Although it’s commonly ignored and overlooked, flexibility is one of the five components of fitness. Being flexible won’t cause you to lower your body fat or increase lean muscle, but it helps you maintain physical function and decreases your risk of injury. Regularly incorporating stretching into your fitness plan at the appropriate time and frequency will significantly increase your flexibility
Flexibility is the degree of range of motion you have at each of your joints, which is also commonly referred to as range of motion. You should have a certain degree of motion at each of your joints. When your muscles are tight and shortened, they constantly pull on your bones and limit that normal range of motion. According to Chat Williams of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, flexibility is influenced by age, gender, physical activity levels and your own musculoskeletal structure.
Significance of Flexibility
Having a healthy level of flexibility is important for improving movement and decreasing the risk of injury. If your flexibility is limited, it can lead to injuries and pain. When your muscles are tight, your physical performance is adversely affected because of the lack of range of motion. Because of long hours spent sitting, your lower back, glutes and hamstrings can get tight, which causes them to pull on your pelvis bone. This can affect your posture and lead to lower-back pain, but stretching keeps your spine in better alignment. According to the American Council on Exercise, being more flexible also reduces the risk of injury because the muscle is less likely to be overstretched during activity.
You can significantly increase your flexibility with regular static stretching. Static stretching involves getting into a position where your muscle is elongated and then holding that position for a period of time. The best time to stretch is when your muscles are warm, so either do five to 10 minutes of light aerobics or fit in your stretching routine immediately after your cardio workouts. Complete each stretch three to five times and hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds. Avoid performing static stretching before your workouts, as it can adversely affect your performance because it relaxes your neuromuscular system.
Flexibility work can also be used to prepare your muscles for exercise, but you should be performing dynamic stretches instead of static ones. Dynamic stretches elongate your muscles, but require you to keep moving. For example, take a step and pull one knee to your chest and then immediately release and switch legs. This type of stretching stimulates your neuromuscular system and increases body temperature and blood flow.