The Importance of Gaining and Maintaining Flexibility

Post Attributed to Kyle Schneider, CSCS, Ahwatukee Facility Manager

Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training provides AZ sports medicine and personal training services to people across the Valley who are striving to reach their fitness goals. Our hands-on training and personalized programs will allow you to compete at a higher level than ever before. To learn more about personal training in Phoenix and fitness tips, follow our blog.

Kyle Schneider, facility manager of our Ahwatukee location, has worked for Foothills ever since he graduated with a degree in Exercise & Sports Science— with an emphasis in Fitness and minor in Nutrition— from the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. Through his years of experience working with patients, he has gained an understanding of the importance of flexibility and how sports medicine can help.

As we age, after injury or operation, or just thanks to genetics, our level of flexibility may not be where we would like. Unfortunately, most people don’t quite understand how to get to their optimal level of flexibility. There is conflicting information available on when and how to stretch, the risk of injury associated with doing it wrong, and the correct amount of flexibility you should have.

We define flexibility as the range of motion at a particular joint that has both static and dynamic components. Static flexibility refers to the range of possible movement in a joint and its surrounding muscles during a passive movement. Dynamic flexibility is the available range of motion during active movements, requiring voluntary muscular actions. Each joint in the human body functions to either provide mobility or stability. Because each joint has a specific function, there is no set range of motion that should be attained throughout the body. Each joint has an ideal range of motion for its purpose. Being outside of this range, whether inflexible or hypermobile, can result in a higher risk of injury during activity.

There are many factors that affect an individual’s flexibility. As stated above, age, injury, genetics, and gender in addition to activity level/type, joint structure, and connective tissue all determine how flexibile an individual may be. Unfortunately, there is not a lot that can be done about many of these factors, but activity level and type can help to counterbalance these hindrances.

When considering increasing flexibility, stretching and various yoga poses can come to mind, but don’t overlook resistance training. Resistance training refers to any activity that causes the muscles to contract against an external force. These activities should be done at the fullest range of motion possible to allow strength to be gained throughout the entire range of motion. As the body gains strength in the muscles around the joints, more stability is enabled. This in turn will allow the individual to further range of motion, which increases the amount of mobility safely available. When performing all activities, practice keeping proper form through the greatest range of motion. When form starts to break down, or you cannot progress further due to joint structure, return to the original starting position.

The most well known way to increase flexibility is through utilizing stretching. There are four main types of stretching: static, dynamic, ballistic, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). Static stretching is when an individual moves a body part in a slow motion with a constant hold at an end position. This type of stretching should be held for at least thirty seconds with an emphasis on lengthening the targeted muscle group. Dynamic stretching is functionally based and utilizes activity-specific movement. Rather than putting emphasis on a specific muscle, dynamic stretching focuses on the movement requirements of the sport or activity soon to be performed. It is most commonly utilized as a warm-up before a sport or activity to ensure the body is ready to perform the task with the lowest risk of injury.

The two lesser-known types of stretching are ballistic and PNF stretching. Ballistic stretching involves active muscular effort and uses a bouncing-type movement in which the end position is not held. This type of stretching produces the greatest chance of injury while attempting to increase flexibility. Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, commonly referred to PNF stretching, involves both passive and active (concentric and isometric) muscle actions. There are three ways to perform PNF stretching: Hold-Relax, Contract-Relax, and Hold-Relax with Agonist Contraction. A PT or other trained professional should administer this type of stretching since it involves two people and takes proper resistance/assistance to avoid eliciting a stretch reflex, which is when the muscle contracts to avoid injury reducing range of motion.

The type of stretching you choose will depend on the activities you perform. If dynamic stretching, starts with slower, more basic movements., as the muscles become warm move to more explosive and complex movements. This can be can at the start of a warm up. Static and PNF stretching should be performed immediately following exercise. If using one of these two as a workout alone, a proper warm-up should be performed first. Ballistic stretching should be avoided due to its high risk of injury.

In case of injury, Myofascial Release is a soft tissue therapy for treatment of skeletal muscle immobility and pain. This is a form of alternative medicine aimed to relax contracted muscles. This can be utilized through manual therapy (massage, manipulation), use of equipment such as foam rollers, or by dry needling. These techniques can be used following injury to help get range of motion back to pre-injury levels. This is another way outside of stretching and resistance training to increase flexibility.

There are many ways to combat the loss of flexibility. When attempting new activities, it is always a good idea to consult with a trained professional. Our AZ sports medicine strength and conditioning professionals provide free evaluations to help individuals understand how to get to the place they want to be, so don’t hesitate to act now!

Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training (FAST) is empowered by Foothills Therapy Partners (FTP).