Flexibility Training Routine
Flexibility is not just important for gymnasts. After all, what good is muscle strength if the body can’t move? A lack of flexibility limits the range of motion, and it can also restrict muscle growth.
The goal of flexibility training (also sometimes referred to simply as “stretching”) is to support joint mobility while strengthening joint stability for maximum range of motion.
Why Establish a Flexibility Training Routine?
So what are the benefits of an effective stretching regimen? Len Kravitz, an exercise scientist at the University of New Mexico, compiled this list based on decades of scientific research:
- An increase in functional range of motion (Taylor, Dalton, Seaber, & Garrett, 1990).
- Reduction of low back pain and injury (Bach, Green, & Jensen, 1985; Farfan, 1973).
- Reduction in the incidence and severity of injury (Safran, Garrett, Seaber, Glisson, Ribbeck, 1988).
- Improvement in posture and muscle symmetry (Corbin & Noble, 1980).
- Delay in the onset of muscular fatigue (DeVries & Adams, 1972).
- Prevention and alleviation of muscle soreness after exercise (DeVries, 1961).
- Increase in the level of certain skills and muscular efficiency (Beaulieu, 1980)
When you’re establishing a flexibility training routine, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following set-up.
Frequency: At least 3 days per week
Intensity: Slowly stretching to a position of mild discomfort, but not to a level of pain
Duration: Hold stretch for 10 to 30 seconds
Repetitions: Perform each stretch at least 3 times
A Sample Routine
Hold your right arm straight out with palm facing up. With your left hand, push down on your palm until you begin to feel a stretch. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, and then switch sides.
Another handy exercise that works the upper arms and shoulders it the ‘T’ form. Stand straight with your arms extended to your side, palms down and parallel to the ground. Your body should look like a ‘T’. Slowly turn your palms to face behind you. Hold for at least 20 seconds.
Stretching the triceps is vital for sports like tennis and weightlifting to avoid triceps tendonitis and elbow pain. To increase the flexibility of the triceps, raise your arms straight above your head. Hold your right elbow with your left hand, and bend your right elbow until your hand meets your shoulder blade. Gently push down on your elbow with your left hand until you feel a stretch in the back of your upper arm. Repeat on both sides.
The wrists are often forgotten, but they need some stretching, too. With your right palm facing forward, gently pull back your fingers. Repeat for the left hand. You should feel this one on the bottom of your wrist and forearm.
You can do a similar move with your right arm extended and your palm facing down. Bend your wrist and use your left hand to push your right hand toward you. This stretch can be felt on top of your wrist.
This one will work your pectoral muscles. Stand near the end of a wall or inside of a doorway. Place your bent forearm on the surface of the wall with your elbow at shoulder height. Turn the body away from the arm and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat with the other arm. Lowering your elbow height will work the upper chest, and raising your elbow will work the lower chest.
This abs flexibility exercise also helps relieve pressure on the spine. It is a common move in yoga, usually referred to as the “cobra” pose. Begin by lying on your stomach. Bring your hands to your shoulders, placing them on the ground and pushing up. Curve your spine backward. Keep your head tilted upward toward the ceiling. Try to lift your hips off of the floor.
Stand at arm’s length from a wall, placing your left foot behind you. Keeping your left leg straight and your left foot completely flat on the ground, slowly bend your right knee forward. Hold for no more than 30 seconds, and then switch legs. As you increase your flexibility, you’ll be able to bend your knee further and lower your hips deeper into the stretch.
There are several simple ways to stretch the shoulders. One is to extend your right arm across your chest to toward your left side. Then, using your left arm, push the right elbow backward toward your chest. Another is to place your right hand in the middle of your back with your elbow pointing toward the ceiling. Then use your left hand to pull your elbow toward the right.
Back & Hamstrings
This move works on the back, but it also helps with the hamstrings and calves. Sit on the floor, keeping your spine straight and chin up. Extend your legs in front of you and slowly bend forward at the waist. Don’t reach your hands toward your toes unless you really want to work the hamstrings. Otherwise, you can just let your arms and hands relax by your thighs.
Some Final Tips
Warm Up First. This sounds counterintuitive at first, but warm-ups and flexibility training are two different things. The muscles need to be warm to effectively stretch, so start off with some moderate cardio work to raise your body temperature. Then you can work on flexibility before jumping into a more vigorous workout. You can also stretch after the workout to help prevent muscle soreness.
Find Your Endpoint.Don’t aim to stretch until it hurts. Stretch until the movement is noticeably limited. If you stretch to the point of pain over and over again, you can cause damage to the ligaments, tendons and/or joints. This, of course, will be worse for your overall flexibility.
Don’t Bounce. Bouncing during stretching exercises came about as an attempt to use the muscles to force the joints past their current range of motion. Recent research has found this can lead to injury, and it’s not even an effective technique. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons warns to never bounce during flexibility training.
Breathe.This sounds like simple advice, but it’s very easy to forget to breathe during focused stretching. Breathe slowly and continually.
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