Athletes of all types participate in – typically intense – sport specific training programs throughout the week; however, many of them overlook the concept of flexibility or misinterpret its meaning. Flexibility is not just being able to perform a perfect split, according the ACE, it is defined as “the range of motion of a given joint (group of joints) or the level of tissue extensibility that a muscle group possesses.” Not only can your performance suffer, but our everyday activities such as: vacuuming, reaching the top shelf in your closet and getting out of bed morning may all be negatively affected, if this aspect of fitness is neglected. We already have age working against us regarding flexibility as it naturally decreases year after year. Think about it, babies are incredibly limber and can contort into all sorts of positions without risk of injury, even put their foot in their mouth. Adults on the other hand are subject to the if you “do not use it you lose it” concept.
Flexibility & Optimum Athletic Performance
If your still not convinced that it is necessary for your specific sport – think again. For an athlete to achieve ultimate power output and strength they must recruit and employ the full length of the required muscle(s). For example: tight hip flexors may prevent a wide receiver, heading for the end zone, from reaching their full stride – hence not moving as fast as they could be. Or tight shoulders (to be generalized) may prevent a golfer from performing a technically outstanding shot due to range of motion restrictions in the follow through. Flexibility training may be an athletes key to finding hidden explosiveness necessary for reaching their true potential in a sport. There are a variety of stretching techniques used to increase flexibility and mobility.
Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
Most athletes have heard of the terms dynamic and static stretching, but the question is which one will benefit you the most & why? In addition, what are those benefits?
First, dynamic stretching involves movement and muscular effort to allow lengthening and activation of muscles. A few common exercises are arm circle, leg swings and lunges with an added twist. Among athletes these exercises are used to get their muscles warm and firing properly. On the other hand, static stretching is the most commonly used and involves holding challenging yet comfortable positions for a set length of time. Both are beneficial to a person’s muscular & joint health; however, each has a time and a place where those benefits are maximized. You may want to consider dynamic stretching as part of your warm up to build heat in the body, increase muscle recruitment and prepare the body for sport specific movements. Then, save most of your static stretching for after as means to relax, cool down and increase flexibility overtime.
Side Note* this is a highly controversial subject with varying scientific evidence that is not fully addressed here, this is merely an overview of the topic
We need to emphasize the fact that what benefits one athlete may not have the same effect on another. Every person has a different amount of fast and slow twitch muscles, participate in a variation of sports and require different levels of flexibility & mobility training to reach THEIR optimum performance.
Benefits of Flexibility Training
Injury prevention is an essential part of an athlete’s progress – not to say that there are ways to completely avoid it, but there are means to decrease susceptibility. Not only is flexibility training one of those ways, it may result in many other benefits to your health and longevity as an athlete including:
- Decreases in soreness & stiffness
- Increases in joint health (pliable muscles)
- Decreased risk of injury (as mentioned above)
- Improved posture and balance
- Relief of chronic pains (such as headaches & low back pain)
- Improved movement patterns (optimum performance)
- Increased mental toughness & focus – through relaxation and breathing, stretching allows athletes to clear their minds leaving them feeling refreshed. A time to reflect on practice, assess their bodies and/or cope with stress of a “big game”.
- And more
In conclusion, flexibility is an essential part of being “physically fit” and should be a part of every athletes training regimen; both professional and amateur. Focusing on this missing aspect of fitness may allow athletes to better reach their sport potential – through enhanced mobility, movement quality, muscle recruitment and mental focus.
Each sport specific athlete is different on a genetic level and increasing your knowledge about how YOUR body operates and processes nutrients will allow for more individualized programming.
Athletic Genetix was created to empower and educate athletes, using their DNA to derive game-changing plans to fuel their future.
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