Alicia Sabatino, MS, ACSM-CEP
There are 4 components to our fitness plan. This includes cardiovascular, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility. The flexibility component of a fitness plan is often overlooked. Why is it so important? Flexibility has many benefits:
Want to improve your golf game? Maybe your tennis swings? Increasing your joint range of motion through proper stretching drastically improves your ability to perform and protect yourself from injury. There are multiple ways to increase flexibility, such as:
Static stretching is the typical stretch most individuals think of when aiming to increase flexibility. This is a stretch and hold type of movement. It is best to perform static stretches after the muscles have been warmed, ideally after your exercise bout. Doing static stretches while your muscles are cold could actually induce injury. This is a great way to slowly bring the heart rate down post exercise and lengthen those muscles.
Dynamic Stretches are focused on mobility and getting the blood flowing to the muscles you are going to work. These include movements that lengthen the muscles while moving through slow controlled motions. This could be something like a leg swing, arm circles, inch worms and so on. The focus is to move the body to get the blood flowing and heart rate up while simultaneously lengthening the muscle to increase range of motion before exercise.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is often performed with a partner or with a strap. This type of stretching utilizes a contract and relax method. For example, to stretch the hamstring the individual would lay on their back with one leg stretched out straight while a partner pushes the leg until a stretch is felt. Then the individual being stretched would contract their muscle, pushing against the partner or strap for about 6-10 seconds. After the push they would then relax and the partner or individual should then be able to stretch their leg further than before. This type of stretching has been shown to increase range of motion, muscular strength and performance.
Myofascial Release is a massaging technique used to break up the muscle fascia to release muscle tension and pain. This helps to induce blood flow to the muscle and increase range of motion. This is often done independently with various tools such as a foam roller, massage roller stick, massage ball (you can even use a firm ball like a lacrosse ball).