Flexibility is the most important component of fitness. Yet, it is the most neglected. Stretching is now your new best friend.
My yoga practice began as a form of torture. My hips, hamstrings and back were weak and tight from nearly 20 years of playing sports and a decade of lifting weights without stretching. I was immobile and injury-prone. A few years ago, I realized why I stuck with yoga through the discomfort: I was benefiting from increasing my flexibility.
As an athlete, I frequently had heard that if I could not touch my toes, I was not reaching my highest athletic ability. I knew this was true, but I did not know to what extent.
I did not begin stretching consistently until after my college basketball career. As I see now that I am in better shape, more flexible and more mobile at 32 than I was at 22, it is possible that a lack of something as simple as stretching prevented me from realizing my athletic potential and cost me the opportunity to play professionally overseas.
Ten years of stretching has taught me five benefits that make it absolutely essential:
1) Improved range of motion
ROM is the measurement of movement around a joint or body part. The more ROM you have, the more able you are to move freely and effortlessly. When your muscles are tight, they cannot move to their fullest potential. As a result, you cannot move to your fullest potential. A basketball player on defense, for example, will not be able to get in and out of an athletic stance easily if he or she has tight hips. This will slow the player down and require more energy per movement. This waste of energy weakens stamina and output.
2) Decreased chance of injury:
A byproduct of improved flexibility is protection from injury. When muscles, joints or tendons are tight, they are more prone to injury because they are already at their edge in a resting state. One wrong movement or too much stress, and the area with the most restricted ROM will take the impact. Usually, this means a muscle sprain if you are lucky and a tendon tear if you are not. Limited ROM is a major reason why football players get hurt easily. They are so strong that they do not have the flexibility to support their power.
3) Improved recovery time:
Stretching helps the body to recover more quickly by delivering additional blood to the muscles. Our blood carries the nutrients and oxygen that our muscles need to heal and to stay healthy. The more flexible my muscles are, the more quickly they recover from lifting weights and engaging in athletic activities. The inverse is true of my tighter muscles.
4) Less pain:
Improving your flexibility will decrease your pain because it decreases the stress on specific areas of your body. Pain in one area of the body is usually due to inflexibility or weakness in another area of the body. The more flexible your whole body is, the less chance each muscle has of straining another area of your body. For example, lower back pain usually stems from tight hamstrings and buttocks muscles. The constant downward pulling from tight lower extremities eventually wears the lower back.
5) Mental flexibility:
Stretching makes you more fluid – physically and mentally. Improving your physical flexibility will make you run faster, jump higher, and move through space more easily. This will make things appear to come at you more slowly, which will enable you to react more quickly mentally. Stretching also improves proprioception – your body’s ability to know where it is in space. Stretching will sharpen your coordination, making you more agile. Ever seen an inflexible cat? Nope, that’s why they can move as they do.
Start stretching today. I suggest using yoga as your main form of stretching because it will move you outside of your comfort zone and put your body into new and uncomfortable positions that you probably would not do on your own.
Use dynamic stretching before you exercise. Afterward, use static stretching, especially around the areas you worked the most. Become more flexible to reach your full athletic potential.
Want to learn more about how to incorporate stretching into your workout routine or how to use it to enhance your athletic ability? Contact me today about personal training, yoga or combining both!
Nick Palladino-King teaches students and clients how to reduce stress, to increase happiness and to elevate health through yoga, wellness coaching and strength training.