Flexibility - Mobility
What is flexibility?
Flexibility, mobility, and suppleness mean the range of limb movement around joints. In any movement, there are two groups of muscles at work:
See the page on muscle movement to determine what happens when you stretch or contract a muscle.
Why do flexibility exercises?
The objective of flexibility training is to improve the antagonistic muscles' range of movement.
What are the benefits?
Flexibility plays an integral part in the preparation of athletes by developing a range of movement to allow technical development and assisting in preventing injury.
How will I know if I am stretching correctly?
When you perform a stretch correctly, you will feel mild discomfort in the antagonistic muscles. If you feel pain or a stabbing sensation, you must STOP.
What do I need to consider before conducting flexibility exercises?
The body responds best to a stretching program when it is warm, and the muscles and joints have been exercised through their current range of movement.
What types of flexibility exercises are there?
The various stretching techniques may be grouped as Static, Ballistic, Dynamic, Active, Passive, Isometric and Assisted. Click here for some examples of general mobility exercises.
Static stretching (isometric contractions) involves gradually easing into the stretch position and holding it. The amount of time a static stretch is held depends on your objectives. If it is part of your cool-down then stretches should be held for 10 seconds, if it is to improve your range of mobility, then hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Often in static stretching, you are advised to move further into the stretch position as the stretch sensation subsides. Click here for some examples of static stretching exercises
Ballistic stretching uses the momentum of a moving body or a limb in an attempt to force it beyond its normal range of motion.
Dynamic stretching (isotonic or isokinetic contractions) consists of controlled leg and arm swings that take you gently to the limits of your range of motion.
Where the event requires a dynamic movement, then it is appropriate and perhaps necessary to conduct dynamic stretching exercises. Start with the movement at half speed for a couple of repetitions and then gradually work up to full speed.
An active stretch is one where you assume a position and then hold it there with no assistance other than using your agonist's muscles' strength. Active stretching is also referred to as static-active stretching.
Passive stretching is also referred to as relaxed stretching and static-passive stretching. A passive stretch is one where you assume a position and hold it with some other part of your body, or with the assistance of a partner or some other apparatus.
Isometric stretching is a type of static stretching that involves muscle groups' resistance through isometric contractions (tensing) of the stretched muscles.
Assisted stretching involves the assistance of a partner who must fully understand their role; otherwise, the risk of injury is high. A partner can be employed to assist with Partner stretches and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) techniques.
Your partner helps you maintain the stretch position or ease into the stretch position as the sensation of stretch subsides. It would help if you aimed to be fully relaxed and breathe easily throughout the exercise. Partner assisted stretches are best used as developmental exercises, with each stretch being held for thirty seconds.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) involves the use of muscle contraction before the stretch in an attempt to achieve maximum muscle relaxation.
Which method is best?
Static methods produce far fewer muscle soreness, injury and damage to connective tissues than dynamic or ballistic methods. Static methods are simple to carry out and maybe conducted virtually anywhere. For maximum gains in flexibility in the shortest possible time, the PNF technique is the most appropriate. Dynamic - slowed controlled movements through the full range of the motion - will reduce muscle stiffness. Where the sport or event requires movement, then dynamic stretches should be employed as part of the warm-up.
What order should the flexibility methods be used?
When conducting flexibility exercises, it is recommended to perform them in the following order - Static, Assisted and then Dynamic.
When should they be performed?
Flexibility exercises could be part of
It is considered beneficial to conduct flexibility exercises as part of the cool down program. Still, it should not include ballistic or dynamic exercises, as the muscles are tired and more prone to injury. Static exercises are recommended as they relax the muscles and increase their range of movement.
Factors limiting flexibility
All athletes require a basic level of general flexibility to benefit from other training forms. Also, athletes will need to develop specific flexibility for those joint actions involved in their events or sports techniques.
"Mobility Training" (Brook 1990) contains a collection of flexibility exercise diagrams, including Track and Field event-specific exercises.
Additional information on mobility training can be found at Sports Fitness Advisor.
If you are a Massage Therapist, Personal Trainer, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Chiropractor, Physical Therapist, Athletics Coach or do any type of bodywork then consider certification in Stretching and Flexibility provided by The Stretching Institute.
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