Flexibility is often an overlooked and misunderstood component of an exercise and health regimen. Simply put, flexibility is having the optimal range of motion in all the joints of the body. Though there are general criteria that determine what those optimal ranges are, they depend in large part on the needs of the individual.
For example, the optimal range for a golfer’s torso is far different from a gymnast’s.
Regardless of your needs, flexibility is foundational to any effective health program.
Also, in aging it is not muscular strength that wanes, but flexibility. To lessen chances of a bad fall, flexibility is key. Falls often occur when the body is unable to react quickly enough to prevent gravity from winning out.
To improve your flexibility, start from the ground up:
» The feet and toes. The body is essentially one long chain of joints, and if there is a tightness in that chain, often extra "slack" can be picked up simply by lengthening the toes and stretching the tight arches of feet. To do this, gently pull each toe away from the foot, taking care to use light pressure and holding the pull for 15 to 20 seconds. Follow this by stretching the foot arch by flexing the foot toward your knee and pushing it further using the palms of your hands.
» The hamstrings. Lie on your back and place your hands behind the knee. Gently pull toward your chest while attempting to keep the knee straight. Hold this for 15 to 20 seconds.
» The upper body. While still on your back, place your hands at your sides with the palms against the sides of your legs. Slowly pull your arms up overhead while exhaling until either your shoulder stops you from going farther or you reach the floor. The sequence should run about 20 seconds. It helps to visualize your spine lengthening while your arms travel overhead.
These simple stretches will do well in starting to improve flexibility. Remember to breathe, and as a general rule of thumb, it is best to stretch after workouts when the body is warm and tends to elongate better.
Reggie Palma is an exercise physiologist and personal trainer. Visit his website at fitnessatyourdoorhawaii.com.