Flexibility is defined as the range of motion (ROM) of a joint and is a fitness component that is very significant for older people or sedentary people. A lack of flexibility can cause injury and strain across a person’s spine and joints, this then creates tightness and tension and is very tiring.
Tension and tightness can be attributed to inactivity which then leads to muscles and connective tissues to lose their ability to stretch and extend when you want to use them. Long repetitive exercise patterns like running or cycling can also cause stiffness, especially if you don’t prioritise stretching afterwards. The key is to move more and stretch regularly. In as little as 3 weeks, you will start to see quick results if you take the time to do a few minutes of stretching 4-5 times a week.
Below are exercises that you can do to check your ROM and also you can do them to improve your flexibility.
SHOULDERS - This exercise promotes scapular rotation increasing shoulder flexibility, which is important in keeping your shoulders back which promotes good posture.
Exercise: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and with good posture, attempt to interlock your fingers behind your back. If you are not able to get your fingers to touch, then use a rope or tea towel and switch sides.
Normal ROM = Fingers from each hand touching for both sides.
OBLIQUES - The external oblique along with the internal oblique are responsible for a great deal of core strength and are prime movers for trunk rotation and side flexion. Trunk rotation is used when bending or turning around.
Exercise: Stand straight with feet hip-width apart and bend your trunk sideways without twisting, slide your hand down alongside your thigh.
Normal ROM = Fingertips should reach down to at least knee level. Look for symmetry between sides.
INNER THIGH - The adductor muscles are located inside the thigh and allow a person to squeeze and grip their knees together.
Exercise: Start by sitting on the floor with a straight back, bend your knees and bring your soles together. Move your heels as close to your pelvis as you can, and try to drop your knees down towards the floor.
IMPORTANT: Don’t be tempted to bounce your knees down, instead apply constant even pressure to drop your knees towards the floor.
Normal ROM = The gap between the knees and the floor should be less than 22cm’s. Take note on whether one knee is higher than the other. If one knee is higher than the other, it would indicate that the higher side is tighter and needs more stretching.
HAMSTRING AND LOWER BACK - To prevent lower back injuries, your hamstrings and lower back muscles should be supple.
Exercise: Stand with your legs straight and your feet flat on the floor at hip-width apart. Suck your belly button in towards your spine, then hinge from your hips and reach down towards the floor with your fingertips.
IMPORTANT: Do not bounce as it is dangerous and results in an inaccurate indication of your flexibility.
Normal ROM = If the tips of your middle fingers touch the floor then that is an indication that you have good flexibility through your hamstrings and lower back.
HIP AND ANKLE - Improving hip flexibility is really important as hip flexors often get very tight when sitting for long durations. This exercise is great for improving both hip and ankle range of motion.
Exercise: Plant your feet on the ground and place them just over shoulder-width apart. Check to make sure the knees are behind the line of your toes. Lower your buttocks down into a frog squat. Try to keep your spine flat when you lower down and avoid curling your back or shoulders. Gradually aim to hold the stretch for up to 5-10 minutes.
Normal ROM = If you can hold this stretch with your heels in contact with the ground for 2-3 minutes, then you have good flexibility.
When stretching; the goal is to breathe consistently through each stretch, you should feel a slight discomfort, but no pain. Hold each stretch for 15-20 seconds, and complete 2-3 sets of each exercise. Do not be surprised if you have significantly different ROM on one side versus the other, especially if you have had previous injuries. Identify your tighter areas/sides and then target those points. The above stretches are ideal to do every morning or even at night in front of the TV.
Karen Hulston is an online Boot Camp Health and Fitness Coach, and a NZ Army Advanced Qualified Physical Training Instructor, with over 20 years’ experience in the Health and Fitness Industry. For more info or to contact Karen go to: bootcampwithkaz.co.nz
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