How to Improve Your Clients’ Flexibility
Your client’s flexibility is a large component of their overall wellness. Therefore, flexibility programs should be planned for your clients and performed regularly by them. Then, with progressive increases for a range of motion at a joint or a series of joints, your client will enjoy the benefits of flexibility training. Flexibility can be both defined and measured, including static or dynamic elements.
Benefits of a Flexibility Program
- Reduction of stress and tension due to muscular tightness
- Relaxed muscles
- Overall improvements to fitness, posture, and symmetry
- Relief from cramping muscles
- Prevention of injuries
When thinking about flexibility we must also consider joints. Joints are surrounded by connective tissues consisting of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Tendons connect muscles to bones while ligaments connect bone to bone. These tissues and structures respond to stretching exercises, which results in the development of a greater range of motion when performed regularly.
In general, flexibility is an important component of health-related physical fitness and is sometimes neglected, even though it requires only a small investment of time, effort, and equipment. Joint flexibility is important to your client for many reasons. Tight muscles around joints limit the range of movement and eventually lead to inhibit activities in daily life.
On a much more scientific level, we could define flexibility as the ability for a joint to achieve a full range of motion (ROM) with the proper balance of elasticity and plasticity. Elasticity is the ability of both muscular and connective tissue to return to normal length after being stretched. Plasticity is the ability of connective tissue to achieve a new and greater length after a stretch and without return to normal length. There are two main elastic components of connective tissue, which either impede or allow the joint to achieve full ROM. These components act in a manner similar to a spring and are known as the parallel elastic and series elastic components.
The stretch reflex is not activated during static stretching positions, so the muscle used or involved is essentially stretched without opposition. The stretch reflex consists of two proprioceptors from sensory organs found in the muscle, joints and tendons, that feedback information to the body regarding its movement and positioning. These proprioceptive structures are the muscle spindle and the Golgi Tendon Organ.
When a muscle is stretched too far or too quickly, the structure within the muscle responsible for sensing lengthening is activated (muscle spindle). This “ stretch receptor” causes the muscle to contract as a protective mechanism. The muscle spindle lies within the muscle fibers and detects muscle length and change in the rate of lengthening. This muscular contraction by the muscle spindle to protect the muscle with an excessively quick (more than the current musculotendinous conditioning will allow) movement is known as the or myotatic reflex.
In order to achieve significant benefit from a stretch and to avoid injury while managing weights or a load of resistance, it is imperative that the muscle spindle be overridden by gradually lengthening the muscle through a proper warm-up or stretch that gives the Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO) time to override the muscle spindle (20-30 seconds).
The Golgi Tendon Organ protects the muscle by causing it to relax when the muscle develops too much tension or incurs a change in tension too quickly. The GTO monitors tendon length and is found in the tendons, at the ends of the muscular fibers where they attach to the bone.
The act of causing the muscle to relax in this manner is known as autogenic (self-generating) inhibition. Bringing the pectoralis major to the range of motion where it contracts to protect itself and then is allowed to relax when the GTO overrides the muscle spindle, is an example of autogenic inhibition. Reciprocal (inverse) inhibition occurs when the antagonist relaxes due to contraction by the agonist. For example, the hip flexors will be reciprocally inhibited and forced to relax when their antagonist, the gluteus maxi- mus, contracts.
There are numerous ways for your client to achieve increased flexibility or joint ROM by undergoing a flexibility program. Ultimately, this process starts during your assessment of your client’s flexibility. Often overlooked in training programs and coaching, it might represent behavior change for your client to do a stretch routine each day.
Is Your Client Ready?
Assess the client’s stage of readiness for a commitment to do stretching exercises before assuming that they will do it each day. Since flexibility can be improved by exercises that promote elasticity of soft tissues, a 10-minute stretch done every day is recommended.
Prior to exercise, the most efficient form of stretching is the usage of dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching requires that the individual has no significant muscular imbalances or overly tight muscles. Attempting a dynamic stretch with significant imbalances or tightness will lead to increasing tightness and imbalance.
Should you Stretch Before or After Exercise?
A lot of people debate whether stretching should be done before or after physical activity. In truth, it is most likely both – meaning that it is recommended to stretch prior to working out- but only once muscles have been warmed up with 5 to 10 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity (brisk walking, slow jogging, stationary bike riding, or a similar act typically). A gradual warm-up also will allow for the heart rate to rise slowly while raising the temperature of structures involved in doing physical activity (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) by increasing the blood flow where needed.
The most beneficial time for stretching comes at the end of doing an anaerobic or resistance training workout. During this time muscles are thoroughly warmed up and are capable of stretching maximally but to a point of feeling mild tension with no discomfort. Remember safety comes first. Muscles that may have been used continuously during the workout should be systematically stretched and lengthened after the workout. There is evidence that this practice may also decrease DOMS.
Younger people tend to be more flexible than their older counterparts and women tend to be more flexible than men. This may be due to both structural and anatomical differences as well as the extent and types of activities that individuals perform. When older individuals cease moving or exercising, fibrosis sets in, and fibrous connective tissue replaces degenerating muscle fibers.
Inactivity and a decreased use of full ROM lead to accelerated fibrosis. This concept stresses the need to stretch and utilize full ROM when exercising. The concept of “use it or lose it” now applies. With flexibility, it applies to each muscle group. For example, if you stretch the hamstrings, that will not improve your shoulder flexibility. An active individual tends to be more flexible than an inactive one.
Keep in mind that tendons are not meant to be overly stretched and that stretching can damage tendons which will increase the chance of injury. Ligaments are meant to allow more movement, but can be overstretched and may create excessive joint laxity and a hypermobile joint. Hyper or excessive mobility without sufficient muscular strength to provide joint integrity and stability can lead to further damage and injury.
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