According to David Geier, the director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, “Flexibility is the third pillar of fitness, next to cardiovascular conditioning and strength training!” Truer words were never spoken. Flexibility can help your body reach its optimum fitness level, may play a role in injury prevention, and can even contribute to staving off conditions like arthritis and more serious illnesses.
Importance of Flexibility
According to humankinetics.com, “Improving your bending ability is crucial for more than just preventing injury.” In fact, flexibility training is an important aspect of gaining strength and size. In addition to preventing injury, improved flexibility also goes hand in hand with full range of motion exercises like squats and dead-lifts, which are major muscle builders. Having tight hips and shoulders is a limiting factor for proper form on these exercises and can limit your program.
Importance of Stretching
When you stretch a muscle, you lengthen the tendons, or muscle fibers, that attach it to the bone. In fact, the longer these fibers are, the more you can increase the muscle in size when you do your strength training. The health website mindbodygreen.com points out that a “more flexible muscle has the potential to become a stronger muscle. In turn, building strong muscle fibers may boost your metabolism and your fitness level. Flexible muscles also make everyday activities easier on your body and may decrease your risk of certain injuries.”
Common behaviors, such as continuous sitting or slouching while laying on a couch, can shorten some muscles. That, along with the natural loss of muscle elasticity that occurs with aging, can set you up so any quick or awkward motion could stretch your muscles beyond their limit, resulting in a strain or a tear.
The website Mayo Clinic says stretching may improve your circulation, increasing blood flow to your muscles. And having good circulation can help protect you against a host of illnesses from diabetes to kidney disease. Greater flexibility has even been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Physiology indicated that people age 40 and older who performed well on a sit-and-reach test (a seated forward bend that measures flexibility) had less stiffness in their arterial walls, an indicator of the risk for stroke and heart attack.
The rest of us need a level of flexibility that’s somewhere in the middle. To increase your flexibility, start with about 10 minutes of stretching a day, focusing on the major muscle groups: Upper body (arms, shoulders, neck), back, and lower body (thighs, calves, ankles).
Depending on how you typically spend your time, realsimple.com recommends that you focus on specific stretches for problem-prone areas. So if you’re pretty much parked at a desk from nine to five, you’ll want to give extra attention to your lower back and shoulders. If you’re on the move—picking up toddlers and bags of groceries, perhaps—concentrate on your hamstrings and arms.
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