Flexibility is the range of movement in a joint or the ability to move joints effectively through a complete range of motion. Flexibility is specific to each joint, so it might be the case that you’ve got a very flexible shoulder joint but you’re tight in the hips; or that your knees are very flexible, but your back isn’t.
So, what affects flexibility, why is it important, and how can you improve it? Watch this video, or read on to find out more!
What affects flexibilty? Lots of different things, even the time of day. You might find that you’re more flexible in the evening, for example, after your body has warmed up and is used to more movements.
Your age can affect your flexibility too; as you get older your joints can start to seize up and it’s harder to get that flexibility back. Any extra tissue you may have can also make a difference. For example, if you have a little bit of a belly you might find that hinders your flexibility. If you have overly large muscles, they can reduce the range of movement in your joints and if your muscles are tight or overused, that can hinder your flexibility too.
In pregnancy, the hormones that are released in your body mean that you can actually be over-flexible and there can be a lot more elasticity around the joints. That’s why pregnant women are advised not to hold stretches for too long and not to stretch too much, because it could do damage.
You don’t want to be too flexible; ideally you wouldn’t want to be double jointed or hyper-mobile, although you can’t help it if you are! In an ideal world we should be aiming to maintain a good range of motion that allows us to comfortably move through our daily lives.
Why is Flexibility important? Flexibility is important because it helps your posture; it helps your everyday movement and enables you to carry out normal tasks without needing help or support. Good flexibility also helps to support your bones and your muscles and makes sure that you ‘hang’ properly. If you’ve got enough flexibility in your body, then your muscles, joints, ligaments, bones and your overall structure are in alignment, whereas if you don’t have enough flexibility in some areas, that can lead to misalignments.
You may have experienced this; for example, you could have tightness in your shoulder which actually causes a problem in your ankle, because everything is linked. So, if we don’t have enough flexibility in all areas it can put a body a little bit out of sync.
How can you improve your flexibility? The main thing that you can do is stretching. By stretching your muscles, you improve your flexibility. There are two different kinds of stretching in the main: dynamic and static. Whenever your body is cold and not yet warmed up, for example, when you’re about to start exercising, then you need to be doing dynamic stretches.
Dynamic stretches are slow movements of the joints to warm the muscles up slowly. This could be something like squatting up and down, not as a muscle exercise, but as a way to start some motion. It might be tapping your feet behind you or kicking your legs in front of you. You need to warm up your muscles, which enable you to move your joints, in the same way you might stretch a cold balloon that you are trying to blow up; first you need to stretch muscles slowly before they have enough warmth to allow you to increase its volume.
Static stretches, as their name suggests, are performed holding a fixed position for a longer time. You should not move on to static stretches when your body is still cold. So, before you exercise it’s important to warm up and it’s important to do that with dynamic stretching. If you are going for a jog, then walking is a great warm up. If you are going for a walk, then a slower walk is a great warm up and ensures your muscles are warmed up before you do any more strenuous exercise.
As you exercise, your muscles will tighten as they are worked; they contract to move your joints and in doing so, they get smaller. At the end of your exercise, you want to gradually return the muscles to their original size. This is why we do static stretching at the end of exercise when our muscles are nice and warm. It’s also important to keep breathing when you do static stretches, to make sure there’s enough oxygen in the blood to help a muscle return to its normal length.
How often should you be stretching? It is very important to stretch before and after exercise sessions. If you don’t, you will experience tight muscles and more muscle soreness, and you may actually do some damage as well. If you could fit in a dedicated stretching session per week, that would be really good. You might want to put on some music or listen to a podcast, or watch TV, but whatever you choose, remember to start with those dynamic stretches first so there are some gradual movements to warm the muscles up before you go into the longer stretches.
It doesn’t take long to notice improvements and benefits and if there are certain areas of your body now that you know are quite tight and inflexible, you can use those as your benchmark. Work on those areas and see if you can notice an improvement. Stretching can really benefit your health in the longer term, keeping you more mobile, more agile, and better able to prevent injuries that might otherwise happen in older age too. Being flexible can enable you to carry out your everyday tasks, enjoy the exercise you want to do, live the lifestyle you want to live and ultimately, carry out your purpose in life.
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