Flexibility Training Why It Matters
Flexibility plays a role with eliminating back pain. Read this short article to understand how and What flexibility is... then try some of the moves mentioned here and in the daily exercise routines.
You know you need it: flexibility! You stretch, stretch, and stretch some more but it seems that you’re body still is tight. To achieve and maintain flexibility to move easier and with less risk of injury, you’ll need to reset the body with specific strengthening movements as well as specific stretching techniques.
Can you touch your toes?
It may seem like an easy task, but one of the first measures of flexibility is ease of movement in touching your toes. The “Sit and Reach” test from middle school or even your local fitness club measures the general flexibility of your lower back and hamstring muscles. Because tightness in the low back and hamstrings is often related to muscle pain and stiffness, this test may help determine a person's risk for future pain and injury. But once you’ve found out your results, how can you improve your flexibility?
When you realize that you lack flexibility, understanding why you’re body is limiting movement is important. The body is framed by your skeleton and connected by the muscles. When the body senses that a muscle isn’t strong enough to hold the skeleton together, it will restrict movement and put tension on the muscles. Hence muscles feel tight. Therefore, in the simplest terms to achieve greater flexibility, you will need to strengthen muscles and then stretch the connective tissues. Connective tissues can be thought of as tendons, ligaments, and the muscle fascia.
Sometimes we feel a greater range of motion when we repeat movements. This type of gain is due to the muscle generating heat and allowing a natural stretch of fibers - think heating plastic to make it more elastic. But these gains are limited to the muscle tension set by the strength of the muscles.
For the lower back two effective and simple strengthening movements to instantly increase flexibility is the bridge and hamstring curl with a ball. Both of these movements will strengthen those muscles and ultimately allow greater flexibility.
Start lying on the ground with hands at your sides and knees bent. Slowly tip the pelvis toward your belly and curl the back side off the floor. Hold at the top of this movement and 8-10 seconds and release lowering back to the floor. Repeat this movement for 12-15 repetitions.
Hamstring Curl with the Ball/Towel.
Start lying on the ground with hands at your sides and knees bent with feet resting on the ball. Slowly tip the pelvis toward your belly and curl the back side off the floor keeping your feet balanced on top of the ball. Slowly extend the legs to parallel and then return to the bent knee position. Repeat this movement for 12-15 repetitions. If you do not have a stability ball, place your feet on paper plates for a carpeted surface or a towel for a tile/wood floor surface and perform the extension and bend.
You should feel your hamstring and glute muscles working on this movement. Although these are basic, beginner movements, performing them consistently, daily, you will see a great increase in your flexibility in as little as two weeks. Maintaining this strength will result in greater range of motion.
In addition to the strengthening moves, you will still need to stretch. Dynamic stretches like leg swings forward and back or side to side will help lengthen these muscles. Static stretches can be performed at the end of your workouts including seated straight leg reaches ( like the movement in the sit and reach test ) as well as single leg hamstring stretches lying on your back and bringing the leg towards the ceiling.
Common tight muscles.
Other areas of the body that are most likely to need flexibility training are the chest, triceps, and calves. The same techniques used above for the lower back would be applied.
Opposing muscles of the chest are the lats, upper back, errector spinae. Exercises that strengthen these and would decrease chest tightness would include lat rows, lat pull downs, superman, and rear fly. All of these movement patterns could be done dynamically to stretch the chest area.
Although many people would not feel tightness in the back of the arm, they might feel pain in their elbow which would signify loss of flexibility in the elbow joint. Strength moves include straight arm pull downs, bent arm pull downs and overhead tricep extensions with rotation at the end of the movement.
Many women experience foot pain due to tight calves from wearing high heels for a long period of time. Simple exercises would include toe pulls, or heel walks with toes raised. Stretches would include simple heel lowering from a platform.
Remember increased flexibility improves movement patterns, coordination, as well as can reduce the risk of injury. Having it feels wonderful- lacking it can be a pain each morning.