Flexibility training, like any other form of training, should follow a systematic progression. Performing flexibility techniques that are too difficult for an individual can be as dangerous as any other form of exercise. Some examples of flexibility techniques include self-myofascial release (foam rolling), static stretching and dynamic stretching.
Self-myofascial release (SMR) is essentially a form of self-massage and can reduce pain from latent trigger points. SMR is a stretching technique that focuses on the fibrous tissue that surrounds and separates muscle tissue (fascia) and the neural system of the body. By applying gentle force to an adhesion or “knot,” the elastic muscle fibers are altered from a bundled position into alignment with the direction of the muscle. The gentle pressure applied with implements, such as foam roller, will stimulate sensory receptors (golgi tendon organs) controlled by the nervous system, causing the muscle to relax.
SMR is recommended as part of a warm-up as well as the cool-down process. SMR can be performed on a daily basis, unless recommended otherwise by a health-care professional. When performing SMR, it is important to apply pressure each ‘’knot’’ for a minimum of 20 to 30 seconds, to allow the nervous system time to override the stretch reflex and relax the muscle. The release of an adhesion can quite often be felt and is often characterised by progressive pain relief.
Acute Variables for Self-Myofascial Release
|Frequency||Sets||Repetitions||Duration of Repetition|
|Daily (unless otherwise specified)||1||n/a||20–30 sec.|
Self-Myofascial Release Contraindications
|Malignancy||Eczema and other skin lesions|
|Osteomyelitis (infection of bone tissue)||Healing fractures|
|Phlebitis (infection of superficial veins)||Obstructive edema|
|Cellulitis (infection of soft tissue)||Advanced diabetes|
|Acute rheumatoid arthritis||Hematoma or systemic/localized infection|
|Blood clot||Goiter (enlarged thyroid)|
Static stretching has been the most common flexibility training technique used by fitness enthusiasts and athletes. Static stretching is the process of passively taking a muscle to the point of tension and holding the stretched position for a minimum of twenty to thirty seconds.
Holding a muscle in a stretched position for a prolonged period of time allows the muscle to relax and elongate. This improves tissue extensibility, allowing greater joint range of motion. By improving the extensibility of mechanically shortened muscles, muscles can be reset to obtain the ideal length-tension relationships, improve posture, joint range of motion, and function prior to activity.
Static stretching can be performed on a daily basis unless recommended otherwise by a health-care professional. When performing static stretching, it is important to hold the first point of tension for a minimum of twenty to thirty seconds to allow the muscle enough time to elongate. In addition, static stretching is recommended as a cool-down to reset muscles back to their proper resting lengths.
Static stretching is usually best performed as a means of restoring muscle lengths, after bouts of exercise, whilst the muscles are warm. Static stretching may be used as a form of corrective exercise, as part of a warm up, in instances where shortened and overactive muscles are likely to hinder exercise performance, or result in injury. It should be noted however that by using static stretching, one deactivates the stretch reflex (the elastic recoil), and in doing so may reduce force production of that muscle. For this reason, many athletes prefer mobility and dynamic stretching drills in preparation for activity, especially competition. A modern approach to flexibility training involves not only stretching the overactive/ tight muscles, but activating the lengthened/ underactive muscles E.g. if the hip flexor is tight one should ensure that the gluteals are activated so as to avoid a pattern of altered reciprocal inhibition (the over relaxation of one muscle due to the increased contraction/ neural drive of its antagonist). This is a better long term approach, whereby one is not only treating the symptoms (tight muscle), but addressing the cause.
Acute Variables for Static Stretching
|Frequency||Sets||Repetitions||Duration of Repetition|
|Daily (unless otherwise specified)||n/a||1-3||20–30 sec.|
Precautions and Contraindications for Static Stretching
Special populations (hypertensive, obese, pregnant, etc.)
Acute injury/muscle strain or tear of muscle being stretched
Dynamic stretching uses the force production of a muscle and the body’s momentum to take a joint through the full available range of motion. Body-weight squats, medicine-ball rotations, and walking lunges are good examples of dynamic stretching.
In essence, dynamic stretches are low-intensity exercises that mimic the higher-intensity activities to follow.
Some benefits of dynamic stretching include increasing heart rate and respiration, helping to deliver oxygen to the blood and working muscles, in addition to increasing tissue temperature. Several research studies have shown that dynamic stretching is useful before athletic competitions to reduce muscle tightness and improve overall performance by enhancing the nervous system’s ability to contract muscles forcefully.
Acute Variables for Dynamic Stretching
|Daily (unless otherwise specified)||1||10-15||3 – 10 exercises|
Precautions and Contraindications for Dynamic Stretching
Poor core strength
Poor tissue extensibility