Personal Training Techniques for Flexibility Enhancement – Dynamic vs. Static Stretches
Personal trainers know that flexibility is a vital health related component of fitness closely linked to function and performance that should be integrated into all exercise programs. The modern theory of personal training is to get the skeleton to be structurally efficient, stabilize it effectively, and load it to promote the linkage system. Accordingly, personal trainers should seek to optimize joint alignment and movement as part of an overall health plan for the musculoskeletal system. Unfortunately, range of motion (ROM) activities are not commonly regarded as highly relevant due to the lack of association with vanity and weight management. With no aesthetically visible effects derived from improving flexibility, focus is often displaced to increase efforts toward the removal of adipose tissue or the promotion of lean mass hypertrophy.
Most people who workout (and some personal trainers too) fail to realize the role flexibility plays in posture, movement, and ultimately performance. Lack of flexibility is a primary contributor to skeletal dysfunction leading to inefficiency, low back pain, chronic injury and other dysfunction. If the skeleton does not work properly, all aspects related to it also decline. Imagine driving a car with a severely bent axle or riding a bike with a notably bent rim. Flexibility issues reduce movement capabilities, create compensatory postures and actions, and reduce performance requiring compound actions due to movement and force (energy transfer) limitations.
Enhanced flexibility is related to the following benefits:
- Increased movement and training ranges (potential improved gains in lean mass and strength)
- Reduction in the rate of functional decline with age (more independent years)
- Postural symmetry
- Reduction in overall stress and muscular tension
- Enhanced muscular relaxation and consequent recovery
- Reduced incidence of muscular cramps and myofascical adhesion
- Reduced risk of injury and all types of muscle pain or discomfort
- Improved quality of life and greater ease performing activities of daily living (ADLs)
Personal trainers oftentimes find it difficult to incorporate effective flexibility training within the traditional 60-minute time period when weight loss or vanity goals are the focus. Experienced personal trainers generally know that there are different flexibility-enhancing stimuli that can be used during the training session including actual resistance training activities (e.g., single-leg squats for hip flexor ROM). In addition to encouraging full ROM exercises in the training session, personal trainers can also implement dynamic stretches as a component of the warm-up segment of the training session.
A client needs to be properly prepared for each exercise segment, so personal trainers may find it an effective use of time to warm the client up via dynamic flexibility training while choosing movements that target ROM problems areas. Dynamic stretches usually employ multiple muscle groups and joints through movement patterns that attain full ROM and provide for significant muscle fiber and connective tissue elongation (without a proprioceptive-driven resistance or static hold at the end point of the ROM). An excellent example would be performing Walking Lunges with an Alternating Overhead Reach across a 10 yard distance to stretch the gluteals, hip flexors, quads, abdominals, chest, and lats with each repetition. Although static stretches may evoke a similar long-term response, the hold phase causes a relaxation response and consequent reduction in neural rate and force output, particularly in the lower body. Static stretches are best implemented during the last few minutes of the personal training session for areas that are significantly inflexible or need extra work. Since dynamic flexibility demonstrates an effective adaptive response in the tissue while allowing the body to move, it makes sense to incorporate the activities in the warm-up and workout; also explaining why they have been used for decades in athletics.
Personal trainers can benefit from implementing dynamic stretches pre-training and static stretches post-training as follows:
- Dynamic stretches prepare the participant for vigorous activity by increasing core temperature and activating key musculature and connective tissue to be challenged during the personal training session.
- Dynamic stretches prepare the nervous system to activate motor units that will be used in the training session for optimal force production.
- Static stretches have been repeatedly shown in research to reduce force production and power capabilities if implemented just prior to strength or power training (e.g. hip extensor static stretch pror to performing barbell back squats would be counterproductive).
- Greater flexibility adaptations are supported when performing static stretches when tissues are warm. Elevated body temperatures common during the acute post-exercise period promotes greater tissue elasticity and therefore the potential to attain greater ROMs during static stretches performed.
- Static stretches encourage relaxation in the muscle tissue and support the parasympathetic response in the vascular system.
In summary, personal trainers can utilize different systems of flexibility training for ROM improvement when implemented with optimal timing in relation to the exercise session. The take-home message to understand and apply in a practical manner is this – dynamic stretches are often best performed in the warm-up segment and can be implemented throughout a workout while static stretches are best implemented at the end of the personal training session.