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The Importance of Stretching and Flexibility

img 2201Flexibility development is perhaps for many sports men and women a neglected component of fitness. This may be because of the seeming lack of applicability of flexibility to performance in team sports. Whereas a Gymnast and dancer can see the immediate benefits of excellent flexibility as it is a key component in their relative activities, the game player’s need for good flexibility is less obvious. Is there a need to develop the same degree of flexibility in a games player as that demonstrated by the Gymnast. The answer is simply ‘No’. However, there is a need to ensure that the player:

a) is not limited in his performance by a flexibility limitation and
b) ensures he or she has a well-balanced degree of flexibility to ensure there is no flexibility issue in predisposing him to injury.

What is Flexibility?

Flexibility has been variously defined as freedom to move, mobilization or more technically, the range of motion (ROM) achievable in a joint or group of joints. Range of motion may be measured either in linear units (e.g. inches or centimetres) or angular units (degrees). All the experts agree that flexibility is specific for each joint. So that good range of motion about the hip does not ensure good range of motion about the shoulder. Similarly ROM in one hip may not be highly related to ROM about the other hip and so on.

Types of Flexibility

There are two basic types of flexibility, static and dynamic. Static flexibility relates to ROM about a joint with no emphasis on movement speed. For example static flexibility is utilised when the gymnast performs a split. For the Rugby player the front row will require good shoulder but not excessive flexibility to maintain constant and static pressure on the opposition in a scrum. Thus there is a certain requirement for static flexibility in sport. Dynamic flexibility on the other hand corresponds to the ability to use a range of movement in performance of a physical activity at either normal or rapid speed. This is the type of flexibility that predominates in most sports. Here, too, flexibility is specific. If a golfer who is limited in shoulder rotation will not possess the ideal ROM in the back or down swing. Thus dynamic and static flexibility are required in most sports and different sports make different flexibility demands.

img 2783Stretching vs. Flexibility Development

A distinction should be made between flexibility training and stretching carried out during warm-ups. Flexibility training aims to make a long term improvement in flexibility or ROM about a joint. Stretching on the other hand is intended to ‘loosen’ out the muscles and connective tissue that will be taxed during the subsequent training session.

The Importance of Flexibility Training

As we have already noted the foundation upon which all physical fitness development is based is on a sound functional competence. Sound functional competence implies having a normal ROM about the joint during common functional movements that are applicable to sport. In addition there has to be a good degree of stability balancing this normal ROM about the joint. Limitations in flexibility about a joint will impact on the efficiency of movement of the athlete or player. On the other hand optimum flexibility helps to eliminate movement that is awk­ward and/or inefficient. This has the effect of improving sporting performance. Because of this important benefit, fitness coaches should impress upon all athletes and players that flexibility training is important. Even if the athlete has no evident limitations in their functional competence it is still important to continue to maintain a normal ROM throughout the training process. Sometimes an athlete can develop a ROM limitation if he or she fails to attend to regular ROM resetting in particular after competition or intensive capacity training. Restoring a normal ROM after intense training or playing or competing is an important strategy in ensuring continued normal ROM.

The foam roller is used for self-applied, deep-tissue massage of your muscle tissue. Foam roller massage can be performed as part of warm-up, before training, or at any time as recovery work. This is something I urge my clients and everyone to do to better benefit your fitness, and your health.

Deep-tissue massage creates longer, smoother, healthier muscle tissue which:

  • recovers faster
  • doesn’t become as sore
  • allows for great mobility
  • is stronger
  • is more injury-resistant
  • trains more readily
  • improves posture

The act of foam rolling itself also improves:

  • balance
  • body-awareness

Foam Roller Massage is best performed after warming-up, and prior to static stretching and dynamic mobility exercises.

  • Warm-up
  • Foam Roller Massage
  • Static Stretching
  • Dynamic Mobility

Perform foam roller deep-tissue over your entire muscle, usually in halves of thirds. Do this by resting your body-weight on the foam roller, on the segment of your muscle for about 15-20 seconds. The foam roller can cover more areas then the ones I mention, but you can ask me, another professional, or go to a seminar before doing the harder areas.

Foam Roller massage can be performed on your:

  • upper back
  • pecs
  • lats
  • glutes
  • hamstrings
  • adductors
  • it-band
  • quads
  • hip-flexors
  • shins
  • calves
  • neck
  • feet

When you encounter a “trigger point” — which is a tender knot in your muscle — rest on that spot, breathe deeply, and slowly massage back-and forth and side-to-side with a subtle rocking motion for about 20 seconds like I said earlier, or until the tenderness you feel decreases by about 50%. Working individual knots this way is called “trigger point therapy.”

Regular iterations of “Trigger Point Therapy” will cause the knots in your muscles to release over time, through a process called “Myofascial Release.”

When you aren’t able to find any new trigger points, upgrade to a denser foam roller, and you’ll be sure to find more.

Foam roller massage is not just for athletes — non-athletes stand to gain from deep-tissue massage because becoming mobile enough to properly perform basic human movements will help to avoid overuse injuries and chronic pain later in life.

To be safe, don’t roll on you lower back, don’t roll on joints or any other boney prominences, and be sure to take a Functional Movement Screen with your local trainer or physical therapist. The Functional Movement Screen will help to safely guide you toward solid functional movement patterns.

And remember to be patient — becoming mobile and strong throughout basic functional movement patterns requires a long term commitment to foam roller deep-tissue massage and other recovery work.

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