While building strength and stamina is the foundation for any good exercise program, it’s important to have a good degree of flexibility and range of motion. When your flexibility is compromised, it can limit some of your daily activities and cause aches and pains. It can also lead your body to compensate for a lack of flexibility, which may lead to further dysfunction.
What does Range of Motion Mean?
Before we look at how you can improve your range of motion, let’s look at what ‘range of motion’means.
Range of motion (ROM) refers to how far you can move or stretch your joints and muscles. Regularly moving your joints and muscles can help to reduce pain and keep them flexible while also improving your strength and balance.
So, what can you do to increase your range of motion and flexibility?
- Prepare Your Body for Exercise
While warming up with static stretches is no longer recommended, it is important that you do some light exercise before your session to warm up your muscles and get your body relaxed and ready to work. This can be something as simple as 5-10 minutes on a treadmill or stationary bike or performing warm-up sets using light weights before you move onto your working sets.
It’s also a good idea to perform some gentle mobilisation or dynamic stretching exercises and perhaps some self-massage using a foam roller, massage ball or massage gun. The pounding action of a massage gun will bring blood to the muscles, encourage them to relax and ensure that they’re warmed up and ready for the exercise that you’re about to do.
- When to Stretch
Stretching before exercise isn’t meant to improve your flexibility; it’s to simply prepare your muscles for exercise so that they are less likely to get injured.
To improve flexibility, it’s best to incorporate a stretching routine after your workout, when your muscles are still warm but have had some time to recover. When your muscles are warm, they are pliable and much easier to stretch.
You may also want to stretch just before you go to bed. It will not only help you to relax, but it works at a neuromuscular level too. Our muscles and soft tissues repair themselves as we sleep; by stretching before bedtime, the muscles will heal in this stretched position.
- Use Static Stretching to Increase Flexibility
There are many ways to stretch. Some are suitable for warming up; some will improve your athletic performance, while others are better for rehabilitating injuries.
To improve your range of motion and flexibility, it’s best to perform long-hold static stretches where you hold the stretch for 30 seconds or more. Static stretches are exactly what they sound like – you get into the stretch position and then stay in that position for an allotted amount of time. You’ll need to incorporate stretches to work on the areas where you want to increase your range of motion. For example, if you want to improve the flexibility of your hamstrings, you’ll need to do stretches that use the hamstrings.
- Don’t Push Your Muscles Too Hard
To get stronger, faster and build muscle, you need to work hard. However, there is a difference between pushing yourself hard and pushing yourself too far.
Picking up an injury – whether it’s a tear, strain, or sprain – will negativelyaffect your range of motion. This is because your body will compensate for what it sees as a weak link in the chain and tighten the muscles surrounding the injury to protect it from further damage.
- Don’t Forget to Breathe
Your breathing can be used to achieve a better stretch or to reach a greater depth or range of motion. Not using the proper breathing techniques can limit your ability to achieve maximum mobility. However, it’s important to learn the correct breathing techniques for the activity you’re taking part in. For example, weight training will require a different breathing pattern to running or yoga.
- Strength and Flexibility Go Hand in Hand
That may sound a little strange as we’ve probably all seen extremely strong people who can’t touch their toes and vice versa. However, the flexibility of a muscle is dependent on the strength of that muscle. It’s almost as if your body won’t allow you to exceed a point of flexibility if your muscle strength cannot handle it. Joint stability is also determined by muscle strength so if you want to improve the flexibility of a particular joint, you need to increase the strength of the muscles surrounding it.
- Take Care of Your Muscles and Connective Tissues
Deep tissue massages are invaluable for relieving tired and sore muscles, getting rid of knots, and relaxing the muscles. However, you don’t necessarily have to invest in regular massages with a massage or sports therapist. Many athletes choose to self-massage using a massage gun like REBELTMPRO. This type of massage tool uses percussive therapy to pound the muscle fibres. The pounding action helps to bring blood to the muscle tissue to remove toxins and start the repair process. It also helps to ease out any knots and make the muscles feel much more relaxed.
Self-massage can also be administered with a foam roller. Just like percussive massage therapy, this self-myofascial release technique can help to relieve tightness, soreness and inflammation in the muscles and increase your joint range of motion.
- The Importance of Hydration, Nutrition, Sleep and Managing Stress
Being well hydrated, eating nourishing food and getting enough quality sleep are all vital for good health. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day so that you’re properly hydrated. Being dehydrated can lead to feelings of tiredness and lethargy that will have negative effects on your workout and put you at greater risk of injury. Plus, as your muscles are made up of about 75% water, they need to be well hydrated to function properly and repair the damage caused by a hard exercise session.
Your diet will also affect your muscle strength and flexibility. To repair your muscles and soft tissues, it’s important to eat enough protein. Whether you get your protein from animal or plant sources, you’ll find that your performance and recovery will improve if you increase your intake of protein. And don’t forget to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables too. As well as vitamins and minerals, they contain lots of water.
We’ve already mentioned the importance of stretching before sleep, especially as sleep is the time when your body undertakes repairs. Having a regular sleep schedule and getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night is vital for these processes to happen efficiently and for you to feel refreshed and alert the next day.
Feeling stressed affectsyour mind and body. Have you noticed how you hunch your shoulders when you’re feeling stressed? Or how you clench your jaw? When we’re feeling stressed, we tend to tense muscles which can lead to aches and knots.
The Bottom Line
Developing a good range of motion in your joints and muscles is something that takes time. A combination of strength work and stretching will help to lengthen the muscles and create a strong support system for the joints. But remember; take it slowly and don’t try to overstretch as this can lead to injury. And don’t forget to make sure that you’re getting enough quality food, sleep and hydration.