What is Flexibility, why is it important, and what really happens inside the muscle to cause the "stretch"?
Flexibility is the ability for a muscle to lengthen. I don't want to say lengthen in size because size can be any dimension, but I want to make it clear that in this case size is how much the muscle can stretch. Our muscles can't physically stretch themselves out, therefore, we must physically stretch the muscle out.
It is important to have flexibility in a muscle because it can prevent many types of injuries ranging from minor pain/discomfort to extreme pain/discomfort leading to surgery. Some of the injuries are stiffness, tightness, tendinitis all the way to pulling a muscle and/or preventing muscles to perform their job.
The Science behind stretching is "SMR" Self Myofascial Release. This fancy term breaks down to physically over stimulating the tendons and muscles to cause the muscles to relax to make it possible to stretch further.
Types of flexibility to incorporate into your own routine:
-Static Stretching (the most common type of stretching in the physical fitness world)
- Physically stretching a muscle without bouncing for 20 seconds one time through
For example, keep your legs straight without bending the knees and bend over and try to reach for your toes. If you can't reach your toes, then grab the back of your knees or lower and hold it. Do not bounce up and down. Take deep breaths and let those muscles stretch out. In this particular stretch, you will be lengthening your ham strings (big muscles behind your thighs).
- Try performing the static stretch mentioned above or another and repeat it 2 times through resting about 30 secs in between. Measure how far you stretch the second time through, you will notice you will go further!
Why? Because you have physically stretched out the muscle causing it to override the Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO) which causes autogenic inhibition which relaxes the muscle letting it RELAX!
- In order to static stretch correctly you must hold the stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds! This will provide the best results for your muscles!
- People who are beginning a new fitness program or are completely new to the fitness world, should incorporate static stretching before and after every activity.
- People who have been consistently working out should stop static stretching before activity and stick to after working out.
- Research shows that static stretching before an activity will decrease performance. Again not a lot, but people looking to gain performance should stop static stretching and continue reading below to see what other stretch will help increase performance.
-Active- Isolated Stretching:
- This type of stretch will ring a bell with most people that worked out during the earlier years. This type of stretch was the bouncing stretch which you perform the exact stretches as the static stretches but you bounce numerous times.
- Pros: warms up the muscle by activating and relaxing it constantly. Repeating this several times will help increase range of motion in a muscle which sets it up for high intensity movement.
- Cons: If not properly done correctly, it will cause damage and leave you injured for a while depending on how severe the problem is. Is not suggested for people not familiar with proper stretching protocols.
- Same concept as static stretching, but only difference is stretching for 2 seconds following a release (relaxing) then repeating it several times through for each muscle.
- Active isolated stretching should be done before an exercise plan and or any other exercise.
-Dynamic Warm up/Functional Stretching:
- Dynamic warm-up is an actual type of stretching, which has completely dominated the exercise world and athletes. This Warm Up (hence dynamic warm up) should be done before an activity.
- It shares some of the characteristics of Active-Isolated Stretching, but lowers the injury rate during and after the stretching.
- The reason why I mentioned dynamic warm up/functional stretching is because dynamic warm up actually warms you up for the precise movements you are going to perform.
An example is performing a lunge forward and lunging downward and holding it for 5 seconds feeling a good solid stretch and then stepping forward with the other leg and performing the same lunge and holding it for 5 seconds.
- The 5 second hold for the stretch is enough to activate the muscles and then contracting them to the next movement which allows both eccentric contraction (lengthening the muscle) followed by concentric contraction (making the muscle small/flexing the muscle). These two types of contractions simulate how the muscles will be moving in your activity.
- Not only does this stretch you out, but prepares you for a high intensity work out which will produce increased performance. Along with increased performance comes less likelihood of any injury during the stretching or during the exercise program.
- Dynamic warm-up will actually give you a small work-out in itself causing you to sweat and feel your muscles move in a wide range of motion. In a sense, warm-up literally means warm up your body (pump blood throughout your body/muscles while activating your heart rate which sets your body for any activity) by moving.
- Dynamic warm-up before your activity and static stretching after your activity.
Flexibility is more than what you normally view it as, stretch a muscle/hold it for a period of time, it will prepare your body for an activity and help your body (muscles, tendons and connective tissues). It plays a huge role in your everyday life and especially if you move a lot. Always keep in mind repetitive movements will cause over activity which, after a while, will cause some sort of damage (either acute and/or chronic), which can be prevented or properly managed to provide functional mobility and most importantly less pain/discomfort!