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It comes as no surprise that many people avoid flexibility training like the plague. Unfortunately time is scarce and that usually means aerobic exercise and resistance training take center stage leaving little time for stretching.
And truthfully, I can’t say I blame anyone! The extensive health benefits of flexibility training are often lost in the shuffle of today’s hyped-up fitness world.
And yet, taking just a little time to stretch will serve you well in so many ways.
From improved posture to injury prevention the health and fitness benefits flexibility training provides will help you to live a more enjoyable and pain free life a long time to come.
What’s more, training to improve flexibility will actually improve the results of all your other training!
A flexible, healthy body is more capable of strength gains, fat loss and other health benefits that will not only have you feeling great but looking great too!
Flexibility Training: Stretching With a Purpose
The degree to which your muscles and connective tissues can stretch and bend without damage defines your flexibility. You enter this world with your flexibility already determined to a certain extent. In other words, when it comes to genetics some people are just more flexible than others.
The good news is that flexibility training can be used to make anyone more flexible, even genetically inflexible folks like me!
Flexibility is improved through repetitive stretching which elongates the muscle and improves its elasticity. Stretching in its most simple form is a very natural act that everyone undertakes several times a day such as when you get out of bed in the morning or stand up from your desk at work.
Flexibility training, on the other hand, can be thought of as stretching with a purpose.
What’s that purpose? By engaging in focused, repetitive stretching you are asking your body for a specific improvement in physical ability. Your body responds by giving you exactly what you ask for, flexible muscles that function well, resist injury and support a wide range of movement.
Types of Flexibility and Stretching
There are three common types of flexibility:
- Dynamic Flexibility – When you think of the term dynamic, think motion. Dynamic flexibility refers to your ability to perform movements of your muscles that bring your limbs through a full range of motion in their joints.
- Static-active Flexibility – While dynamic refers to motion, static is just the opposite. Static-active flexibility refers to the ability to assume and hold a stretched position using only the strength of supporting muscles. Think of a ballerina standing on one leg while holding the other high in the air. The hamstring muscles (back of the leg) of the leg in the air are being stretched using only the strength of the quadriceps and hip flexors (front of the leg) which hold the leg in the air.
- Static-passive Flexibility – This is the type of flexibility that most people are familiar with. Static-passive flexibility refers to the ability to assume and hold a stretch using body weight or some other outside force. Using the example above, if the same ballerina extends her leg and places her foot on a chair she is now stretching her hamstring but the quadriceps is not being used to hold the extended position.
Dynamic flexibility is most improved through dynamic stretching supplemented with static stretches.
Active flexibility is most improved with active stretching supplemented with passive stretches.
Static flexibility is currently thought to be most improved through PNF stretches.
When creating a stretching program it helps to think about the types of flexibility you’d like or need to improve. The majority of people will benefit the most by improving all types of flexibility and should strive to perform a combination of different stretching types.
If your involvement in a particular sport or activity creates a need for a specific type of flexibility, by all means, make that the focus of your flexibility training. Take a recreational golfer for example:
It is well known that improved flexibility greatly enhances the golf swing, but in what way? The golf swing requires constant motion and there is no real stretch being held for any sustained period of time. But being able to move through a full and wide range of motion is extremely valuable to the golfer and they will therefore benefit greatly from improved Dynamic Flexibility.
Different activities require different types of flexibility. Take some time to think about the activites you not only enjoy but also your routine daily activites. Which types of flexibility do you think will benefit you the most?
To gain the flexibility you’re seeking it also helps to understand the ins-and-outs of the different types of stretching.
Flexibility Training: Types of Stretching:
- Ballistic Stretching
- Active Stretching
- Static Stretching
- Passive Stretching
- Dynamic Stretching
- Isometric Stretching
- PNF Stretching
(Full description pages coming soon!)
So, which type of stretching is the best? That’s a common question and one that’s best answered, “none”! Each type of stretching has unique benefits. The greatest improvements in flexibility are seen when these different types of stretching are used together.
Flexibility Training: Proper Stretching Yields Best Results
Many people don’t realize that the stretches you perform, when and how they’re performed and the order in which they’re completed all have a significant impact on the results of your flexibility training. To get the most out of your stretching take it as seriously as you would your strength or cardio training and make sure to carve out some time specifically for flexibility training.
Improper stretching is about as worthless as that old eight track player gathering dust in your attic. What’s more, improper stretching can actually lead to injury and other negative results that can potentially set back your fitness training. Don’t let that happen to you.
Learn to stretch properly, train within your limits and increase your flexibility gradually. There are a slew of health benefits that come from stretching. Don’t deprive yourself of those benefits by stretching incorrectly or not at all.