Is flexibility important?
Did you know that evidence shows the incidence of injury decreases when people include flexibility training in their routines? Being able to move unimpeded through a wider range of motion means you are less likely to run into trouble. Flexibility is also a form of active relaxation which can improve both mental and physical recovery, especially after sporting activities. Stretching is of course most beneficial for people who are going to do something that requires flexibility and I’m not just talking about gymnastics… I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a an Olympic weight-lifter or wrestler that wasn’t extremely flexible.
Static versus dynamic stretching
When most people think about stretching they think about trying to touch their toes, (you were weren’t you?) and holding that position for about 15 seconds, or as long as they can stand. We can stretch out more of our body than our hamstrings and lower back and there’s more than one way to do it. Holding a your muscles in a stretched position for a length of time is what we call static stretching. But you can also actively or dynamically stretch by repeatedly putting your muscles through expected ranges of motion, like doing things such as air squats, leg kicks, side lunges, arm circles, and so forth.
Stretching and rolling-out
Why foam roll? Oh don’t get me started on the ins and outs of foam rolling – remember gyms ten years ago? I do, I was working in one and I can tell you there was not a foam roller in sight! Now everyone seems to be in love with cylindrical shapes of firm blue foam (and why are they always blue anyway?) Basically foam rolling is a bit like getting a massage without having to touch someone, but it is also a type of stretching. Foam rolling acts like a kind of self-acupressure and can increase blood-flow to the muscles and assist in greater range of motion.
Will working on flexibility decrease strength gains?
Working on flexibility is not going to decrease how strong you get, but… there’s no evidence that indicates that static stretching before a session will give you any extra gains. If you want some technical info then you can read this extract which concludes that static stretching does not effect power production or change muscle activation. You’ll find heaps of interesting research about stretching if you can be bothered ferreting around and some that indicates dynamic stretching as part of a warm up can actually increase sustained power, strength, muscular endurance, anaerobic capacity, and agility.
Confused about when to stretch?
Before your workout you should use stretching as a kind of warm up to help get a bit of blood flow into the muscles and start working through a good range of motion at the joints. You don’t need to go crazy so a bit of skipping, wriggle around on the foam roller a bit and then do your dynamic stretches in the range of motion you’re going to work in. Eg if you are going to do heavy squats start with some air squats. After your session, stretching is a nice way to calm down after a hard workout and when your muscles are warm you should be able to stretch further, just don’t expect it to help with muscle soreness the next day. (And the day after and they day after that)…If you don’t believe me, someone from the University of Sydney reviewed ten different studies in 2007 which concluded that stretching does not help with delayed onset muscle soreness in young healthy adults
So what about a dedicated stretching session outside of your regular gym sessions? It’s a good idea if you have time – static stretching used in a separate training session can provide health related range of motion benefits, but I think we might be heading into yoga class territory here… I do a yoga class about once a fortnight. It makes me feel bit virtuous and a bit taller, and the instructor is cute – all health benefits in my opinion!
Want to work on flexibility? Join Us! Our Flexibility Focus Program is a great way to get back some of that flexibility you used to have. (Or maybe you never did… but that doesn’t mean you have to stay that way).