When most people think of fitness, they focus on strength, endurance, and cardiovascular health. While these are important aspects of fitness, many neglect the crucial role of flexibility. Flexibility is the ability to move your joints through their full range of motion, and it’s often the key to achieving your fitness goals. In this article, we’ll discuss why flexibility is so important, how it can help you reach your fitness goals, and some tips on how to improve your flexibility.
The Importance of Flexibility
One of the most important reasons to focus on flexibility is injury prevention. If you’re not flexible, you’re more likely to get injured during physical activity. Tight muscles can lead to imbalances, which can put extra stress on your joints and lead to pain and injury. For example, if your hamstrings are tight, they can pull on your lower back and cause back pain. Tight hip flexors can cause hip pain or knee pain. When you have good flexibility, your body is better able to move in a natural way, reducing the risk of injury. It is important to note that sometimes people perform compound exercises such as deadlifts, squats, chin-ups, and bench presses when they may not have adequate flexibility and mobility to execute the movements correctly. Injuries such as herniated discs in the spine can result, and symptoms might not occur immediately but develop over time through incorrect loading.
IMPROVED ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
Flexibility is also important for improving athletic performance. When your muscles are flexible, you can move with more agility and speed. Tight muscles can limit your range of motion, making it harder to perform certain movements. For example, if your hip flexors are tight, it can be difficult to get into a deep squat position. Improving your flexibility can also help you to perform better in your sport, whether it’s running, cycling, or weight training.
REDUCED STRESS AND TENSION
Another benefit of flexibility is that it can reduce stress and tension in the body. When you’re stressed, your muscles tend to tense up, which can lead to stiffness and discomfort. By improving your flexibility, you can release tension in your muscles and feel more relaxed, which can also help you to sleep better and feel more energised during the day. Improved flexibility has also been shown to reduce inflammation within the body.
Flexibility can also improve your posture. When your muscles are tight, it can pull your body out of alignment, leading to poor posture. For instance, if your chest muscles are tight, it can cause your shoulders to hunch forward. By improving your flexibility, you can correct imbalances in your muscles and improve your posture.
How Flexibility Can Help You Reach Your Fitness Goals
INCREASED RANGE OF MOTION
Flexibility can help you to achieve your fitness goals by increasing your range of motion. When you have a greater range of motion, you can perform exercises with better form and technique. If you’re able to perform a deep squat with good form, you can work your leg muscles more effectively. By improving your flexibility, you can increase your range of motion and get more out of your workouts.
IMPROVED MUSCLE ACTIVATION
Flexibility can also improve muscle activation. When your muscles are tight, it can be difficult to activate them properly, leading to compensations and imbalances in your muscles. By improving your flexibility, you can activate your muscles more effectively and reduce the risk of injury.
INCREASED MUSCLE MASS
Flexibility can also help you to build more muscle mass. When you have good flexibility, you can perform exercises with a full range of motion, which can help to stimulate muscle growth. For instance, if you’re able to perform a deep lunge, you can work your leg muscles more effectively, which can lead to greater muscle growth.
Tips for Improving Flexibility
Static stretching is a safe and effective way to improve flexibility and range of motion. To ensure a safe and effective stretch, it is important to warm up the muscles with light aerobic activity; use proper technique; hold the stretch for 30 seconds; perform each stretch 2 to 4 times with a rest period of 30 seconds between repetitions; and perform static stretching at least 3 to 5 times per week. It is also important to note that static stretching should not be performed before a workout, as it can decrease muscle strength and power. By following these protocols, you can safely incorporate static stretching into your fitness routine and achieve your flexibility goals.
Dynamic stretching is a type of stretching that involves moving through a range of motion in a controlled manner, typically before exercise or physical activity. The goal of dynamic stretching is to increase blood flow to the muscles, improve joint mobility, and prepare the body for physical activity. When it comes to dynamic stretching, it’s important to warm up the muscles with some light aerobic activity before starting; use proper technique to avoid injury; move the joint through its full range of motion; perform each stretch for 8 to 12 repetitions; gradually increase the intensity; and perform dynamic stretching before each workout or physical activity.
Self-Myofascial Release (SMR), also known as foam rolling, is a technique that uses a foam roller or other tools to apply pressure to tight muscles and knots in the fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds our muscles. SMR helps release tension in our muscles, allowing them to relax and become more flexible. Incorporating SMR into your pre-workout routine can help improve your flexibility and reduce the risk of injury.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching is a type of stretching that involves contracting and relaxing muscles while performing static stretches. This technique can help increase flexibility by sending signals to the nervous system to relax and lengthen the targeted muscles. PNF stretching can be done with a partner or on your own, and it’s an effective way to improve your range of motion and prevent injuries.
Yoga and Pilates are both excellent forms of exercise that focus on flexibility, balance, and core strength. Both practices incorporate a variety of stretching exercises that can help increase your flexibility and range of motion. Additionally, yoga and Pilates can help improve your posture and reduce stress, making them great additions to any fitness routine.
Some useful books to reference when it comes to flexibility training:
Flexibility is an essential component of achieving your fitness goals. Without adequate flexibility, our muscles can become tight and stiff, limiting our range of motion and increasing the risk of injury. By incorporating flexibility training into your workout routine, you can improve your range of motion, reduce the risk of injury, and achieve your fitness goals more effectively. Whether you choose to do static stretching, dynamic stretching, SMR, PNF stretching, yoga, Pilates, or a combination of these modalities, the key is to make flexibility training a regular part of your routine. With dedication and consistency, you can improve your flexibility and achieve your fitness goals.
For an in-depth discussion on flexibility and the science behind it, you can check out the episode below by Huberman Lab. Andrew Huberman is a neuroscientist and tenured professor at Stanford School of Medicine.