Bending without breaking

Make flexibility a priority


Last week I revisited how muscle and movement lie at the foundation of fitness, but the very next stone to be laid in building an alter to health must be Flexibility.

A subject often thrown around in fitness circles without a clear definition, at its core flexibility should be judged by the range of movement of our joints, muscles and ligaments. Think of it as possessing the ability to move freely, though when the general public considers flexibility, ballet dancers or gymnasts are the standard. These are displays of hyper-flexibility, not today’s topic.

A sedentary lifestyle – the enemy of flexibility

What should be normal levels of flexibility have suffered from the increasing sedentary lifestyle many of us lead. This is serious, as even normal levels of flexibility are important and are far too often overlooked in evaluating our health. Loss of a normal range of movement around a particular joint restricts movement, which could lead to further impingement.

Use it or lose it

To give an example, one of the most common conditions I encounter with new clients is a general loss of hip flexibility.  The normal range of movement of the hip is around 120/130 degrees from the joint. New clients, when asked to lift their knees, keeping their back straight and neutral, 90 degrees is more common. Of course, it’s no coincidence that this is the same height as their desk chairs.

The loss of what should be a normal range is a genuine restriction on the overall range of movement for this joint. This means when required to go past 90 degrees another part of the body must compensate. In most cases it’s the spine, which can lead to long term consequences, lower back pain in particular, along with the possibility of other complications.

Prioritise working on and extending your range of movement to avoid getting into such a fix. At the very least work on ensuring you can achieve a normal range of flexibility. Spend time stretching, particularly tight areas of the body, up to 2 minutes on each stretch. Be aware it takes at least 2 minutes to alter any soft tissue for longer lasting results.

If you do not possess normal flexibility:
  • your athletic performance will be diminished
  • you will risk unnecessary injury, as you will not be moving or lifting efficiently.

Flexibility allows us to move more efficiently, with additional benefits of superior general exercise performance, while expending less energy, which in turn means you can do more.

Embrace flexibility as a core element in your routine exercise. You will surprise yourself in what you can achieve as well as enhancing your overall performance as you move into a virtuous circle of improvement, leaving behind the risk of a longer term debilitating retreat from mobility.

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          About the author

Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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