As an aspiring Contortionist, I freely admit to a fascination with stretching. The human body is a magnificent machine and Contortion highlights its beauty by showcasing ways in which the body can bend, fold and reach.
The strength and control needed to safely and fluidly transition from one move to another is astounding and inspiring. Contortionists are physical artists who – like athletes – train daily to achieve maximum performance; in this case, maximum flexibility.
Oxford English Dictionary defines flexibility as “the quality of bending easily, without breaking.” In terms of physical performance, flexibility refers to the range of motion of a joint and the ability of the surrounding muscles to expand and contract while keeping the joint stable. However, flexibility is not the exclusive preserve of Contortionists or gymnasts only.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
It is vital for the function and mobility of all and only becomes more important as we get older. Accessing one’s flexibility is an important part of developing good technique and keeping the body safe before, during and after any workout, sport or physical activity.
Despite its importance, I have found that developing flexibility is one of the least appreciated and most overlooked aspects of building a healthy, physically active body. There are three fundamental benefits of stretching and flexibility training.
1. Flexibility training increases range of motion, which allows athletes to generate more power and precision in their movements.
2. Maintaining more flexible muscles decreases risk of injury. The more the muscles can stretch and expand, the more movements a body can do without tearing or ripping muscles or tendons.
3. Many sports are asymmetric; they work one side of the body more than the other. Stretching after a workout restores the body to balance and prevents the body from developing chronic pain from overuse on just one side.
Just as there are many ways to prepare the body for sports, there are many ways to stretch too. There are three main types of exercises that develop flexibility and range of motion:
1. Static Stretching – When people think of stretching, they most often picture “Static Stretching.” In this type of flexibility training, one uses the weight of gravity or another external force to push the limits of where their muscles can expand. For example, sinking down into a split and holding it is “Static Stretching.”
2. Dynamic Stretching – “Dynamic Stretching” is best for warm ups. It is the type of stretching where one repeats a series of movements within their full range of movement in order to loosen up the muscles and get the blood flowing. For example, ballet dancers warm up with a series of small kicks and then large kicks called “battements” and “grand battements.”
3. Resistance Stretching – In “Resistance Stretching,” we stretch one muscle, while tightening the surrounding muscles to hold or maintain a pose for a period of time. For example, holding a squat is a “resistance stretch” as one is stretching their butt, hamstrings and low back, while tightening the surrounding muscles to maintain balance.
The best stretching routines utilize all three types to make sure the body is warm, limber and then able to build strength that can be utilized in other forms of physical activity. As such, stretching should be a fundamental component of both one’s warming up and cooling down. By integrating stretching into a workout, not only does one build healthy, strong muscles that do not tear easily, but one also develops a sleek, toned physiology that moves easily and gracefully.