One of the most overlooked components of fitness is flexibility. However, joint and muscle stiffness is one of the most common complaints of 50+ adults. A lack of flexibility compromises your ability to perform activities of daily living such as bending over, reaching, and getting out of chairs or cars. As well it compromises your ability to perform recreational sport activities such as golf, curling, biking, bowling, skating and hobbies such as gardening. Most significantly, a lack of flexibility leaves you very vulnerable to muscle and joint injury in your back, shoulders and legs.
The good news is that stretching to improve your flexibility can be performed easily and in a variety of ways. The old saying, “use it or lose it” is very true when it comes to stretching and flexibility. Stretch on a regular basis and you will maintain a great deal of your youthful flexibility. Don’t stretch and you will slowly stiffen up to the point that even the simplest of activities such as bending over to pick up something off the floor or reaching back with your arms to put your jacket on becomes difficult.
Definition of Flexibility
Flexibility can be defined as the ability of a joint to move freely and pain free in every direction through a full and normal range of motion. It is important to understand that the “normal range of motion” for a particular joint is different for every individual. Some individually are genetically more flexible than others. Individuals who are extremely flexible (hyper mobility) must be careful of joint instability that leaves them just as vulnerable to injury as someone who suffers from a lack of joint mobility (hypo mobility).
Types of Flexibility
There are two types of flexibility: Static and Dynamic. Static flexibility is range of motion about a joint where there is no active movement involved by the musculature surrounding the joint. An example of this would be holding a quadriceps stretch for an extended period of time. Dynamic flexibility involves the use of movement around the joint. An example of this type of flexibility would be bending over to tie your shoes or walking up a flight of stairs. It is important to have good static and dynamic flexibility to prevent physical dysfunction.
Types of Stretching
It was previously thought that stiffness around a joint was due to muscular tightness. However we now know that a lack of flexibility is due to connective tissue tightness. Connective tissue is composed of mostly non-elastic collagen fibres with some elastic fibres as well. Examples of connective tissues are ligaments, tendons, cartilage and muscular fascia. The connective tissue will respond to various types of stretching.
Two main methods of flexibility training are static and dynamic and are most effective after a through warm-up, when the body temperature is elevated.
- Static Stretching
This is the most widely used method of stretching and involves slow, gradual and controlled elongation of the muscle. The muscle is stretched to the point of mild tension and held for 10-30 seconds. The continuous low intensity stretch allows the muscle spindles and nervous system to adapt slowly to the new stretched position and causes the muscle to relax.
This type of stretching is best done at the end of a workout. Its advantage is that it is a simple controlled type movement. Its disadvantage is that it will improve flexibility only at the specific body position that the stretch is held at. Therefore it has limited effectiveness in increasing flexibility in multiple ranges of motion and is best used in complement to the dynamic method of stretching.
- Dynamic (Active) Stretching
This method of flexibility training uses increasingly dynamic movements through the full range of motion of a joint. This is very important for the ability to perform dynamic functional activities of daily living such as reaching and bending. When performed correctly dynamic stretching warms up the joints and reduces muscle tension. The dynamic stretch begins at a slow pace and gradually increases in speed and intensity. The dynamic movements must always be done under control (no ballistic type movements- high speed uncontrolled bouncing movements).
Dynamic stretching is best done at the beginning of exercising but only after a complete warm-up. It is an extremely useful way to increase dynamic flexibility and prepare the body for activities that require a wide range of motion, especially when speed is involved such as golf, tennis and biking. Good examples of dynamic stretching are lateral arm swings and torso twists.
Guidelines for Flexibility Training
|Frequency||– 4-7 x’s / week (daily if possible)-Stretching should be done before activity to prevent injury and after activity to prevent stiffness and improve overall flexibility|
|Intensity||-Stretching should never be painful or produce significant discomfort- The goal is to bring the muscle to the point of slight tension- It is very important that you NEVER hold your breath and that you continue your breathing pattern throughout the stretch.|
|Time||-Hold each static stretch for 10 -30 sec. and repeat 2-4 times-Dynamic stretches should be done initially for 10-30 sec and eventually last for 45-60 sec.|
|Type||-Static – done at end of activity after a cool down-Dynamic – done at beginning of activity after a complete warm-up|
Tips for Effective Flexibility Training for the 50+ Adult
- Don’t overdo it. Always work within your limits.
- NEVER hold your breath as you perform a stretch. Breathe normally and comfortably. On static stretching, exhale as the muscle lengthens to assist in relaxation.
- Perform flexibility exercises for each muscle group for total-body improvements
- Always perform flexibility stretches after the body has warmed up. Warm muscles will lengthen more easily and with less discomfort.
Flexibility training for the 50+ adult is invaluable to prevent premature physical dysfunction in performing activities of daily living and injury during recreational activities. Stretching activities when performed in a controlled manner are safe and easy to implement in your daily routine. Flexibility training may also include the following techniques to promote relaxation: yoga, meditation, Pilates, tai chi, visualization, and breathing.
If you’d like more info please contact Mike.