How much do I need to do?
As a Personal Trainer, many people ask me how much stretching they should do, how often and what type of stretching. It depends on your goal and your current mobility / flexibility / posture status. Here at Lifegym we can assess your Mobility and then prescribe some personalised corrective stretches for you where appropriate.
Flexibility, according to common wisdom, is not only impressive to look at, but something we should actively work towards.
Scientifically, however, the question of whether we should stretch to become more flexible has been difficult to answer. Assumptions about the benefits of stretching to prevent sports injuries and greater flexibility being better for our overall physical fitness hadn’t been confirmed by studies. Does it matter if you can’t touch your toes, let alone do the splits? Even in sports science, where most of the research has been conducted, there has been little agreement.
In recent years, though, answers have started to emerge. The surprising outcome is that, while stretching may well be good for us, it is for reasons that have nothing to do with being able to get your leg behind your head.
One thing is for sure: stretching feels good, particularly after a long spell of being still. We aren’t the only species to have worked this out. As anyone with a dog or cat will know, many animals take a deep stretch after lying around. This kind of stretching, called pandiculation, is so common in nature that some have suggested it evolved as a reflex to wake up the muscles after a spell of stillness.
Pandiculation aside, other species don’t seem to spend any time maintaining and extending their range of motion. Which raises the question, is there any reason why we should?
Our flexibility is controlled by the tissues of our musculoskeletal system, which determine the maximum range that our joints can move without causing injury.
For a long time, flexibility has been considered a key component of physical fitness (along with cardiovascular endurance, muscle endurance, strength and body composition)
It is recommended that we stretch all the major muscle groups three times a week, holding each stretch for up to a minute
Before the invention of chairs, we rested naturally in a squatting position. This keeps our hips, calves and ankles mobile through a full range of motion, helping us to walk and go about our daily activities
Resting in chairs, does the opposite. When we sit a lot, which most of us do these days, we het tight hip flexors and rounded shoulders and generally stiffen up and reduce our mobility.
A recent study by the University of Salford, UK, suggested that this has a real negative impact on our range of motion. People who regularly sit for less than 4 hours a day and are generally active had 6 degrees more range of motion in their hip joints than less active people who sit for more than 7 hours per day.
There is also evidence that sedentary lifestyles in general are having a negative effect on overall flexibility. A 2012 study by the US institute of Medicine, which between 1966 and 2012, included a sit and reach flexibility test for all US children, found that flexibility had decreased over the decades.
For people who sit a lot and are under a lot of mental stress, stretching and mobilising stiff parts does relieve tension and lengthen muscles. When done regularly, stretching can lengthen muscles and connective tissue and restore a full ranger of motion to underused joints.
The degree of flexibility depends on what you want to do with your body. Normal human movement only requires the hips to be sufficiently flexible to allow the legs to bend back about 30 degrees. Unless you’re a gymnast or martial artist, there is no reason to push them any further.
If you go much beyond what is required for normal range, your joints may become hypermobile. This can wear out the joints and lead to joint pain and dislocations. Strengthening each joint through its full range of motion with resistance training can help prevent this.
Good mobility has proven benefits to overall health and longevity.
Lack of movement on the other hand can causer us to stiffen up long term and reduce the quality of life.
Being flexible can help prevent sports injuries but lately it has also been shown to help improve cardiovascular health. A 2009 study of adults in Japan by the National Institute of Health & Nutrition in Tokyo found that the least flexible participants had stiffer arteries. And this effect was independent of the cardiovascular fitness of the participants.
A 2018 study of 1354 Japanese men aged from 35 to 59 found that the least flexible showed the highest level of atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque in the arteries, which is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease. So, by staying mobile and flexible, we can help our cardiovascular health.
So, it is not a case of “if some is good, then more is better”. All you need to do is stretch to maintain a good normal range of motion to keep you mobile and improve your quality of life and health
Please make contact with us here at Lifegym if you would like to have your Mobility assessed. We can then prescribe some personalised corrective stretches for you where appropriate