Health & Fitness: Flexibility Training - What it is and Why It's Not Just for Athletes

By Ashley Aragona on November 13, 2012 from Health & Fitness via

I had originally planned to make this the balloon dropping, fireworks blasting, big finale of our Components of Fitness Series, but after starting on this weeks post, I realized that today's topic: Flexibility Training, and next time's topic Body Composition, really are worthy of their own post. So next time, I plan to wrap it all up together in one pretty package as we discuss Body Composition and see why all of these components of fitness are so important. I have also had a few requests to do a blog on my recent 3 day Paleta Juice Detox that I did, a sort of review if you will, so after our BIG FINALE of the Components of Fitness I will be posting that, so for those of you that asked, it's coming, and never fear, my gallbladder feels AMAZING after that detox.. but no spoiler alert! : )
Just to recap, thus far we've discuss: Muscular Endurance and Strength, Cardiovascular health, Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats and today we are going to discuss one of the final two components, Flexibility.
 So, let's dive in. 
For my fellow Big Bang Theory watchers out there, the picture is probably something you remember. The episode where Sheldon decides to start eating vegetables and become more active in order to live longer. Really funny episode, but also a good intro into Flexibility. If you were ever involved in athletics, or dance in school or college then you know how important flexibility and stretching is. Heck, you don't even have to be involved in athletics, you will realize this if you play a game of football on a crisp fall day and take off sprinting without stretching first. You know, THAT feeling. That muscle burn, pull, "ahh what did I do?" feeling. Flexibility training not only will help protect you from muscle injuries, not to mention improve your athletic or fitness performance, but it will also do some things you may not know like increasing blood flow to your muscles and helping to move nutrients into the muscle. So, how do you stretch and is there something actually called FLEXIBILTY TRAINING? Well, the answer is "Yes" there is such a thing as flexibility training and  Sheldon is somewhere on the right track, although I would suggest warming up some before going straight into toe touches.
Penn Medicine defines Flexibility Training as: Exercises help your muscles stretch farther in a given direction. Flexibility training helps prevent cramps, stiffness, and injuries, and can give you a wider range of motion. These exercises also emphasize proper breathing, balance, and alignment. Some forms of flexibility training, such as yoga and tai chi, include meditation and breathing techniques that can reduce stress.
 Here's a good guideline to get you started on your flexibility training:
  1. Make sure you are stretching correctly. While slow and controlled stretches can help you, fast and forced stretches are just bad, and can actually tear muscles so be aware of your technique.
  1. Don't see stretching as a warm up. This makes sense. You are stretching so that you don't dive into a physical activity and hurt your muscles, correct?  So if you don't want to work out with cold muscles, why would you want to stretch cold muscles? Consider doing some warm up activity BEFORE you stretch. My suggestion, walking, jogging, or light biking for 6-10 minutes should get your muscles warmed up, the blood flowing and prepare you to ease into some stretching. 
  1. Along with rule 1, don't force stretches and don't continue to stretch when there is pain. You should expect to feel some tension, possibly even sweat if you are in a good stretching session but definitely don't continue to hold a stretch if you are experiencing intense pain. Again, listen to your body.
  1.  Aim to hold your controlled stretch for 30 seconds each, repeating two to three times. 
  1. Take a Yoga, or Pilates  class. These classes are found at numerous fitness centers and if you'd rather stay at home, there are numerous videos. If you are hesitant, don't be scared. There are plenty of beginner Yoga and Pilates classes. The beauty of being in a live class is that you have a certified and educated instructor who can make sure you have the correct form and technique as well as give you tips. So if you are serious about getting some flexibility training in, this is my MUST tip. Also, the mood and ambiance of these classes really helps create an environment worthy of getting your stretch on. 
  1. Consider sport specific stretching. Know what activity you are preparing to do and know what muscles you are using. This is why I can't stress enough how important it is to be in tune with your body and all its parts. Again, back to the car analogy,  a mechanic has to know what makes the wheels turn, and what gives power to make the engine run. In the same way, you are the owner, operator and mechanic of your body, so you should know what parts it's using and how they are "running" when you are participating in an activity in order to achieve maximum efficiency AND protection while you're performing. 
  1.  Finally, understand the importance of flexibility and  KEEP WITH IT.  As we age, our tendons and ligaments lose their flexibility, making it hard to do even ever day tasks such as reaching into the backseat to get something ,or bending down to pick up something you dropped. Daily stretching helps keep your ROM (range of motion) in your joints. So, understand how important it is to take even 10-15 minutes a day and stretch. You will probably find like most people, that this is not only good for your body, but your mind. 
Next week, be prepared to tie this all together, it's the culmination of all of these posts for our grand finale, Body Composition, what it is, how to figure out yours, and why all of these components line up to help create it. 
Until next time,
Yours in Health and Fitness,

Connect Bridgeport
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