The importance of stretching and flexibility by Mary Tan
There are three important factors that make a good exercise regimen and they are cardio, strength training, and flexibility. Out of these three, flexibility is something that is often overlooked by athletes because many of them do not realize the importance of it. If you had a limited amount of time to be active, what would you usually choose to do? Do some cardio/weightlifting or do some stretching? I’m sure it would be the former because of the overall mental effect it would have on you in the end of your session. However, flexibility is just as important as nutrition because if your muscles were lacking in their range of motion, there would be a higher risk of injury down the line. For instance, let’s say you wanted to perform a squat, but your calf muscles were tight. Tight calves would limit your dorsiflexion, which is needed for when you descend into the squat. As a result, your heels would be raised, your knees would likely go past your toes, and the more posteriorly your pelvis would be turned the deeper you descend. The body is a kinetic chain; if one area is lacking, then every muscle group will be compensated.
We discussed the importance of flexibility, so let’s move onto how to gain flexibility. It is true that lifting weights does help with becoming more flexible but the best way to increase range of motion is to stretch, especially after exercising. There are many different types of stretching, but I will be discussing about the three most common types: static, dynamic, and ballistic. I will go over all three types right here.
Static stretching is the type most commonly used. Usually done after a workout, statically stretching a muscle is the best way to increase flexibility overtime. The most common example is sitting down and holding your toes to stretch your hamstrings. Static stretching is the type that takes the longest to perform, as each muscle group should be held for at least one minute.
Dynamic stretching involves taking your body through ranges of motion to warm it up prior to working out. Examples of such stretching include body weight lunges and squats, caterpillars, even jumping jacks. Although dynamic stretching elevates your heart rate and is great for warming up, this type of stretching does not necessarily lead to better flexibility.
Lastly, there is ballistic stretching. This type of stretching involves using momentum to “bounce” into or out of a stretched position to activate the stretch reflex in the muscle. An example of this would be bending forward to touch your toes and then relaxing at the bottom. However, since momentum is used, there is a higher risk of pulling the muscle. If done with caution, ballistic stretching may actually assist dynamic flexibility and can prepare the muscles for high impact activity.
The best advice I can give you when planning a good and effective workout regimen would be to warm up for a solid ten minutes using dynamic stretching and then go right into your workout before cooling down with static stretching. Never static stretch to “warm up” as your muscles will have inadequate blood flow to lengthen comfortably so you can risk pulling a muscle. Ideally, you should be statically stretching for 20-30 minutes everyday after exercising in order to maintain good flexibility. Flexibility is as important as nutrition after all!