Introduction: You see people doing stretches before, during, and after a workout. Almost everyone stretches every day. You are probably wondering why people do this every time they exercise. This type of activity is part of the health-compound of fitness. Flexibility training can be done with a program to follow and doing certain stretches to help you improve your quality of life.
What is flexibility?: Flexibility is defined as the range of motion possible at a joint or group of joints. There are two different types of flexibility: Static flexibility and dynamic flexibility. Static flexibility is a range of motion (ROM) on your joint during active or passive movement. Dynamic flexibility is ROM during movement. Now you’re probably wondering why it is important to do this into your lifestyle. The answer is because it applies to sports and everyday life. 6 joints that cause ROM around the lower extremity include cervical spine, lumbar spine, hip, knee, ankle, ankle-talocrural, and ankle-subtalar joint. 5 joints that cause ROM around the upper extremity include scapulothoracic, glenohumeral (shoulder), elbow, radioulnar, and wrist joint. There are many factors that affect flexibility: Age, gender, pregnancy, body fat, and types of exercise performed. For age, young children show an increase in flexibility and continue that way until adolescence. Once you reach 10 years old, there is a decline in flexibility. In general, flexibility decreases as you get older. For gender, females are more flexible than males mainly due to the choice of activities. During pregnancy, women show an increase in flexibility in the pelvic area and that is so the hormone relaxin increases. Relaxin causes the pelvic area to become looser and wider. High body fat reduces flexibility from the restriction of movements and creating premature contact between the body surfaces. Doing regular exercise can help to improve flexibility whereas sedentary lifestyle can decrease flexibility.
-Improve ROM in selected joints
-Improve performance for activities of daily living
-Maintain muscle lengths
-Improve muscle balance
-Reduce the risk of low-back pain
As much as flexibility can give you many benefits for health and performance, there is a caution to consider. One risk can be joint hypermobility. This is where extreme ROM occurs with mild-to-moderate –intensity pain. Decreased strength can happen because some evidence showed that static stretching can hurt muscle strength and endurance. Although it can cause acute reduction of muscle power and strength, flexibility can still be performed ONLY after exercise and sports for the importance of performance. The misconception is often that flexibility help to reduce injury. However, there is no link between flexibility training and reduction of muscle injury. On the other hand, it can reduce the risk of muscle strain which is still a good thing. Lastly, it may be a temporary effect of flexibility training. Increased flexibility following acute stretching can expect to see the loss of ROM gained if, hypothetically, you improve your shoulder joint, but stretch your triceps for less than 3 minutes. Nevertheless, don’t let these cautions or risks become the barrier for doing flexibility training.
Different types of stretches:
Static stretching: This type of stretching is one of the most common methods used in order to improve flexibility. Hold the stretch to mild discomfort. You have the Butterfly stretch, behind-the-neck triceps stretch, and seated toe touch stretch are good examples of static stretching. This appropriate to use before, during, and after exercise. There have been debates whether or not static stretching before a workout is good for you. There are arguments that show that static stretching before exercise can increase the risk of injury. However, there seems to be little evidence to support this argument. Personally, I use static stretching during the cooldown period to see the benefits of everyday life.
Dynamic stretching: This is where functional movement is involved in a controlled manner without extended hold. These are known for being an active movement for mainly for warm-up. This is most appropriate during warm-up. I use this stretch during warm-up and show to be effective for 20-60 min workout. Soldier walk, arm circles, and side shuffle are dynamic stretching due to movement and showing ROM.
PNF: Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation involves stretching and contraction of a target muscle. Isometric contraction before a stretch results in greater gains than stretching alone. This method is effective with two people, one doing the PNF stretch while the other one assists since this is active and passive movements. Passive movement is where someone helps to assist movement like knee flexion. This can be used during warm-up and cooldown. This method does increase joint ROM.
Passive stretching: Using assistance to help anyone stretch into a position and hold while the person doing the passive stretching does not actively move. Same for most stretching technique, this can be used for warm-up and cooldown.
*Both PNF and passive stretching should be done with the assistance of fitness professionals to properly educate the client on this technique.*
Ballistic stretching: This is one of the controversial topics in the world of flexibility training. This type of stretching involves rapid bouncing movement due to ROM limit. This technique is not recommended for the general population because the bouncing motion creates a stretch reflex counteracting muscle lengthening and lead to tissue injury. The only time this stretch is appropriate if the person using this is involved in ballistic sports skills like striking, kicking, and throwing. Ballistic stretching is never best performed during warm-up, exercise, and cooldown.
ACSM FITT Guidelines:
|Frequency||2-3 days a week, you can do it daily|
|Intensity||Stretch until mild discomfort|
|Time||10-30 sec stretch hold|
|Type||Stretch major muscles|
5-10 min is recommended for a warm-up and a cooldown.
Warm-up: Dynamic stretching
30 sec each repeat stretches 5-12 times
High knees, Butt kicks, side shuffle, soldier walk, arm circle
Cooldown: Static stretching
10-30 sec each repeat 2-4 times
Modified Cobra, butterfly, standing quad, seated hamstring, seated hip rotator stretch level 2
Other considerations: Individuals have health concerns and it can affect how flexibility training can be incorporated for each. Arthritis, Muscular imbalances, Osteoporosis, and hip fracture or replacement have factors that could limit the use of flexibility training. Luckily, ACSM book “ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer” fifth edition provide a solution for 4 health concerns mentioned above.
Arthritis: The definition of arthritis is an inflammation of a joint. This damage the joint structure, thus, creating major discomfort for flexibility. The guidelines to consider for those with arthritis: avoid strenuous exercise during periods of inflammation, stretch during the day if the pain is severe, provide modification if the training session causes severe joint pain, avoid overworking individuals that take anti-inflammatory medication, wear shoes with good shock absorption and stability, and incorporate functional activities like sit-to-stand, step-ups, and stair climbing.
Muscle imbalance: The cause of muscle imbalance includes repetitive movements, poor posture, and weak or tight muscles. This creates postural alignment issues and can lead to injury. To correct this problem, strengthen weak muscles and stretch shorter muscle for compromised ROM. Stretch tight muscles to reduce possible injury if left untreated.
Osteoporosis: A disease where bone mineral density is reduced by becoming fragile and risk for fracture. This is common for both men and women to occur after the age of 35. Women often lose bone density fast because of hormonal changes during menopause. Common place for osteoporosis is spine, hips, and wrists. For flexibility training, AVOID exercises that involve twisting, bending, and compression of the spine, hips, or wrists. Provide support like a chair or handrail. Bending forward, supine spinal rotation, plough pose, and back extensions are specific exercises to avoid.
Hip fracture or replacement: The only thing to consider to those who recently had a hip fracture or replacement is to avoid excessive internal rotation, hip adduction, and hip flexion.
Follow the FITT principle to get the benefits of flexibility training. Although the information provide may be hard to understand but knowing the general consensus of the benefits, the risks, and consideration may help you become more aware of yourself. As long as you follow the guidelines for general healthy population and certain special population, the benefits will follow. If you still don’t understand much of the information, consider finding a personal trainer of your own and help you understand the principle of flexibility. Stretch away towards healthy quality of life.
Professor Harrison of Montgomery College for providing the information of flexibility from the What is Flexibility section.
Battista, R., Mayol, M., Hargens, T., & Everett, K. L. (2018). ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.
Ratamess, N. (2012). ACSM’s Foundations of Strength Training and Conditioning. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.