Flexibility is defined the "absolute range of movement in a joint(s) that is attainable in a momentary effort". What does this mean? It’s the total amount of motion a specific joint can move through. For example, the knee can have 150 degrees of total motion. They key point is specificity. Flexibility in one joint does not equal flexibility in another or all joints. Having a shoulder joint that has full motion and good flexibility does not mean the knee joint in the same person will be automatically flexible. flexibility can also be directional in a joint. A hip can have good flexibility in flexion and extension/ “forwards and back" but limited in abduction and adduction/“in and out”. It's why someone can do left or right splits but maybe not center splits.

There are some conditions and factors that can effect a persons flexibility. Increasing age, activity level, and medical conditions can alter a person’s flexibility. However, these are factors that influence flexibility not determine it. Flexibility can improve for anyone but patience and determination are required

Why is it important?

Lack of flexibility can lead to injury due to decreased motion available at the joint and altered kinematics/forces placed on the joint and surrounding muscles.

What are the types of flexibility?
  • Dynamic: moving actively (and smoothly!) through the entire range of motion. Example: Standing hip swings in flexion/extension (high swings forward/back) to stretch into full range of motion. These are excellent for warm up as they prepare the muscles for aerobic activity safely. They should be performed for 8-12 reps and stopped when the muscle becomes fatigued as range will start to decrease.
  • Static-active: using only an opposing/ agonist muscle group to maintain a lengthened position of a muscle. The tension of the agonist muscle helps to relax the antagonist muscle that is being stretched. This is a referred to as reciprocal inhibition. Example: a hamstring stretch lying down using the quad straighten the knee and to flex the hip and hold the leg to a 90 degree position. The quad is the agonist that is actively contracting to move the hip into flexion and knee into extension to “turn off” the hamstrings so they can be relaxed and then stretched. These stretches are difficult to maintain and should last only between 10-15 seconds with multiple reps.
  • Another method of static-active stretching is isometric stretching. This technique uses the tension generated from a muscle group through isometric contractions (no motion) to temporarily relax the muscle and allow for greater lengthening/motion of that muscle.
  • This technique allows the muscle to be lengthened past it’s initial max lengthened point and the end result is increased flexibility. It should be started in the muscle’s elongated position and held in a contracted state for 10-15 seconds then relaxed and held for at least 20 seconds. An example of this technique is a calf stretch where one pushes the ball of the foot into a wall like you are trying to push away the wall and holds the contraction and then relaxes and holds the stretch.
  • Static-passive: using body weight, an object or a person to maintain a position. Example: a traditional hamstring stretch using a rope to hold the knee straight and hip flexed. these should be slow and relaxed holding for 30 seconds or more.These are good for post workout stretching/cooling down as it helps reduce post-workout muscle fatigue,spasms, and soreness, and aids in recovery.
  • A technique that combines isometric/static-active and passive flexibility is PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) . This technique allows for maximum static flexibility. PNF techniques begin by passively stretching a muscle group for 7-10 seconds, then adding a isometric contraction (using resistance) in the stretched position for 7-10 seconds, and lastly relaxing for 2-3 seconds and again passively stretching through the available range of motion with a hold of 20 seconds. This is referred to as a Contract-Relax method.
What stretches are best?

It depends on the person and the activity…but there is a technique for everyone!

  • Runners: Begin with dynamic stretching to the hips and calf muscles to prepare for their run. As part of their cool down static passive stretches of 2-3 sets of 30 seconds to all muscle groups will aid in recovery.
  • Cyclists: Like runners begin with dynamic stretches for quads, hamstrings, and calves. Hip adductors should also be included to adequately prepare for efficiency. Post workout static stretching to calves, hamstrings, and quads are very important, especially with longer duration rides.
  • Swimmers: It’s all about active/dynamic stretching to the trunk rotators, pecs, and lats! This allows for good body rotation and long efficient strokes. Pec stretching is important to prepare the athlete for repetitive overhead motion and avoid impingement issues. Passive stretching to pecs and hamstrings will aid in injury prevention.
  • Dancers: These athletes require flexibility to the end ranges of the hip and ankle joints. Dynamic stretches to hamstrings, hip rotators, quads, and calves are essential. In addition, static-active/isometric/PNF techniques would be beneficial to improve flexibility to end ranges prior to routines and training. Passive exercises would follow training to help in recovery and injury prevention.
  • Gymnasts: Due to the extreme stresses placed on the joints there should be extensive active stretching performed during warm up to avoid injury. Lumbar spine, Shoulders, ankles and hips should be taken through their full range of motion. Passive-static stretches or a PNF technique would be ideal for after practice for recovery and for increasing flexibility further.
  • Soccer: These athletes should begin with dynamic flexibility exercises for quads, hamstrings, hip rotators and ankles. It’s crucial to adequately prepare these athletes for quick changes in speed and direction and to avoid injury. Passive stretches post workout will ease soreness and help prevent injury.

Location(s): Burr Ridge, Naperville