SCCS Fitness Training Part 2: Flexibility

ALWAYS check with a medical professional before starting a new fitness program or making major changes to an existing one, especially if you have any risk factors for heart disease, have joint pain or have been very sedentary for a period of time.

See also:
SCCS Fitness Training Intro: This Fitness Program will make you look just like Sarah Connor a Stronger You!
SCCS Fitness Training Part 1: The Activity Triad
SCCS Fitness Training Part 3: Cardiovascular/Endurance/Aerobics
SCCS Fitness Training Part 4: Strength Training

We’ll start with flexibility because it is often the most overlooked part by those looking to gain muscle, although it should be incorporated after strength and cardio workout, as well as any sports activity. It’s not uncommon for people to say “it’s just stretching” when discussing this part, usually with two assumptions, 1) that it’s not an important part of fitness and 2) that it’s a simple no-brainer and you can’t get hurt. Neither is true, maintaining flexibility is vital to functional fitness, which is what the SCCS is about, and you can hurt yourself quite badly doing it.

Stretching was once recommended to decrease injury risk and muscle soreness, there is an ongoing debate as to how true this is. However, it indisputably does increase range of motion (ROM) which is important in itself for the body to be as functional as possible. Therefore it can improve the performance of other activities which require a range of motion. Stretching after working out allows muscles which have been contracted to relax; this over all helps with the continued performance in these activities and, generally, in retaining and gaining better flexibility which is a goal in itself.
Static stretching before working out, formerly commonly recommended, is now seen to be dependent on the exercise or activity and there is much debate about the issue. Activities which require power, such as lifting or running, may or may not be negatively impacted by stretching beforehand (that is some claim to have more strength or power if they do not), but either way it is found to be of no benefit to the performance nor reduce injury, although warming up is still important. For activities such as high-kicking martial arts, gymnastics and other sports which require a great range of motion, however, prior dynamic(see below, this is not bouncing) and static stretching, both, helps with the required flexibility. If you currently stretch before lifting or running you may want to try how you do without, if you find no strength or power increase and wish to go back, there is no one empirically saying not to; however, you may find a few days of not doing it does increase power (and remember you still warm up first!)i
There are three basic types of stretching:
Static Stretching: This is the most common type of stretching and what we’re likely to all be focusing on. It is any of the slow stretches held for, by ACSM recommendations, 10-30 seconds (although they note that there is no agreement on the duration),ii While most are actively done ourselves, passive stretching that a personal trainer or a physical therapist might do are also static stretches as are active-assisted stretches you may do with a partner. In either of these, I do recommend that the former be done by someone with training and good communication and the latter be done with someone you know and trust and do have good communication.iii
Dynamic Stretching: This should not be confused with Ballistic Stretching which is bouncing during what would be more safely done as a static stretch. Dynamic Stretching is the part of a warm up where you might mimic a sports motion, like a punch, though the full ROM. While static stretching is debated prior to power moves, I believe dynamic stretching is still an important part of a pre-sport workout. If nothing else it doesn’t hurt to punch or kick the air, for example, before you do the same to a bag or sparring partner.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF): This is a series of both active and passive stretches done with an experienced personal trainer trained in the technique. As I am not and it’s not something that can be taught in this manner, if you are interested I suggest seeking such a trainer out. PNF is believed to greatly improve joint ROM although how and if this is true is still being studied.iv
Stretching is one form of exercise you can do every day, as long as your muscles are warm. ACSM recommends at least 2-3 times a week, but if you are stretching after each workout that should be easily covered. I find that I often stretch after any activity that I’ve been doing for any length of time, such as walking the dogs, heavy chores or riding horseback. Stretch all major muscle groups, at least 2-4 repetitions and you may wish to do more on particularly tight groups. Stretch to the point of tightness, but avoid actual discomfort –when partner or passive stretching be sure to have clear communication. BREATH.
Don’t discount stretching as something too wimpy for a power exerciser and make it an important part of each workout. If you need a resource for finding proper stretches you can go to the Muscle Directory and click on the body part you want to learn to stretch and you’ll find stretches at the end of the list. Or, for an easier guide to some basic stretches, you can go to to this site here.
Stay limber, I don intend to get the next portion, on cardio training, up far sooner than this last gap.
i American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription , Baltimore, MD, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2010 pg. 173
ii American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer, Baltimore, MD, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2010 pg. 394
iii This one is from a bad experience with a fellow student at a MA class.
iv ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer, pg. 395-396

Saigh is a co-founder of the SCCS and is head of the physical fitness department. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer

Clipart from TopEndSports used as permitted for non-commercial use