Stretching for Enhanced Flexibility
Flexibility is a joint's ability to move through a full range of motion. Flexibility training (stretching) helps balance muscle groups that might be overused during exercise or physical activity or as a result of bad posture. It's important to clearly understand the many benefits that result from a good flexibility program.
The Benefits of Stretching
Improved Physical Performance
A flexible joint has the ability to move through a greater range of motion and requires less energy to do so, while greatly decreasing your risk of injury. Stretching decreases resistance in tissue structures; you are, therefore, less likely to become injured by exceeding you maximum range during activity.
Reduced Muscle Soreness
Slow, static stretching helps reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Static stretching involves a slow, gradual and controlled elongation of the muscle through the full range of motion and held for 15-30 seconds in the furthest comfortable position (without pain).
Stretching improves muscular balance and posture. Many people's soft-tissue structures has adapted poorly to either the effects of gravity or poor postural habits. Stretching can help realign soft tissue structures, thus reducing the effort it takes to achieve and maintain good posture in the activities of daily living.
Reduced Risk of Lower Back Pain
Stretching reduces the risk of lower back pain. Stretching promotes muscular relaxation. A muscle in constant contraction requires more energy to accomplish activities. Flexibility in the hamstrings, hip flexors, quadriceps, and other muscles attaching to the pelvis reduces stress to the lower back.
Increased Blood and Nutrients to Tissues
Stretching increases blood supply and nutrients to joint structures. Stretching increases tissue temperature, which in turn increases circulation and nutrient transport. This allows greater elasticity of surrounding tissues and increases performance. Stretching also increases joint synovial fluid, which is a lubricating fluid that promotes the transport of more nutrients to the joints' atricular cartilage. This allows a greater range of motion and reduces joint degeneration.
Improved Muscle Coordination
Stretching increases neuromuscular coordination. Nerve-impulse velocity (the time it takes an impulse to travel to the brain and back) is improved with stretching. This helps opposing muscle groups work in a more synergistic, coordinated fashion.
Enhanced Enjoyment of Physical Activities
Flexibility training also means enhanced enjoyment, and a fitness program should be fun if you want to stick with it. Not only does stretching decrease muscle soreness and increase performance, it also helps relax both mind and body and brings a heightened sense of well-being and personal gratification during exercise.
A Swiss ball allows a wide range of exercises to be performed, and provides for some great stretching. A Swiss ball is a ball constructed of elastic rubber with a diameter of around 55 to 85 cm (22 to 34 inches). A primary benefit of exercising with a Swiss ball as opposed to exercising directly on a hard flat surface is that the body responds to the instability of the ball to remain balanced, engaging many more muscles to do so. Those muscles become stronger over time to keep balance. Most frequently, the core body muscles, the abdominal muscles and back muscles, are the focus of exercise ball fitness programs. Some people sit on a Swiss ball instead of a chair (for example, an office chair), since this position requires them to engage their abdominal and back muscles and maintain proper posture to remain balanced on the ball. This is sometimes prescribed by physical therapists for back patients in sedentary jobs.
The Resistance/Elastic Band
Another tool which can be used in stretching is a resistance band (or elastic band). A variety of exercises have been devised to target specific muscle groups using the elastic band. Most resistance bands are available in five color-coded resistance levels: extra-light, light, medium, heavy, and extra-heavy. Lighter bands should be used to exercise small muscles such as the deltoids. Heavier bands should be used to exercise large muscles such as the quadriceps.