We, as athletes, can sometimes go through the motions of just doing whatever our coaches or trainers tell us without really thinking about the why. For the most part, we know that what they are telling us is right…or do we?
If you truly want to be a durable and excellent athlete, you have to learn the why rather than just the what. Some people may have trainers with them constantly, always giving advice. But for most of us, we have to learn all of this stuff on our own. Learning why we do things, like gaining flexibility, will not only help us understand what is happening in our bodies, but also how to do these things better.
The first one is an obvious one. Being more flexible, in general, keeps our bodies healthy and away from injury. The idea behind this is that we can perform unimpeded movements through a wider ROM. However, if we are moving through a ROM that we shouldn’t be moving through, it can cause injuries. So what does this mean for us. It means that we need to be smart in our flexibility training.
I am the perfect example of this. I played baseball my whole life. As a young kid, like most others, I didn’t put any work in to the smaller muscles that we use to throw. I just played and didn’t think anything about injuries. As the years went on, the more and more I threw, the more and more flexible the muscles connected to the bottom of the shoulder blade became. Thus creating scapular winging. In this case, my serratus anterior was getting stretched out every time I threw a ball, and I was doing nothing to combat that. No strengthening, therapy, or anything like that. Because of this, my throwing movement was now impeded because of my overstretched muscles. It took over a year of therapy to be able to throw without pain again, and I even had to change my throwing motion. This is how over-flexibility can be a negative.
We can also see this when one side of our body is overworked and the other is not worked at all. I guess you could say that is what happened to me. My upper back was getting stretched out, and my chest was getting tighter and tighter. We can see this in knee injuries, too. If our quadriceps are overstretched and our hamstrings are super tight, there is lots of times going to be knee pain.
We see flexibility come into play in sports so often. I cannot think of a sport in which flexibility wouldn’t be helpful. Baseball, tennis, football, volleyball, softball, basketball, and soccer (if you categorize that as a sport…just kidding, I played soccer in high school). Think of it like this. Our full range of motion is more easily achieved if we are flexibility. It makes working out and exercising easier because we don’t have to strain to get to certain positions.
In baseball, we were taught to use our bodies like rubber bands (which I don’t 100% agree with, but that’s not the point). In our swings, if we wind ourselves all the way back in our load, in theory, our bodies will have to snap back towards the ball. Think of how much further back we could get in our load if we are flexible. And in return, we would get a bigger snap back towards the ball.
Most of the time in workouts (if we’re doing it right), we are pounding our muscles. We are giving them constant stress, which is good. What is even better is to be able to relax them after a strenuous workout. Stretching after a workout is great because our bodies are already warm. Cold muscles have a tough time stretching out, while warm muscles are easier to stretch and relax.
Flexibility can create balanced out muscle groups, which in return can give us better posture. This is why it is so key to know what we are doing when stretching.
Stretching also helps encourage blood flow and circulation in our bodies. This is key to staying healthy and getting nutrients and oxygen spread out through the body.