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Flexibility is an important component of fitness that is often neglected. Flexibility is not something just for dancers, gymnasts, and martial arts athletes to work on. Flexibility is an important part of fitness for everyone regardless of age, gender, goals, or experience.
Poor flexibility of the low back and hamstrings (back of upper leg) has been shown to contribute to low back pain. This is why flexibility testing is included in the President's Challenge Physical Fitness Awards Program. These tests, administered twice yearly to school age children, are health-related fitness tests. Since poor flexibility is a contributor to possible future low back pain, it is important to recognize and correct flexibility problems as soon as possible.
It is never too late to start improving overall flexibility. Good flexibility will help alleviate stiffness, prevent injuries, and maintain good range of motion in the joints. It is important to focus on the following flexibility tips when working on this crucial fitness component:
- Never stretch a cold muscle. This means minimally five to ten minutes of light movement of the large muscles groups by jogging, biking, dancing, etc.
- Always perform stretches correctly. Good form is of utmost importance.
- DO NOT BOUNCE! Find the point at which you feel the stretch and then hold it. Twenty to thirty seconds is a good general length to hold stretches.
- Make sure you are stretching all of your major muscle groups. Do not just do the flexibility stretches that you enjoy or that are easy for you. Overall flexibility is important for overall fitness.
- If you have specialty areas of flexibility that require additional work (for sport-specific goals or specialized rehabilitation needs) do not neglect other areas to focus on the specialty area. Spend additional time to improve that area.
- Remember that flexibility is very individual. Do not try to mirror another person's stretch point. That point could be too difficult or too easy for you. Everyone is different.
- Your stretch point is the point at which you feel the stretch is working but not to the point of feeling pain. Feel the stretch, not the pain. The old saying, "No pain, no gain," does not apply to stretching.