Flexibility is often under-used and under-rated in both the fitness industry and in life in general. Physically, a person’s flexibility refers to the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion. It is important to attain a full range of motion to perform activities of daily living and to reduce the stress on muscles, which in turn decreases injury rates.
Flexibility is joint-specific, since each joint has a potential range of motion. Static flexibility refers to the range of motion that can be attained while not in motion; dynamic flexibility refers to the range of motion that can be attained during movement. Dynamic flexibility is important to athletes because range of motion is limited by the amount of time it takes for a muscle to lengthen, which affects athletic ability. The more a joint can flex, the better the athlete can improve sport specific skills.
Greater flexibility of the muscle around the joint translates into better posture, reduced risk of injury, and less muscle tension and soreness. We need to be flexible to perform every day activities, from sitting to standing, and from lifting items to turning the body in different directions. Joints become stiffer as people age, and it is crucial to achieve a full range of motion to perform simple tasks, like tying shoelaces. When our muscles are sedentary and inflexible, our bodies create poor posture habits and movements that reduce the mobility of joints and compromise body positions. Flexibility helps prevent this loss of mobility.
Stretching helps to reduce soreness after exercise and gradually elongates the muscle through its full range of motion, which improves muscular balance and resting posture. Additionally, stretching promotes muscular relaxation, which increases flexibility in the hamstrings, hip flexors, and quads. This decreases the likelihood of both sporadic and chronic back pain. Stretching also increases blood flow and nutrients to soft tissue, increasing joint synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints and improves greater range of motion and decreased joint pain and degeneration.
Stretching can be part of a workout or a workout all by itself. As a rule of thumb, before a workout, stretching should be dynamic. Static stretching should be reserved for after a workout. When stretching, always be gentle and never jerk the muscle into position. Instead, smoothly move the muscle into position to safely lengthen the muscle tissue. Mild discomfort is normal during stretching, but there should never be any pain. Pain is an indication that the muscle is being overstretched or has been excessively stretched. Find 5-10 minutes per day to stretch to reduce stress and improve your health. Your body will thank you for it!