Flexibility!

We have it in our schedule, but do we have it in our bodies?

One of the other really important parts of fitness is being flexible. Just like other types of flexibility, you want to be not too tight, not too loose, but just right. Flexibility can prevent injury by providing greater range of motion. Those of us who are older know that it is really easy to snap, crackle, and pop when our muscles are too tight. One place flexibility helps the most is the low back area. Anyone with chronic muscle tightness can tell you that it hurts. Aesthetics are also enhanced with good muscular flexibility – you stand taller, look more relaxed and confident, and sometimes that changes your outlook on things.

One of the things we always told beginner Hapkido and Tang Soo Do students was that they were more likely to get hurt if they were tense. Inevitably, we would be doing a joint lock (which is basically moving a joint in a way it wasn’t designed to go). A person would tense up, anticipating the pain, and something would snap. The people who remained loose also remained uninjured.

If you’re like me, you try to spend as little time stretching as possible after a hard workout. This is a very bad idea. Obviously, it is good to stretch for the reasons stated above. But also, please cool down. You run the risk of too high a heart rate as well as high blood pressure if you don’t.

There are several ways to approach flexibility.

  • Static stretching – your typical stretch – hold a pose that stretches certain muscles for 20-30 seconds
  • Dynamic Stretching – lengthening the muscles while moving
  • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation – Big name, a little more complicated. It involves holding a stretch to its limit and activating a protective reflex to relax it a bit more. There are a bunch of ways to do it. See the link above for more information
  • Myofascial Release – the most popular one is foam rolling. The idea is that the tissue covering the muscle (the fascia) can get stiff, overstretched, dry and brittle. Foam rolling breaks up that fascia, allowing for greater Range of Motion

So which one is best for me? Behm and Chaouachi (2008) did a review of the literature on static versus dynamic stretching and the effects of subsequent performance. While I might be oversimplifying their results, they suggest that dynamic stretches prior to workouts are associated with better performance. They also suggest that static stretches are done either as a separate workout or at the end of a workout. In fact, there are some situations where static stretches before a workout can decrease performance (see Thacker, et al., 2003).

According to a short summary by Keswani, Kalra, Chawla, and Mishra (2018) suggests that with the exception of certain populations, PNF stretches aren’t superior to static stretching. A stretch to 15-30 seconds is enough to increase flexibility. Any more than that doesn’t really lead to any increases in flexibility (aww, but I love Yin Yoga!).

So, I guess it is best to start with some dynamic stretching warmups, workout, cool down, and stretch, holding each stretch for 15-30 seconds. You can add some foam rolling in for added effect. That doesn’t seem too bad!

Have any stretches you love? Post them below!

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