| MICHAEL GREENHOUSE
WHILE RESEARCH indicates that joint range of motion is improved acutely and chronically after flexibility exercises, flexibility training continues to be one of the most over-looked aspects of most people’s fitness programs. With a growing focus on functional training to enable optimal body competitive and everyday activity performance, it’s imperative that proper levels of joint mobility be established to ensure quality movement.
DO: Roll it out.
While most people think stretching is the only way to enhance flexibility, self-myofascial release to address tissue density is also effective and should be incorporated into your exercise experience. Begin your warm-up with tools such as a foam roller, medball, baseball, tennis ball or lacrosse ball to decrease trigger points or “knots” within the muscles. Use these tools by applying pressure to commonly tight areas of the body to relieve tension and increase blood flow. In turn, rolling helps to enhance mobility and improve overall movement quality. Self-myofascial release incorporated into the cool-down offers even more flexibility-related benefits.
DON’T: Go in cold.
Research suggests that flexibility exercises are most effective when the muscles are warm. Therefore, engaging in light aerobic activity – such as jogging, jumping jacks or briskly walking to get the blood flowing to the tissue – can prove beneficial before performing static stretches.
DO: Get mobile.
When it comes to injury prevention, ensuring adequate joint mobility is crucial. The body is comprised of joints that tend to favor stability – such as the knees and lumbar spine and joints that favor mobility – including the ankles, hips, thoracic spine and shoulders. To get more out of movements, workouts should include a dynamic warm-up. A proper warm-up enhances range of motion in the four aforementioned joints. Proper warm-up movements should include mimic the five primary movement patterns: squatting; lunging; pushing; pulling; and rotational or twisting movements.
DON’T: Focus on one area.
Flexibility training, like resistance training, is joint specific. There is not one specific exercise or stretch that improves your overall flexibility. Instead, incorporate a variety of movements and stretching techniques into your training. The goal is to target the major muscle tendon units of the neck, chest, shoulder girdle, trunk, lower back, hips, legs and ankles.
DO: Mix up your approach.
From proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) with a partner to static stretching in mind-body modalities like yoga, mixing up your approach to flexibility will not only offer improvement in range of motion around the joints, it will also keep this component of your workout routine exciting and ultimately more enjoyable.
DON’T: Make it painful.
As is the case with any aspect of fitness, when it comes to flexibility training, you want to feel challenged. However, there’s a big difference between slight discomfort and extreme pain. When performing static stretching, make it a point to stretch only to the point of feeling mild tightness or slight discomfort to ensure the greatest level of safety and effectiveness.
DO: Prioritize flexibility.
While flexibility exercises increase general joint range of motion, chronic improvements are seen after three to four weeks of regularly stretching at least two to three times per week. For the greatest benefit, perform flexibility training after your resistance-training workouts. It is important to stay committed in your approach to stretching regularly.
DON’T: Skimp on static stretching.
For best results, aim to hold each static stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat each one two to four times, completing a total of 60 seconds per joint. This type of stretching needs to be performed after you have completed your training for that specific area. Doing static stretching then training will reduce the amount of muscular output which can lead to poor performance or movement related injury.