You’ve probably heard the adage “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” This fundamental truth can absolutely be applied to flexibility. Flexibility is a key component to a balanced training regimen but can often go unnoticed or even forgotten. Most people might be under the impression that flexibility is an inherent trait and you’re either flexible or you’re not. The truth is flexibility can be improved in any age group that consistently follows a flexibility program.
There are a few principles to flexibility that must be understood to design a program to improve range of motion (ROM).
- Flexibility is specific to the joints/ muscles/ connective tissue involved. For example, the hips and shoulders naturally have high ROM because of the ball and socket design of the joint. Ankles and wrists by comparison are much more limited in the planes of motion they can move and degree of mobility. Poor ankle flexibility/ mobility can hinder the depth and quality of squats, and poor wrist mobility can make it hard to train front squats or Olympic lifts
- Since flexibility is specific the joints/ muscles/ connective tissue there is no single assessment for overall flexibility. Instead, assessing overall flexibility would involve multiple assessments testing different movements. This also means that prescribing a flexibility program must involve multiple movements of different joints/ muscles/ connective tissue to provide encompassing benefit.
- Joint laxity is not the same as flexibility. You might have heard some people described as “double jointed,” or more correctly having hypermobility. This characteristic is frequently associated with laxity of the ligaments surrounding the joint and is often paired with weak muscles around the hypermobile joint. Laxity can be derived from genetic disorders (Marfan’s syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, etc.), injuries (torn/ sprained ligaments) or other structural abnormalities of bones and connective tissue.
- Too much stretching/ flexibility during a warm up before sport/ competition can be detrimental to maximal power and strength. For sports that require high amount of strength or power (weightlifting, football, basketball, etc.) avoid static stretching during warm ups. Instead try a dynamic warmup that mimics the movements of the sport/ competition you are taking part in. Stretching as part of a cool down after sport/ competition can help to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in the few days afterwards (HINT: if you are the weekend warrior type your body will thank you for incorporating appropriate warm up and cool down procedures).
- The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends engaging in a regular stretching program 2-3 days per week in order to improve ROM (not counting warm up and cool downs).
Flexibility is an essential sphere of health-related fitness because it can help prevent pain, improve recovery and improve performance capacity. Poor flexibility can lead to chronic joint and muscle pain which makes it hard to stay active. Whether you are an elite level athlete, weekend warrior/ mature athlete, or silver sneakers member, flexibility is equally as important for athletic performance and activities of daily living.
Alex Edwards, CEP
Disclaimer: Articles are based on real cases seen at Scottsdale Sports Medicine. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images and information, contained on or available through this web site is for general information purposes only. Please consult your medical professional for individualized healthcare.