Nice-to-Know Facts About Flexibility and Stretching

Nice-to-Know Facts About Flexibility and Stretching

1. Flexibility matters. Achieving and maintaining an adequate range of motion in your musculoskeletal joints is important for several reasons, including the fact that it appears to reduce your potential for injury. For example, an insufficient level of flexibility in your hamstrings and lower-back muscles is thought to be a major factor in the incidence of lower-back pain.  At a minimum, improving your level of flexibility will enhance your ability to perform certain physical and sports-related tasks.

2. Timing matters. As a general rule, the best time to stretch is just after a brief warm-up.  Such a schedule will increase your level of blood flow and raise the temperature level in your muscles, both of which are vital for muscle elasticity.  Stretching cold muscles may sprain or tear them. You also should stretch after warming down.

3. Prescription matters. One of the keys to maximizing your efforts to increase your level of flexibility is to perform two to six repetitions of each stretch exercise to the point of mild discomfort, holding each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. (Note that no universal consensus exists concerning how long to hold a particular stretch.)

4. Exercise order matters. Begin your stretching routine by stretching the major muscle groups of your body first. Then, stretch the specific muscles involved in the activity in which you plan to engage.

5. Isolation matters. To the degree possible, isolate the muscles you wnat to stretch. If other parts of your body move while you are exercising, your stretching efforts will be compromised, and your risk of suffereing an injury will be heightened.

6. Technique matters. Three basic approaches to stretching commonly are used. Ballistic stretching (i.e., performing bouncing stretches) involves the momentum generated by the moving body part to produce the stretch.  The second type of stretching is static stretching which involves gradually stretching through a muscle's full range of movement until resistance is felt.  The stretch is held for a predetermined time, and then the muscle being stretched is relaxed, followed by stretching that muscle even further.  The final common stretching is contract-relax stretching (i.e., proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation). This technique involves performing an isometric contraction of the muscle to be stretched, followed by slow, static stretching of that same muscle.

7. Pain matters. You should not stretch to the point of pain. Flexibility can not be developed while the stretched muscle is in pain; also, you may injure yourself. At worst, any discomfort you experience while stretching should be relatively mild and brief.

8. Gender matters. All factors considered, women tend to be significantly more flexible than men at all ages (youth to adulthood). To a degree, these difference can be overcome by engaging in a properly designed stretching program for an extended period of time.

9. Age matters (somewhat). As you age, your level of flexibility tends to decrease, although such a decrease can be attributed more to an increase in your level of inactivity rather than the aging process itself. Most human bodily systems experience some degree of functional decline, but much of the physiological decline typically seen with aging resuls from a decrement in a person's physical activity level.

10. Patience matters. Don't be discouraged with or forego your stretching efforts because you are not progressing as quickly as you would like or are not as flexible as others. Keep in mind that flexibility is an individual matter, one that varies from person to person. Stay the course. Eventually, your efforts will pay substantial dividends.