Prevent injuries and enhance fitness
Maintaining and increasing flexibility is one of the most overlooked aspects of fitness. Many women can brag they were once able to do full splits or high kicks, but how many of them can actually still do it, or care that they no longer can? It’s easy to think of flexibility as something only gymnasts or ballerinas need to worry about, but the truth is flexibility, or a lack of it, can have an impact on our everyday lives.
Flexibility refers to the range of motion available to a joint. Bending and straightening the knee is one example. Someone with limited knee joint flexibility may not be able to enter a squatting position. A healthy range of motion can be beneficial in a number of ways, from helping with simple tasks such as reaching for a jar on a high shelf to protecting the body from injuries related to physical activity.
If you don’t use it you lose it
Flexibility decreases with age. If you don’t have a limited range of motion right now, it’s something you may have to deal with in the future - unless you work at preventing it. Moving a joint in its full range of motion is rarely achieved with normal activities, which is why targeted stretching is necessary to maintain and increase flexibility. And I’m not talking a few arm circles, some toe touching and maybe a side bend or two - with real stretching takes time and effort to get it right.
Benefits of stretching and flexibility
- Injury prevention
- Increased range of motion
- Improved joint function
- Reduction of muscle soreness and tension
- Enhanced physical fitness
- Decreased tension and stress
When to stretch
Some people prefer to stretch for smaller amounts of time before or after a vigorous workout involving cardio or strength training. Some do both. Others dedicate an entire workout session to it, warming up for the sole purpose of stretching. Depending on who you talk to you’ll hear that stretching to increase flexibility is best done at certain times.
Most experts agree that a good time to stretch is after a strength training session. Strength training and flexibility go hand in hand, as you’ll need muscles that are strong enough to hold stretched arms or legs steady while you extend them. Stretching at this time can help prevent muscle soreness. It’s also a good way to ensure muscles are sufficiently warmed up.
If you’re unsure what’s best for you, don’t hesitate to ask a personal trainer. And always make sure to get the ok from your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
It’s never to late to start
Even people who have spent the last decade or two in sedentary lifestyles, or who have already lost joint mobility due to medical conditions such as arthritis, can gain back some or all of the flexibility they’ve lost. Stretching is an especially good habit for pregnant women to get into. Whether they’re carrying their first or fourth child it can help relieve back and shoulder pain, muscle tension and stress.
Stretching may not burn as many calories as cardio, or build as much lean muscle mass as strength training, but you’ll see worthwhile results if you stick with it.