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The Merits of Flexibility Training for Sport and Conditioning

Posted: Dec 03 2015

Flexibility Training for Sport and Conditioning

 

Flexibility training is perhaps one of the most undervalued components of athletic conditioning. While recent and ongoing debate questions its role in injury prevention, athletes can still gain much from a stretching regime.

From a volleyball spike to a rugby drop kick, the innate flexibility of your body’s muscles and joints play an integral part in performing many athletic movements that we tend to take for granted

In general terms, flexibility has been defined as the range of motion about a joint and its surrounding muscles during a passive movement. A passive movement in this context simply means that no active muscle involvement is required to hold the stretch.

Flexibility is also specific to the type of movement needed for a sport so flexibility in certain areas is definitely more important in some sports than others. Cyclists, for example, require less hip flexibility than hurdlers, and swimmers need more shoulder flexibility than runners

Flexibility refers to the ability to move joints through their entire range of motion, from a flexed to an extended position. The flexibility of a joint depends on many factors including the length and suppleness of the muscles and ligaments, as well as the shape or contouring of the bones and cartilage that form the joint.  Flexibility is in part genetically determined, but it can also be developed over time through progressive stretching.  By increasing a joint’s range of motion, mobility and overall performance can both be improved, and the risk of injury significantly reduced.

Improving one’s flexibility allows for more fluid movement around the court or field, along with greater ease and dexterity. Some other benefits may include an increase in how aware one is of one’s body and its inherent limitations, as well as one’s muscles feeling more relaxed after stretching.  Both of these have inherently positive implications for skill acquisition and performance.

Competitive sport can have quite an unbalancing effect on the body, in large part because certain muscles are used repetitively. Take racket sports for example. The same arm is used to hit thousands of shots over and over again. One side of the body is placed under different types and levels of stress compared to the other. The same is true for sports like soccer and Australian Rules football where one kicking foot usually predominates. A flexibility training program can help to correct these disparities in order prevent injuries resulting from chronic, over-use. 

Can You Increase Flexibility?

 In a word---yes. Improving one’s flexibility, as was stated before, is done mainly through performing various stretching exercises. The most common forms of stretching exercises are static, sustained stretching exercises that are slow and controlled. Static stretches are thought to be safe for most people. They involve a slow, gentle stretch of the muscle that is held in an elongated position for 10 to 60 seconds and repeated about three times.

 Another important form of stretching is referred to as dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching involves gradual increases in your range of motion and speed of movement with a controlled swing (but not bounce) that reach the limits of your range of motion in a controlled manner. You never force this type of stretch. Examples of dynamic stretching are slow, controlled leg swings, arm swings, or torso twists.

Dynamic stretching exercises help to improve the flexibility required in most sports and are often performed after a warm up before aerobic exercise training. Dynamic stretching exercises includes 10 to 12 repetitions of the movement. 

Ballistic stretching is another type of stretching that uses momentum in an attempt to force a joint beyond its normal range of motion This type of stretch is not recommended because there is an increased risk of injury (from overstretching the muscles, tendons or ligaments too suddenly).

How to Make Gains in Flexibility.

 For a stretch exercise to improve flexibility, it needs target the specific joint and provide enough stretch to the muscles and ligaments over time to allow for an adaptation to a new, increased, range of motion. Basically, what this means is that when you stretch, you need to feel the tightness and slight burning sensation that comes from going slightly beyond your normal range of motion. By doing so, you will develop a new range of motion over time. It is important to avoid over-stretching the muscles and causing an injury or muscle strain. The recommendation is to stretch to the point of mild discomfort but not to the point of pain. 

We will give you guidelines on developing flexibility and range of motion relative to one’s specific sport.  But for now, to get started in terms of developing long-term improvements in flexibility, stretch every other day for at least six weeks. Do keep in mind, though that when you stop using or stretching to work on this newfound flexibility, you are likely to lose the gains you have made in short order.  So that’s  as such of a reason as any to keep up with your new commitment to improving your flexibility, beyond any competitive or sport specific advantage that you might gain out of it.

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