Stretching for Flexibility

by Sam Malone

Our daily normal activities need a certain amount of flexibility of all our joints and muscles. While recreational and leisure activities need only normal levels of flexibility, sportspersons require greater range of flexibility, and so do activities like karate, diving, swimming and gymnastics. Since flexibility and stretching go hand in hand, it is very essential to do some stretching for flexibility.

Benefits : Even if you do stretching for functional flexibility; these exercises can help you in many other ways. Stretch and flex exercises enhance physical fitness and movement; they reduce tension and soreness of muscles. These exercises also aid physical and mental relaxation and enhance development of body awareness. Stretching exercises can also reduce the risk of injury to muscles, joints and tendons; while at the same time they have been known to reduce the severity of painful cramps during menstruation (dysmenorrhea) in women. Stretching exercises stimulate the joints to produce more lubricating chemicals (synovial fluid) and thus increase the suppleness of the connecting tissues.

Types : There are many types and techniques of stretching exercises for flexibility such as dynamic, static, ballistic and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). The ballistic stretch exercises make use of repeated bouncing movements. Dynamic stretching exercises mimic specific exercises or sports, and are often included in the warm-up stage when preparing for some sports event. The static stretch and flex exercises involve stretching a muscle to the maximum, till a point of mild discomfort is reached, and holding it for a specified period such as for 10 to 60 seconds.

Yoga exercises incorporate some of the best stretches for flexibility. Some of the postures considered good for stretching are the Plough Pose, the Boat Pose, the Triangle Pose and the Downward Facing Dog Pose.

Other exercises which help stretching for flexibility are the traditional backbend, which helps to stretch the back muscles. The traditional hurdler's stretch is often recommended as a good stretching exercise for flexibility. This stretches the quadriceps. Torso twists, straight-legged toe touches, and inverted stretches are some other exercises which are recommended for stretching for flexibility.

Caution : If you have led a sedentary life, or if you have any physical or medical problems, many of the stretching exercises may prove too strenuous for you and even cause pain and damage. For example, the hurdler's stretch or the straight-legged toe touches have sometimes caused knee damage and dislocation of the knee bone. In order to avoid these problems, it is advisable to consult an exercise therapist or your doctor before starting any exercise regimen. They will be able to measure your physical fitness levels and draw up a suitable exercise program for your requirements.

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