Halloween is next month, and you have spent all of September perfecting every detail of your costume. You will scare the world, dressed as Linda Blair in the acclaimed horror movie, The Exorcist. Before you can truly claim your fame as best dressed at the costume party, you better be able to walk down an entire flight of stairs in a backbend. Right? Weird flex, but okay. (See what we did there?) We will explain the difference between active and passive flexibility, why they are important, and give you some of our favorite flexibility exercises. Read on to learn our tips to improve flexibility.
To learn how to become more flexible, you must first start at the beginning. If you don’t go about flexibility exercises properly, you have a great propensity to get injured. So, on to lesson numero uno: What is flexibility? While you may automatically picture a gymnast or contortionist doing some crazy splits, mid-air, or pulling one leg six inches behind their head, that is not the definition.
Ordinary people, of all body types, have at least some level of flexibility. The definition of flexibility is the range of motion that is available to a joint. That being said, even a total couch potato could make a claim to flexibility fame if they can spread their toes wide apart from one another, or if they are double-jointed and can lift their pinky further back than ninety degrees. (Freaky, right??) Even if a range of motion is not initiated by an individual (for example, if someone moves your pinky back for you), it still counts as a range of motion to that joint.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty about how you can limber up your backbend, steal the show, AND win first prize for best dressed (and, of course, freak all of your friends out at the party), we need to make sure you fully understand the difference between active and passive flexibility. The reason why these are important is because the greater the difference between a joint’s active and passive flexibility, the greater the likelihood of that joint getting injured while traveling between the full range of motion.
Passive flexibility is when the muscles that move your joints are held in place by an external force. This is typically another body part (such as your hand). For example, rest one hand flat on a table. Let it be completely limp. Using the other hand, pull your index finger back toward your forearm. (Don’t pull too hard. This is just a demonstration. There is no need for any pain.) Your index finger has moved away from the table passively. Other than the help from your opposite hand, your finger would be completely limp. This is an example of passive flexibility.
Active flexibility is when the muscles that move your joints are responsible for the joint moving, without the help of anything external. So, now place the same hand flat on the table. Without using the other hand at all, lift your index finger off of the table as far as you can. This is an example of active flexibility. The greater the difference between where your index finger was with help, and where it was without help, the greater the chance that your finger will be injured when in motion. This concept can be applied to any joint in your body. This is why it is essential to practice improving your active range of flexibility (AKA mobility). The more you can decrease the gap between active and passive flexibility, the safer you will be when engaging in any physical activity (or even just walking, sitting, and standing).
TIPS TO IMPROVE FLEXIBILITY
1. Be consistent.
While there are millions of different stretches to improve flexibility, the most important thing you can do is commit to being consistent. Like most body/mind feats, the journey to mobility is not one that can happen overnight. It takes a near-daily practice of strengthening and conditioning your muscles. Even thirty minutes per day can yield excellent results.
2. Warm up the right way.
Gone are the days of holding a stretch pose for minutes on end (AKA static stretching) to start your workout, activity, or training session. The right way (and we say, “right,” because it is most effective and the safest way) to warm up is by way of dynamic movement. Before you even think about dropping into a pose that may strain (or tear) your muscle, first get your blood pumping. A great first step to anything physical is to do at least 10-15 minutes of cardio. Jumping jacks, jumping in place, burpees, or even dancing really hard are great ways to raise your heart rate. This will increase blood flow to your major muscle groups, not only helping to prevent injury but ensuring that you will get more out of stretching.
If you are interested in Assisted Stretch service, click here.
3. Incorporate a short bit of static stretching.
Once you are warm from the dynamic cardio workout, it is safe to go ahead and begin stretching. You may passively hold poses in positions that are available to you. Yoga straps and blocks are great tools to use when your limbs and extremities are out of reach. When practicing static stretches, it is of the utmost importance to maintain proper alignment. You will get more out of a stretch if you are aligned than you will by pushing yourself beyond what is available to you while your form is out of whack.
If you are interested in Yoga Physical Therapy, click here.
4. Focus more on dynamic stretching.
Rather than sitting in one position, try instead to move slowly (back and forth) from one position to another, exercising your full range of motion. For example, begin in half pike position with one leg outstretched in front of you and your weight on the opposite knee, shift your weight forward, and bend the front knee into a lunge. Slowly move back and forth between these two positions. (Tip: If your front knee is passing your front foot in the lunge position, make the space between your legs greater to protect your knee joint.) Experiment with the active versus passive flexibility exercise from earlier. Seated on the floor, with your legs in as much of a straddle as is available to you, try lifting one leg off the ground with your hand or a yoga strap. Now put the strap down and try lifting the same leg with only the muscles in that leg. The more you can strengthen the muscles needed for active flexibility, the better your flexibility will be overall.