Better to bend than Break - French proverb
Optimal movement requires flexibility. To maintain certain body positions, its imperative that your not only strong and stable but also flexible. Take yoga, for example - it requires more energy for a novice to get into and hold even the most basic of poses than someone. who has been practicing yoga for years. The same holds true in any physical endeavour. An inflexible athlete is more prone to injury. and expends more energy during movement than a flexible one. The more active you are , the more important it is that you stay flexible.
Efficient movements begins with good posture and the ability to maintain neutral spine, or your spines natural curvature. When you’re in such a position , the discs between you vertebrae in your spine are pressured the most evenly from left to right and front to back. this position also provides your arms and legs with the best possible platform from which to move and produce maximal force.
This neutral position means that your ears are lined up with your shoulders and that your pelvis is level in relation to you spine . to find this position, stand with you back against a wall . ideal posture would require that your head shoulders and butt are touching the wall. The thickest part of your hand should get stuck between the wall and you lower back. if your hand can slide all the way through this space , then your pelvis is tilted too far forward , resulting in excessive lumbar curvature. if the thickest part of you hand cant slide far enough, then your pelvis is rotated too far back.
Flexibility affects posture and the ability to find and maintain a neutral spine, if certain muscles are tight in relation to others, this condition can result in our head being too far forward our shoulders rounded , or our lower back being curved excessively or too little.
When Muscles are tight and posture is poor, movement is compromised. Movement is the most fluid and efficient when large primary mover muscles can be used mainly for movement and very little for stabilisation. when our muscles are tight and posture is affected , tendons ligaments and stabiliser muscles lose their ability to stabilise our trunk and joints properly . this state ultimately results in an increased risk for injury and decreased performance.
some of the most common injuries amounts endurance athletes are sprains and strains of the foot, ankle , knee hip, lower back, shoulders and neck. all of these types of musculoskeletal injuries can be minimised or prevented by increasing flexibility being strong with stable joints does you very little good in terms of injury prevention if your inflexible. stretching can help reduce stress on on joints and allow them to handle greater forces without sufferings significant trauma. in all sports flexible athletes are less likely to get injured , and strong athletes who don't stretch are usually the first to get injured. this is because as a person gains muscle mass , he or she generally needs to stretch more frequently to maintain flexibility.
Besides Injury prevention, maintaining your overall flexibility is an important element of performance. we need to limber in order to be able to maintain proper posture and joint alignments when were trying to produce force. Every movements we perform has what are called bio mechanically advantageous position. In other words , when bones are aligned properly , you’ll have the best platform from which to utilise maximal muscle strength . when we’re inflexible, joints can become misaligned , resulting in a loss of energy . tight muscles can also affect optimal ranges and paths are altered , primary movers become less efficient . for example, tight hamstrings can affect the length of a runners stride and a cyclist’s pedal stroke and result in less force production by their quadriceps.
Muscles, Tendons, and ligaments all have what are referred to as optimal length tension relationships. In other words, if our soft tissue is shortened or lengthened under or beyond a certain point, the tension of the tissue is altered. once this ideal length tension relationship between various muscles, tendons, an ligaments is lost , posture movement, and performance can all suffer. for instance , when our pecs are stronger and tighter than our rhomboids and lats we end up with rounded shoulder posture. if we become more accustomed to this postural position, movements that involve trunk stability or the shoulder joint will be more laboured. finally, our performance in any endurance sport will be negatively affected because they all require trunk stabilisation and some form of shoulder movement and stability.
To maintain optimal length- tension relationships, we need to strengthen and stretch all our muscles. This will help us maintain fore and aft and lateral symmetry. if we neglect the muscle on the front or back and left or right of the body, we’ll develop imbalance that can affect our performance. in other words we must stretch all of the major muscles in our body each time we stretch. we thus need to develop enough body awareness to be able to identify differences in flexibility between left and right sides and front and back of our body.
Even relatively sedentary people should make a habit of stretching at least 5-10 minutes per day . active individuals and athletes should spend 5-10 minutes stretching lightly before exercise and 10-15 minutes of deeper stretches after exercise. All stretching will be safer and more effective if it follows at least 5-10 minutes of light to moderate aerobic exercise. Light exercise increases blood flow to the musculature and results in greater elasticity. People who are genetically less flexible will need to spend more time and energy stretching to become flexible. In addition as we get older most if us will need to commit more time to stretching to maintain our flexibility.
There are two main ways to stretch; passively and actively. Passive stretches, the most common type, are when the stretch is deepened slowly , gradually and in a controlled manner. A passive stretch should be held for between 10 and 30 seconds depending on how tight the muscle is and the desired goal of stretching. it is also helpful to take full, slow and deep breathes while stretching passively. This will make the experience more relaxing for you and allow you to deepen the stretch slightly with each exhale. Passive stretches can be done before and after exercise.
Much more advanced active stretches are when muscles and supporting soft tissue are taken to full range of motion during specific movements . Stretching actively requires above average flexibility , joint stability and body awareness. Examples of active stretches would be a walking forward or lateral lunge or throwing a 2-3 pound medicine ball against a trampoline. The advantage of this type of stretching is that you can increase the amount of blood flow to soft tissue while you stretch. this makes active stretching most beneficial when performed before a workout as it can enhance your preparation for exercise. On the other hand its more difficult to control a stretch when its done actively , which in turn will increase the risk of injury while stretching . as result i have athletes i work with only stretch actively under my supervision and once i am thoroughly convinced that their body is prepared to meet the demands of the movement.
Stretching should not be painful or too strenuous or involve jerky or bouncing movements . the last thing we want to do is injure a muscle that we’ll need when we train! its also important to be careful not to over stretch a muscle thats not tight. Our goal is to increase or maintain flexibility in order to improve our range of motion , regain symmetry and enhance performance. Stretching beyond a muscles capability can eventually lead to compromised stability and function.
Exert from “Crosstraining for endurance athletes” - Raul Guisado
Raul is an Olympic coach. He is an accomplished bicycle racer, ski racer and surfer.