The Benefits of Flexibility Training

From the Sports Fitness Advisor website


Flexibility training is perhaps the most undervalued component of conditioning. While recent and ongoing debate questions its role in injury prevention, athletes can still gain much from a stretching regime.

From a volleyball spike to a rugby drop kick, flexibility of the bodys muscles and joints play an integral part in many athletic movements.

In general terms, flexibility has been defined as the range of motion about a joint and its surrounding muscles during a passive movement. Passive in this context simple means no active muscle involvement is required to hold the stretch. Instead gravity or a partner provides the force for the stretch.

By increasing this joint range of motion, performance may be enhanced and the risk of injury reduced. The rationale for this is that a limb can move further before an injury occurs.

Tight neck muscles for example, may restrict how far you can turn your head. If, during a tackle, your head is forced beyond this range of movement it places strain on the neck muscles and tendons.

Ironically, static stretching just prior to an event may actually be detrimental to performance and offer no protection from injury. The emphasis is on “may” however, as a closer examination of scientific literature shows that effects are often minimal and by no means conclusive.

Muscle tightness, which has been associated with an increased risk of muscle tears, can be reduced before training or competing with dynamic stretches. For this reason many coaches now favor dynamic stretches over static stretches as part of the warm up.

Competitive sport can have quite an unbalancing effect on the body. Take racket sports for example. The same arm is used to hit thousands of shots over and over again. One side of the body is placed under different types and levels of stress compared to the other. A flexibility training program can help to correct these disparities preventing chronic, over-use injury.

Of course, a more flexible athlete is a more mobile athlete. It allows enhanced movement around the court or field with greater ease and dexterity. Some other benefits may include an increase in body awareness and a promotion of relaxation in the muscle groups stretched – both of which may have positive implications for skill acquisition and performance.


Dynamic Stretches

Arm Swings
1. Stand tall and hold arms out to your side.
2. Slowly swing your arms back and forth across the front of your body.
3. Repeat this continuous motion for 30 seconds.

Dynamic stretching - Side bends

Side Bends
1. Stand with a shoulder width stance. Place a toning bar on your shoulders (optional). 2. Lean to one side keeping your torso straight. Do not bend forward or backwards. 3. Hold for a count of 2 and then repeat to the other side. 4. Complete 10 stretches each side.

Trunk Rotations
1. Stand with a shoulder width stance. Place hands on hips.
2. With knees slightly bent, turn from side to side keeping feet firmly on the floor.
4. Complete a total of 15-20 full swings.

Dynamic stretching - Back stretch

Full Back Stretch
1. Lie on your back and bring both your knees to your chest with hands clasped under back of knees.
2. Roll forwards until your feet touch the floor and then immediately roll back until just before your head touches the floor.
3. Continue until you complete 10-15 full rolls.

Dynamic stretches - abs stretch

Abdominal Stretch
1. Start by lying on your back on the stability ball holding a toning bar at your chest (the toning bar is optional). 2. Push back with your feet and simultaneously push the bar over and behind your head.
3. Your legs should be straight and your arms outstretched.
4. Return to the starting position and repeat for 10-15 reps.

Dynamic stretching -Hamstring stretch

Hamstring Stretch
1. Lie on your back and place a piece of exercise tubing (or rolled up towel) around the bottom of one of your feet. 2. Pull the tubing and raise your leg at the same time until a comfortable stretch is felt. Return to the starting position and repeat for 10-15 repetitions.
3. Repeat with other leg.

Dynamic stretches - groin stretch

Groin Stretch
1. Start by placing your right knee on top of a stability ball and maintain your balance.
2. Slowly spread your leg out to the side until you feel a stretch on the inside of your thigh.
3. Return to the start and repeat for 10-12 repetitions before changing to the other leg.

Golf stretching - toe touches

Alternate Toe Touches
1. Start by standing with your feet spread as far apart as comfortably possible.
2. Lean forward toward one leg and try to reach your foot or until a comfortable stretch is felt in your low back and hamstrings.
3. Now try to touch the other foot with the opposite arm. This motion should be continuous alternately touching each foot (as close as possible) with the opposite hand.
Important: skip this stretch you are prone to low back pain or if it causes you any discomfort.

Leg Swings
1. Start by standing with your feet shoulder width apart.
2. Keeping your upper body perpendicular to the ground swing one leg forward and backward.
3. Do not swing your leg so hard that you cannot keep your upper body from moving.
4. Repeat for 10 full swings and repeat on other leg. 5. You can also swing your leg across your body stretching the abductors and adductors.

Use these dynamic stretches as part of your warm up. Start with 10-15 minutes of light aerobic exercise to make sure the body is thoroughly warm. While they are not as effective as static stretching for increasing flexibility they can help to prevent injury and do not negatively effect strength and power immediately afterwards. Static stretches can be performed after training or competition to increase flexibility.