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Flexibility and Warming up

Hadyn Luke posted this on Wednesday 6th of February 2013 Hadyn Luke 06/02/2013

Tags: Client analysis

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Warming up, stretching and flexibility: 7 facts a Personal Trainer should know 

This week’s blog looks at some of the key facts behind warming up, stretching and flexibility.

Every fitness programme that a personal trainer devises should include elements of warming up, stretching and flexibility. All of these techniques can bring value to a client’s fitness regime, but it’s important to understand the difference. 

Here are seven facts that every fitness instructor and personal trainer should know about warming up, stretching and flexibility.

1. The importance of warming up

A personal trainer will use warming up exercises to prepare their client for a training session or any other physical activity. A client should warm up before stretching to avoid injury to their muscle fibrils or to the nerves supplying them. 

A warm up is a low-intensity, whole body exercise for around five to 10 minutes. The aim is to work the major joints – ankles, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders – without neglecting spinal rotations and neck movements. A typical warm up might consist of 10 reps of each of the following: squats, standing rotations and a shoulder press movement. Alternatively, a personal trainer could ask the client to warm up their muscles and joints by walking or jogging on a treadmill.

2. The different types of stretching

There are four main types of stretching:

  • Static (active or passive), including isometric
  • Dynamic
  • Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF)
  • Ballistic

A good personal trainer will advise that stretching should be performed slowly and smoothly. One exception is ballistic stretching – the bouncing motion that footballers often use when stretching prior to a match. It can pre-empt tension in the muscle, which is useful for footballers or gymnasts but not advisable for an unconditioned person training in the gym, as it can also cause small tears in the muscles, which can cause scar tissue that in turn causes tightness in the muscle.

Static and PNF stretching are used to increase a client’s range of motion and flexibility 

Follow these links to see our previous articles on PNF stretching:

PNF Part I

PNF Part II

3. Dynamic static stretching

Studies on the benefits of stretching have often proved inconclusive or contradictory. One argument is that carrying out static stretching after you’ve warmed up removes the tension and the proprioceptor element of the muscles, which affects co-ordination, balance, strength and power.

One solution is for a personal trainer to set dynamic stretching exercises instead, which should promote:

  • Improved muscular co-ordination
  • Increased range of joint movement
  • A reduction in the level of muscle tissue tension
  • Increased blood circulation 

Particular emphasis should be placed on the muscles that are going to be used in the exercises that follow and both sides of the body should be stretched equally.

4. Intensity and range

A good personal trainer will not push their clients to the limit when warming up and stretching. Instead they will gradually increase the intensity and the range of movement required over time. This helps avoid delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS), which is caused when a client overworks their muscles, either through exercise or through stretching.

The fitness instructor should encourage their client to hold or stop the stretch once they feel tension in the muscles, rather than pushing further and causing pain. They should also be aware of any injuries that a client has, and ensure that they don’t stretch a muscle, ligament or joint that is already strained, inflamed or infected. In short: if it hurts, stop. 

5. The dangers of excessive joint mobility

A personal trainer may have clients with joint hypermobility, which is an unusually high level of flexibility in the joints, for example double-jointed elbows. Although in some cases this can lead to a greater risk of injury, for example dislocated shoulders, knees or hips, it is perfectly possible for these clients to have sound integrity in the joints.

6. Loss of flexibility in older clients

If a personal trainer is working with an older client, they may need to consider whether the client has less flexibility than younger gym goers and is therefore more susceptible to injury. However, a client that has continued to exercise and put their body through a good range of movement as they have aged should still retain their flexibility: it’s a lack of activity and disuse of the body’s musculature that is most likely to cause a loss of flexibility.

7. Recommendations for flexibility training

Recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) are that flexibility training should be undertaken two or three days a week. Each stretch should be held for 10-30 seconds until the client feels mild discomfort, and three to four repetitions should be done for each stretch. People who are particularly tense may see an increased benefit if they hold a stretch for longer. 

If a personal trainer is using PNF stretching with a client, the ACSM recommends a six second contraction followed by a 10-30 second stretch assisted by the fitness instructor.

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