of these benefits help you to move more often throughout the day and burn more calories. So if you're trying to lose weight, it's smart to include flexibility exercises in your weight loss program.

*This article was originally published on April 30, 2010. Edited by Malia Frey, Weight Loss Expert

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