Flexibility is the fitness component that relates to freedom of movement. It is often taken for granted and we don’t appreciate it until it’s gone. Or we think it only applies to athletes, dancers, gymnasts and acrobats. But flexibility should be a priority. With enough flexibility fewer things will be out of reach and you will be less likely to get hurt by over-extending. Flexibility also allows you to exercise with full ranges of motion for the best results.
The popular expression of “flexing your muscles” is technically incorrect. Muscles do not flex. Muscles contract and joints move through flexion, extension and other movement patterns. Movement is produced by muscles and described in terms of joint position.
The skeletal framework determines how the body can and cannot move. Underneath your muscles lies the boney skeleton held together by ligaments. Muscles are attached to bones by tendons. When muscles contract, the position of one bone relative to another may change. The structure of a specific joint determines the movement allowed at that joint. For example, the elbow joint allows the arm to bend and straighten. The hips allow each leg to move forward, backward, side to side as well as in rotational and circular patterns. The spine can bend forward, backward, laterally (to each side) and it can twist in both directions.
The flexibility of your muscles and other soft tissue determines how much of that allowable movement is available to you. Lack of flexibility can hinder movement and leave you feeling stiff or tight. It can also limit your ability to perform everyday activities. Too much flexibility is also not optimal as it may compromise joint stability.
In general, women are more flexible than men and children are more flexible than adults. Everyone is more flexible when the body is warmed up, either by movement (active warm up) or when heat is applied to the body (passive warm up). Flexibility tends to decrease as we age so stretching and mobility exercises should not be overlooked.