Flexibility refers to the range of motion in a joint or group of joints, correlated with muscle length. Flexibility is a general component of physical fitness. Additionally, good range of motion will allow the body to assume more natural positions to help maintain good posture. Healthy, functional flexibility is a capacity to move freely in every intended direction. The development of functional range of motion entails challenging the ROM in a manner that closely mimics daily or functional movement.This component becomes more important as people age and their joints stiffen up, preventing them from doing everyday tasks. Stretching is therefore an important habit to start and continue as one ages. Flexibility of a joint depends on many factors, particularly the length and looseness of the muscles and ligaments due to normal human variation, and the shape of the bones and cartilage that make up the joint. Maintaining flexibility is important, as even though flexibility is gained quickly with the proper training, it is lost rather quickly during inactivity.
Factors Influencing Flexibility
The following internal influences may have an impact on flexibility:
type of joint - There are several different types of joint in the human body, some of which intrinsically have a greater range of motion than others. The ball and socket joint of the shoulder has the greatest range of motion of all the joints and can move in each of the anatomical planes.
internal resistance within a joint
bony structures which limit movement
previous injury - Injuries to muscles and connective tissue can result in a thickening (fibrosis) on the affected area. Fibrous tissue is less elastic and can lead to limb shortening and reduced ROM. (see myofascial release)
temperature of the joint and associated tissues
elasticity of muscle tissue, tendons, ligaments and skin - Deep connective tissue such as fascia and tendons can limit ROM. In particular, two characteristics of connective tissue, elasticity and plasticity are related to ROM. Elasticity is defined as the ability to return to the original resting length after a passive stretch. Plasticity can be defined as the tendency to assume a new and greater length after a passive stretch.
proprioceptors - The capacity of the neuromuscular system to inhibit the antagonists (those muscles being stretched) influences flexibility. (see muscle spindle and golgi tendon organ)
muscle bulk - hypertrophy and skeletal muscle may adversely affect flexibility
The following external influences may have an impact on flexibility:
temperature of the environment (a warmer temperature is more conducive to increased flexibility)
time of day (most people are more flexible in the afternoon than in the morning)
stage in the recovery process of a joint (or muscle)
age - Flexibility decreases with age. This is due, in part, to the fibrous connective tissue that takes the place of muscle fibres through a process called fibrosis
gender (females are generally more flexible than males)
restrictions of any clothing or equipment
one's ability to perform a particular exercise
one's commitment to achieving flexibility
Stretching is the most common method employed for improving flexibility, especially in muscles that are tight as a result of bad posture. It should be noted that stretching can be used for preparation of a muscle for activity or for increased range of motion. It is important to distinguish between the two and the type of stretching and the amount of stretching should vary depending upon the objective. This is often misunderstood, and frequently athletes do stretches for greater flexibility when it is not needed.
Muscle tightness, which has been associated with an increased risk of muscle tears, can be reduced before training or competing with dynamic stretching. There are several types of stretching available; selecting which type to use should depend up on what types of activities one is preparing for. Some types of stretching include static, ballistic, PNF, active, and dynamic.
Reasons for Stretching
The following is a list of possible reasons to engage in stretching.
Myofascial Release is a specialized massage technique employed to treat a variety of chronic disorders in which the muscle tissue is stretched and manipulated to relieve tension in the fascia, the thin tissue covering the muscle fibers. It works by breaking up fascial adhesions and also by manipulating certain neuromuscular receptors to allow muscles to release any tightness. Myofascial release can be self-administered, which is called self-myofascial release (SMR or SMFR). It includes, but is not limited to, structural assessments and manual massage techniques (most often through the use of foam rollers) which are designed for stretching the fascia and releasing bonds between fascia, integument, muscles, and bones. Myofascial releast techniques are applied with the goal of eliminating pain, increasing range of motion and balancing the body. SMR techniques should be administered pre-workout to improve mobility and muscle function, or post-workout to relieve muscular tension without damaging muscle tissue. It can also be done at any other time one feels the desire to.
How to Do SMR Techniques
Another reason SMR is so effective is the relative simplicity of the techniques. Below are the steps on how to self-administer myofascial release.
Position the appropriate muscle on the foam roller and find any tight and/or tender areas.
Once found, hold the muscle on the roller until the tenderness is decreased by 75%.
Continue on to another tender spot.
Do 1 – 2 sets per muscle group; it should take about 30 – 60 seconds for each muscle.
Key points to remember:
Breathe deeply and slowly to help your body relax; rapid, shallow breathing will prevent your body from being able to release tension.
Roll & move slowly; do not roll quickly over a muscle, as this will have the opposite effect of what you’re trying to achieve.
Sometimes when you first begin SMR it may take a little longer for a muscle to release but keep at it and soon it shouldn’t take too long at all.