How can flexibility training benefit your overall fitness?
Flexibility is fundamental for everyday life.
In fact, it’s so important that we often don’t think about it until something goes wrong and we start to miss it. Without flexibility we wouldn’t be able to perform everyday tasks, like bending over to pick something up, or sitting down in a chair. Flexibility also enables us to release built up tension or soreness in our muscles and helps us to relax – with too much tension or soreness, it’s going to be hard to get any rest!
What is flexibility fitness?
Flexibility can broadly be defined as the ability of your muscles and the connective tissues surrounding them to temporarily stretch. Flexibility is one of the four pillars of physical fitness and it works alongside the others to help us maximize the overall health benefits of physical exercise. Greater flexibility allows us to work on strength and endurance fitness too, by enabling our muscles to complete their full range of motion.
Why is flexibility fitness important?
There are many health benefits associated with being more flexible. Flexibility leads to a greater range of movement and improved balance, which reduces your chances of getting injured during a movement workout.1 Other benefits of increased flexibility include:
Lengthening and opening your muscles makes your body feel less tense and generally feels easier to move. When your muscles feel looser and are not as tight, you won’t feel as many aches or pains and will be less likely to experience muscle cramps.
Better posture and balance
Good posture and balance make it easier to sit, stand and move. Improving your flexibility fitness, which you can do through activities like yoga, has been shown in studies to increase your muscular flexibility and improve posture and balance.2
Greater sense of wellbeing
Movement workouts that focus on flexibility are generally quite slow and gentle on the body and studies have shown that regularly practicing poses that open up and stretch your body can bring about a greater sense of relaxation and wellbeing.3
Better physical performance
Strong and effective muscles are important for strength and endurance training too. Improving your flexibility will help these other aspects of your fitness as your muscles will be able to work more effectively.
Different types of flexibility fitness
The best way to improve your overall flexibility is to combine three types of flexibility exercises – breath work, static stretching and dynamic stretching:
Being able to breathe properly is an important element of all types of fitness, particularly stretching and flexibility fitness. By breathing properly, you will be better able to fill your lungs and won’t have to expend as much energy to continue exercising.
Diaphragmatic breathing helps you to engage and strengthen your diaphragm and core muscles and can be practiced in a few simple steps:
- Stand in a comfortable position or sit in a chair, placing your hands on your ribcage
- Fill your lungs with air by inhaling through your nose – you should feel your rib cage expanding
- Slowly exhale through your mouth, at the same time, engaging your core as you do so
Static stretching involves entering a stretch that you then hold without moving for a set period of time. This helps your muscles warm up slowly, reducing the risk of injury. You should push yourself to the point of tension when you will feel a light stretch, but no pain or tension.
Dynamic stretching is a different kind of stretch that involves movement. Unlike static stretching, a dynamic stretch involves putting your muscles through a full range of motion. An example of this would be ‘high knees’ where you lift one foot off the ground, then the other, in a swift movement that gets blood flowing throughout your muscles and helps to stretch your glutes, hips, and knee joints.
Taking steps to become more flexible can be a great way to connect to yourself and your body. You’re likely to feel more balanced and better overall once your body is more open, strong, and flexible.