The Importance of Flexibility & Stretching in Bodybuilding

Benefits of Flexibility

Never Neglect Flexibility in Any Sports for Optimal Progress

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Most of us who train in a gym strive for a perfect physique. If this weren't the case, gyms would be ghost towns, I'd be out of a job and everyone would be watching Regis Philbin morning and night! Gyms wear many hats and serve a greater purpose than just housing equipment that help people get into good condition. They sell themselves, without too much trouble, by playing on our natural insecurities about body image (and believe me, everyone has them). When we're surrounded by people who are in better shape than us, or by people who are in worse shape, we begin to get a sense of where we belong in the natural order of life.

Many experts will tell you that being overly self-critical is damaging, and that comparing yourself to others is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. But in some respects, I've always thought that kind of comparison can be effective toward motivation. Unless you're a sumo wrestler, no one really wants to get fat and out of shape.

The drive to achieve your goals may lead you to progress up the plate-induced ladder, but at what cost? Challenging yourself and increasing your exercise by five to ten pounds a month may make you feel psychologically better, but not necessarily physically. If you are not careful and don't take the necessary precautions you may injure yourself and end up back at square one.

Each of us has a different tolerance level for pain and injury. We also progress at different levels. The better we know our bodies, the more adept we will be in preventing injury and achieving optimum progress in the gym. Incorporating stretching exercises into our routines will aid us in reaching our goals. Without adequate flexibility and time spent cultivating muscle suppleness, most body-. builders will never truly reach their full potential, both in terms of size and condition.

Flexibility training improves the joints' range of motion and decreases the potential of a pulled muscle, joint damage and back pain. Consistent flexibility training also helps muscles to recuperate within a shorter period of time, which can lead to more productive workouts in the end. The other benefits are increased power, elongated muscle bellies, and better overall performance.

When and how a person should stretch is a heated debate amongst experts and elite athletes alike. In my experience, to get the most out of stretching, flexibility training should be performed before, during and after any training session, as well as in between exercises. Taking the extra effort to incorporate stretching into your workout may seem time consuming, but it will eventually become a habit you won't be able to do without.

A little about flexibility

Flexibility is joint specific. While you may be flexible in one area of your body, you may be near inflexible in other joint areas. The bottom line: Flexibility in a joint depends on the joint surface, the length and overall elasticity of the ligaments that lace into each joint, and the elasticity of surrounding muscles.

The good news is no matter how inflexible you are today, anyone can improve his or her level of flexibility at any age. When it comes to weight training, that can mean an entirely different body shape and condition level. With weight training, you'll use primarily isometric or static stretches.

What is an isometric (static) stretch?

Isometric means having equal resistance, and static refers to lacking movement. In this type of stretch you want to apply some sort of equal pressure against the muscle, but at the same time hold it for a certain length of time. Tension is important, but don't inflict unnecessary pain. Holding the muscle in a stretch will increase the flexibility in that area. Maintain the stretch anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes.

So when should you stretch?

Prior to beginning any stretching routine, I would suggest warming up on the treadmill or similar machine for a few minutes. Because flexibility improves with increased blood flow and with an increase in muscle temperature, it's always a good idea to warm up a bit before stretching. Don't ever stretch cold muscles. Stretching cold muscles causes trauma, whether slight or significant, to the muscle and will actually reduce flexibility in the end. To keep muscles supple stretch before and after workouts. Stretch during workouts as well to improve muscle shape, elongation and growth. Typically, the people who stretch between sets, even for a few minutes, and then contract (or pose) that muscle after the stretch is completed, are among the most physically aesthetic individuals I've seen. Stretching can enhance detail and completeness to individual muscle groups.

Who should stretch?

Everybody can benefit from the positive aspects of stretching, particularly bodybuilders. The key to developing flexibility is by making it the kind of habit that you can't easily break. Make it a part of your routine, from start to finish, and there's little chance you'll abandon consistency. After all, most bodybuilders wouldn't skip a day of training unless they were on their death bed, and even then it's questionable. All athletes should include stretching with their training. Many professional teams now have a flexibility trainer on their staff.

How does one learn to stretch?

Watch for people in the gym who regularly stretch prior to working out. Approach a person you identify with and query them on how they got involved in stretching. Chances are they'll be willing to give you some tips and even help you through a few stretching routines. Buy a book that details the proper form for each bodypart, or watch an instructional video. Plenty of gyms also offer stretch classes and learning how to stretch correctly is a good investment.

How often should an individual stretch during the week?

I believe a person should stretch a minimum of six to seven times a week, for 10 to 15 minutes a day to start. If you like how it makes you feel and you see some improvement in how it makes your body and muscles look, you'll want to increase your stretching to approximately 20 to 30 minutes daily.

What's the difference between discomfort and pain?

That's a hard one for people just starting out to determine, particularly if they're new to the gym, or have never had any sort of injury. Distinguishing between feeling a little discomfort and actually being in the process of tearing something slowly can be difficult. To avoid injury, I never bounce during a stretch -ease into it slowly and hold a position that borders on mild pain and moderate pressure.

Over time, stretching won't typically feel as painful and pressure filled. You're more likely to experience a stretch as tight and therapeutic. Either alternate complementary bodyparts (quads/hamstrings, biceps/triceps) to give each muscle group a rest between stretches, or simply stretch one bodypart at a time, being careful to take a 30 to 60 second rest in between. Pay attention to how your body responds to stretching and workouts, and don't overdo it. Remember, pain is a sign that you need to slow down. Knowing the warning signs of impending injury can help you avoid larger problems that can stop your career on stage in its tracks. Masking the pain or pressing on when you should be taking a rest will do your body a tremendous disservice in the end. Stretching on a regular basis, and maintaining your flexibility, will do the trick.

Benefits and Tips to Stretching

» Stretching improves your appearance, flexibility, performance and health.

» You will feel more control of the weights during exercises.

» Flexibility increases your range of motion, and allows for better overall muscle development.

» Being flexible means muscle soreness is cut down substantially and recovery occurs more rapidly.

» Warm muscles stretch much easier than cold muscles. Always stretch after a five to ten minute warm up and never when the muscles are cold.

» Start slow. Stretch for five to ten minutes after a warm up. Increase your time to accommodate 20 to 30 minutes, five to six times per week.

» Engage in stretches between sets in the gym to keep muscles flexible and pliant.

» Stretching is relaxing past the initial breaking in phase. Use it as a meditative tool or ancillary to workouts.

» Stretching shouldn't be harsh. Be gentle, move slowly, fluidly, and with control.

» Always stretch opposing muscle groups evenly to create balance. Stretching biceps and quitting on triceps leaves the body open to injury and decreases flexibility.

» Never bounce.

» Stretch while watching TV, reading or doing homework.

» Take a full 30 to 60 seconds to ease into a stretch. With time and practice you'll deter-mine your threshold for pain and avoid injury.

» Keep a log of stretches that you enjoy and your body benefits from, and chart your daily and weekly progress.

» Pain is a sign to slow down! Warning signs that you may be overdoing your stretching routine or your workouts in the gym:

» Feeling tired

» Sleep disturbance

» Colds and other illnesses, such as sore throat, cold, flu

» Swollen lymph glands

» Loss of weight or appetite

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