If you have been following the news, you know that Calgary experienced one of the worst floods in 100 years late last week. The last few days have been very difficult here in Calgary and many of our friends and some family have been greatly impacted. We just wanted to say that we are thinking of you and are here to lend our support in any way we can. Stay safe and take care of yourself through this difficult time!
Ten years ago, when socializing with friends the conversation revolved around the latest fashion trends or the newest restaurant opening in town. Today, the conversation among friends is about the latest aches and pains we are experiencing. From knee pain to plantar fasciitis, we commiserate about how we’re getting older and don’t know how much longer we can keep up with our fitness routines.
The reality is that it will be more than fitness routines that will be affected as we get older. Our ability to perform daily activities is compromised when our muscles are tight and joints don’t move as fluidly. So what can we do to maintain mobility now and in the future? Improve your flexibility!
Regular exercise is important for maintaining a healthy heart, muscle mass, and strong bones. An important but often neglected part of an exercise routine is flexibility training. Like many people, I am guilty of often skipping a stretching routine after my workout. When short on time, I prefer to use the time on cardio or strength training; however, I have suffered the consequences. Many of my injuries have resulted from lack of flexibility. After costly visits for Active Release Therapy (ART), I promise myself to do more yoga and to stretch daily. Sticking to a plan requires intention!
What constitutes flexibility training?
Essentially, “flexibility training exercises help your muscles stretch farther in a given direction. Flexibility training helps prevent cramps, stiffness, and injuries, and can give you a wider range of motion. These exercises also emphasize proper breathing, balance, and alignment” (http://www.pennmedicine.org/health_info/exercise/000316.html).
You can work on your flexibility in many different ways, including practicing yoga, taking Pilates, tai chi, and/or performing a regular stretching routine. Some people like to do them all, while others prefer one over another. In addition to a regular flexibility training routine, stretching your muscles after a cardio and strength training session is very important, as last week’s guest trainer, Brianna Reid, continues to remind me!
How should I stretch?
There are different ways to stretch your muscles; however, regardless of what approach you use, be sure to apply gentle pressure. Stretching should not hurt. Research on stretching shows there are proponents of various methods including static, dynamic, ballistic, PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation), and AIC (active isolated stretching). Over the last few years, studies have shown mixed results and messages regarding the different methods. Some types of stretches have been shown to be more effective in different circumstances. For example, a study of young, elite athletes showed that PNF produced greater increases in joint range of motion (ROM) than static stretching. PNF involves alternating between contracting and stretching the muscles using techniques like hold-relax, contract-relax, and slow reversal-hold-relax (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2003).
Static stretching – slow, controlled lengthening of a relaxed muscle until you feel a stretch in the muscle. In this type of stretch your body is at rest and you are stretching to a point of tension and holding it for up to 30 seconds. For example, a static stretch is sitting on a mat with your legs in front of you and stretching your body forward to reach your toes.
Dynamic stretching – uses controlled movements to improve the range of motion and loosen up muscles specific to sports activities. So for runners examples of dynamic stretches might include walking lunges or butt-kicks. For tennis players dynamic stretches might include jogging around the court while performing wide arm circles.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching after exercise rather than during warm up because flexibility exercise is more effective when the muscles are warm. However, other experts suggest that dynamic stretches can be done before your activity as they are focused on increasing your range of motion for the specific activity. If you want to learn more about the various methods, how to perform them, and the pros and cons, visit the following sites:
Active Isolated Stretching – http://youtu.be/qNizTKVhOoo
Good flexibility is important for sports performance, carrying out activities related to daily living and maintaining an independent lifestyle. Listen to Brianna and include a good dose of stretching in your daily routine.
We leave you with guidelines for flexibility training, which have been excerpted from the book, Foundations of Professional Personal Training (Can-Fit-Pro, Human Kinetics, 2012):
Guidelines for Flexibility Training
- Don’t overdo it; work within your limits.
- Breathe comfortably. Exhale as the muscle lengthens to assist in relaxation.
- Perform flexibility exercises for each muscle group for total-body improvements.
- Work with warm muscles because they lengthen more easily and with less discomfort.
- The best time to do flexibility training is after the cardiorespiratory workout.
- Modify. You can alter the difficulty of a stretch by paying attention to single-joint versus multi-joint movements (complexity), position of the stretch (whether it involves balance), available ROM (individual limits), length of the lever (longer is more difficult), degree of exercise difficulty, chosen stretching technique, and effect of gravity (as an assistance or resistance).
- Choose activities that serve two functions: relaxation and flexibility. This does not mean that the entire time has to be spent stretching.
Funk, Daniel C. et al, “Impact of Prior Exercise on Hamstring Flexibility: A Comparison of Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation and Static Stretching,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2003, 17(3), 489-492
Canadian Fitness Professionals Inc. (Can-Fit-Pro), Foundations of Professional Personal Training, Human Kinetics, 2012.