The Spinning® program has its roots in heart rate training and power to boost our overall health. But this month, we are looking at another form of training that can greatly benefit our classes, and that’s flexibility!
Flexibility training focuses primarily on joint mobility and the reduction of muscular tension. It is boosted through various stretching procedures, and it most commonly takes place after working (strengthening) a specific muscle or entire muscle group during a cool-down or after class.
But there is more to flexibility training than just after class. Having adequate and balanced flexibility enhances physical performance and decreases the risk of potential injury.
Benefits of Flexibility Training
- Corrects muscle imbalance
- Increases range of motion within the joints
- Decreases muscle tension and soreness
- Decreases the risk of injury
- Relieves joint stress
- Maintains the functional length of the muscle
- Reduces lactic acid in the muscles
- Improves mind-body relaxation
Factors to Consider
Physical Activity – Fitness level plays an important role in regard to flexibility. Generally, people who are active have greater flexibility within the joints since they are used more regularly (1). Those who walk regularly, have greater flexibility in the hips and spine, and are less likely to fall than those who are inactive. In addition, research has shown those who are physically active perform daily activities more efficiently. After all, practice makes perfect!
Age – Flexibility decreases between 30-50% with age in some joint areas due to a gradual deterioration in the cell function within cartilage, ligaments, tendons and muscles (2). As people age, the connective tissue becomes stiff, which decreases flexibility. However, range of motion may be increased with regular stretching.
Gender – Due to the minor differences in joint structure and connective tissue anatomy, women have slightly greater range of motion than men for most joint movement (3). However, studies do show that the range of motion effect of gender is much less than age, so consider it when evaluating your students.
Stretching Methods to Increase Flexibility
There are several methods (and variations of each method) to increase flexibility. The type of flexibility training is based on the goal of the individual and/or exercise. The goal may be sports specific or personal preference. The most common methods include:
Static Stretching – By far the most common method used to increase flexibility, static stretching is both safe and effective. The goal of this method is to gradually stretch a muscle or muscle group to the point of end of range of motion (mild, however with adequate tension). Static stretches are generally held 10-30 seconds.
Dynamic Stretching – Another popular format of stretching, this involves moving the muscle through a full range of motion. Dynamic stretching may be sports specific or movement specific, and is typically performed during the active phase of a warm-up.
Passive Stretching – This is usually performed with a partner. Passing stretching encompasses the partner applying a slow and controlled sustained stretch for 10-30 seconds to a relaxed joint. As a result, only one student participates in the stretch at a time, so it requires strong communication between both partners.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching – PNF stretching requires an active contraction of the muscle prior to stretching it. To perform most PNF stretches, you will need assistance from a partner. However, some stretches can be completed using a towel (which you are already using in class) or an exercise band.
If you are going to incorporate more flexibility training between Spinning® classes, here are just a few guidelines to consider:
- Ensure the muscles are warm and the body core temperature is elevated prior to stretching.
- Set aside time after every class to stretch or, if you don’t have an aerobic exercise program, at least 2-3 days per week (ideally 5-7 days per week).
- The amount of time spent on flexibility training will depend on the goal of the class or training. Typically, in a group exercise setting the flexibility segment is 5-10 minutes; however, some group exercise classes like mind/body or a stretching class may include upwards of 30 minutes of flexibility training.
- Design a flexibility training program that enables students to boost their physical activity.
- Stretch all major muscles and opposing muscles to achieve muscle balance.
- Focus on the muscles being stretched and minimize the movement of other body parts.
- Hold static stretches 10-30 seconds.
- Stretch to the point of end of range of motion, experiencing mild tension, be sure to avoid forcing the body into a position that is too painful.
- Breathing should be slow and even. While holding static stretches, go deeper into the stretch as you exhale, when the body is more relaxed.
- Stretch after vigorous exercise to encourage mind and body relaxation.
Although the importance of flexibility training is sometimes ignored, it is a key component of fitness. We encourage every Spinning® instructor to include a carefully planned series of stretches at the end of each class. Equally important is reminding students of the benefits and importance of flexibility, so be sure to explain its advantages in your safety speech before class, and in your closing remarks at the end of class.