This has been a topic of discussion from a very long time. Most of the puff balls roaming in gyms would either ignore flexibility or stretch like the stick figure in ‘hangman’. Many confuse cardio training with flexibility, if you are able to run or do cross trainer for 30 minutes, you are flexible. Sadly, this is not the case, not even the tip of the iceberg.
Holistic fitness is not about having muscles or stamina, it is about how quickly you can recover from injuries and maintain the same explosive intensity day on day. This is where flexibility plays an important role. With age human body dehydrates and stiffens. By the time you become an adult, your tissues have lost about 15 percent of their moisture content, becoming less supple and more prone to injuries. Likely injuries include not just pulled muscles and strained joints, but tiny, cellular micro-injuries. Over time, these tiny injuries add up, creating layers of scar tissue that gradually restrict movement even further.
Stretching slows the process of dehydration, by stimulating the production of tissue lubricants. It also pulls the interwoven cellular cross-links apart and helps muscles rebuild themselves with a healthier parallel cell structure. This helps us create a longer, sleeker form, but perhaps even more important, daily stretching provides a heightened sense of body awareness. It also delivers the sheer pleasure of unrestricted movement – if you do it right!
Flexibility, which is the ability to move a joint through its complete range of motion, is arguably the most neglected component of fitness among the general population. Flexible joints are vital for the maintenance of pain-free and independent movement. However, majority of the population strives to build bigger muscles as fitness goals. Media has played a role in influencing our behaviour. We see extra-large billboards of oiled underwear models, movies where protagonists with big muscles can fight evil with ease, making them invincible Gods, from cars to perfumes, everything can be sold by a shirtless guy.
Glorification of muscular bodies has boosted sale of protein supplements and built multi-million-dollar industries, but there is more to fitness than bulk. Many of us choose to counterattack the ravages of a comfortable life with rigorous exercise. But doctors like Green, point out that activity alone won’t fit the bill. this. We need to include flexibility training as an inseparable part of our routine. It should be performed pre and post workouts to release tension and lubricate stiff joints.
Flexibility is more important than buffed up arms for completing routine activities. Lifting groceries, rearranging furniture, getting up out of bed, vacuuming floors require a certain level of flexibility, which can be built only through practice, if neglected it will deteriorate with age.
Engaging in regular flexibility training can benefit us in many ways:
- Improved performance of daily activities
- Improved performance in exercise and sport
- Enhanced joint health
- Prevention of low-back pain and injuries
- Relief of aches and pains (particularly in the muscles exercised)
- Relief of muscle cramps
- Relaxation and stress relief (mental and physical)
- Decreased risk of injury due to more pliable muscles
- Improved posture and balance (minimise stress on spine)
Where to start?
Like running can increase your cardiovascular health, lifting dumbbells can help you gain mass, there is no one exercise for flexibility. Depending on what you want to achieve, you stretch a particular part of your body. Flexibility training represents the flip side of resistance training: It requires a similar, muscle-by-muscle approach, an individualised, body-by-body strategy. Flexibility training can be broadly categorised into two types:
- Functional flexibility refers to the range of movements without assistance.
- Static flexibility is the type most often associated with traditional stretching. It refers to one’s range of motion using the aid of gravity, a partner or the pull of an opposing body part. It doesn’t require muscular control, just lack of resistance.
12 stretches for dedicated body parts:
- Neck – pain and tension in neck is the most common type of pain for sedentary workers, with extensive hours of desk job. Try these moves to loosen a tense neck:
- Forward & Backward tilt
- Side tilt
- Side rotation
- Shoulder roll
- Shoulder – tight shoulders can cause pain in your neck, back and upper body, making daily tasks difficult. Your shoulders can get tight or stiff due to stress, tension and overuse. Tight shoulders can be caused by sitting for extended periods, incorrect sleeping positions, and injuries. Poor posture and improper alignment of your body can also play a part.
Few stretches to help you relieve the pain:
- Ear to shoulder neck rolls
- Seated forward bend
- Cross body shoulder stretch
- Warrior 2 pose
- Cat/Cow stretch
- Hand clasp behind back
- Child pose
- Biceps – Bicep stretches are essential and necessary to complete your upper-body workout. They increase flexibility and range of motion, allowing you to move deeper and further with greater ease. Plus, they help to relieve muscle tightness and tension, which is beneficial in preventing injury and improving performance.
Try these stretches for better arm flexibility, be mindful and maintain a smooth, steady, relaxed breath:
- Standing bicep stretch
- Seated bicep stretch
- Doorway bicep stretch
- Horizontal arm extensions
- Triceps – Triceps stretches are arm stretches that work the large muscles at the back of your upper arms. These muscles are used for elbow extension and to stabilise the shoulder.
The triceps work with the biceps to perform most strong forearm movements. They’re one of the most important muscles for developing upper body strength, which is especially important as you age.
Few stretches for triceps are:
- Overhead triceps stretch
- Triceps towel stretch
- Horizontal stretch
- Dynamic triceps warmup
- Wrist – Whether you’re new to workout or a seasoned practitioner, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced wrist tenderness at some point in your practice. Many of the exercises have us bearing weight in the delicate wrist joints. Misalignment, lack of necessary strength and flexibility can make your wrists sore.
Here are 5 stretches to strengthen and mobilise your wrists:
- Wrist circles
- Hand under feet pose
- Upward bound finger pose
- Table pose wrist stretch
- Reverse Prayer stretch
- Back – Yoga can be your saviour from back pain. Yoga is a mind-body therapy, which will not only ease your pains but will also help you deal with stress and anxiety. Daily practice will help you gain insight of yourself and the body parts that are holding tension and have imbalance.
Here are few poses that can help relieve back pain:
- Cat-cow – Chakravakasana
- Downward facing dog – Adho Mukha Savasana
- Extended triangle – Utthita Trikonasana
- Sphinx pose – Salamba Bhujangasana
- Cobra pose – Bhujangasana
- Bridge pose – Setu Bandhasana
- Two knee spinal twist – Jathara Parivartanasana
- Quads – Your quadriceps are the group of four large muscles that make up the front of your thigh. These muscles tend to be tight in athletes, especially runners and cyclists.
Following yoga poses can help you stretch quads for better flexibility:
- Crescent lunge – Anjaneyasana
- Pigeon pose – Eka pada rajakapotasana
- Sugarcane pose – Ardha Chandra chapasana
- King dancer – Natarajasana
- Bow Pose – Dhanurasana
- Hamstrings – Hamstrings are a group of muscles that run along the back of your thighs, starting at your lower pelvis and attaching to your knee and lower legs. They are often the culprit for various sports injuries and chronic pain due to tightness. Once your hamstrings are tight, it can lead to poor posture, low-back pain, and a variety of other issues.
Stretches for stronger hamstrings:
- Downward Facing Dog
- Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe pose
- Side stretch pose
- Wide legged standing forward bend
- Half splits
- Triangle pose
- Glutes – These are muscles in your buttocks area. They make up the largest muscle group in your body. Your glutes are attached to bones in your hips, pelvis, back, and legs. That’s why if your glutes are tight, you might feel tension not only in your buttocks, but also in your back, hips, and surrounding areas.
Many people get tight glutes after sitting for long periods of time. Stretches to relax your glute muscles are:
- Seated figure-four stretch
- Seated glute stretch
- Downward facing dog
- Pigeon stretch
- Knee to opposite shoulder
- Seated twist
- Calves – Our calf muscles include the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles—the two large muscles of the posterior lower leg, which insert into the heel bone via the Achilles tendon. The ability of the Achilles tendon to recoil and rebound (literally, the “spring” in our step) is essential for walking and running. Tightness in this muscle group may impede your ability to deeply bend the knee while keeping the heel rooted (such as in a squat).
Here are few stretches for your calf muscles:
- Downward facing dog
- Seated calf stretch
- Lunging calf stretch
- Heel drop stretch
- Standing bent over calf stretch
- Ankles – this is a delicate part of our body which needs ample of attention and care. Be sure to warm up before getting into a stretch routine, you can walk or run for 5-10 minutes.
Stretches for ankles are:
- Ankle circles
- Tree pose – Vrkasana
- Hero pose – Virasana
- Calf raise
- Standing calf stretch
- Achilles stretch
- Chair pose
- Chest – The muscles comprising the chest are some of the biggest and strongest in the upper body. But strengthening them often comes at an unfortunate cost. Hitting big, multi-joint movements like bench presses, push-ups, and dips often builds chest strength and size at the expense of flexibility. Over time, this can translate into shoulder pain, irregular posture and loss of athletic capabilities.
It’s essential to incorporate stretching into your routine for maintaining, strength, flexibility and proper posture. Here are few stretches to help you relax:
- Reverse table
- Prone cactus
- Extended puppy
- Seated clasp hand
- Camel pose
- Cat/Cow pose
Not only is flexibility neglected among the general population, it is often misunderstood within the sports performance, athletic and fitness communities as well. As a result, flexibility training is often entirely absent from many of our routines.
To achieve peak performance, we must utilise the full length of the muscle to exhibit power and strength. If muscles are too tight, they may not be able to provide the explosiveness necessary for a particular movement. Tight hip flexors, for example, will not allow you to extend to a full stride while sprinting, thus inhibiting performance. Flexibility enhances movement and mobility.
General knowledge of stretching can help you select the right flexibility exercises for the target body part which has been put under stress. Therefore, a complete flexibility program should combine both dynamic and static stretching. One way to achieve this balance is to incorporate dynamic stretching into your pre-workout warm-up routine and static stretches into your post-exercise cool down.