Flexibility - Stretching Techniques
Flexibility is a component of physical fitness. Developing and maintaining it are important parts of a fitness program. Good flexibility can help a soldier accomplish such physical tasks as lifting, loading, climbing, parachuting, running, and rappelling with greater efficiency and less risk of injury.
Flexibility is the range of movement of a joint or series of joints and their associated muscles. It involves the ability to move a part of the body through the full range of motion allowed by normal, disease-free joints.
No one test can measure total-body flexibility. However, field tests can be used to assess flexibility in the hamstring and low-back areas. These areas are commonly susceptible to injury due, in part, to loss of flexibility. A simple toe-touch test can be used. Soldiers should stand with their legs straight and feet together and bend forward slowly at the waist. A soldier who cannot touch his toes without bouncing or bobbing needs work to improve his flexibility in the muscle groups stretched by this test. The unitís Master Fitness Trainer can help him design a stretching program to improve his flexibility.
Stretching during the warm-up and cool-down helps soldiers maintain overall flexibility. Stretching should not be painful, but it should cause some discomfort because the muscles are being stretched beyond their normal length. Because people differ somewhat anatomically, comparing one personís flexibility with anotherís should not be done. People with poor flexibility who try to stretch as far as others may injure themselves.
Using good stretching techniques can improve flexibility. There are four commonly recognized categories of stretching techniques: static, passive, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), and ballistic. These are described here and shown later in this chapter.
Static stretching involves the gradual lengthening of muscles and tendons as a body part moves around a joint. It is a safe and effective method for improving flexibility. The soldier assumes each stretching position slowly until he feels tension or tightness. This lengthens the muscles without causing a reflex contraction in the stretched muscles. He should hold each stretch for ten seconds or longer. This lets the lengthened muscles adjust to the stretch without causing injury.
The longer a stretch is held, the easier it is for the muscle to adapt to that length. Static stretching should not be painful. The soldier should feel slight discomfort, but no pain. When pain results from stretching, it is a signal that he is stretching a muscle or tendon too much and may be causing damage.
Passive stretching involves the soldierís use of a partner or equipment, such as a towel, pole, or rubber tubing, to help him stretch. This produces a safe stretch through a range of motion he could not achieve without help. He should talk with his partner to ensure that each muscle is stretched safely through the entire range of motion.
PNF stretching uses the neuromuscular patterns of each muscle group to help improve flexibility. The soldier performs a series of intense contractions and relaxations using a partner or equipment to help him stretch. The PNF technique allows for greater muscle relaxation following each contraction and increases the soldierís ability to stretch through a greater range of motion.
Ballistic, or dynamic, stretching involves movements such as bouncing or bobbing to attain a greater range of motion and stretch. Although this method may improve flexibility, it often forces a muscle to stretch too far and may result in an injury. Individuals and units should not use ballistic stretching.
Commanders should include stretching exercises in all physical fitness programs.
The following FITT factors apply when developing a flexibility program.
Frequency: Do flexibility exercises daily. Do them during the warm-up to help prepare the muscles for vigorous activity and to help reduce injury. Do them during the cooldown to help maintain flexibility.
Intensity: Stretch a muscle beyond its normal length to the point of tension or slight discomfort, not pain.
Time: Hold stretches for 10 to 15 seconds for warming up and cooling down and for 30 seconds or longer to improve flexibility.
Type: Use static stretches, assumed slowly and gradually, as well as passive stretching and/or PNF stretching.