Hey Angels and Alphas, do you remember the five main fitness components?
I’m talking about cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, body composition, muscular strength, and muscular endurance.
Out of these five, which one do you think gets overlooked the most in the fitness community?
You guessed it – flexibility!
Most weightlifters disregard flexibility because of their lengthy routines. Some people argue it has no benefit for the heavy lifters, and some deny it even exists!
But jokes aside, we have to address this topic. After all, what we’re all after is physical fitness – this means more than going to the gym three to five times a week. It means more than lifting weights and doing cardio. Physical fitness means feeling free in your own body, and flexibility is just that.
Today, I want to talk about what flexibility is, what it isn’t, and give you an overview of all the benefits you get for those extra five minutes of stretching at the end/start of your workout.
What is flexibility, and what does it truly mean to be “flexible”?
Flexibility is the ability to move your joints effectively through their complete range of motion – the level of tissue extensibility that a muscle group has. Every muscle group has a different level of flexibility and range of motion, but you can always improve them with the right training, even at an older age.
Having flexible joints is crucial when it comes to living a healthy, pain-free lifestyle.
As one of the leading components of fitness, it plays a monumental role in productive physical activity. If you’re a football or basketball player, flexibility plays a huge part of your overall fitness profile. And in activities as gymnastics, it’s honestly the most important physical attribute.
By stretching and training your body to become more flexible, you allow your body to perform deeper movements while building more strength and stability.
To become “flexible” and reap the performance benefits, you need to have a balanced routine of static and dynamic flexibility training. Static training aims to develop muscle elasticity and joint mobility and improve overall flexibility, while dynamic training is all about the full range of motion of your muscles during daily activities such as sports.
Due to being so neglected in the weightlifting community, flexibility remains misunderstood by most people.
We often believe flexible people are those who can bend down and touch their toes, or squat to the ground, and even though that’s true, flexibility goes beyond the ability to do a single stretch.
When you improve your overall flexibility, your muscles and joints will have a higher range of motion, you’ll be able to perform tasks with ease, and your body will feel more balanced and comfortable while you’re going about your daily activities!
Challenge: bend over and touch your toes to test how loose/tight your hamstrings are.
How do we train to become more flexible?
There are three factors you need to consider when training for flexibility: muscle length, muscle elasticity, and joint structure. While genetics are going to be the main deciding factor in the formation of your joint structure, you can still improve your muscle length and elasticity through exercise and physical activity.
There are a few different types of stretching you can do to improve flexibility, but the best way, of course, will be a balance of all three.
- Static stretching means moving into a position that lengthens your target muscle, then holding that position for up to a minute. – exercises include the standing hamstring stretch, the triceps stretch, and the figure four stretch.
- Dynamic stretching means moving in and out of a position that lengthens your target muscle, also known as ballistic stretching. This stretching often involves using subtle bouncing movements to put pressure on and off the tissue. – exercises include the leg crossover, the page turn, and the spinal twist lunge.
- Active stretching, also known as isolated stretching. It refers to moving your joints through the complete range of motion of the muscle, holding the stretch briefly, then going back to square one and repeating. This stretching method is the most famous among athletes for fixing muscle imbalances and preventing injury. – exercises include the quad stretch, the psoas stretch, and the IT band stretch.
All three of these types of stretching are essential, but you don’t need to do them for hours and hours to reap their benefits. You don’t need a special class or machine. Stretching is something you can do pretty much anywhere. You can just put on a YouTube video about stretching exercises and have everything you need to become more flexible!
However, the best approach you can take is to create a stretching program that focuses on your individual needs and imbalances and incorporate it into your regular routine. Similar programs start with a series of stretches that warm you up and lengthen the muscles all around your body, improving joint mobility and range of motion, and preparing you for more intense exercise.
To improve flexibility, all you really need is 5 or 10 minutes a day.
Another workout method that might help is cross training – this refers to a few different cardio and strength exercises such as lunges or swimming strokes.
Lunges will strengthen your quad on one leg, and lengthen your hip joint on the other. Swimmers often have super flexible upper backs and torsos because proper swimming strokes effectively stretch these muscle groups.
Note: You should perform flexibility training after a proper joint warm-up – it’s the only way productive stretching can take place.
The benefits of flexibility!
Aside from gym performance, flexibility is a crucial part of everyday activities and has a positive effect on your overall well-being. Even getting up out of bed and carrying around groceries becomes more natural for someone who’s flexible.
This added level of physical freedom is why flexibility training is so crucial – not only will it help you handle all your physical tasks with more ease, but it’s truly a necessary part of everyone’s life (especially when you consider that your level of flexibility tends to decline as you grow older.)
Do you think you only get better posture, less joint pain, and more freedom in your own body?
The list of benefits goes way beyond that, but I’ve managed to bring it down to the big three…
1. Reaching peak performance.
To reach your full potential in the gym, you must utilize the full capacity of your muscles so you can exhibit all your strength and power. You need to work on muscle length and mobility because tight and stiff muscles aren’t going to provide all the explosiveness you need for intense exercise.
If your biceps are tight, you’re not going to be able to perform the full range of motion of a curl. If your hip flexors are tight, you’re not going to be able to extend fully while running. Flexibility changes that – it enhances movement and mobility.
Flexibility will also improve your strength in the gym because having flexible muscles will help you adequately distribute tension along the muscle group, and your joints will become strong and mobile enough to support your movements.
Once you increase your flexibility, you essentially allow your body to move and perform more effectively.
2. Improving physical and mental well-being.
One thing you have to realize is that flexibility improves not only muscular strength and endurance but also your ability to perform aerobic training. Full range of motion is vital for fluid movements such as swimming and sprinting.
It also decreases soreness, especially in athletes who work out at a much higher intensity level.
And it’s not only physical fitness! Stretching helps you relax and enables you to take tension off your body. Taking the strain off leads to not only better physical performance, but more mental toughness. By stretching and opening up your body, you’re guaranteed to get a feeling of relaxation that calms your state of mind. It’s a way to unwind.
A focus on muscular pliability also improves your posture and allows for proper body and joint alignment, aiding in the correction of muscular imbalances.
3. Less pain, fewer injuries.
To top it all off, flexibility is also a massive factor in injury prevention.
It’s no wonder stretching exercises are such a big part of injury rehabilitation, sport-specific preparation, and post-workout recovery.
The more flexible you become, the more you’ll be able to withstand physical stress. Ridding the body of muscle imbalances (by strengthening underperforming muscles and stretching the tight ones) will also reduce your chance of getting injured.
When your muscles become looser, you’ll also feel less pain and aching around your joints.
The key benefits of flexibility are:
- Better performance in daily activities
- Better joint health
- Better posture and muscle balance
- Better gym/sport performance
- Muscle cramp prevention
- Pain and injury prevention
- Relaxation and stress relief
Now if this doesn’t sound like a good list of benefits, I don’t know what does!
If you’re someone who is serious about working out, you can’t miss out on one of the major fitness components.
It’s undoubtedly one of the most overlooked parts of fitness, and it’s going to bring a massive benefit to anyone who chooses to incorporate it into their routine!
Flexibility is more important now than ever before – don’t let it take a back seat to big biceps and rock hard abs!