Muscle Flexibility

Muscle flexibility, in very simple terms, is the length of motion that a muscle or muscle group can achieve from its shortest length to its longest.

You may have poor muscle flexibility. In this case the muscle or muscle group is unable to either contract to its minimum or extend to its maximum length or a combination of the two.

A muscle may be able to contract to its maximum amount and not be able to fully extend to its maximum length. Or it can fully extend but may be unable to fully contract.

Flexibility Is A Balancing Act

Muscle Flexibilty

Your body is a very efficient organism. Muscles will not continue to either fully contract or extend if not forced to over a regular period of time. If you fail to fully extend your muscles, thereby taking them to their maximum length, over time you will lose the ability to do so.

Generally speaking, throughout your life your muscles will naturally want to go into a contracted state unless there is some injury or disease that disrupts the normal nerve impulses needed to maintain tone. This can be seen with the paraplegic or quadriplegic where the spinal cord has been severed.

With a brain injury, as in cerebral palsy, you will witness the opposite where the muscle's nerves loose their "governing" mechanism and fail to impede the body's inherent desire to become spastic.

These neurological diseases or injuries cause involuntary actions that are out of your control.

However, in a normal nervous system, in the absence of disease or injury, this contraction and lengthening of your muscles is voluntary.

Use It Or Lose It

So, if you fail to exercise your muscles on a regular basis by forcing maximum contraction and maximum lengthening you will eventually allow that muscle to lose the ability to do so.

You see this all the time with those that are bedridden, have a fractured arm held in a bent plaster cast for weeks, and the elderly who fail to engage in regular daily activities that promotes and encourages full muscle range

Once this loss of muscle flexibility is established it becomes very difficult to regain. It is possible but it takes regular daily effort.

Your goal is to maintain or build strength, endurance and flexibility throughout your life or you will eventually suffer the consequences of failing to do so.

Muscle flexibility exercises take little time and minimal effort but regularity is essential.

Some Key Points To Consider

  • Since time is important to all of us, do not waste your time stretching muscles that do not need stretched because your daily activities may already do just that.
  • While performing strength training you can also perform stretches on the same muscles that you are working on between your sets. You need to rest between sets for 1-5 min. so this will allow ample time to stretch those muscles. No need to take other valuable time out of your busy schedule to do just that.
  • Ballistic stretching is a no-no. Ballistic means that you engage in a bouncing type of stretch. This has been shown to not only be ineffective but risks injury and even further shortening of the muscle due to a reflex reaction to the sudden stretching.
  • Stretches should be held in a tolerable discomfort position for 30 seconds or more. This allows the muscles to slowly elongate through a reflex reaction called inhibition. The nervous system will gradually reduce its impulses that cause contraction or prevents elongation.
  • Stretching should always be performed following trigger point therapy. The trigger point therapy has already increased circulation and caused some muscle relaxation of the abnormally contracted and shortened muscles.
  • Using some form of heat application prior to stretching is very beneficial. Heat should be applied for 10 to 20 min. to warm the muscles and promote relaxation and circulation.

    As in nature, coldness creates stiffness or make things less pliable. Whereas, heat increases molecular activity and causes expansion which encourages or allows "give".

  • After doing any stretch you should encourage circulation to the muscles by performing some mild range of motion exercise or by walking.

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