It’s all too common; a training plan is devised to improve performance and there is one component of fitness that is left by the wayside: flexibility. Last month we looked at Hamstrings, an often forgotten muscle group. Flexibility is similar, in that it rarely features as a structured part of training plans. Flexibility has a range of benefits including injury prevention and improved performance, such as increasing power.
Flexibility can be improved in the same way as strength or speed – and should be prioritised as such. In this instance, improving flexibility refers to increasing the range of motion of a joint or muscle.
There is some research to suggest that those with increased flexibility are at a lower risk of injury. While the research may not be conclusive, it’s clear that increased flexibility is not detrimental to performance. Clearly, for an active sports person anything that reduces injury risk is advantageous. A study on 146 football players concluded that players with an increased hamstring or quadriceps tightness were more likely to get injured throughout the season (Witvrouw et al, 2003).
Increasing the range of motion of a joint can be beneficial for a number of exercises. Take squats as an example; increased flexibility of the ankle joint can make hitting depth and full range of motion more comfortable.
With regard to power production, stretching needs to be performed regularly to improve performance. The odd session here and there doesn’t cut it. In a review of the available literature on stretching, Shrier (2004) concluded that regular stretching improved force production and jump height, whereas a single session had no impact on performance.
There are different methods used to increase flexibility. The most common are static, dynamic and PNF. Static is probably the most common – stretches are controlled, and are typically held for 10-60 seconds. Dynamic stretching involves stretching with motion – you’ll often see footballers prior to a match swinging their legs, which is stretching their hamstring. PNF or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation involves stretching against a partner. For example, a partner can increase the range of motion in a hamstring stretch. PNF has been found to be an extremely effective method to increase flexibility.
While no foods will directly improve flexibility, several foods can have benefit for those incorporating flexibility training into their regime.
Protein: As with other forms of exercise, flexibility training illicits muscle damage. Protein is vital for repairing damaged muscle. Aim to consume around 1.5-2.0g protein for every kilogram of bodyweight (so an 80kg person would consume between 120-160g protein).
Vitamins and Minerals: Specific vitamins and minerals can aid flexibility training. Green leafy vegetables, fruit and dairy would make good food choices. Antioxidants, such as Vitamins A, C and E can aid recovery. Calcium and Vitamin D play an important role in joint structure.
Natural anti inflammatories: Pineapple makes a good food choice, as it contains Bromelain which is an anti-inflammatory. It is often used by arthritis sufferers and by those with soft tissue injuries. Foods that contain high levels of essential fat, particularly the form of Omega 3 – EPA and DHA – can aid recovery. Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel make good food choices.
Sports nutrition for flexibility
If you’re finding it difficult to obtain sufficient protein, vitamins + minerals and natural anti-inflammatories from whole food, then sports nutrition provides a convenient, concentrated option. For example, Super Strength Fish Oils contain 550mg of active EPA/DHA per capsule. We have a high dose Vitamin D3 product, with 5000iu per capsule, as well as 1000mg Vitamin C and 400iu Vitamin E softgels.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin: Both are used fairly extensively in the treatment of osteoarthritis and potentially improve the structure of joints, which may improve flexibility. Joint Restore contains both Glucosamine and Chondroitin as well as the anti-inflammatory Bromelain and Cissus Quadrangularis.
Increasing flexibility has many advantages; appropriate training alongside appropriate nutrition will result in improvements in flexibility in the same way as it would result in improvements in speed and strength. If you’re struggling to get your bench or squat up, consider dedicating some time to flexibility training and you may be surprised by the results.
Shrier, I. (2004) Does stretching improve performance: A systematic and critical review of the literature. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 14, 5, 26-273.
Witvrouw, E., Danneels, L., Asselman, P., D’Have, T and Cambier, D. (2003) Muscle flexibility as a risk factor for developing muscle injuries in male professional soccer players: A prospective study. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 31,1,41-46.