Tag Archives: flexibility

Should You Be A Flexible Runner?

Being a flexible runner can be useful.  It can also make you less efficient.  People most commonly stretch to relieve the muscle tightness and soreness that are a product of hard training.  As this article from Competitor mentions, there’s no good reason our bodies would adapt in a way that didn’t benefit us, so do we get tight after a tough workout?  Our muscles shorten because increased flexibility can actually have a negative effect on performance.  Here’s how being a too flexible runner can change the way your body performs for the worse.

Think of your muscles as rubber bands.  There’s something to be said for tightly pulled rubber bands.  Tight bands are loaded with energy, waiting to explode.  Loose bands aren’t quite as ready to propel your body in one direction or another.  Static stretching, or loosening up, takes our tightly pulled rubber band muscles and makes them slack.  The relaxed muscles of a very flexible runner aren’t holding as much energy or as ready to perform as the tighter muscles of less flexible runner.

Stiffer muscles are also better springs.  They are better than stretched muscles at responding to impact with the ground, absorbing that energy and using it to move us forward with each step.  Being good at translating energy from the ground into forward movement is necessary for efficient running.  One study found that a group of runners who did static stretches before running had to make a bigger effort and had less efficiency at the start than those who had not, though the groups’ efforts eventually evened out.  Increasing running efficiency is the key to faster finish times and staying injury free.

While touching your toes might not be the most powerful indicator of running performance, it is still important to be a flexible runner.  Having appropriate ranges of motion around the hips and ankles will help prevent injuries, and some of the world’s best runners have been shown to have bigger ranges of motion around their hips than the rest of us.  Most of us also spend a lot more time sitting, which shortens the hamstrings, and wearing shoes, which shortens the Achilles and calf muscles.  Stretching these muscle groups to restore normal mobility should be part of your daily routine.

If a little stretch before or after your run feels good, keep it up.  Just be sure to hold for a short time and consider using a foam roller to make those muscles feel better instead.

Coach Meredith

Flexibility Isn’t Everything

The Sit-and-Reach test for flexibility.  There isn’t anyone who missed out on it in grade school.  Put your feet in the metal box, push the bar as far as you can without lifting yourflexibility knees off the ground and voila, your flexibility is precisely and accurately measured.  Unfortunately, flexibility might not be all it’s cracked up to be.  While incredibly important to gymnasts and dancers, stretching might not be beneficial to all types of athletes.

Recently, researchers have been exploring the exact benefits of stretching before playing a sport and how it can improve, or be a detriment, to athletic performance.  Most of the research is based on the fact that muscle fibers are like rubber bands, they stretch and recoil in proportion to their tightness.  You would much rather be snapped with a loose rubber band than a tight one, and your muscles are just the same.  The tighter a muscle is, the more force it can produce at a moment’s notice.  So why would anyone want to loosen their muscles up before participating in a sport?

The short answer is that it depends what you’re doing.  Flexibility is a measure of range of flexibilitymotion (ROM), or the range through which a joint can move freely through extension and flexion.  Normal ROMs around the hips, ankles and knees are integral for moving a joint in almost any athletic movement, and increased ROM can reduce muscle stiffness and risk of muscle strain injury.  Larger than normal ROMs are necessary for specialty athletes like gymnasts, hockey goalies and dancers who perform movements such as splits.

Unfortunately, performing a few minutes of static stretching immediately before heading to the floor exercise won’t improve your ROM.  A 2004 study in the September/October issue of Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found that to derive benefits from static stretching, it needs to be done regularly.  Gymnasts, goalies and dancers spend years working on their flexibility and practice stretching every day.  The gym regular who does some static stretching in close proximity to exercising doesn’t require the same kind of dedication.  That exact kind of stretching was discounted again in a 2012 study done by The University of Northampton (UK).  After reviewing earlier studies, researchers found holding static stretches for a minute, or to the point of discomfort, right before exercising was a detriment to performance, while stretches held for 30 seconds were not.  The stretches used in these studies were designed to stretch muscles like the hamstring and quadriceps, not to increase ROM around a joint and the difference is distinct.  It doesn’t matter how much force your muscle can produce if it isn’t able to move through the required ROM to perform the activity correctly.  What’s the lesson?

It’s not ‘stop stretching and you’ll be faster, stronger and jump higher than ever’.   The lesson from this research is if you like stretching, keep at it, although you’re better off waiting until after you’ve exercised to do it and if you don’t like stretching, that’s OK, too.  A flexibility routine that ensures proper ROM around the hips, ankles, shoulders and knees is an important part of any fitness program, but being able to do a split or reach past your toes isn’t.  The type and duration of your stretching needs to be based on the kinds of activities you engage in on a regular basis and what your goals are.  There is no one size fits all flexibility routine that works for everyone, so take some of what you learned here and find what’s best for your body.

Want help developing a flexibility routine?  Ask us!  Email Info@FitNicePT.com today.

Fitness Benefits of Yoga

Everyone has heard of yoga, and most people have a sense of what it is.  Whether you’re a yoga fanatic or someone who hasn’t ever thought about giving it a try, this type of workout can be a great compliment to your current routine.  Yoga has been practiced for over 5,000 years, and with the ultimate goal of uniting body, mind and spirit, it’s a great addition for runners, golfers and anyone else who spends a little time getting fit.

Yoga improves flexibility by working through a series of poses to safely stretch muscles and soft tissues.  Better flexibility decreases lower back pain and prevents post workout stiffness.  Flexibility will also give your body more power through a larger range of motion, generating more power in a golf swing and more fluid hip movement for runners.  The muscle balance demanded by yoga will also lead to improved club control for golfers, and for runners, yoga helps maintain body alignment and reduce the risk of injury.

Yoga requires deep, controlled, mindful breathing, and in turn creates a relaxation response from the body.  This relaxing effect has been shown to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with depression, help insomniacs fall asleep faster and improve mood states.  Improved breath control gives golfers a better swing rhythm, and benefits are seen when pregnant women practice prenatal yoga because it helps with breath control and pain management during labor and delivery.  Practicing power yoga in a heated room can, in itself, be a tough aerobic workout for any one.

It’s important to be aware of the risks of yoga as well.  Though it may sound nice and easy, it is possible to hurt yourself by overstretching and straining to reach that next pose.  People with severe osteoporosis, who are pregnant or have spinal problems should be aware of this increased risk and discuss their yoga training with a physician.  Warming up, staying hydrated, dressing properly and listening to your body are just as important when doing yoga as they are when going for a run or any kind of weight lifting workout, so take it seriously!

The best way to learn about yoga is to get out there and try a class!  You might not fall in love with the first style you try, so give each type a shot.  Find a studio near you, make sure you have a qualified instructor and take a friend.  For help finding and instructor or studio near you, contact us at Info@FitNicePT.com.

The Importance of Stretching

Stretching prevents injury and soreness, improves range of motion and circulation, and gives you time to cool down from your workout.  Any one, of any age, can see big benefits from adding a stretching routine to their workouts.

One of the biggest benefits of regular stretching is an increase in flexibility, and without good flexibility, movements can be slowed and less fluid.  Improved range of motion makes everything from tying shoes to lifting groceries easier, and also helps prevent muscle strains or tears, damage to ligaments and other soft issue injuries.  The bigger ranges of motion that result from increased flexibility around joints will also improve coordination and balance, which is incredibly important when trying to prevent falls, especially in older populations.  Stretching also improves circulation by increasing blood flow to the working muscle, helping them receive needed nutrients and remove waste, like lactic acid.  Better posture and stress relief are more of the wonderful benefits you can get from regular stretching.  Tight muscles are the enemy of good posture, so stretching out can help you sit up straight and limit aches and pains.  When you’re feeling stressed, a few minutes of stretching will help tense muscles relax.

You can stretch a little bit before you workout as part of a solid warm-up and after your session as a cool down.  When you stretch for a warm-up, make sure you’ve done something to get your blood flowing already, such as five minutes on an elliptical.  Stretching cold muscles makes them prone to pulling or straining, which is exactly what you’re trying to prevent!  After you’ve loosened and warmed your muscles, you can give them a nice stretch before you hit the hard stuff, then you can be sure those working muscles are getting enough oxygen.  A light stretch before the tough stuff will also raise your heart rate slowly and safely.  Be careful not to stretch too much prior to your workout, as there is evidence suggesting that long, static stretching before a workout can lower strength gains by straining, and therefore weakening the muscle before you train.

Stretching properly is the key to seeing benefits, so here are some tips on how to do it the right way.  Take deep breaths and hold each stretch three times for 30 seconds, making sure to stretch both sides evenly.  Long, steady stretches are the way to, with no tugging or bouncing.  You should feel a stretch, not a pain or pull, if you do, stop immediately.  Make sure to stretch all over!  Quadriceps, hamstrings, groin, calves and lower back are some of the most important areas, especially when you’ve put your legs through the grinder with some hard cardio or a long run.  Lower back pain is often caused by tightness in hamstrings, lower back and hips, so stretching these areas can be a huge help.

For questions about, or help developing, a stretching program, send us an email!

Benefits of Stretching

There are three major components that measure fitness: cardiovascular endurance, strength and flexibility.  Flexibility is often the most overlooked and undervalued.  It is defined as the range of motion in a joint and the length of the muscles that cross the given joint.  While it varies greatly from person to person, the importance of including stretching in your fitness routine is undeniable.  Stretching should be done after your body is warm in order to prevent injury to cold muscles, and for the same reason, bouncing stretches should be avoided.  Add a little stretching at the beginning of a workout, a few minutes after, and you’ll see improvement in several fitness related areas.  Here are three great reasons to take the last five minutes of your workout to stretch:

1)  Stretching increases flexibility and better flexibility makes you less susceptible to strains, sprains, tears and pulls.

2)  Stretching increases blood flow to the muscle.  More blood and nutrients getting to the muscles aides with repair and cleaning out of any lactic acid build-up, which helps prevent soreness, and that’s always good news.

3)  Improve balance and posture by relieving tension in back muscles and releasing stress.  Having a larger range of motion allows your body to maintain its natural and proper alignment with less effort, helping to prevent falls and keep you sitting up straight.

So, whether you can touch your toes or not, give it a try.  Hold each stretch steady for 30 seconds, and remember not to bounce.  Stretch each and every time you work out to have fewer injuries, less soreness and better posture before you know it.