By: Michael Stefano
Michael Stefano is the author of The Firefighter’s Workout Handbook as well as a twenty year veteran of the New York City Fire Department. His simple yet highly effective training programs are used by firefighters across the country and, the general population.
A sensible flexibility program will not only enhance physical fitness, but can actually give you a more youthful body. Stretching increases suppleness by stimulating the production of chemicals that lubricate connective soft tissue. But besides becoming more limber, your ability to learn physical skills will be improved due to increased dexterity and coordination. Stretching after an intense resistance or cardio workout will also help reduce next-day, muscle soreness, promote healing of microscopic tears, as well as prevent future injuries to overused, tight muscles. Stretch training promotes relaxation, both physical and mental. Body awareness, good posture and proper breathing patterns will be enhanced, and carry over beyond the training session.
Types of Flexibility
Flexibility is defined as the absolute range of motion in a joint, or series of joints. We can further categorize flexibility into the following:
- Dynamic flexibility: the ability to bring a limb through its full range of motion.
- Active flexibility: the ability to assume and maintain an extended limb position, using only your own muscles.
- Passive flexibility: the ability to assume and maintain an extended limb position, using body weight, a partner or prop.
Extended periods of inactivity bring about chemical changes that can limit flexibility. Underused connective tissue loses elasticity as it becomes stiff and dense. The human body goes through a similar pattern as it ages. A properly executed stretch routine can reverse this process. It’s theorized, stretching stimulates the production of lubricants between connective tissue fibers and promotes hydration and suppleness of all connective tissue.
Stretch and Strengthen
Both flexibility training and strength training are necessary to achieve overall fitness. As a matter of fact, one of the best times to stretch is right after a resistance exercise. Static stretching of pre-fatigued muscles, done immediately after the movement that created the fatigue, increases the effectiveness of the stretch. A fatigued muscle is inhibited from contracting as hard, and thus limiting the stretch reflex. This allows an even further elongation of the muscle and surrounding tissue than would have been possible without the muscle being in a state of pre-fatigue. Immediately stretching a muscle after intense exercise also promotes muscular growth and reduces post workout soreness. Stretching hastens the delivery oxygen and other nutrients, and while speeding up the removal of lactic acid, and other waste products.
- The flexibility segment of your program should be done when the body is warm, preferably at the end of your workout.
- Once the body is warmed up, stretching exercises can be intermixed with strength moves to save time.
- Stretches should be held from 15 to 30 seconds. A sum total of at least 30 seconds is recommended to achieve any kind of permanent stretch, regardless of the number of sets performed.
- Breathe out when going into the stretch, and inhale when coming out of it. Use the breath as a way to relax, and go further into the movement.
- NEVER stretch to a point of feeling pain, only slight discomfort.
- Unlike aerobic and strength training, stretching can be repeated every day.