29 Jan 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Ignore Flexibility
Everyone talks about strength and cardio, but what about flexibility training?
The word ‘exercise’ often triggers intimidating thoughts of sweaty people, in a cramped gym environment, complete with mirrors on all four walls. The good news? It doesn’t need to be this way!
Flexibility is one of the primary fitness components however, it’s so often belittled by its ‘heavy lifting’ counterparts, such as muscular strength and aerobic fitness developments. What’s the point in sitting on a mat and stretching, right? Well, turns out, there’s plenty of reasons to include flexibility in your routine:
1. It decreases risk of injury & improves recovery
After the release of a static stretch, local blood flow is increased beyond pre-stretching levels. The great thing is that, more oxygenated blood = faster recovery. The use of stretching helps manage muscle soreness as gentle contractions (ie: holding 60% voluntary contraction) helps move metabolites and nutrients around the working muscles assisting cell recovery!
2. It improves mental health & quality of life
The benefits of flexibility are not limited to the body. Studies have shown that the inclusion of low intensity Tai-Yoga can improve the quality of life and functional assessments over a twelve-week period. Improvements in quality of life are often linked to a more positive self-esteem and therefore generate improvements in mental health. Fantastic outcome not just for you, but also those around you!
3. It improves performance & posture
Being flexible means our joints can safely and smoothly move through their entire range of motion (ROM). Activities such as yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates focus heavily on gently moving through these ranges. This means our joints become more stable and facilitate better performances, albeit sporting abilities or improved posture.
4. It helps to manage chronic pain & stiffness
Flexibility and stretching aren’t just important for those of us suffering with chronic pain. The benefits of improving muscle length are beneficial to those who spend extended periods of time in a rigid position (i.e.: desk workers, long distance drivers etc).
5. It creates greater awareness of body strengths and imbalances
For most of us (ambidextrous or not) it is common to have one stronger and/or more flexible side. Flexibility training and practice helps make us aware, exactly where these places are in our body, giving a great goal to focus on!
So, how can I improve my flexibility?
Ideally, we should all incorporate a flexibility or stretching program into our schedule at least two to three days each week. Often undertaken before and after more intense activities, both static and dynamic stretches can assist in increasing muscle flexibility.
Holding static stretches at comfortable tension for up to 60 seconds improves muscle length. It’s important to stretch each muscle group in the body at around 60% of voluntary contraction.
The use of aids, such as TheraBand’s or a towel, can assist with those of us lacking the flexibility to hold the stretch comfortably. Alternatively attend a class, where the clinician guides you.
If you’re feeling out of your depth, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Contacting an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) can be the first step to a more nimble and agile you. To find an AEP near you, click here.
Loren is the primary AEP and director of Inspire Exercise Physiology. She is passionate about all aspects of health and rehabilitation, including women’s and mental health.