Tuesday, October 22, 2013

4 Benefits of Flexibility Exercises

If you were to walk into a gym today and observe the daily routines of its patrons, you would likely notice a common theme:  people's desire to get their workouts done, and to carry on with their busy lives. 

As a result, many people have done away with making flexibility exercises a part of their workouts.  However, several benefits can be achieved by putting a focus back on flexibility exercises. 

1. Decreased chance of injury through reduced joint stress

Stretching (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* The old adage is true – "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."  If you are about to put your body, and especially your joints, through a rigorous workout, it makes sense to take those joints through their full ranges of motion first. 

* A joint that is flexible will not only have a great range of motion, but it is also less likely to get injured than a cold or tight joint.  Having said this, most experts agree that stretching a joint should only be performed once the body and muscles have been warmed up.  As a result, it is now advisable to do a few minutes of light cardio activity to get the blood flowing before beginning a stretching program. (If your workout or flexibility program consists of some type of yoga, just ease into it by not stretching as far at the beginning - see #2 below.)

2. Increased range of motion

* It has been shown that for some weight lifting exercises, the fuller the range of motion is, the more beneficial the exercise can be to muscle building.  It would then be in your best interest to achieve that goal. 

* Increasing your range of motion is most easily performed by doing a dynamic stretch of the body part that you plan to target in your workout routine.  Dynamic stretching, as opposed to static stretching, involves putting a targeted body part's muscles and joints through a series of progressively wider ranges of motion until they are fully stretched - a yoga routine is a good example of this.

Gymnos, 3 - Picture by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Aug...
A gymnast stretching exercise. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
3. Increased balance

* Imagine if you dropped something on the floor, and you were about to pick it up.  But just before you do this, you are told you cannot bend your knees or bend at the hips.  Picking up that object now seems next to impossible without falling flat on your face! 

* This is an extreme example, which illustrates a simple concept.  Flexible joints allow a body to keep its balance.  A body is most balanced when the head, shoulders, and hips are in perfect alignment, and flexible joints allow for this alignment to happen whether you are working out or just going about your daily activities.

4. Improved posture and muscle relaxation

* Muscle tightness, due to lack of flexibility in one area of the body, can cause problems in other areas.  As an example, tight hamstrings often lead to increased tension and fatigue in the muscles of the lower back.  As a result, low back pain then leads to poor posture as your body tries to protect itself from the pain it is enduring - remember - everything in the body is connected and affects the other parts!  The best way to prevent some forms of low back pain is to ensure that leg and torso muscles are subjected to a variety of flexibility exercises. This is why relief for chronic pain can often be found through specific exercises.

To conclude, whether the stretches you incorporate into your daily routine are static or dynamic, are performed at home or at the gym, are probably not the most important factors.  The most important factor is that you do make flexibility exercises a part of your workout so that you can get the most out of your training - and achieve a healthier, stronger, and pain-free body.
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