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Flexibility: Do I really need it?

AF 15CW33 1 6pm AthleteEducationStretching

Is flexibility a form of training useful only for gymnasts and yoga enthusiasts?

At Freeletics, we say definitely not. In actual fact, flexibility is necessary for optimal performance. Be it weight lifting, running, bodyweight or simply performing everyday tasks, with so many positive effects on your body, it’s worth dedicating some training time to improving your flexibility. In this article we will take a look at why flexibility is important, what makes some more flexible than others and the various types of flexibility training you can practice.

Why is flexibility important for an athlete?

Flexibility is an important component of physical fitness and has many positive effects on the body. For instance, it improves mobility, posture, muscle coordination, reduces the risk of injuries and muscle soreness. It even leads to a better overall “shape”. But most importantly, it increases performance. It mainly increases your range of motion and makes it easier for you to perform certain exercises. Flexibility can occur not just through stretching but also through foam rolling or daily exercises. Basically, stretching before working out increases blood flow in the muscles. If you don’t work on your flexibility regularly, muscles shorten with time: best example is the hip flexor because we’re sitting too much. Limited flexibility feels like “stiffness”, restricts you in your daily life and when you’re exercising.

Why are some people more flexible than others?

When we compare how a gymnast moves to ourselves, it’s obvious some people are more flexible than others. This is down to two factors: native physical aspects and how a person trains. For instance, these physical aspects can influence your flexibility:

  • Age – you tend to become less flexible as you get older
  • Bone size and structure – the larger your bone diameter, the less flexible you’re likely to be
  • Connective tissues – degree of elasticity of the tendons and ligaments
  • Body bulk -the bigger your body, the harder it is to get into flexible positions

If you struggle to touch your toes without bending your legs, whilst others can easily bend over backwards, don’t worry. The good news is that it can be worked on.

How to increase flexibility?

Like most things in life, it’s down to daily practise, and regular exercise. However, sometimes it’s hard to make it a habit, simply because there’s a lot of uncertainty and urban myths about stretching. For this reason it makes sense to understand and distinguish static and dynamic stretching exercises.

What is dynamic stretching?

Dynamic stretching exercises are – like the name implies – performed dynamically at/until the edge of your range of motion. They are active movements of muscle that lead to a stretch but are not held in the end position. Hence, they serve two goals: warming up and increasing flexibility. If performed with caution, they can be used in a dynamic warmup. In general your range of motion/reach will be higher the warmer your muscles are. You can even include them in your workout – do some of them during rest periods to make use of the time in between. If you include them in your warm up or in the rest time in your workout you can gain flexibility in the long term.

What is static stretching?

Static stretching exercises are for example when you get into a stretching position until you feel tension and hold it for 20-30 seconds. However, not all of them are suitable for a warmup – simply because your muscles should be properly warmed up before they are stretched.

When should you stretch/work on flexibility?

  • Dynamic stretching should be done prior to working out. Before starting your workout, dynamic stretching (e.g., bodyweight movements) will help warm up your entire body.
  • Static stretching should follow the workout. Static stretches help to lengthen muscles that were tightened during the workout session.

Expectations about flexibility

Becoming more flexible takes patience. Work on your flexibility. Often. And not just physically. Flexibility takes a lot of focus, mental strength and persistence before you actually achieve the the position you are aiming for. So stick at it. And keep practicing. Your training will thank you.