The five components of fitness are flexibility, muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance and body compostion. Flexibility is probably the most neglected area of fitness and should not be ignored. Exercise physiologists and other fitness specialists agree that flexibility training should be included in strength and conditioning programs for athlete and non athletes alike. To fully understand flexibility, we must examine the joint structure itself.
These are the limits placed on the flexibility of any joint. Each joint in your body has various degrees of movement associated with its structure. The limit of movement results from bone, muscle, ligaments, tendons and skin. A high degree in flexibilty does not indicate that other joints will have a similar level. It is possible for a person to possess some highly flexible joints, some average and some of low flexibility. Hence, the common fallacy that either a person is "flexible" or not.
The benefits from flexibility enhancement include: increased ease in movement, reduction of muscle tension and stress, prevention of injury, unrestricted full range development of muscle groups, and an increased speed of movement.
Inflexibility can result in or form muscle imbalance or overdevelopments of a muscle without proper development of the opposing muscles. This is the "muscle bound" situation typically associated with improper training techniques (i.e. runners with tight hamstrings or body builders with round shoulder syndrome/over developed pectorials.)
Warm up exercises are essential to ready the body for movement. For flexibility gains, stretching should be done at the end of the workout peiord and specifcally worked on for an intensity and duranton that is appropriate. The actual stretch can be rhythmic (taking the limb through its range of motion slowly) or static stretch. the intensity should be enough to stimulate but not painful.The duration of each stretch should be at least 20 to 30 seconds. Below is one technique to follow.
Take you limb to your full range of motion of a specific joint. This should be done slowly and comfortably. Inhale before you begin the movement and slowly exhale until your full range of motion is met. Relaxation is the key to increasing your flexibility. Hold this position for a minimum fo 20-30 seconds. This is considered stage one, or the "easy stretch." go only to the point where you feel mild tension (no pain.) Do not bounce. Bouncing will activate a mechanism called the stretch reflex. Whenever you stretch the muscle fibers too far (either by bouncing or overstretching), a nerve reflex responds by sending a signal to the muscle to contract. This actually protects the muscle from being injured or overstretched. Consequently, if you are stretching incorrectly and the muscle contracts, it is doing the exact opposite of what you want it to do.
THE DEVELOPMENT STRETCH
The second stage is the "development" stage. The easy stretch which reduces muscle tightness and prepares the tissues for the development stretch. Slowly move further into the stretch and go to the point of mild tension again and breathe normally. If you are having difficulty breathing normally or feel pain, and the tension is not diminishing, ease off slightly. Remember to breathe and try to relax into the stretch as much as possible. Avoid bouncing. Concentrate on slow, sustained static stretches to improve your flexibility and reduce your chance of injury.
In conclusion, it is imperative to include stretching as part of your daily and weekly routines towards better health and fitness. Look to hire a personal trainer skilled in stretching to coach you through proper stretches you ca do on your own or purchase one of many books or videos to assist youin your quest for greater flexibility.