Kittle: Stretching exercises key to enhancing flexibility

When it comes down to the question of fitness, most of us think about weight training or cardio for strength and cardiovascular endurance exercise.

Yet stretching for flexibility is often an overlooked and important component in achieving peak physical performance and overall fitness, especially for seniors who see their flexibility start to decline as they age.

Flexibility is defined as the range of motion around a joint. It’s increased during stretching which lengthens  the muscle and results in increased range of motion.

There are factors that can limit joint mobility such as elasticity within the muscles tendons or skin surrounding a joint, genetic inheritance, surgical limitations with joint replacement and strength of the opposing muscle group.

Stretching for flexibility is important for many reasons:

• decreased risk of injuries

• increased blood supply and nutrients to joints

• better circulation and helps  to remove waste from your joints

• better physical performance and efficiency

• muscular relaxation and reduced muscular tension, reducing the risk of lower back pain as stretching the hip flexors, hamstrings, and the muscles attached to the pelvis reduces stress to the lumbar spine

• enhanced muscular balance and posture by realigning soft tissue structures that may have adapted poorly to the effects of gravity and postural habits.

Stretching is enjoyable and increases a sense of well-being in both mind and body. There are two types of stretches—static (held) and dynamic (active)

Static stretches are those you hold for so many seconds and do so many times a day. When you think of stretching, it is usually this type of stretching that immediately comes to mind. Static stretches exercise enhances muscle elongation, relaxation and circulation.

Dynamic or active stretching involves movement and muscular effort. It should be slow and controlled and  best done as a warm up before exercise as it prepares your muscles for activity and reduces stiffness.

While similar to static stretches because both often incorporate the same body position, the dynamic aspect difference is preceded by some sort of movement.

Although there is controversy over whether you should stretch before or after exercise most experts recommend stretching before and after a workout.

To increase flexibility, focus on all major muscle groups including chronic tight areas holding for 30-60 seconds three to seven times a week.

The longer at the stretches are held the greater flexibility gains.

I often test my client’s flexibility before beginning a fitness program to identify tightness and muscle imbalances.

Below is a flexibility assessment to help you identify areas of limited range of motion.

Hip flexor flexibility—evaluates hip flexor length.

Lay flat on your back and maintain neutral spine while pulling your knee into your chest. Normal length is demonstrate when left leg stays flat on floor. Shortness in the hip flexors is indicated when the left leg raises off the floor and is often associated with low back pain.

Hamstring flexibility—evaluates range of motion in the hips and hamstring tightness.

Limitations in flexibility places undue stress on the lower back, increasing risk for low back pain and injury.

Lying flat on your back lift only one leg straight up without pain or bending in the knee to 80 degrees. Demonstrates tightness if unable to lift to 80 degrees

Shoulder flexibility—measures the multirotational components of the shoulder joint. Poor shoulder flexibility can affect postural alignment.

Standing with reach test-test each shoulder by taking one arm straight up, let the elbow bend and let the hand come down to rest palm up between the shoulder blades, then reach back with the other hand palm up and attempt to touch hands.

Rating is good if your fingertips can touch, fair if your fingertips are less than two inches apart, and poor if your fingertips are more than two inches apart

For a complete list of stretches go to

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