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Flexibility: why yours might not be improving

Is flexibility important? Should everyone be able to move the same way/be the same "amount" of flexible? What should you be doing to become more flexible? What's actually happening when you stretch/are you making the muscle physically longer?

All of these questions and more are answered here!

The definition of flexibility states: the ability to be easily modified or willingness to change or compromise. But from a muscular standpoint it is usually referring to how far you can move and/or bend. Flexibility training is encouraged by the ACSM as a weekly guideline for exercise but has very non-specific to the parameters you should consider and implement. However, flexibility and mobility are extremely important-some literature suggests that it's importance is evident in preventing injuries and allowing for a variety of movement.

Is everyone at base level the same amount of flexible? No-there are MULTIPLE components that contribute to a person's ability to stretch and bend a certain way. There are averages of recommended range of motion measurements however it very much depends on the person. What can affect flexibility?

-other conditions that contribute to hyper-mobility or hypo-mobility through joints

-the way a person's joints were formed in utero-some can have bony blocks that prevent you from stretching further no matter what you try




-phase of menstrual cycle (you have an increase in the hormone relaxin right before ovulation that contributes to more mobility through joints)

-and more

Flexibility hasn't been researched much however I did find a recent study from 2023 that looked at the flexibility of one singular muscle group (plantar flexors/AKA calf) with stretching at increments of 10 minutes, 30 minutes, and 60 minutes daily. The results described that the longer amounts of time (60 minute group) increased range of motion the most. Do you have 60 minutes a day to set aside and stretch? Probably not so what should you be doing to improve flexibility?

There are multiple different forms of stretching-two of which are "static" and "dynamic". Static stretching is where you position yourself to where a certain muscle/muscle group is at a lengthened position and you hold still in that position. Dynamic stretching is where you are stretching into a lengthened position and then relaxing back into your normal back and forth.

We believe, and some research supports this as well that it's best to perform dynamic stretching prior to initiating at workout. Are you actually increasing your flexibility using dynamic stretching-no. I'll explain further soon.

Static stretching is recommended to be performed at the conclusion of a workout and CAN improve flexibility. Are you making your muscle longer? Also no. Your muscle has a limit to how far it can lengthen-stretching isn't going to change that. If you go past that limit that's where injuries, muscle strains, and avulsions occur. What you can improve is your muscles ability to relax into it's most lengthened position. On a regular basis it's not going to be operating at its most extreme length. Through static stretching for prolonged periods of time you can improve your muscles ability to reach it's lengthened position. What keeps this from happening?

-dehydration-muscles cannot operate like they should when our fluid balances are off

-stress and a hypersensitive nervous system-the body's response to stress primarily encourages muscle contraction not relaxation or lengthening. If you're in a constant state of stress or have a dysregulated nervous system the brain will not allow your stretch reflexes to relax. Your muscle fibers has sensors within them that communicate with the brain when it senses a stretch, this results in a contraction to prevent from injury however if you relax the nervous system and hold a stretch for longer than 10 seconds you can overpower those reflexes which will then allow the muscle to lengthen.

To improve your flexibility you need to focus on multiple things outside of just stretching:

-are you drinking enough water (half your body weight in ounces daily)

-are you getting enough sleep

-are you taking steps to regulate your nervous system and manage your body's stress response

THEN add static stretching and you'll be amazed at how your flexibility improves.

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