Appears courtesy of Workout Nirvana.
Flexibility is one of the most underrated aspects of having a balanced, healthy body. We assume that if we can function in our daily lives, we must be flexible enough. But if you’ve ever experienced conditions such as low back pain, joint injuries, or tendonitis, your body may be overcompensating for tight, stressed muscles that can’t function properly.
Unless you do some kind of flexibility training on a regular basis, repetitive movements and prolonged inactivity can, over time, cause all kinds of problems in your body. Shortened, tight muscles cause limited range of motion, and when a primary muscle can’t move properly, other muscles must work harder to support it. In the short term, this means muscle tension, fatigue, and limited range of motion. Over time this translates into muscle and joint dysfunction –imbalances, inflammation, and injuries and pain in your body.
For example, if your hip flexors are tight from sitting all day, other muscles will overcompensate in your day-to-day movements or at the gym. Because your hip flexors are tight and not moving at a full range of motion, your hamstrings, abductors, and back muscles all take the brunt of movements meant for the hip flexors. When these muscles move in dysfunctional patterns over the long term or cannot move in their full range of motion, injuries can result.
What causes muscle tightness?
- Sitting for prolonged periods of time
- Using the computer
- Lifting or loading objects repetitively on the job or other repetitive movements at work
- Sports such as cycling and running
- Weight lifting using the same exercises over and over or lifting very heavy loads using a limited range of motion
- Poor posture
- Old injuries
Flexibility training helps to lengthen muscles and reduce inflammation and knots that lead to limited range of motion and muscle imbalances. While there are different types of flexibility training, start with the following to get back on track. You may want to consult with a personal trainer who can assess your current condition and provide a flexibility program based on your age, past injuries, activity level, and other factors.
It’s recommended that you stretch at least once a day and after your workouts.
Myofascial Release (Foam Roll)
Foam rollers are six-inch wide foam logs that you use your own body weight against to work out knots in tender muscles. If you’ve ever used one, especially on your IT band (muscle along outer leg), you know that it can be slightly painful at first. After a short time, however, foam rolling feels very good.
Use myofascial release – foam rolling – before static stretching (or any other activity) and as a cool down. By gently applying pressure to tender spots on your body, you release knots in the muscle fibers and realign them in the right direction so that your range of motion can return.
Apply pressure to the tender spot for about 30 seconds. There’s no need to repeatedly roll over the spot, although this can help you find the tender spots. Check this video out for a few popular exercises.
When you tense a muscle and hold for 20-30 seconds, you’re performing static stretching. This type of stretch helps to lengthen and relax the muscle, which improves range of motion. Do not bounce while holding the stretch and only stretch until you feel tension in the muscle. It’s recommended that you use SMR on your muscles before static stretching or at least warm up first with light activity. Here’s a video of common stretches and an example of a static stretch:
Hip Flexor Stretch
- On a mat or folded towel, kneel on your right knee.
- Place your left foot in front of you, bending your knee and placing your left hand on your left leg for stability.
- Place your right hand on your right hip to avoid bending at the waist. Keep your back straight and abdominal muscles tight.
- Lean forward, shifting more body weight onto your front leg. You’ll feel a stretch in your right thigh.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds.
- Switch legs and repeat.
More advanced types of flexibility training are best for those who already have a generally good range of motion. These include active isolated stretching, in which you move through a limited range of motion, and dynamic stretching, in which you move through the entire range of motion. Active isolated stretching includes movements such as leaning into a doorway to stretch your chest or flexing your neck while retracting the shoulder down. Examples of dynamic stretches are prisoner squats and the medicine ball chop and lift.
If your muscles are very tight, begin slowly and perform foam rolling and static stretching several times a day if possible. You should always stretch after exercise, and any time you have muscle tension use foam rolling and static stretching to work through the stiffness.