Improve your fitness by working on your flexibility
Minimal effort, maximum fitness benefits
If you could make a significant improvement to your fitness by training on flexibility for just two or three 10-minute stretching sessions each week, it would be good value for less than half an hour’s exercise. Here are some top tips on improving your fitness by working on your flexibility:
When you think about getting fit; cardiovascular training (heart and lungs) and resistance training (strength and conditioning exercises) usually spring to mind which of course are key components of any fitness program. However, an often overlooked but extremely beneficial addition to your fitness program is to include regular flexibility training whenever you exercise. With stretching exercises, genuine and significant fitness gains are possible with minimal effort, providing a comprehensive range of benefits to complement your training program.
Working on your flexibility 1: What is flexibility?
What do we mean by ‘flexibility’? Good flexibility can be defined as having a complete, functional range of movement for all your muscles so that none of your movements are compromised in any way. Flexibility for a top gymnast might mean being able to do the ‘splits’ but for most of us, that level of flexibility is unnecessary. However, what is undoubtedly useful is to be able to perform all your daily tasks and activities with ease — for example, getting in and out of a vehicle and reaching down to tie shoelaces. Taking that a stage further, good flexibility means that you can perform optimally in your chosen sport, without risking injury from a pulled muscle.
For example: a badminton player frequently has to lunge forward to retrieve a shot. If he has poor leg flexibility, his stride will be shortened, his range of movement compromised and his risk of injury increased as he stretches with tight muscles. By spending time carrying out stretching exercises, he will safeguard against muscle pulls and tears and improve his on-court performance through an increased ability to reach distant shots.
Working on your flexibility 2: Additional benefits of improved flexibility
Without exception, a supple and flexible body will improve your posture and make almost every body movement and task easier. For sport, it improves performance, increases range of motion and reduces the risk of injury. Simply following a stretching routine encompassing all the main muscle groups for just 10 minutes, two or three times each week will bring about significant flexibility improvements.
Additionally, if you can involve a partner/trainer who can assist you with your stretches, the benefits are even greater. If you regularly train with weights in the gym, following an all-over stretching program will prevent evolving common postural problems such as rounded shoulders and permanently flexed arms from frequent chest and biceps exercises. Equally, if you enjoy cycling, finding yourself stretched forward for long periods can lead to similar postural problems — all of which can be prevented by following a simple flexibility program.
Working on your flexibility 3: Golden rules for stretching:
- Only stretch a muscle when it is fully warmed up. Stretching cold muscles is likely to lead to pulls and tears.
- Gently ease into the stretch position until the muscle tightens and then hold for approximately 30 seconds.
- You should feel a slight tightness in the muscle being stretched but NO PAIN! If it is painful then STOP!
- Avoid bouncing up and down, you should remain still with a static force applied to the muscle being stretched.
- Keep breathing in a relaxed manner throughout the stretch to reduce overall body and muscle tension.
Working on your flexibility 4: Basic all-over stretching program:
- Calves (back of lower leg)
- Quadriceps (front of thigh)
- Adductors (inside of thigh)
- Glutes (buttocks)
- Legs continued
- Hip flexors (front of hip)
- Hamstrings (back of thigh)
- Upper body
- Back — Start
- Back — Finish
- Lats (sides of back)
By simply adding a few minutes stretching to the end of your training sessions, you will look better, feel better and most importantly, perform better (and safer) in your chosen sport.