Flexibility 101

Admit it...most of us tack on a few half-hearted stretches at the end of our cardio session and call it a day. But, there are a number of reasons to make flexibility training a larger and more regular part of your fitness program.

Flexibility training will...

  • increase joint mobility 
  • increase general range of motion 
  • reduce injury 
  • improve athletic performance
  • reduce muscle and joint pain.

Think of flexibility training as its own specific component of your fitness program and not just an add-on. Set aside regular time for it.

You can and should stretch before and after exercise but it shouldn't be the only thing you do for a warm-up or cool-down.

As with any other part of your fitness program, variety is so important. Stretching on the floor next to the treadmill certainly works but other methods such as yoga, Pilates, or PNF stretching are a great way to increase flexibility and add interest to your program.

Points to remember

  1. Do a cardio warm-up of 5-10 minutes. Cold muscles don't stretch well. A cardio warm-up is like preheating the oven.
  2. Gently lean into stretches keeping the motion smooth and controlled. Stretch just to the point of mild tension.
  3. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds.
  4. Stretching before strenuous exercise will lengthen your muscles and increase your range of motion for the activities to come.
  5. Stretching after exercise will help your muscle recovery and repair. Strenuous exercise causes tiny tears in muscle tissue. Stronger tissue replaces or repairs the damaged tissue which makes your muscles stronger but can also cause Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Stretching after exercise will help reduce the chance of DOMS.
  6. It's important to assess your own situation. While you should stretch all major muscle groups on a regular basis, pay particular attention to your own needs rather than simply running through a generic list of stretches.

The book Stretching by Bob Anderson is an excellent, comprehensive resource for more information about flexibility.