ISSA Chapter 10: Concepts of Flexibility Training
ISSA Chapter 10: Concepts of Flexibility Training 1

Chapter Goals:

  • Discuss the benefits of flexibility training.
  • Find and explain the acute variables for flexibility.
  • Be able to describe the differences between static and dynamic stretching and how to use them in an exercise program.

Introduction

Flexibility is the range of motion for muscles and the associated connective tissues at a joint or multiple joints.

Range of motion is the measurement around a specific joint or body part.

Connective tissues are the ones that support, connect, and bind some tissues or other organs.

The benefits of flexibility training:

  • Improvements in range of motion
  • Improvements in posture
  • Improvements in balance
  • Decreased chronic pain
  • Improvements in muscle strength.
  • Improvements in performance
  • Improvements in mood

Genetics will play a big role in someone’s flexibility, so naturally, some clients will be more flexible than others.

Strengthening the muscles around the joints is just as important as flexibility.

Many people will lose their flexibility to some degree as they age, but that is mostly due to inactivity. There still is a part that is not related to inactivity and is thus unavoidable.

For the general population needing to improve and keep their range of motions, clients should be advised to stretch daily.

If you were to do a stretching bout that was too intense, it is a good idea to wait for one to two days until stretching again.

Hypermobility is the condition of having excessive amounts of a range of motion in a joint or multiple joints.

Methods of Flexibility Training

Stretching can be characterized by the way that it is done.

Active stretching involves a muscle actively stretching another. There is no external force applied to perform the stretch.

Dynamic stretching is movement-based active stretching where the muscles engage to bring about a stretch.

Passive stretching uses an external force like the stretching strap or the hand to move a joint to the end of the range of motion.

Optimal flexibility training may include these components:

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  • Static stretching: this is the technique that involves holding a joint at the end of its range of motions for a period of time, typically in the realm of 60 seconds.
  • Dynamic stretching: This includes actively moving a joint throughout the entire range of motion.
  • Self-myofascial release: this technique involves applying manual pressure to adhesion or overactive tissue to elicit an automated muscle inhibition response.
  • Ballistic stretching: this is also called bouncing stretching, and it uses the momentum of the body or limb to force it beyond a normal range of motion by bouncing in and out of stretched positions.
  • Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation: this is an advanced technique incorporating contraction and relaxation of muscles.

Range of Motion

There are two different forms of range of motion: Passive and Active.

Passive range of motion is the range of motion that can be achieved with the aid of an external force.

Active range of motion is when a muscle or muscle group contracts to create a range of motion.

Resisted range of motion is the ROM available while a load is also being moved through the range of motion.

Flexibility and the Principle of Specificity

This principle states that activity should be specific and relevant to the goals of the client. This can apply well with flexibility training.

The stretch selection, tempo, and range of motion should all ideally correlate to the movement patterns being trained so that clients can benefit the most.

Some things to think about with specificity are position and speed, along with strength and resistance. Those two combinations are typically focused on together.

Flexibility Training Progression

Flexibility training should have a regimen that is followed just as the periodized training is.

Typically following a general warm-up, some form of dynamic stretching and SMR are done to promote ideal length in muscles and reduce altered joint movement.

Muscle activation exercises are low-level resistance movements that activate blood flow and activate the nervous control of a muscle.

The progression of flexibility training is typical as follows:

  • general warm-up, dynamic stretching and SMR, specific warm-up, exercise bout, and ending with static or passive stretching and SMR combined.

Acute Variables for Flexibility

Intensity

This involves the tension in a stretch, similar to how intensity involves resistance during an exercise.

Intuitive lumbering is stretching after walking or when standing up from your desk for a prolonged time.

Intensity for stretching can be very subjective, as everyone has different tolerances for discomfort and pain.

It is important for stretching to work by reaching the proper level of discomfort that is considered moderate. This leads to optimal improvement.

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Time

The ideal amount of time for holding a stretch depends on a lot of factors.

The main consideration is the type of stretching method being done.

Stretching sessions shouldn’t be longer than 20 minutes to be effective.

Breath Control

Clients should be breathing normal and controlled.

Clients need to avoid holding their breath in, as this can increase blood pressure and prolong muscle tension while diminishing the glow of oxygen throughout the body.

Frequency

This is a variable that needs to be considered with flexibility. Consistency is important with this style of training, and it is the only way to make gains and maintain a quality range of motion in the body.

Static stretching should be done 2 – 3 days per week, with other forms of stretching varying.

Stretch Selection

The specific stretches done will be based upon the needs and activities of each individual, as well as when they will be done in the workout.

Selection can be for stretching before, during, and after activity, or even on rest and recovery days.

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching makes use of momentum to propel the muscle to an extended range of motion without holding the final position.

10 – 15 minutes is what is generally thought to be required for warm-up and flexibility protocol before training sessions. These dynamic stretches should take place during the warm-ups and start at a low intensity and progress to more challenging as the body heats up.

Some dynamic stretches that are good will be arm circles, shoulder flexion / extension, single leg swings, walking swoops, alternating knee hugs, standing hip circles, alternating arm hugs, inchworm walkout, tin soldier, forward lunge to reach, reverse lunge with a twist, lateral lunge shifts, high knees, glute kicks, hip openers, standing torso rotation, and lateral overhead reach.

Pre-Contraction Stretching

This is a form of PNF stretching which involves the contracting muscle being stretched or its antagonist before the stretch.

When you contract the same muscle, it is known as contract-relax stretching, and when contracting the antagonist, it is known as contract-relax antagonist stretching.

This form of stretching can oftentimes be assisted by a partner.

Pliability is the quality of being easily bent or flexible.

Static Stretching

All resistance workouts need to have some form of static stretching to allow for the joints worked to regain their full range of motion.

Static stretching helps to reduce some of the soreness that comes after exercise.

To perform static stretches, the target muscle needs to be held in a stretched position for 10 – 60 seconds of total time.

Most studies show it is not beneficial to hold a stretch more than two times.

There are many different static stretches to learn and utilize.

Flexibility and Special Populations

Static stretching is generally the most applicable to athletes who need to be flexible in their sport, as the range of motion determines the ability to perform some of the skills necessary in their sport.

Older adults may need to hold static stretches longer than the recommended times for the same benefits.

Self-Myofascial Release

Fascia is the connective tissue that attaches, supports, encloses, and separates muscle from other muscles and internal organs.

Tight fascia often results from injury, lifestyle, or inflexibility, and this can cause pain or movement dysfunction.

Myofascial release is the type of flexibility training that stretches and loosens the fascia using gentle, gradual, sustained pressure or stretch on the areas of tension.

Foam rolling is a technique that applies pressure to overactive tissue.

Autogenic inhibition is the decrease in excitability of a contracting or stretched muscle arising from the golgi tendon organ.

The golgi tendon organ is the proprioceptive sensory organ that senses muscle tension in a tendon and inhibits muscle action.

Tools like foam rollers, lacrosse balls, and hand rollers are all readily available for SMR application.

ISSA Chapter 10: Concepts of Flexibility Training 2
ISSA Chapter 10: Concepts of Flexibility Training 3
ISSA Chapter 10: Concepts of Flexibility Training 4

Tyler Read

Tyler Read, BSc, CPT. Tyler holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from Sonoma State University and is a certified personal trainer (CPT) with NASM (National Academy of sports medicine), and has over 15 years of experience working as a personal trainer. He is a published author of running start, and a frequent contributing author on Healthline and Eat this, not that.

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