Once the workout is complete, clients can focus on relaxation and rejuvenation of mind and body. After pushing the body to work hard, it is time to encourage recovery. This is an excellent time for flexibility training because the muscles are warm and pliable, allowing them to stretch farther.
Following are some of the major benefits of flexibility training:
• Reduces stress in the exercising muscles and releases tension developed during the workout.
• Assists with posture by balancing the tension placed across the joint by the muscles that cross it. Proper posture minimizes stress and maximizes the strength of all joint movements.
• Reduces the risk of injury during exercise and daily activities because muscles are more pliable.
• Improves performance of everyday activities as well as performance in exercise and sport.
As with all other components of the workout, flexibility training should be based on the FITT formula (see chapter 4). The following sections examine each component of the FITT formula more closely as it relates to flexibility.
Stretching should be included after every workout to encourage improvement and maintain overall flexibility. Canada’s Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living recommends flexibility training 4 to 7 days a week.
Stretching should never be painful. The focus should be on bringing the muscle to a point of slight tension. Encourage clients to continue their breathing pattern throughout the stretch.
The length of the flexibility component depends on the needs and motivation of the client. In most cases, flexibility training should last at least 5 to 10 minutes. Stretching is one area of the workout that tends to get cut short when time is running out. Don’t assume that clients will perform their own recovery and flexibility once their session with you has ended. Being organized with workout design ensures that there is always time for stretching.
To increase or restore muscle ROM, it is necessary to overload the muscle with flexibility training. To improve joint ROM, it is necessary to lengthen the muscle and surrounding connective tissue in safe and effective ways.
Two main methods of flexibility training (static and dynamic) can be used, but all types of flexibility training will be more effective after a thorough warm-up, when the body temperature is elevated.
This method of flexibility training involves taking a specific joint or set of joints through a ROM to a comfortable end point (at least 20 seconds), resting for approximately 20 seconds, and then repeating the stretch two to three times.
The goal of static stretching is to overcome the stretch reflex (the automatic tightening of a muscle when stretched, which relaxes after approximately 20 seconds) to coax a joint into a wider ROM. This is done by holding the stretch gently and not overstretching the muscle.
• Example: Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you and bend forward at the hips with your spine in a neutral position until you feel a slight tension in the hamstring group. This stretch requires relaxation of the hamstrings and will increase ROM at the hip joint. Keep in mind that if you also flex the spine, you will be including the ROM of the vertebral joints, which may decrease the effect on the hamstrings.
• Advantages: Static stretching can be used by virtually anyone; it is easily taught and usually very safe. Once learned, it can be performed in almost any environment without external assistance or equipment.
• Disadvantages: Static stretching will improve flexibility at a specific body position and only to a small degree outside of that position, limiting its effectiveness for athletes or those wanting to increase flexibility in multiple ROMs. It is best suited to noncompetitive clients or as a complement to other methods of flexibility training.
This method of flexibility training uses increasingly dynamic movements through the full ROM of a joint. Dynamic stretching develops active ROM through the process of reciprocal inhibition, where the agonist muscle is contracting while the antagonist or opposite muscle is carried through the lengthening process.
When performed correctly, dynamic stretching warms up the joints, maintains current flexibility, and reduces muscle tension. The exercise begins at a slow pace and gradually increases in speed and intensity. This method of stretching is best performed before exercise or activity that is movement based, like tennis or hiking.
• Example: While standing on one foot, flex the hip joint of the nonsupporting leg (knee extended, like a pendulum). This motion contracts the hip flexors (agonists) and requires inhibition or relaxation of the hamstring group (antagonists).
• Advantages: Dynamic ROM is extremely useful for athletes and those who are warming up for an activity that requires a wide ROM, especially when speed is involved. Dynamic and static stretches combined can prepare the joints for explosive movements more than either type alone.
• Disadvantages: Dynamic ROM should be used gradually and only by those who have been shown an appropriate series of movements. If inappropriate movements are used, small trauma may be experienced over time in the joints or connective tissue from movements that are too fast or through a ROM that is too extreme.
Common stretches for each major muscle group are found in Appendix B. Can-Fit-Pro recommends performing dynamic stretches prior to an exercise session in a warm-up, and static stretches after an exercise session in a cool-down. While other types of stretching exist, they are typically for therapeutic purposes and often outside of a personal trainer’s scope of practice.
• Don’t overdo it; work within your limits.
• Breathe comfortably. Exhale as the muscle lengthens to assist in relaxation.
• Perform flexibility exercises for each muscle group for total-body improvements.
• Work with warm muscles because they lengthen more easily and with less discomfort. The best time to do flexibility training is after the cardiorespiratory workout.
• Modify. You can alter the difficulty of a stretch by paying attention to
• single-joint versus multijoint movements (complexity),
• position of the stretch (whether it involves balance),
• available ROM (individual limits),
• length of the lever (longer is more difficult),
• degree of exercise difficulty,
• chosen stretching technique, and
• effect of gravity (as an assistance or resistance).
Choose activities that serve two functions: relaxation and flexibility. This does not mean that the entire time has to be spent stretching. There are many methods of flexibility training that promote relaxation, such as yoga, meditation, Pilates, tai chi, visualization, and breathing. Try these alternatives to assist clients in relaxing and encourage them to de-stress from their busy lives.
This is an excerpt from Foundations of Professional Personal Training.