Flexibility, which differs from person to person and from joint to joint, encompasses all components of the musculoskeletal system, including the connective tissues, that largely affect the extent of movement around a given joint.
In its simplest terms, flexibility refers to the total range of motion of a joint (or group of joints).
Extreme range of motion around a joint, however, can present an injury risk, so the goal of a stretching programme should be to optimise joint mobility while maintaining joint stability.
There is now a huge library of scientific research to support the following benefits of stretching:
- Increase in functional range of motion.
- Improved posture leading to reduced risk of lower back pain.
- Reduction in the incidence and severity of injury.
- Delay in the onset of muscular fatigue, helping to improve sports performance.
- Enhanced mental wellbeing.
All that in mind, we spoke to Dean Hodgkin, personal trainer and head of programming at community wellness and fitness app, TRUCONNECT by TV.FIT, to discuss four of the most practiced stretching techniques – and the specific stretches to incorporate into your weekly routine…
This is the most common technique, requiring a gentle movement toward the end position to slowly lengthen your muscle, then holding at the point of mild tension for somewhere between 15-30 seconds, depending on whether you seek to simply maintain or improve your flexibility.
While this can be done simply using your bodyweight and gravity, it can also be practiced with the help of a partner – known as passive stretching.
Word of warning: never static stretch a cold muscle – doing so can actually tighten the area in question, and potentially lead to injury. Reserve these stretches for post-workout, when the blood is flowing and your muscles are in a fit state to be stretched.
- Reach one arm up and behind the shoulders to place your palm on the top of your spine.
- With your other hand, apply pressure to the back of the elbow to assist the palm in moving downwards, bringing a stretch to the back of the arm.
- Create a stable base by widening the feet and bending the knees.
- Lift one arm high and place the other on your opposite thigh to support your upper body weight as you lean to the side, lengthening the waist.
- In a seated position, take the legs out as wide as is comfortable.
- Then, shift your weight forwards on your sitting bones and place the hands in front, but keeping your chest open rather than rounding your shoulders.
- Try to maintain a long spine as you ease the hands forwards to target your inner thighs.
Involves gentle movement of the limbs within a comfortable range of motion. Usually, the movement is repeated with the aim of gradually increasing your range.
The key ingredient here is control, as movements should never be excessive. Dynamic stretches work best as a warm-up.
- Extend your arms without locking out the elbows and circle forwards, backwards and to help improve your coordination, one in each direction simultaneously.
- With feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent, rotate from the waist, using the arms to generate momentum.
- To avoid creating potentially harmful torque in the knees, turn the rear foot in and lift the heel as you rotate.
- From a wide stance, shift your bodyweight to alternate sides and simultaneously bend one knee to lift that heel towards your bum.
- Keep your trunk upright and hips pushed forward to feel the lengthening of the quadriceps in the front of the thigh.
Is a method of using momentum to take a joint through an extended range of motion. Unlike the previous method, it relies on greater force and is identified by a bouncing motion.
- In a continuous motion, cross the arms in front of you at chest level and then swing out to the sides and backwards to stretch your chest and front aspect of the shoulders.
- Aim for a smooth natural movement rather than forcing it.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, legs straight but knees not locked out.
- Hinge at the hip to lower your chest towards your thighs and reach for your toes with a gentle bounce.
- Try to keep your weight shifted towards the balls of your feet rather than heels to optimise the stretch you’ll feel in your hamstrings and lower back.
- Stand with one foot crossed in front of the other, knee a little bent for balance and torso upright.
- Now swing the rear leg to the side, as high as is comfortable, to stretch the adductor muscles in the inner thigh.
PROPRIOCEPTIVE NEUROMUSCULAR FACILITATION
Works by using your body’s nervous system to encourage extended lengthening of the muscles. Three sensory responses are used in combination, in a technique called contract-relax-agonist.
Firstly, the target muscle is stretched slowly and then held in position while you contract your muscle for around six seconds, but without letting it move.
Then the opposite muscle group is contracted strongly, which causes the target muscle to relax even more, so it can then be stretched to a much greater degree.
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation has been shown to be the best stretching method to improve flexibility.
- Either standing against a wall or bent over on a flat surface, move to a position with your arm out wide where you feel a stretch on the chest, then hold.
- Next, contract the chest muscles strongly to press against the solid surface, then relax.
- Now contract the muscles in the upper back and rear shoulder for a few seconds, then ease off and move deeper into the stretch.
- Lift one leg and place your heel on a flat, stable surface.
- Keeping your head lifted, lean the chest towards your leg to feel a stretch in the back of the thigh, and hold.
- Now try to press down with your heel, as hard as you can, on the flat surface, then ease off.
- Switch the focus to the front of your thigh, squeezing your quadriceps tight for a few seconds, then relax and drop deeper into the stretch by lowering your chest again.
- With the feet a stride-length apart, both knees bent, rest one knee either on the floor.
- Using your hand or a towel, if necessary, draw the heel towards your backside to stretch the front of the thigh.
- Holding the leg in place, now use the front thigh muscles to push into the hand or towel, as if trying to extend the leg – but don’t let it move.
- Follow this with a tight squeeze in your hamstrings, aiming to pull the heel closer to your buttocks, then use your hand or towel to bring it even closer, intensifying the stretch on the quads.
Visit the TRUCONNECT by TV.FIT app today to improve your flexibility through innovative programmes spanning pilates, yoga, meditation and more.