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Hi Friends of Oompf, it’s Alvan here. Today, we will talk about the next component of Physical Fitness: Flexibility

As I have briefly described in the earlier week, flexibility is one of the most important yet overlooked component of physical fitness. Many people do not realise the importance simply because they do not feel the stiffness in their younger years until they hit a certain age with an increasing stress factor and also staying in one position for longer hours like sitting for a prolonged period.

Importance of flexibility
There are a couple of reasons I like to highlight about importance of flexibility to my personal training clients:

1. It can give you important information about your body.
Flexibility basically measures how much range of motion you have over your individual joints around your body. Your muscles basically will kind of wrap around your joints and move them to do daily activities like walking, reaching for something at the top or bending over. When those muscles are very tight, you’re not able to move your joints in that same range of motion. Therefore, it is more difficult for you to do those daily activities when you’re less flexible.

2. It decreases the risk of injury.
The more flexible you are, the less likely you are to get hurt. By having more flexibility, a joint can move through an increased range of motion before incurring injury. Flexibility also takes some pressure off of your tendons which are muscle attachments at the end to the bone. So when you have really tight and shortened muscles, it adds extra pressure on your tendons and cause pain as well.

3. It goes hand-in-hand with mobility.
Take note that mobility and flexibility are two different things. Mobility is the ability of a joint to reach its full range, opposed to flexibility, which refers to the ability of a muscle to stretch. However, they work very closely with each other. Flexibility is what allows your muscles to stretch while mobility is what allows them to move freely within your joints, and the more flexible you are the more mobile you will be too. For example, if you have tight hamstrings due to lack of flexibility, you won’t be able to take your hip joint through its full range of motion, which is a lack of mobility. Therefore, mobility and flexibility are equally important to achieving full range of motion in your joints and making your movement less restrictive.

4. It can give you better posture.
By now, you probably have realised that sitting is the new root of all evil when it comes to posture and pain management.  Flexibility training can help with some of these postural issues caused by this modern problem. 

How is it measured?

1. Hamstring flexibility test
Lie on the back with legs straight out.
Lift one leg up into the air.
See how far you can reach up your leg while keeping your back and head on the floor.
Ideally, you should be able to reach and touch your shins, and then work toward being able to touch your toes.

2. External Hip rotators flexibility test
Lie on the back with the left foot on the ground and right ankle resting gently on top of the left knee.
Lift the left leg off the ground and try to reach for your hamstring or shin, bringing it in closer to your chest. You may feel tension building up on your outer hip.
If you are not able to reach your hamstring, your hips are really tight.

3. External hip rotator and lower back flexibility test
Lie on your back and bring both knees into the chest.
Stretch out your arms to the side.
Keeping your upper body flat on the ground (very important), rotate both knees to one side and reach the ground as closely as possible.
As you lower down, if you feel more tension in the hips or spine, the area is tight. If you are nowhere near the ground, then you need to improve on it.
Ideally, you should be able to reach the same distance from the ground on both sides.

4. Shoulder flexibility test
Start standing with feet together and arms down by your side.
Bring your hands behind your back and aim to grab the opposite forearm.
You should be able to at least reach mid-forearm, though touching your elbows is even more ideal.

Think about opening your chest out as you perform the stretch, or pushing your chest forward while keeping your abs tight so that you are stretching the chest and shoulders alongside with the arms.

Upper back and neck flexibility test
From a seated cross-legged position, slowly rotate to one side and look behind you. You should be able to look 180 degrees. Just remember to keep your hips and pelvis facing forward.

How to improve?
Like anything and everything in life, it is simply your own hard work and discipline to practise and apply – a regular stretching routine. There are many types of stretches but I just like to focus on two of them: dynamic and static stretching.

What is dynamic stretching?
Dynamic stretching exercises are – like the name implies – performed dynamically at/until the edge of your range of motion. They are active movements of muscle that lead to a stretch but are not held in the end position. If performed properly, they can be used in a dynamic warm up.  The range of motion will be higher when the muscles are warmer. Over time with regular inclusion, your flexibility will improve.

What is static stretching?
Static stretching exercises are for example when you get into a stretching position until you feel tension and hold it at the end position for 20-30 seconds.

When should you stretch?
Dynamic stretching should be done as a warm up before working out. The purpose is to warm up the muscles so that they can achieve better range of motion during the workout session.

On the other hand, static stretching should be done after the workout. Static stretches help to lengthen muscles that were tightened during the workout session.
Example, before running, you want to do dynamic stretches, which is moving through ranges of motion and slowly increasing them—like a leg swing—to warm up the muscles in the hips and thighs to get ready for running. Then, for cool down, you want to do static stretching, which is like reaching for your toes.

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