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January 25, 2014

NEER: Flexibility training has many benefits

There are things to keep in mind when following a flexibility program.

The worst moment ever in sixth grade Phys. Ed class was the day our teacher informed us that the upcoming unit was going to be gymnastics. And as a bonus, after honing our skills for three weeks, a performance in front of an all-school convocation was to follow. (How embarrassing, especially since my girlfriend in fifth grade would be in the bleachers watching.)

As a 12-year-old, all I wanted to do was run a few laps and play dodgeball! How could our fun-loving teacher, revered and adored by all of his boys, turn on us like this? Our collective thought was settled — there was no way this idea was going to work. There was no way we were going to like this sport! Ironically, several years later, I would gain a deep respect and appreciation for men’s gymnastics, but at this moment, gym class had taken a quick turn south.

While watching men’s gymnastics in high school at the Olympic Games, it was obvious how flexible and powerful these athletes had become. The connection between being flexible and being successful was apparent. Although I was a runner, my new found affinity with gymnasts was settled. I needed to find out if improved flexibility would help me become a better athlete.

Flexibility training is perhaps the most undervalued component of conditioning. While ongoing debate questions its role in injury prevention, athletes can gain much from a stretching regimen. From a pole vault approach to a rugby drop kick, flexibility of the body’s muscles and joints play an integral part in many athletic movements. The more flexible you are, the greater the odds for success.

In general terms, flexibility is defined as the range of motion around a joint and its surrounding muscles during movement. There are considerable variations in baseline flexibility in individuals. For example, a person may have flexible shoulders but inflexible hips. Genetics, injuries and abnormal biomechanics all play a role in these differences. Stretching should be done gradually over long periods of time and then maintained to prevent slipping back toward inflexibility.

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