Flexibility Training Tips

There are 3 main components of exercise:  cardiovascular exercise, strengthening exercises, and flexibility training.  And let’s face it—those first 2 usually get much more emphasis.  Cardiovascular exercise (running, for example—anything that gets your heart rate up) and strength training (lifting weights) come with some rather immediate results.  They help us lose weight and build muscle, all while helping us be more fit.  But flexibility training?  It takes longer to see those benefits.

People exercising during a spin classBut here’s the deal:  as you grow older, flexibility becomes more important.  Being limber can help combat those aches and pains associated with aging; stretching can help you maintain better joint health.  It can also make those daily tasks—carrying groceries, going up and down stories, etc.—much easier.

Also, a life-long commitment to flexibility, stretching, and cardiovascular exercise can help prevent back pain (and of course, we’re concerned about that and are here to help you learn more about how to ease back pain!).

However, you can’t wake up when you’re 64 and suddenly be just as flexible as you were when you were 24.  It’s much better and much more effective to work flexibility training into your workout routine throughout your life.

(Rest assured:  if you are 64 and were hoping to regain some of that youthful flexibility, you can start working it into your workout routine now.  Just be realistic about the results.  You will, most likely, never be as flexible as you once were, but working on flexibility at any age is worthwhile.)

Talk to your doctor or a physical therapist before starting a new workout plan.  They can help you set realistic goals and develop a plan that best suits your life.  You may want to consider working with a personal trainer to help you ease into the new routine.

Below are some general guidelines for an effective flexibility workout.

Flexibility Training Is More than Doing a Few Stretches
Doing a few hamstring stretches after a run is yes, better than nothing, but you won’t see as many long-term benefits as you would see from a more developed flexibility program.

To get the most benefit from flexibility training, you should have a personalized program, one that takes into account your body and needs.  As mentioned above, a personal trainer or physical therapist can help you develop the right plan for you.

And remember:  the more time and attention you give to flexibility training, the more benefits you’ll see—especially those long-term benefits.

Take into Account Your Activities
The stretches that work for one sport or activity might not be the best to do for another sport; this is all part of that personalized approach to flexibility training.

Do you golf?  Are you more of a tennis player?  Or a runner?  What about in the winter:  are you a skier?

Think, too, about your daily life:  does your job involve a lot of lifting or sitting?

A personalized flexibility training program can help you improve your mobility (how well your joints move) and stability (keeping good posture and body alignment during activities so that your body isn’t under undue strain).  It can help you excel in your activities or sports, as well as help you take good care of your body on a daily basis.

Take Note of Tightness
Give special attention during stretching to muscles that feel tight.  The shoulders, chest, hamstrings, and hips are often tight, but you may notice tightness in other areas depending on injuries, how tough a particular workout was, or stress in your life.  By tailoring your flexibility training to your body, you’ll avoid overstretching muscles—or missing muscles that need attention.

Your Body Knows What’s Best for It
Listen to your body, and don’t push it too far when you’re stretching.  Instead, ease into a stretch and know when you’ve reached the limit of what you can do at that point.

Also, you should avoid ballistic stretching—that type of stretching where you bounce in and out of the stretch.  That approach isn’t as effective as slowly stretching your muscles and then holding the stretch for about 10 to 30 seconds.

You Can Be Creative with Stretching
You don’t have to do the same flexibility training routine every day.  Within the plan that was developed for you, you can use resistance balls, towels, or other props that will help you go deeper in your stretches.  Variety will also make you more likely to stick with your flexibility training plan.

Warm Up for Stretching
You may be a little confused—isn’t stretching a warm-up?  How do you warm up for stretching?  This is where a brisk walk or short jog can help:  get your heart pumping and your muscles limber before stretching.

Take a Flexibility Class at the Gym
Check your gym’s class schedule; it could be that they have a few flexibility or stretching classes.  Sometimes these classes combine cardiovascular work, strength training, and flexibility work—all 3 parts of exercise in one class!  Or you may take a class that’s exclusively focused on stretching.

Your Mind Can Stretch, Too
Yoga and Pilates are excellent flexibility training disciplines.  Plus, they teach you about relaxation, meditation, and other mind-body techniques—ways to help calm your body and emotions, which can, in turn, make your body more receptive to being stretched.

Stretching Is Important for Everyone
Maybe you have this false association with stretching—that only people in rehab do it or that it’s only for people who aren’t really in shape (that is:  it isn’t “real” exercise).  Well, it’s time to move past that misconception.  Everyone should stretch.  Look at Olympic and professional athletes for inspiration or proof:  they know that flexibility training is a key part of peak performance.

You Must Be Consistent
For stretching to be as effective as possible, it needs to be part of your routine.  This isn’t something that you do for a few weeks and then move on.  Regular stretching and flexibility work—along with cardiovascular exercise and strength training—will help you take good care of your body for years to come.

Updated on: 07/27/15
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