We all know that consistent and focused training is needed for the chance to be successful. Every sport or activity a person participates in, requires a series of different training exercises to develop the ability to achieve desired skills. This may include cardio training such as running, biking, swimming, etc, strength training, and skill training. But what is neglected in many sports and is equally as important, is the training in Flexibility. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts and experience on the importance of Flexibility and why it is should be a part of training in every sport.
In the gymnastics and dance industries there is a huge emphasis on flexibility in the development of the athletes. Many of these programs will have their competitive students follow a strict stretching session prior to every workout. Sometimes lasting between 30 and 60 minutes. They also may have a stretching session following every workout.
Why do these and other similar sports spend so much time with flexibility? Several reasons: for one, many of the skills required in these sports are judged on the their flexibility. For example, if a gymnast or dancer is performing a split leap, they are required to meet certain angle requirements. For the lower levels, a 45 degree angle is required. In the advanced levels, this may be 180 degrees. If the athlete falls short of these angle requirements, there is a deduction. In addition, flexibility is needed for the athletes to achieve certain skills. The front and back walk-overs are examples where flexibility is needed to accomplish these skills.
There are many people who are naturally flexible and don’t need to spend much time on stretching exercises. This is more of a genetic trait that people are born with. We have seen amazing body poses that showcase extreme flexibility. However, this is not the norm. Most people are not born with this trait and they need to work consistently to acquire the flexibility they desire. Acquiring flexibility is a slow process and one that needs to be done at least on a weekly basis. Athletes who do not work on their flexibility consistently will not gain the desired effect.
Although there are sports and arts that require flexibility in their industries, it plays a larger role in the over-all sports and activities realm. In any activity that entails some type of physical exertion, the participant should follow some type of stretching exercises prior to the workout. This area of training, however, is highly overlooked and not stressed as much as it should. The more physical the sport or activity, the more time should be spent on stretching all body parts. We see some stretching exercises being done in sports like football and baseball, but there should be a larger focus on this issue.
Why is stretching so important for the athlete? The most important reason is to prevent injury (Injuries: Prevention and Repair). One of the most common injuries in any sport are pulled muscles. When the athlete is exerting physical stress on the body, the chances of a pulled muscle increases. If the muscles become tight and stressed, they do not retain the same flexibility in movement which may result in a cramp or pulled muscle. If the stress is extreme, the injury may result in a torn muscle. This injury will prevent the athlete from continuing in the activity for a lengthy period of time and usually requires rehabilitation attention.
Stretching before every workout also allows the body to move more freely during exercise. This will allow the athlete to be more aggressive in their training sessions. Different sports have different areas of focus on what type of stretching exercise are required. Runners for example need to focus on the legs more than the upper body. This will include the calves, hamstrings, quads, and achilles. This also applies to other sports where running is the major type of exercise being performed. Other sports, like golf and baseball, will require a higher focus on stretching the torso and arms. Many athletes may have a personal trainer or coach that will assist them with the specific stretching exercises needed to enhance their performance (The Coach: Creating the Successful Athlete).
Once an injury has occurred, much of the rehab process involves stretching exercises. If an athlete has been casted due to an injury, the joints and joint tissues tighten up, the muscles atrophy, and scar tissue develops. Stretching the injured area dramatically helps to speed up the healing process. If this type of rehab is not followed, the athlete may have a slow recovery and have long-lasting effects including movement limitations and pain.
Activities such as Yoga and Pilates have become extremely successful throughout the world. Much of the exercises performed in these activities involve stretching all parts of the body. The positive effects that are reached in training these activities has resulted in their popularity. The benefits are many in developing a healthy lifestyle.
So why is flexibility neglected so often in the development of athletes? It may be that many simply do not think it is important to their development. Another reason may be that it is physically uncomfortable. To stretch properly, can be a painful experience. In sports where flexibility is a requirement, stretching exercises are performed to the point of extreme discomfort. Many coaches in these activities will assist the athlete in their stretching exercises. For example, an athlete who needs to learn the splits, the coach will actually push the athletes down to maximize the effect. This can be dangerous and should only be done by a professional and experienced coach. Overstretching can result in a torn muscle or even a worse injury.
There is a technique to stretching properly. The objective is to loosen up the body and prepare it for physical activity. This process is not a quick process. Each stretching exercise should last at a minimum of 20 to 30 seconds – more is better. In addition, the stretch should be done in a static manner. The athlete should not bounce or rock as the stretch is being performed.
There are many different types of stretches that can be performed. Many are sports specific and the focus may be on specific body parts. There are professionals in this area that have the knowledge of the types of stretches that will benefit each individual athlete. These are certainly Physical Therapists and Orthopedic doctors. In addition, coaches in such sports as gymnastics and dance have a great deal of knowledge of this as well.
As awareness in the health and wellness industries continues to grow in our societies, there is growing awareness and focus on preparing the body for positive and successful physical activities. Flexibility exercises certainly has grown in its popularity. It is a great benefit to the success of all athletes and activities.
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