How Flexible Are You?
Flexibility is an important part of any fitness program, yet it is often overlooked or forgotten. Flexibility is one of the five primary components of physical fitness along with cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and body composition. Flexibility refers to the ability of a joint to move freely through its entire range of motion which is important for both activities of daily living and higher level performance such as sports.
Flexibility can be improved by stretching. Benefits from stretching include: improved blood supply, reduced stress, improved balance, posture and coordination, and reduced risk of injury. All of these benefits can improve physical performance for simple or complex activities. It is important to remember that lower intensity and higher duration will provide the optimal results when stretching. Stretches should be held for at least 20-30 seconds and should not involve any pain. Flexibility gains are most effective when performed below the pain threshold, as the body is less likely to guard against the stretch.
For higher level activities stretching should be done before and after. Stretching before activity helps to circulate blood to warm tissue and improve movement in the joints that will be involved with the activity. Stretching after activity helps relax contracted muscles and remove waste products from the muscle tissue.
Age and gender can affect a person's flexibility. Evidence shows that females are more flexible than males. Also, as we age the elastic properties of our muscles and soft tissue decline and we naturally lose some of our flexibility. Regular stretching can help offset these natural barriers and improve physical fitness/performance. Therefore, stretching should be incorporated into everyone's exercise/fitness routine and/or daily life.