Most people are familiar with the words mobility and flexibility; but before we continue, let’s take a moment to think about what these two words really mean?
Many people mistakenly use the terms flexibility and mobility interchangeably. Although flexibility is a component of mobility, mobility and flexibility meet two different needs.
Flexibility is the ability of a muscle to lengthen.
Mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion (your ability to control your movements).
A great way to assess your mobility is to see if you can move your joints yourself, instead of pulling yourself into stretches.
For example, can you get up and down from seated to standing without using your hands? Maybe start from a chair and gradually, over time work towards getting up from the ground.
Often people claim to have tight hamstrings (because they struggle to touch their toes and feel a pull in their hamstrings). Lying on their back, these people can have their leg ‘passively’ stretched into hip flexion. Here they continue to feel the same stretch in the hamstrings, but instead of being limited, their leg has normal range (about 70 degrees).
This is a classic example of how someone that demonstrates normal, or even good flexibility may not have the necessary ‘mobility’ to get their body into certain positions.
In a case like this, stretching your hamstrings would not help improve your toe touch. You would need to learn how to improve your active mobility, stability, and strength of your spine and hips in order to get into this position.
The flexibility of a muscle is dependent on the strength of that muscle (especially at the end ranges of motion). It’s like your body won’t let you go past a certain level of flexibility until its sure you have the muscle strength to handle that improved range of motion.
Muscle strength is crucial for joint stability, so if you’re trying to improve your flexibility around a particular joint, but the muscles that stabilise that joint are weak, all you’re going to do is make that joint more vulnerable to injury. Therefore, it is crucial to work on strength, as well as flexibility.
Have variety in your stretches. Tight hamstrings can cause lower back problems; tight hip muscles can lead to knee pain; and tight chest muscles can cause upper back pain.
For example, If you’re trying to improve the flexibility of your hamstrings, then you need to be doing as many different hamstring stretches that you can think of (and if you really want to improve the flexibility of your hamstrings, you need to stretch your lower back, glutes, hips, groin, and calves).
Stretching before exercise or as part of your warm-up is good, but pre-exercise stretching is not meant to improve your flexibility (its purpose is simply to prepare you for exercise).
So if you want to improve your flexibility, one of the best times to stretch is after your work out, as part of your cool-down. This is when your muscles are most warm and pliable, which makes it much easier to stretch and reach new levels of flexibility. Another great time to stretch is just before going to bed. This works at a neuromuscular level, as the increased muscle length is the last thing your nervous system remembers before going to sleep. Sleep, is also the time when your muscles and soft tissues heal, which means your muscles are healing in an elongated, or stretched position.
There are many different ways to stretch and all of them have their advantages and disadvantages. Dynamic stretching, for example, is great for warming up and sports that require fast movements. Static stretching is the best form of stretching for improving flexibility and range of motion. Static stretches are stretching exercises that are performed without movement (so holding for an amount of time).
I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and it has helped. If you’d like to come and stretch with me Emma Yogacell, look at my workshops or group classes. I also offer 1:1 personal training. Happy stretching!