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Top tips to help you become more flexible

Article writen by: Brenda
24 November 2021

Have you ever been sat in your Loughborough accommodation wondering what new hobbies you can try? Why not try one that doesn't require any expensive equipment and will benefit your health during your Loughborough University studies? This hobby is all about growing your flexibility! If you're trying out for the Loughborough university cheerleading team, gymnastic team, dance team or just want to increase your flexibility then you've come to the right place. Our student Ambassador, Brenda, has collected together tips and tricks you should follow to improve your well-being and boost your flexibility. Read below to find out ways you can become more flexible and why this is so important.

The benefits of stretching

1. Health
Regular stretching can improve your blood circulation which means you have increased blood supply to your joints and muscles, allowing greater nutrient transportation throughout the entire body. This not only promotes cell growth but organ function.

2. Decreased DOMS
DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness) occurs when you do a strenuous workout leaving your muscles sore for days. Muscle soreness normally peaks after 48 hours and is caused by the body’s inflammation response to it. Stretching can improve the blood circulatory system which aids in the bodies inflammatory response, resulting in less sore days.

3. Relieve stress
There’s a high chance that when you’re stressed, your muscles feel tensed and can also lead to tension headaches. This is because your muscles tighten up in response to physical and emotional stress. This can interfere with your daily life. Whilst some turn to meditation, some eat a whole pack of brownie (i.e., me), others turn to stretching. Relieving muscle tension – relieve stress.

4. Eases digestion
Overeating can sometimes lead to painful and uncomfortable bloating, especially when the food isn’t digested properly. Stretching, however, can help alleviate bloating. When you stretch, you affect the flow of energy. Doing light dynamic stretches (holding stretches for up to 10 seconds at a time), can increase blood flow to bowels, strengthen the intestines and reduce inflammation.

5. Infused optimism
Do you ever wonder why you feel good after you exercise? That’s because your body releases chemicals known as endorphins. These chemicals trigger a positive feeling in our body by interacting with the receptors in our brains that reduce perceptions of pain. This chemical can also be released during stretching. So, not only can stretching in the morning be a great way to start your day, but it can also be done before bed to optimise quality of sleep.

6. Increased muscle tone
I’d just like to clarify that muscle tone occurs from a combination of factors such as diet, cardiovascular activity, strength, and resistance training… and of course mobility and flexibility. Stretching can help with protein synthesis, however, it does not in itself firm muscles. Firmer muscles are done by the forcible contractions of your muscle against a resistance. Stretching and mobility can improve movement of quality and range of movement, increasing your chances of having a more efficient and effective workout and thus leading to increased muscle tone.

Gaining flexibility: Tips and Tricks

1. Stretching with a warm body
For any type of stretching, we need our bodies to be warm. Warming up your body will dilate your blood vessels, ensuring your blood is supplied with sufficient oxygen and increase the body temperature which prepares the body for the intense exercise you are about to do. This can be as simple as a light jog, doing a minute of star jumps or even two minutes of skipping rope – anything that will increase your heart rate, as this is the key to remaining injury free.

2. Mobility helps with flexibility
As the title suggests, mobility and flexibility mean different things. Flexibility is ‘the ability of a muscle group to lengthen passively through a range of motion’ whereas ‘mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion’. This means that whilst stretching can help with flexibility, mobility builds strength and coordination, and can be a workout itself. For example, if your goal is to achieve the splits, you would want to keep it long term, right? So, unless you have the time to sit in a stretch for hours on end, without incorporating motion in your flexibility, you will be more likely to injure yourself and will take you far longer to achieve the splits. Incorporating mobility exercises into your routine will allow you to achieve greater ranges of motions, strengthening and improving range of motion more easily. Remember, motion is lotion.

3. Breathing is key
Now, you might think “okay this is easy because I do this every second of the day” but the truth is, you might not be breathing correctly. Oxygen helps fuel the body which in turn nourishes the brain and muscles because long breathes are often associated with relaxation. When oxygen is supplied to the brain, it promotes a state of calmness. Every time you inhale, hold the stretch and on each exhale go a little deeper into the stretch. Something that helped me with my stretching is by imagining fresh oxygenated blood flowing through the specific group of muscle I’m stretching. When performing a stretch, our body is being pushed beyond their limitations and our nerve signals will contract to protect the muscle. By incorporating proper breathing techniques whilst, you are training your muscles to tolerate more stretch before the stretch reflex kicks in.

4. Knowing what type of stretches you’re doing
To be able to know what type of stretching you’re doing means you’d be able to know how long to hold the stretch for which prevents injury and increases flexibility. Dynamic stretches are done pre workout and are held for up to 10 seconds and static stretching are done post workout and are held for up to one minute.
a. Dynamic stretching: This form of stretching is important pre-training. Dynamic stretches involve a range of movement.
b. Static stretching: This type of stretching done at the end of training when the body is extremely warm. Stretches can be held from 30 seconds to one minute. Beyond one minute, however, will not have a positive effect on flexibility levels and will decrease levels of strength, power, and speed.
c. PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation): This is an advanced type of stretching and is done by many athletes. It involves the contracting and release of muscles and are normally contracted for 5-10 seconds followed by 20 seconds of controlled stretch. However, this form of stretching should only be done by those who know exactly what they are doing. Therefore, please seek proper guidance from professionals before conducting this form of stretch.

5. Self-myofascial release
This is a type of massage that normally involves the use of a foam roller. The objective of this is to help relieve tightness and soreness, increases range of motion, improves tissue elasticity, and enhances blood flow to the specific muscle group being ‘massaged’. If you’ve never done foam rolling before, let me be the first to tell you that yes, it is painful and absolutely nothing like a good old massage. However, you will eventually get accustomed to the pain.

6. Consistency
You’ve heard the saying that ‘consistency is key’. This works for many things in life, including stretching. The truth is that consistency beats talent. You might think that being flexible is a natural gift and that you would never be flexible as some people, but did you know that eventually the consistent performer will over time, outperform the more talented yet inconsistent counterpart? Every step in your journey, no matter how small, means you are closer now to your goal than you were yesterday.

Example Stretches
If your goal is to achieve the front splits, then you need to understand which muscle groups you need to focus on, otherwise it might take even longer to be able to achieve it. When I was working on my front splits, no one had told me the importance of stretching the quads – the one muscle group that is often forgotten, as majority of people assume that only the hip flexors and hamstrings are involved. For a couple months, I had tried to get front splits but could never get it and ended up frustrated, until I started stretching my quads and got my front splits one week later (literally). I cannot begin to stress the importance of understanding what you are working with. Click the image below to see a video I followed for several months to gain my present flexibility as a cheerleader.