Basic Static Stretches
Types of Stretching
How To Increase Flexibility
Flexibility is a joint's ability to move
freely through a full and normal range of motion. Factors that
affect flexibility include: genetic inheritance, the joint structure
itself, connective tissue elasticity within muscles, tendons or
skin surrounding a joint, strength of opposing muscle groups, body
type, age, activity level and gender.
Flexibility is an important component of fitness that
is often neglected. Flexibility is not something just for dancers, gymnasts,
and martial arts athletes to work on. Flexibility is an important part
of fitness for everyone regardless of age, gender, goals, or experience
A major cause of lower back pain can be due
to poor flexibility of the low back and hamstrings (back of upper leg).
It is never too late to start improving overall flexibility. Good flexibility
will help alleviate stiffness, prevent injuries, and maintain good
range of motion in the joints.
Further complicating the already-complex and controversial
subject of flexibility is figuring out what exercises are best for you.
Several methods of stretching will improve range of motion and enhance
muscular performance. Here is a brief description of a few stretching
Static: Static stretching is often seen in the
health clubs or at sporting events when athletes slowly stretch their
muscles to the end point of movement and hold the stretch for a period
of time, such as doing a split.
Ballistic: Ballistic stretching is a very controversial
technique that uses bouncing and abrupt movements to gain momentum to
create greater range of motion. Most experts feel that this type of stretch
does not allow the muscles and tendons to fully adapt to the demand of
the stretch position.
Active: In active stretch, the limbs and joints
are stretched to a given point and held in position using an opposing
muscle group. For example, to stretch your quadriceps you would bring
your heel back to your buttock and hold it there using your hamstrings.
This form of stretch is demanding, but effective because there is no
external force applying pressure to the skeletal muscle.
- Never stretch a cold muscle. This means minimally five
to ten minutes of light movement of the large muscles groups by
jogging, biking, dancing, etc.
- Always perform stretches correctly. Good form is
of utmost importance.
- DO NOT BOUNCE! Find the point at which you
feel the stretch and then hold it. Twenty to thirty seconds is a good
general length to hold stretches.
- Make sure you are stretching all of your major muscle
groups. Do not just do the flexibility stretches that you enjoy or
that are easy for you. Overall flexibility is important for overall
- If you have specialty areas of flexibility that
require additional work (for sport-specific goals or specialized rehabilitation
needs) do not neglect other areas to focus on the specialty area. Spend
additional time to improve that area.
- Remember that flexibility is very individual. Do
not try to mirror another person's stretch point. That point could
be too difficult or too easy for you. Everyone is different.
- Your stretch point is the point at which you feel
the stretch is working but not to the point of feeling pain. Feel the
stretch, not the pain. The old saying, "No pain, no gain," does
not apply to stretching
- Improve and maintain your range of motion, which
- Increased physical efficiency and performance
- Increased balance and coordination
- Decreased risk of low back pain
- Reduce tension and stress
- Decreased risk of injury
- Decreases recovery time
- Improve circulation
- Prevent falls
- Relieve chronic pain
- Improve your posture
To Increase Flexibility:
There are various ways to increase flexibility including:
- Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
- Static Stretching
- Strength Training
- Isometric Stretching
- Forced Relaxation
- Ballistic stretching (bouncing up and down and should
only be used by certain athletes)
Many people's anatomic model for stretching is Gumby,
which translates into their misinterpretation of the methods and techniques
surrounding stretching. Flexibility and range of motion are critical
components in the fitness equation, and every method and technique must
be appropriate to what you are stretching and who is doing the stretching.
Each person's body defines its own range of motion,
and there is no standard when dealing with a varied population.
To understand stretching, you must realize that your
muscles are not in charge of your range of motion. Skeletal muscle facilitates
bone and joint actions, which dictate range of motion. Each joint has
a distinct contact surface that determines its mobility and limitations.
When you stretch your muscle, it is actually the joint
and ligaments being moved across these various contact surfaces. Normal
range of motion is part of healthy joint movements, but it is very unhealthy
for individuals to stretch past their limitations. Studies have shown
that people who continuously perform intense stretches that exceed their
physical limitation create uneven
mechanical wear on the joints and ligaments, which lead to osteoarthritis.
There is no question that yoga and Pilates have revolutionized
the way many Americans exercise by going beyond a "no pain,
no gain" mentality to a more holistic workout of the body. However,
these forms of exercise can permanently alter body alignment, muscular
balance and posture when students are pushed to extreme ranges.
You should never impose irregular range of motion on
your body. It should be allowed by your body, without force. Some people
are born with the natural ability to stretch their body to abnormal limits,
but most people have to work at maintaining their normal range of motion
or lose flexibility as they age.