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Flexibility Training

Yes, some are more flexible than others; however stretching does improve everyone’s flexibility. We sell ourselves short if we don’t stretch when we exercise, whether it’s strength, balance, or endurance training. Flexibility increases the ease of muscle contractions and decreases the likelihood of muscle soreness and tension after workouts. Our range of motion improves, preventing injury. We get to know our bodies better, improving our coordination throughout the day and making other forms of exercises easier.

Maybe while stretching your body, you’ve noticed are different modes of muscle lengthening. Despite how good many of them feel, there are pros and cons and important facts to keep in mind while you’re stretching.

Young athlete preparing with warm up stretches

  • Static Stretching – This slow and sustained movement at one joint requires little energy and decreases muscle tension the possibility of injury by passing the normal range of motion. For example, when sitting on the floor with your legs straight and reaching for your toes, letting your hands fall and being still.
  • Passive Stretching – This type of static stretching requires assistance from another person or force. The person stretching must relax their muscles. For example, when a trainer puts pressure on the back when you are sitting on the floor with your legs straight and reach for your toes, letting your hands fall and being still.

  • Active Stretching – This slow stretch requires the muscle to be moved through its range of motion. For example, when sitting with your legs straight out in front of you and flex your toes towards your face, you are actively contracting the muscles on the front of you leg and stretching the muscles behind your leg.
  • Dynamic Stretching – This stretch requires controlled deliberate movement, actively moving muscles repeatedly through the range of motion, benefits functional range of motion used in daily living. For example, pointing and flexing your toes.

  • Ballistic Stretching – This shouldn’t be confused with dynamic stretching, as it refers to quick bouncing movements, for example when you bounce when reaching towards your toes. The cons far outweigh the benefits and this type of stretching should be avoided.

Where to start? First, determine the proper posture or alignment before starting the stretch. Become conscious of your breath, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Inhale as your prepare to stretch and exhale as you relax into the stretch to give yourself greater range of motion. Do not hold your breath. Remain conscious of your comfortable range of motion. Continue this cycle until you feel you can’t stretch any further; until discomfort increases slightly. Slowly inhale and return back to your initial position to allow your muscles to recover to their natural length.

When should a person not stretch? If there is sharp pain or uncontrolled cramping when stretching, stop. If bones at a joint limit your motion, or if you have an unhealed fracture, infection, or inflammation around the joint, or a local hematoma, don’t do it! Wait 8-12 weeks post injury to stretch site, and before that consult with your doctor to make sure your body is up for the challenge.

Balance Training

Balance has to do with our ability to stay in one position for a given period of time without moving. It sounds silly because how often do any of us actually do this? Balance training is more important than just teaching us how to stand still with our eyes closed.

yoga on the beach, healthy lifestyle concept

However when we practice standing on one foot, eyes open or closed, we learn how to use gravity, environmental feedback, cues from our feet, and what we see to train the muscles in our body. Balance training also involves strengthening core muscles and muscles around joints. By learning where our bodies are in space and improving joint stability, we are better able to sense which muscles are needed to activate or deactivate to keep joints in proper alignment when moving. This improves coordination, athletic skill, and posture, which prevent falls and muscle strains, decreasing the likelihood of injuries.  

Wonder where to start? First, test your balance. Stand close enough to a wall that you can use it for support. Stare at a spot on a static object in front of you and slowly shift your weight onto one foot while lifting the other off of the ground. If you feel yourself falling, place your foot back on the ground or your hand on the wall. If this is challenging, continue to practice this on both sides.

If you feel comfortable doing this, try walking heel to toe in a straight line. You can slowly progress to walking lunges and using props to help improve your balance. Simply sitting on an Indo Board, Physioball, or BOSU balance trainer will strengthen your core muscles by challenging your balance. Once you develop greater balance, you can begin to stand on an Indo Board and BOSU trainer, then take that one step further and use these props for dynamic exercises, for example doing squats on a BOSU trainer.

Getting into exercise for the first time or after a long hiatus? This is the place to start. Balance training is the best way to get to know your body and become conscious of where it is in space.

If you are currently active, return your focus to balance training. Combine balance exercises with flexibility, endurance, and strength training to improve overall physical fitness. But first, consult with a doctor, physical therapist, or a well-educated personal trainer to make sure your body is up for the challenge.

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