Flexibility Fitness & Weight Loss Program
Flexibility fitness, or stretching, is a vital component of overall health and fitness and is highly recommended before and after a strenuous workout.
By performing a stretching routine prior to your workout, you will increase circulation of blood and oxygen into the soft tissue (i.e. muscles) of your body. This will "warm up" your muscles and prepare them for the exercise routine that you are about to perform.
In addition, stretching will improve joint flexibility and range of motion, reduce the probability of injury, relieve stress and tension, and speed the healing process associated with several injury types.
While it is true that proper stretching requires time, the benefits of a solid stretching routine cannot be overstated. In fact, anyone who has ever participated in a sport will attest to the time they spend stretching during their training and practice sessions, and before and after their games and meets. Stretching is a vital part of all sports and should play a role in all exercise routines.
Types of Movements
It is important to learn all of the proper stretching techniques, as incorrect stretching techniques could result in negative effects. These negative effects include over-stretching of the muscles, joint inflammation, muscle strain and muscle pulls and tears.
If you are unfamiliar with the types of stretching movements to perform or how to correctly perform them, it is best to ask an experienced and knowledgeable fitness expert. Fitness centers typically employ certified personal trainers that are available to discuss a large number of topics related to health and fitness, including stretching techniques, exercise routines, dietary recommendations and much more.
For individuals that are performing an aerobic exercise class, the instructor will provide you with the correct form and stretching technique for each movement. Countless at-home DVD/VHS exercise programs are available which demonstrate the proper stretching techniques as well.
A good general stretching routine should focus on stretching virtually all muscle groups and joints of the body. It's also possible to customize your stretching routine to focus on the specific areas of your body that will be most heavily exercised during your workout. For instance, if your chosen exercise type is a running routine, then you may want to place an increased emphasis on stretching your lower back, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and torso.
It is important to remember that stretching is not the same as warming up. Warming up is the process of slightly raising your body temperature and increasing blood and oxygen circulation throughout your body prior to your stretching routine. During the warm-up phase of your workout, your body temperature should raise one to two degrees Celsius. The warm-up phase of your exercise routine can be broken down into two primary phases: a general warm-up phase and a stretching phase, performed in that order. Once completed, you are ready to perform the actual workout phase of your exercise routine.
A good flexibility program will stretch all major muscle groups and may consist of one or more of the following types of stretching techniques:
These are just a few stretching techniques that will increase your body's soft tissue flexibility and joint range of motion. There are stretching techniques designed to improve flexibility for virtually every part of your body and include the following muscle groups: triceps, chest, shoulders, neck, lower back, buttocks, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and inner thighs. It is important to perform stretching techniques for each and every muscle group.
In addition, it is important to hold each stretching pose for 15 to 30 seconds while gently stretching the muscle. During the actual stretch, try to breathe normally and do not strain to hold the pose.
The intent of a stretching routine is to elongate the muscles, improve joint flexibility and range of motion, and improve blood and oxygen circulation. This being said, stretching each muscle should induce a mild sensation that the muscle is being stretched and should not cause pain. Severe pain during a stretching routine is an indication that the muscle is being stretched too far and may lead to actual tearing or pulling of the muscle tissue.
An effective flexibility and stretching routine should comprise movements and poses that include all muscle groups. It's advisable to stretch each muscle group from a variety of positions and angles. This will increase the range of motion for each joint.
As mentioned earlier in this article, you can place an increased emphasis on stretching the specific muscles that will be involved in performing your actual exercise routine.
For example, if your exercise program consists of performing a rowing routine on the rowing machine, you may want to place an increased emphasis on stretching your hamstrings, lower back and shoulders.
The aerobic effect associated with a flexibility and stretching routine is quite low, as your flexibility routine is not intended to greatly increase your heart rate. A flexibility routine is not intended to burn a high number of calories.
It is best to view your flexibility routine as bookends to your actual exercise routine. In other words, your flexibility routine is designed to ready your body for your workout and cool down your body after your workout.
There are virtually no equipment requirements associated with a stretching routine. Most stretching and flexibility poses consist only of placing the body in a specific position and holding that position for an extended period of time. Simply ensure that you have an area large enough to comfortably perform your stretching poses. In addition, you should plan on wearing clothing that is either loose fitting or tight fitting and flexible (i.e. leotards, spandex, etc.).
In some cases, individuals may use a belt, strap or yoga block to assist in increasing the effectiveness of a specific stretching pose. However, virtually all stretching poses can be performed without any additional equipment.
There are several health benefits associated with regularly performing a flexibility and stretching routine. Performing a stretching routine prior to your workout better prepares your body for the actual workout. Several clinical studies have found that regularly performing a flexibility and stretching routine improves circulation throughout the entire body, increases joint range of motion, reduces injuries associated with muscle tears, strains and pulls, and improves overall balance.
From a mental perspective, performing a flexibility routine creates a sense of calmness, relaxation and a centering of the mind. Stretching also reduces muscular soreness, decreases the symptoms associated with menstruation, and reduces overall muscle tension (especially in the neck, shoulders and lower back).
Yoga is an effective exercise type to increase your body’s flexibility through stretching movements that utilize a yoga ball, yoga straps and/or a training ball. Pilates also includes workouts that promote improved flexibility and requires only a Pilates mat. Both yoga and Pilates exercise routines provide excellent stretching techniques that, when performed correctly, create a body that is more flexible.
This will allow for a more intense and successful workout. Muscle toning will also be improved because your muscles will contain a greater level of elasticity.
It is very important to warm up your muscles before stretching. Warming up will help loosen stiff muscles and prepare your body for a much better workout or performance.
A solid warm-up routine can typically be performed in 7 to 10 minutes and should include light aerobic activity and joint rotations. Flexibility programs are the best and most effective way to learn the correct stretches and prepare your body for the ultimate workout.
Whether you are working out from home or at a fitness center, you should always warm up and stretch before you perform your actual workout.
Most workout facilities provide an area specifically for flexibility and stretching movements before your aerobic class, strength training session or other cardiovascular routine.