Why do it?
Flexibility training holds the key to giving our bodies the freedom to move. As we get older, muscles and tendons, which tie muscles to bones, lose their elasticity and this pulls the body out of alignment and restricts normal movement. Combine this with long periods accumulated over many years of sitting, such as in the office and watching evening TV shows and you have the ingredients for back pain, postural deviations and the onset of niggling injuries. Additionally, poor posture does not adequately support internal organs, circulation is hampered and an environment more favorable to disease and dysfunction is created. Muscles act as pumps to move fluids through the body. When good posture deteriorates many of the muscles can’t effectively pump fluids. Poor posture always indicates the need for a stretching program. The goal is to lengthen those short tight muscles and an exercise program to strengthen weak/loose muscles.
1 – Flexible muscles are pliable and therefore better able to translate strength into power.
Think of an Olympic sprinter in mid-flight and you have the perfect image of how strong malleable muscles convert strength into speed by increasing the athlete’s freedom to move in top gear.
2 – Flexibility training decreases the chances of muscle strain.
If you’ve ever pulled a muscle while playing sport, you know from past experience that poor flexibility often leads to injury on the sports field. One of the advantages of stretching to increase functional flexibility is that it helps to avoid injuries on and off the field.
3 – Flexibility training increases blood flow to muscles.
This results in improved circulation which can speed recovery and regenerate muscle tissue after a hard workout.
4 – Stretching helps release muscle tension, which is often accompanied by stress.
Stimulating physical relaxation is often a precursor to mental repose.
Muscle Imbalances – A Tug of War?
One of the main reasons people can experience back pain is because certain muscles are pulling their bodies out of alignment. Muscles are connected to bones in two places – the point of insertion and origin. In order for movement to occur, the muscle must contract or shorten, which pulls one end toward the other and vice versa.
Two things cause muscles to contract when they’re not being asked to;
1 – Tight over active muscles pull your body out of alignment.
Think about how your hip flexors, the muscles that bring the leg forward, shorten when you’re sitting. It follows that the more time you spend sitting, the tighter your hip flexors will become. The human body is designed to move, think of the cave man hunting for food and fire wood! Many people sit for long periods of time, working, watching television, gaming and driving and this can set you up for big problems later on.
2 – Opposing muscle groups have corresponding weakness or under-activity.
For example, the hamstrings and glutes, which are the muscles at the back of your thighs and your buttock muscles, aren’t worked nearly as much as your hip flexors and quads. The pull of these muscles determines the position of your pelvis (hip bone).
Hence the tug of war! If one side is stronger it will over power the other. The tightening of the hip flexors pulls the front of the pelvis down causing the lower back to arch excessively. This puts unnecessary pressure on the spine and lower back muscles, a common cause for lower back pain.
Flexibility training can stretch out the over-active tight muscles which pull your body out of alignment. Combine this with specific resistance training exercise to target the lazy under-active muscles and you can correct body alignment and avoid the pain associated with poor posture.
To ascertain your current level of flexibility and optimise pain free posture, booking a postural assessment with a qualified Personal Trainer is a great starting point. The assessment process will identify your tight over-active and lazy under-active muscles that are affecting your health and well-being.
Armed with this information, a Personal Trainer can develop a plan to lengthen and strengthen your physique.
Techniques To Stay Flexible – A Long Term View
Flexibility is the most poorly executed and often neglected component of health and fitness. Despite the immeasurable benefits associated with flexibility training it’s got a bit of a poor deal. Compared to the body sculpting effects of strength training or the calorie burning merits of cardio training very little time, if any, is set aside to restore and revitalise key ranges of motion through stretching.
The best way to tackle this is head on. View implementing flexibility training techniques as an integral and enjoyable part of your exercise routine, rather than a bolt-on.
Flexibility training offers a relaxing end point to a workout and encompasses a wide selection of stretching and muscle relaxation techniques, such as active stretching, dynamic stretching and self myo facial release.
Incorporating flexibility techniques into an overall workout that’s fun, interesting and fits into your schedule and overall goals is all part and parcel of balancing a fitness routine to produce sustainable results.