Flexibility is often defined as the ability of a joint to move through full range of motion. This is often achieved through stretching. Stretching is accomplished by taking soft tissue (muscle, tendon, or ligament) to a position which will lengthen it. It can be done both dynamically and statically.
Dynamic stretching involves movement and is accomplished by taking the joint through full range of motion many times. This type of stretching is most typically done in athletes.
The most common form of stretching is static, which is important to do after a proper warm up. For example, 5 to 7 minutes of walking or biking. After that warm up, the body part is taken to a position of slight pull and held for 30 seconds. Each static stretch should be repeated 3 to 5 times. These stretches should NOT cause pain and pull should be constant; NO bouncing. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretches to be done twice per week unless joint motion or range of motion is lost at that joint, then stretching activities should be done daily. The greatest increase in flexibility occurs with daily stretching. Typical muscle groups in need of stretching are the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and pectorals or chest muscles.
Common stretching positions include:
- Quadriceps – Stand on one foot while holding onto a countertop or back of chair for balance. While standing up straight, bring the other foot toward your buttocks. Once a stretch is felt on front of the thigh hold the leg in this position by grasping your ankle or foot with your hand. Your knee should be pointed toward the floor.
- Hamstrings – Sit at the edge of a sturdy chair. Extend one leg out fully so your knee is straight and the heel of your foot is on the floor. Sit up straight, slowly lean forward bending at the hip until a stretch is felt in the back of your leg.
- Calves – Stand with your hands on a wall supporting the majority of your body weight. Place one leg in front of the other as if you are taking a step. Keeping your back leg straight with your heel on the floor, lean into the wall by bending your front knee until a stretch is felt in your calf.
- Pectorals – Stand in a corner with your hands placed on the wall of each side at shoulder height. Lean forward into the corner keeping your head over your shoulders until a stretch is felt in your chest. Avoid arching your lower back or allowing your head to poke forward.
There are many benefits of stretching, including better posture and stress relief by improving the flexibility of tight muscles. Stretching also promotes circulation and helps to improve or maintains joint range of motion. The preservation of good joint range of motion leads to better balance and mobility. Most importantly, people who are flexible experience prolonged independence and are able to maintain their desired activity level.
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