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Injury Prevention: Flexibility


Creating muscle balance starts with flexibility.

 

One of the topics I discuss with my clients on a regular basis is the one of Flexibility. This seems continually overlooked whether the clients are inactive or following a gym programme from their local trainer. Flexibility is required for healthy muscle action and most importantly posture and this article aims to discuss just this.

 

Let's start with posture because this is the position from which all other movements start and finish. So to begin with, what is good posture?

Good posture.

 

Posture can be classified into two main categories - Static Posture and Dynamic Posture. Static Posture is the one most of us are aware of and this is based on standing still while you are looked at from all sides. If in alignment your knees should be directly above your ankles, hips directly above the knees, shoulders directly above the hips and ears directly above the shoulders. From the front and back views one side should be no higher, lower, bigger or smaller than the other or deviate to one side. There are obviously other more complex details too that are outside the scope of this article.

 

Dynamic Posture is how we align ourselves when we move. This is much more difficult to describe here due to the complexities of movement but, like Static Posture, symmetry is the desired outcome.

 

Removing the complexities of postural analysis there becomes a simple foundational element that underpins why posture is what it is and that is of course Flexibility.

Flexibility and Posture.

 

Flexibility drives the way our posture presents itself because of the pulls it makes on our skeletal system. Think of it like the guy ropes on a tent. If you make the rope on the left side of your tent tighter than the one on the right, the tent will lean towards the tighter side. The same is true for the human body. Make one muscle short and the joints move towards the shorter muscle and this causes pain to develop.

 

Take our head for example. Let's say the head weighs 10lb and when placed with the ear directly over the shoulder in good alignment gravity loads the weight through the rest of out body and evenly through the muscular system. If we were then to take the head 1 inch forward from this centre line the muscle on the back take the strain of the full 10lb. To add insult to injury every inch further forward the head goes the weight is added again, so 2 inches forward gives a 20lb load to those muscles due to the physics of leverage.

 

So you’ll be walking around with the equivalent of a 20lb dumbell strapped to your head!

Flexibility and Healthy Muscle Action.

 

Muscles require flexibility not just to achieve good posture but also to maintain optimal strength. All muscles have a position of mechanical advantage, where they are not too short and not too stretched out to be activated. When a muscle is either too short or too long the brain figures out a better means by which to perform the action you want to do rather than to use the poorly positioned muscle. This usually results in a poorly executed movement or overuse and injury of these muscles. So achieving good flexibility is key to a healthy body.

 

You can add to this problem of poor joint position and lack of muscle strength the long term problem of joint wear. For example, every pre-operative knee replacement client I’ve worked with has always had flexibility issues in the muscles of their thighs. Whilst much of this range of motion is lost due to knee pain and swelling, when I ask about their history of flexibility they confirm they’ve been tight for years. It's pretty evident that people who maintain good flexibility with good strength throughout life have less occurrence of knee replacements.

 

So if you can’t be bothered to stretch well now, think about what you are building for the future.

Exercise and Stretching.

 

Stretching is like that gym programme you love to hate. All the exercises you are least good at are the ones you need to do and all the ones you are good at are the ones you can leave out. I know, it sucks doesn’t it! There seems a common rule in life that the things you like are the worst for you like that Brownie and Caramel Ice Cream you love.

 

Stretching unfortunately follows the same formula. If it's uncomfortable to stretch then you can be pretty sure you need to stretch it. If it's easy to stretch then please don’t stretch it. I say this because there is no point stretching the bad muscles and the good ones too. This only maintains the imbalance between the two groups. Try to stretch only the muscle you find more difficult to do and eventually you should achieve balance.

 

As always please consult a professional that can assess which muscles need stretching and how. This way you’ll get better results quicker than you would by guessing. And a professional can design the other most important aspect of injusry prevention - A Strength Programme.

 

 

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