Flexibility is the ability of the body to attain full and complete range of motion around joints. A simple task of bending could also become a big task for anyone who lacks adequate flexibility and daily activities like tying your own shoe laces, getting out of bed, lifting a bucket could also become difficult tasks. Flexibility is important in fitness because it facilitates better performance while playing sports by protecting you from injuries. Flexibility tends to deteriorate with age, often due to a sedentary lifestyle. Over time, we create body movements and posture habits that can lead to reduced mobility of joints and compromised body position.
Flexibility is achieved by not allowing skeletal muscles to loose elasticity. The word “elasticity” means the ability of the muscle to return to its original size and shape after being stretched or shortened. Flexibility of a joint is dependent on the 'elasticity' of the structures surrounding it. It is not something general, but is specific to a particular joint or sets of joint. Being flexible in one particular area or joint does not necessarily imply being flexible in another. Being loose in the upper body does not mean you will have a loose lower body. Furthermore, flexibility in a joint is also specific to the action performed at the joint. That means the ability to do a front splits doesn’t imply the ability to do a side spilt, even though both the actions happen at the hip.
FACTORS AFFECTING FLEXIBILITY
1. AGE- New born babies are very flexible till a certain age, after which their flexibility decreases. Atrophy comes with age. With the atrophy, the body loses water due to this muscle losing its extensibility. Decrease in flexibility can be slowed down if we keep active.
2. GENDER- Females exhibits a greater range of movement independent of age.
3. ACTIVITY LEVELS- Active individuals exhibit a greater range of movement than sedentary individuals. Also, inactivity is strongly associated with increased adipose tissue which decreases flexibility and obstructs range of motion.
4. INTERNAL TISSUE TEMPERTATURE – The normal body temperature is 37 degree c. If we stretch muscle at this temperature, the chances of getting injured increase. We need to increase body temperature for stretching with minimum risk of injury. So always make sure you warm up first.
5. INJURY- Scar tissue resulting from injury hinders the range of motion in a joint.
6. PAIN- As pain increases, muscle spasms result and therefore flexibility is decreased. Strength training does not decrease flexibility unless you do the exercise improperly and not in the full range of motion.
BENEFITS OF STRETCHING
1. Improved flexibility may enhance performance in aerobic training and muscular conditioning as well as in sport.
2. The incidence of injury decreases when people include flexibility training in their routines due to the enhanced ability to move unimpeded through a wider ROM.
3. Maintenance of range of motion relieves or prevents joint pains which accompany ageing.
4. A greater range of motion prevents injuries.
5. Flexibility permits ease and grace in movements.
6. When your joints and muscles are flexible, you use less energy while in motion, which improves your overall performance.
7. It also improves the posture of the body.
It is possible for the muscles to become too flexible. There is a trade-off between flexibility and stability. As you get looser or more limber in a particular joint, less support is given to the joint by its surrounding muscles. Excessively flexibility can be just as bad as not enough, because both increases your risk of injury.
Once a muscle has reached its absolute maximum length, attempting to stretch the muscle further only serves to stretch the ligaments and put undue stress on the tendons (two things you do not want to stretch). Ligaments can be stretched, but on a very low level. Tendons are not even supposed to lengthen. Even when stretched the tendon and ligaments do not tear loose joints and/or a decrease in the joints stability can occur, thus vastly increasing the risk of injury.