Flexibility is the measure of the range of motion about a given joint that is designed to be articulated, manipulated and stabilized by bone and muscle. It is because of this articulation that we are able to move and interact with the world around us. More specifically in all exercise or sports flexibility is required and determines how we will perform in each discipline.

Range of Motion (ROM) is the measurement in degrees of the maximum—minimum angles a joint can be flexed. For instance, the knee complex is designed to move in one direction from a straight leg (180°) to its acute contracted position(approx 45°) giving us a range of motion of approximately 135.° This range of motion is obviously dependent on the individual as injury, age and various other factors will effect the elasticity in the joint. These limiting factors are our primary focus as they can be the primary cause of injury during activity.

ACSM Flexibility Exercise

  • Adults should do flexibility exercises at least two or three days each week to improve range of motion.
  • Each stretch should be held for 10-30 seconds to the point of tightness or slight discomfort.
  • Repeat each stretch two to four times, accumulating 60 seconds per stretch.
  • Static, dynamic, ballistic and PNF stretches are all effective.
  • Flexibility exercise is most effective when the muscle is warm. Try light aerobic activity or a hot bath to warm the muscles before stretching.

Source: American College Of Sports Medicine

Flexibility Exercise is our primary defense against these injuries. If the muscle is too tight during exercise, over stretching it can cause a tear in the myofibril (muscle fiber), ligament and/or tendon which will can require immediate medical attention and time off of training to heal.

There is more than one way to stretch the muscles. And as flexibility and range of motion are joint specific, it is possible to have poor range of motion in one joint and above average ROM in another. The various types of stretching as defined by the U.S.Public Health Service Commission Corps:

Ballistic Stretching: Ballistic stretching involves a bouncy approach to reach the target muscle’s motion endpoint. A concern, however, with ballistic stretching is that it is often performed in a jerky, bobbing fashion that may produce undesirable tension or trauma to the stretched muscle and associated connective tissues. It may produce a potent stretch reflex that will oppose the muscle lengthening (Kravitz, 2009).

Dynamic Stretching: incorporates active range-of-motion (ROM) movements that tend to resemble sport or movement-specific actions. For instance, a volleyball player might do some shoulder flexion and extension actions prior to a game. The rhythmic nature of a controlled dynamic stretch has a functional application owing to its similarity to the primary movement task. Dynamic stretching is often incorporated in the “active” phase of warm-ups (Kravitz, 2009).

Static Stretching: probably the most commonly used flexibility technique and is very safe and effective. A muscle or muscle group is gradually stretched to the point of limitation (a mild, even tension) and then typically held in that position for 15-30 seconds (Kravitz, 2009).

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF): involves initially contracting the target muscle, then relaxing and stretching it with an assist from a partner or an applied force (i.e., towel or rope). A variation (contract-relax agonist-contract method) involves performing a contraction of the opposing muscle during the stretching phase to take the target muscle to a new, farther motion endpoint (Sharman, Cresswell & Riek 2006).

Resistance Stretching: Resistance Stretching has gained much attention and interest. It focuses on contracting the target muscles as they are lengthened. Some of these stretching moves can be done alone and others with a partner. In the first phase, the target muscles are placed in the shortened position. Then the person who is stretching his or her muscles contracts the target muscle(s). While contracted, the muscles are taken through a full ROM (lengthened), either by the person alone or with assistance from his or her partner. So, Resistance Stretching incorporates a strengthening component through the entire ROM. In essence, it is a carefully performed eccentric contraction (Kravitz, 2009).

The most effective of these stretches, PNF, requires clear and open communication between athlete and assisting partner but typically yields the most results. Regardless, stretching to open up range of motion will decrease joint pain, and injury while increasing form and joint leverage. There is some debate as to how much, if any, power is lost after a pre-exercise stretching routine. Overstretching is another issue as too much stretching can cause muscle strain, imbalance and weakness. Muscular imbalance occurs when a muscle or muscle group is tighter than its antagonist. This will cause a skeletal shift about the effected joint creating limited range of motion, pain and loss of mobility. In most cases muscular imbalance can be corrected with rest and mild stretching and ROM exercises.

Testing for Flexibility about each joint is simple and a very cost effective way to prevent injury. It is always a good idea to have your flexibility assessed prior to starting any sport or exercise routine. If you would like your flexibility tested, contact Carolina Gold Fitness and set up your appointment today!