Flexibility training should be a part of each workout. Your warm up and cool down are prime times to concentrate on flexibility. Becoming more flexible aids performance, prevents injury, increases circulation, lengthens tight muscles and removes waste from your system. It’s important to warm up before you stretch, so that you slowly raise your heart rate, by which you’ll increase circulation and oxygenation of muscles, speed up nerve impulses, warm and lubricate muscles, ligaments and joints. Warm up before stretching not only makes your muscles more pliable, it protects your joints, by lubricating them with your body’s own synovial fluid, which nourishes cartilage and keeps joint stable.
The Two Types of Flexibility
Basically, there are two types of flexibility: Dynamic flexibility and Static flexibility.
Dynamic flexibility refers to using movements that work the body and joint segments through their range-of-motion and gently elevate your heart rate. An example of dynamic stretching would be alternating high knees, that keep your body moving in a slow and controlled manner.
Static stretching, sometimes referred to as passive stretching, is a method that gradually has you reaching into position and seeing how far you can lengthen the muscle or muscle group. An example of a static stretch would be the hamstring stretch.
Which type of stretching is best?
The latest research outlined in Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise, as well as in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research recommends the use of dynamic stretches during the warm-up phase, especially for sports like soccer and tennis. The report suggested static stretches more useful during the cool-down phase.
Here are some basic rules when it comes to stretching:
• Never stretch a cold muscle
• Always warm up for 5-10 minutes before stretching (longer on chilly days)
• Take the time to align and balance yourself on uneven ground
• Inhale to prepare for stretch, exhale while lengthening the muscles
• Hold a static stretch for 20-30 seconds for a total of 3 breaths
• Don’t bounce—it can cause injury to muscles, tendons and ligaments
• Pay attention to pain. If it hurts, stop the stretch