Flexibility is, in the minds of many, a key component of overall fitness. But how important is it really? Do you need to be able to touch your toes, put your hands flat on the floor and tuck your feet behind your head to be genuinely fit?
Let’s face it: stretching can be a bit of a chore. Most people would prefer to hit the gym, work up a sweat, and then have a nice hot shower. The majority of gym-goers don’t like the idea of spending twenty minutes stretching. It feels like a waste of time – akin to something that a 1970s gym instructor would tell a group of school children to do before a game of hockey. It’s not exactly glamorous.
Stretching, however, is making a comeback. Fitness enthusiasts increasingly realize that if they want to get the most out of their bodies, they have to incorporate a flexibility regime. Powerful muscles are great, but they’re even better when you’re limber.
Why is flexibility important to fitness enthusiasts?
Fitness should be a holistic activity. It’s not just about how much weight you can move or how fast you can run, but the overall condition of all of the tissues in your body. When you have all-round fitness, you’re much better prepared to face the demands of training than if you focus on one particular type of movement alone.
Flexibility is vital for several reasons. The first is that it helps to improve posture. No doubt you have noticed many people at your local gym with severe postural issues. Some are hunched forward over their chest, while others have anterior pelvic tilt.
Mostly, these postural deficits result from a lack of stretching combined with undertraining of antagonistic muscle groups. Opening up muscles and making them longer, therefore, can lead to dramatic improvements in the way that you carry yourself.
Secondly, flexibility helps with mobility and muscle coordination. The more freedom of movement that you have, the better you’re able to use the muscle that you have. Sports players love stretching for this reason. The higher the range of usable movement that they can achieve, the more power they can unleash in different situations.
Thirdly and finally, stretching is an excellent tool for increasing blood flow to muscles, aiding recovery. The more you stretch your muscles, the more you signal to muscle cells that they need to adapt and grow new blood vessels. This process, in turn, helps to lengthen your muscles, making you feel less stiff every time you stand up and sit down.
How do you incorporate stretching into your regime?
Stretching doesn’t have to be a chore. There are all kinds of fun ways to include it in your routine. In fact, some exercise traditions are almost entirely based around stretching.
Yoga is one of the most fun ways to limber up. It’s mostly a series of stretches that open up muscle fiber and ligaments, improving circulation and robustness.
Many people wonder how often to do yoga for the best results before starting. The answer is “as much as you can.” Some advanced practitioners do it every day while beginners often start at once per week and then work their way up.
Why are some people more flexible than others?
Most of us get a sense of how flexible we are from an early age when we compare what we can do to other people at our school or in our class. You might have been one of those people who could always touch their toes, or you might have only been able to get as far as your knees.
How flexible you are depends on a combination of the efficacy of your training regime and your unique physical makeup. Some people, for instance, naturally have shorter muscle fibres than others and will never be extremely flexible.
Physical flexibility is, therefore, affected by a host of factors, including your age, your body and bone structure, the stretchiness of your connective tissues, and your overall bulk. The heavier you are, the less flexible you’re likely to be.
How do you improve flexibility?
The good news is that improving flexibility is just like improving any other aspect of your physicality. If you keep practicing stretching moves, your muscles will eventually adapt and get longer. It might take several months of concerted effort, but the results will be worth it.
Remember to incorporate both static and dynamic stretching in your routine. Static stretching is where you hold a position and feel the burn. Dynamic stretching is where you incorporate tension on the muscle into movements.