When most of us think about “flexibility”, we conjure up images of yoga poses, Cirque du Soleil performers, or olympic gymnasts. As a former competitive gymnast, I spent many years under the guidance of my coaches who put me through various static stretches aimed at increasing my overall flexibility, with the goal of increased performance. If you’ve ever watched gymnastics, you can see that It takes a lot of flexibility to perform splits, flips, and tricks on the gym apparatus. As a result, I was able to contort my body into all sorts of amazing positions, but it takes more than flexibility and static stretching to maximize performance, increase strength and even more importantly minimize injury. In order to achieve athletic longevity, strength through flexibility AND mobility is the key to reaching and maintaining peak performance.
Flexibility: What? and Why?
In simplest terms, flexibility is the ability of your muscles to stretch through their range of motion. As that range of motion increases, you are increasing flexibility. For example, if you straighten your legs and bend over to touch your toes, you may be able to reach your ankles, while a person with more flexibility may be able to put their palms flat on the floor. This is due to their increased flexibility in their hamstrings, which gives them a longer and deeper stretch.
Flexibility in athletic training is important because it allows you to move your body through an increased range of motion and this helps to reduce injury. Have you ever felt stiffness in your back after a long day at the office? Tightness in your hamstrings after a run? Or even strained a muscle when reaching for an object? Most of these phenomena are due to tight muscles and a lack of flexibility.
Let’s Get Little Technical: Muscle Anatomy 101
So, how can we increase our flexibility? Let’s take quick dive into our anatomy to understand how our body works to increase flexibility. Our muscles are composed of many bundles of fibers. These muscle fibers are in turn composed of tens of thousands of thread-like myofibrils, which can contract, relax, and lengthen. Is this technical enough for you? And all of this muscle tissue is wrapped in fascia, which is a web of connective tissue that wraps around all the internal parts of the body from head to toe and fuses it all together. It allows the muscles to move freely alongside other structures and minimizes friction. It can be found immediately beneath the skin, around muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels, organs and cells. Fascia is everywhere within the body and is what holds us together.
In order to increase flexibility, we have to release the tension in both the muscles and the fascia. Static stretching alone does not do this; well, it can but it takes a very long time. This is where mobility and dynamic stretching can help.
Mobility: Adding Strength to Flexibility
The problem with static stretching is that while it increases flexibility over time, it does little to simultaneously increase muscle strength over a its full range of motion. So, while you can sit in a hurdler position, reach for your toes and feel a stretch in your hamstring, you may be increasing flexibility, but not strengthening at all.
By adding mobility or movement to the stretching, we now perform dynamic stretching which increases flexibility while simultaneously strengthening the muscles through their entire range of motion. This is the key to reaching peak performance, minimizing injuries, and increasing longevity.
Dynamic Stretching? Never Heard of It
So, what is the difference between static and dynamic stretching? Most of us are static stretchers. We get into a stretch position, reach as far as we can, hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, and relax. We do these stretches before and/or after a workout and since we aren’t experts, we usually do these stretches with improper technique. In dynamic stretching, you move through the entire range of motion without stopping. A lunge is a perfect example of an exercise that allows you to strengthen the quads while simultaneously stretching the quads, groin, and hip flexors.
The Madden Method – The Synergy of Flexibility and Mobility
The Madden Method is our training program designed to increase full body flexibility and strength through mobility. Most training programs incorporate flexibility training, usually through static stretching, before and/or after an exercise session. We include flexibility training within the session by interweaving dynamic stretching into Pilates movements. This means you will lengthen and strengthen the muscles through their entire ranges of motion during the entire workout and minimize the tightness felt after most workouts.
Putting it All Together
I want you to take away that flexibility plus mobility equals strength and stability (the topic of my next blog post). The Madden Method is designed for you to reach peak performance and increase strength, while minimizing injury and increasing longevity.