When it comes to exercise, many people pay more attention to building muscle than improving flexibility. The glamour comes from strength, speed and endurance more than it does being able to bend, unless you’re a gymnast or a yoga practitioner. It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss this important area of fitness.
You get to the gym raring to go and you immediately want to push yourself with the heaviest weights, seeing if you’re better than you were last time. That would be a mistake. You probably know you need to warm up first, and one important part of any warmup is stretching.
Stretching is the most important way to improve your flexibility, and it can be incorporated into any exercise routine. It makes your muscles longer and joints looser, so you’re better able to tackle any fitness challenge and less likely to injure yourself. To maximize your body’s general performance, you need to think about flexibility as well as power.
This doesn’t mean you should just throw yourself into stretching. Like with any exercise, you need to take it slowly to start. Be careful, and be aware of your own body. You can stretch as part of your warmup and again when you cool down, but you must not stretch completely cold muscles or you could cause some damage. The same is true when you’re still recovering from an injury. Gentle stretching can be effective and doesn’t have to be painful. Always listen to advice from doctors, physios and other experts.
In general, flexibility is about being able to have the full range of movement in your joints. That means they can bend and extend fully (hinge joints like the elbows) or rotate properly (ball and socket joints like the hip). If they’re too loose, you may be more at risk of dislocation injuries, but they definitely won’t be healthy if you don’t keep them flexible.
Everyone has their own natural range when it comes to flexibility in the joints. Even if you’re not injured, sometimes you won’t be able to push past a certain point. That’s okay, and you risk causing more damage if you try too hard. What you can do is keep trying some gentle exercises just to keep them within that natural range. It will alleviate some of the unavoidable things that can damage your flexibility, like aging.
If you make sure to incorporate flexibility training into your routine early on, it will serve you well in the long term. Mobility problems are often associated with old age and conditions such as arthritis. The more flexible you are to start, the less likely these are going to cause you serious problems with basic movement as you get older.
You can’t ignore this important aspect of fitness. You should feel encouraged to train for flexibility as well as strength if you really want your body to be at its best. Incorporating stretches and similar exercises into your routine is a valuable way to improve your overall health in the long term.