First, what exactly is flexibility? When you hear the word flexibility, you probably think of a contortionist or gymnast, but the technical definition is being able to move your joints through their whole range of motion. However, while many sports require great flexibility at the highest levels, you might think that flexibility doesn’t apply to you, but this isn’t true! If this is true, what exactly is the impact of flexibility in your life? Anything you ever do in your life has, is, and will continue to force your muscles to work. Let’s look at a simple analogy, like a rubber band. When you stretch a rubber band, it must be released it in order to fully extend it again. The joints and muscles in your body work in a similar manner. Now, let’s take a look at your own personal experiences. Think of one of your least favorite workouts that left you sore for days! During periods of high intensity, such as workouts, microscopic tears begin to form in your muscles, which causes you to feel sore. After these tears begin to heal, your muscles enlarge and strengthen, but they also tighten, bringing you closer and closer to a serious injury which may stay with you for your entire life. For females past puberty, it can help alleviate some of the pain that comes with the monthly cycle of menstruation, and for any who experience joint pain, stretching can prevent future, and possibly chronic (recurring), pain. Stretching lengthens and vitalizes your muscles as well, helping you feel relaxed, energetic, and ready to take on the challenges of life, whether you may be a professional athlete who trains for hours on end, or you’re a retiree who takes walks down the neighborhood, stretching is vital to your health!
Now, there are many different kinds of stretching, and each come with their own set of benefits! Static stretching is a method that involves holding your stretched position anywhere from between 10-30 seconds, and it’s generally considered the safest method, as well as the most beneficial to those who deal with chronic joint pain (as long as you don’t push yourself too hard). Dynamic stretching, as the name suggests, involves a lot of movement, more specifically, to swivel or twist certain portions/muscles to reach the full movement potential. The next method of stretching is known as ballistic stretching and requires “bouncing,” often varying between positions or just simply bouncing in or out of a position. This is thought to be more risky, particularly to those with previous/current joint pain. It’s most often used by higher-level athletes whose sports correlate with these movements. On the other hand, passive stretching doesn’t require much movement from the stretcher themselves, as they are assisted by another person, be it a trainer or a friend. Though ordinarily safe, it can provoke injuries such as a muscle strain/tear if the assist pushes the stretcher past their flexibility limit. Finally, we have PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) stretching. It’s commonly considered the best practice to increase your flexibility and consists of tightening a muscle immediately before in order to achieve a greater stretch.
Overall, having flexibility is key to sustaining long-term fitness, and prevents many different kinds of muscle, joint, and bone injuries. Stretching revitalizes muscles and rejuvenates the mind, all the while progressively elongating and strengthening joints and muscles affected.