Flexibility can be defined as the ability to move joints and muscles through their full ranges of motion. ( Alter, Michael J. Sport Stretch 2nd edition 1998). Flexibility is developed when connective tissues and muscles are elongated through regular, proper stretching.
Too many people fail to make time for their flexibility training. (Brooks, Douglas S. MS. 1998) but participating in a stretching routine can be very enjoyable & a very relaxing part of your workout.
Improved flexibility can lead to:
Increased range of motion (ROM) available at joints
Reduced muscle soreness
Improved posture may help you avoid chronic injuries due to poor postural alignment & muscular imbalances. Flexibility training can help realign skeletal structure that has adapted to habits of poor posture. When your body is properly aligned it helps you become a lot more efficient in daily activities.
When a joint has sufficient Range Of Motion it can move more freely which results in a safer & more effective movement.
You are less likely to incur an injury if you are more flexible as the elastic limit of a tissue will not be exceeded for damage to occur (Brooks, Douglas S. MS. 1998)
Reduced Muscle Soreness
Research indicates that slow, static stretching performed after exercise reduces or prevents muscle soreness which enhances recovery.
Stretching encourages muscular as well as mental relaxation
In addition to this, Shellock and Prentice (1985) state that to achieve maximum performance, a limb must be able to move through a non restricted range of motion and in his book Sports Injuries, Diagnosis and Management, 1998, Christopher Norris states that good flexibility is associated with good sporting performance in all activities where a maximal amplitude of movement is required to achieve the best technical effects.
TYPES OF STRETCHING
There are 5 types of stretching techniques
Static stretching is defined as a controlled stretch, held at the point of discomfort for up to 90 seconds. Static stretching should take place after training/ competing & not before.
Dynamic stretching uses pulsing movements to gain momentum to increase the stretch in the muscle. Do not confuse this technique with jerking, bouncing techniques.
Unassisted movement which requires strength & muscular contraction of the agonist muscle to stretch the antagonist.
Passive stretching occurs when outside forces such as your partner help take the muscle through the desired stretch.
PNF – Proprioneuromuscular Facilitation stretching involves taking a muscle to maximum stretch, holding at this point then contracting the muscle with maximum force, when you ease off the muscle relaxes allowing you to stretch it even further
Most research studies have shown a frequency of five days per week using 1-4 repetitions for the duration of 15 – 30 seconds to be most beneficial for the apparent healthy population between the ages of 15 and 45 years years of age. In a population of clients at least 65 years of age, it has been shown that longer durations of 60 seconds may produce better and longer lasting results. (NASM Essentials Of Corrective Exercise Training Clark, Michael A. Lucett, Scott C. Sutton, Brian G.)
PNF or NMS Neuromuscular stretching
PNF stretching can be performed daily. 1-3 cycles (contract, relax) are used per stretch with a contraction time ranging from 7-15 seconds, with at least 10 seconds being ideal (NASM Essentials Of Corrective Exercise Training Clark, Michael A. Lucett, Scott C. Sutton, Brian G.)
Flexibility adaptations occur both immediately and over longer periods of time as proper stretching involves sensory organs and connective tissue adaptations that may result in both elastic & plastic changes.
Elastic – The tissue being stretched is able to return to its original length
Plastic – A plastic stretch is non recoverable – permanent elongation of the soft tissue being stretched
Lengthening a muscle is not a bad thing if you have the motor control to support the end range position and you are expressing that end range position with load bearing, full range exercises. Research also suggests that strength training must accompany your flexibility training.