Thursday, October 6, 2016

Focus on Flexibility

Flexibility is one of the most overlooked components of fitness. Flexibility is defined as the ability of your joints to move freely. When we think of fitness we often focus on strength, endurance, and cardiovascular conditioning, but if a person has impaired mobility and a limited range of motion, their performance will be impacted in a negative way.

There are many things that can cause mobility issues like disease or injury, but  many people today suffer from muscle imbalances due to living sedentary lives and more specifically hunching over a computer day after day. After years of doing this, certain muscles are stretched out and weakened while others or shortened and tighten up. 

The phrase "use it or lose it" certainly comes to mind when we speak about flexibility. Think about someone who has had a limb immobilized in a cast or sling after an injury for an extended period of time and how they lose the mobility in that joint when it ceases to move through a regular range of motion. That same concept comes into play in every day life in a more subtle way as we become less active and more sedentary as we age.

Activities like gymnastics, diving, yoga, dance, and martial arts obviously showcase the importance of flexibility, but any physical activity or sport and all of the everyday activities we do are easier if we are flexible. 

I have always been tall and have not had the best posture. I worked at a desk for 25 years and as a result I have developed a forward slouch like Shaggy from Scooby Doo. Last year I started doing Olympic style weight lifting and it was an eye opener to see how tight some of my joints were. When I attempted an overhead squat I had such limited mobility that I could only squat down a few inches. As a result I have made a commitment to improve my flexibility. I don't feel the need to do the splits or be a contortionist, but I know if I can improve my flexibility then my physical performance will also improve.

Good flexibility can increase your range of motion. It can also reduce risk of injury however in rare cases if  one's joints are too flexible they can also be susceptible to injury. Flexibility can help reduce muscle soreness after workout by stretching your muscles. Stretching is best done after a workout when your muscles are already warmed up. Remember it is safer to do hold a static stretch as opposed to ballistic bouncing movements. 

Over the years there have been conflicting studies done on the benefits of stretching as it relates to athletic performance but I am still an advocate of improving one's flexibility and I really believe the average person will benefit greatly by improving their flexibility. Just ask anyone who has a hard time bending over to pick something up if having greater flexibility would enrich their lives. Remember to make a place for flexibility training in your wellness program.