The importance of flexibility in a fitness routine is crucial to your overall performance. The way you look on stage when executing certain moves in your routine will reflect this very important element.
Out of the three common requirements in a fitness routine being; strength, flexibility and endurance, flexibility is the element that competitors neglect most. This is especially true for new competitors to the field.
Having exceptional strength and endurance is prominent in a fitness routine, however, without exceptional flexibility as well, the strength and endurance moves cannot be executed to the highest level of excellence that they should be, and the competitor is limited to what she can portray on stage.
The judges notice this early on in your routine, and you will lose valuable points for this neglected element. Flexibility determines how graceful, powerful, and dazzling your routine will be to those watching.
Watching someone do a split, for example, with no light showing through at the center of the body to the floor with the toes pointed and the back upright and straight, is more impressive than someone with less flexibility doing the same split with the mid-line off the floor by as much as four inches, and all weight at the knees without the toes pointed and the body leaning forward out of a straight back. Which would you like for the judges to see you do? Not to mention the audience.
When executing the moves in a fitness routine, they should have full extension when the move requires it. Lines should be tight, and legs straight with pointed toes. The back should be flat and elegant in the movement, and the arms graceful.
The head, shoulders and chest should be up and straight, not slumped.
All proper executing of moves should be done in this manner without allowing the body appear stiff or forced in the movement. Achieving this type of relaxed professionalism comes with practice, of course, but with exceptional flexibility as well from head to toe.
Flexibility training should consist of overall body stretching to improve flexibility from head to toe, in at least forty-five (45) minutes to one (1) hour sessions per day, everyday. It is always best to have a very knowledgeable partner or trainer to help you in these sessions.
Always warm up for at least five (5) minutes on an aerobic piece of equipment first before stretching to prepare the muscle for the deep stretching that is to come. Stretching should start at the head/neck trapezious muscles, the shoulders and the joints around the deltoid muscles. Elbows and wrists should not be left out of your stretch, along with front biceps, and back triceps of the arms. The muscles around the elbow and wrists must be stretched in order to execute planches, pike holds and straddle holds with ease.
The upper back rhomboids and latissimus-dorsi for the mid back should be stretched, along with the upper chest pectoralis muscles. The abdomen, upper, lower, middle and side obliques, down to the hip flexors and around the hip joint for beautiful splits and high leg kicks at full extension.
The adductor inner thigh, as well as the abductors outer thigh should not be left out. The front of the thighs quadriceps muscles, as well as the back of the thighs hamstring muscles. Execute stretching in the legs at this point to cover your gluteus-Maximus as well, especially where the buttock meets the hamstring. The lower lumbar spine the lower part of the back where it curves should be especially focused on when in stretching.
Flexibility in the back will improve your coordination and balance tremendously. Pay careful attention to the backs of the knees and around the knee joint, that is important for splits, and strength holds reaching full extension. At first you may feel a burning sensation in the tendons around the knee joint when learning to do a full split. If this happens, release the stretch a little to stop the burning sensation, and proceed carefully not forcing this stretch.
In time that sensation will disappear when your range of motion and flexibility improves behind the knee. Calves in front anterior tibialis, and in back gastrocnemius will stretch as the thigh is stretched, however you will want to focus on stretches especially for those muscles. Finally, you come to the ankles and the joints around them, don't leave them out, and focus on the feet, stretching the muscles top foot and bottom foot as well as the toes.
Any movement that requires a full extension, whether the arms, legs, the body's mid-line, shoulders, back, a lifted chest, planches, holds, kicks, splits, contortion strength moves, dance, gymnastic tumbles, jumps or leaps, etc., have to have flexibility to do so gracefully and with little effort.
When your body has achieved a high level of flexibility for peak performance, the required elements of strength, flexibility, and endurance moves will become effortless when executed on stage, and your routine will look clean, crisp and sharp. That is very impressive.
So, How Do You Stretch Properly?
Bouncing rapidly, or moving the muscle excessively during the stretch. This is NOT the type of stretch to use when developing superior flexibility. This type of stretching can cause the muscle to tear. However, on an athletic level in professional fitness competing, it is sometimes called for in controlled situations, and the athlete knows what they are doing.
A low force, long duration stretch that is used to hold the muscle at a desired length for a number of seconds or minutes. This IS the type of stretching to use for every part of flexibility training.
The Stretch Reflex:
This mechanism is automatically initiated by the muscle itself to prevent an injury. If you try to stretch the muscle too far (either by a bouncing or an overstretch movement), a nerve reflex responds by sending a signal to the muscle causing it to contract and protect itself from injury.
Therefore, if you stretch too far or bounce the muscle, you tighten the muscle that you are trying to stretch, countering the effect that you were trying to achieve. Being careful not to cause a stretch reflex is very important in flexibility training.
Breathing Properly During A Stretch:
You must breath during your stretching to get oxygen to the muscle and to help it to elongate during the stretch. This also helps you to relax. Inhale deeply though the nose as you go into the stretch, and exhale while relaxing into the stretch and holding it. Relaxing into your stretches promote the highest level of flexibility, and prevents a stretch reflex.
Common Factors For Stretching
- Always put the entire body in proper alignment and position when stretching.
- Do Not stretch to the point of pain.
- Always stretch down and at an angle from the chest with a flat back in sitting or standing positions.
- Keep the head up with the neck and spine aligned. Do not fold the chin down into your chest while stretching. Except when stretching the back of the neck in a sitting position where the body is in an upright seated proper position.
- Sit up with back straight and shoulders back for upper body and side body stretches. Keep the abdomen pulled in at all times.
- Don't lean forward or backward unnecessarily to knock the body out of alignment when stretching. Hold your center of gravity.
- Do not stretch beyond your body's natural range of motion without the help of a partner. Required for deep gymnastic type stretching. Beneficial for splits and high leg extensions. Use caution in these types of stretches.
- Beginners hold stretches for thirty seconds (30) minimum. Advanced hold three (3) to five (5) minutes maximum. Eventually, you should be holding all deep stretches, i.e., splits, etc., for a five (5) minute maximum time limit.
- Stretch muscles even when you are sore from weight training. No Exceptions. Have your partner help you.
- Always warm the muscles up with any type of aerobic activity for at least five (5) minutes before stretching.
- Always execute your stretches with total safety in mind.
- Have a certified trainer help you with PNF Stretching - Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation stretching to achieve a greater range of motion for deeper more advanced stretching.
- Incorporate Glucosamine into your daily diet to help improve joint flexibility and health. You can get that supplement here on Bodybuilding.com.
If you are still unsure about stretching and how to do them properly, talk to your
trainer, a gymnastics or dance instructor. They can help you to achieve the level of flexibility required to be a great fitness athlete. When you have mastered your individual level of flexibility, you will clearly see your routines become superior to those who are not as flexible, and you will then compete at a higher level in fitness to go up against the champions with confidence to possibly win a national title of your own. Good-Luck, and Train Smart. Train for Success!!!