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Strength to improve Flexibility - a Paradox?


Flexibility is an attribute where there is an ideal zone for each person. Too much can cause issues in some people just as not enough flexibility may be an issue in other people. We also have differing needs depending on our chosen recreational activities eg a gymnast will need vastly different flexibility than a distance runner. A distance runner does not need a lot of hamstring flexibility but a sprinter does.

Is Flexibility important? Flexibility of an individual muscle is not terribly important. It is about relative flexibility – whether you can attain the range of movement needed for you to do what you need to do.

Range may be something we take for granted in our youth, but a decrease in motion function is one of the signs of aging. Illness, injury, obesity and a less active lifestyle can also contribute to a reduction in range of movement. Greater movement can make navigating your everyday life a lot easier and can also make playing with your children less arduous and more fun.

Greater range of movement has health and welfare benefits. It can prevent the occurrence of injuries such as back pain, shoulder tweaks and muscle strain that occur during lifting, reaching and other everyday activities. Increased flexibility can improve your performance when playing sports, especially in very active sports like tennis and swimming, and has also been shown to increase muscle co-ordination. Although, stretching just prior to some sports has shown to reduce the performance of the muscle so you may need to find out from your Physio exactly what you need to do for your sport.

There are two situations where you might perceive a muscle to be ‘tight”:

1) The muscle structure is such that it just does not reach the length required, it pulls taut like a fibrous rope.

2) The muscle feels tight because it has increased tone – which means the muscle is resting in a switched on state.

It may seem paradoxical but both of these types of tightness can be addressed by a strengthening programme, tailored by your Physio, which will change the perception of tightness, make range of movements gains and keep them. The increased tone is often because the muscle is not strong enough to contract well and then switch off. Strengthening the muscle makes it more able to cope with lengthening without tearing. An example being a thick rubber band compared with a thin one – the thin rubber band is likely to snap. Your Physio will also be able to identify if the muscles opposite are too weak to stop the muscle tightening for example weak gluts might not stop hip flexors from tightening.

While a physiotherapist can help you to tailor a program, you can also improve your range of movement by performing daily activities in your home. Flexibility training might involve light range of motion activities such as stretching but is likely to involve strength exercises. They do not have to be hard or exhausting, and you can come up with fun routines that change daily to prevent yourself from becoming bored.

Some important things to remember when training are:

• Always warm up before you start and when moving to a higher intensity activity

• Include a variety of exercises that target different parts of the body

There are different types of stretching exercises, but remember you may not need to do any depending on your sport and your body:

  • Static stretching – the slow and gentle stretching.
  • Dynamic stretching – involving a wider range of movement and has been used to reduce muscle tightness. Dynamic stretches tend to use sport specific movements, such as exaggerated kicks and lunges.
  • Ballistic stretching – similar to dynamic stretching but includes an extra bouncing movement to increase the stretch. This is said to activate muscle spindles.

If you don’t think you have enough range of movement for your lifestyle, you might want to consult a Physiotherapist. Call Paddington Physiotherapy and Podiatry Brisbane on (07) 3511 6352 or fill out a booking form to improve your range of motion and start functioning at your optimum.