What Does Flexibility Mean? | Fitness, Health and Exercise Glossary

[ 3 ] January 2, 2009 |

What’s the Definition of Flexibility and Why Is It Important to Physical Fitness? Find Out The Facts on Flexibility.

Definition of Flexibility

Flexibility is defined as the ability to move joints or muscles through their full-range of motion. Flexibility may also be specific to the joint or individual, allowing some people’s joints to naturally surpass the range of motion in the same joint in another person. Flexibility is one of the five components of physical fitness.

Factors Affecting Flexibility

There are a number of factors that can influence a person’s flexibility, including:

  • Genetics
  • Connective tissue elasticity
  • Composition of tendons or skin surrounding the joint
  • Joint structure
  • Strength of opposing muscle groups
  • Body composition/type
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Activity level
  • Previous injuries or existing medical issues

Why Flexibility Is Important

Improving flexibility allows you to perform nearly all activities more effectively, can prevent injury, improve balance and coordination and enhance athletic or recreational sports performance.  Improved flexibility can also make exercise more effective — especially weight or resistance training — because it allows you to perform exercises through a muscle’s full-range of motion, encouraging greater strength and growth.

Measuring Flexibility

Flexibility is measured using two primary methods:

  1. Indirect Flexibility Measures: Indirect Flexibility Measures have you perform specific, prescribed manual movements and then measure your relative flexibility while performing those motions. Examples include the Sit & Reach Test, V-Sit Reach Test, Trunk Rotation Test, and Groin Flexibility Test. 
  2. Direct Flexibility Measures: Direct methods of measuring flexibility use calibrated measuring instruments like the Goniometer or a Flexometer to measure the flexibility of a joint.

How to Improve Flexibility

The best method to increase flexibility is progressively stretching the muscles surrounding a joint.

There are four forms of stretching that you can perform yourself to improve flexibility:

Dynamic Stretching: Dynamic stretching involves repeated, fluid, gentle, movements that create mild tension, but are not painful or exhaustive. Dynamic stretching is typically used during warm up and cool down periods. Dynamic stretching can be specific, sports related (like swinging a golf club or bat), or a lower intensity activity like walking. Dynamic stretching can also be incorporated into a light warm-up set during weight or resistance training, using a small amount of resistance through the exercises full range-of-motion (for example, squats or chest presses.)

Static Stretching: Static stretching involves holding the muscle in a stretched position for a period of time. The actual stretching movement should be slow and controlled. It is usually held from 15-60 seconds. Static stretching is typically used to improve flexibility in tight muscles by gradually and progressively stretching and lengthening the muscle.

Contract-Relax Method: The Contract-Relax Method has you contracting against resistance from a partner then stretching. This works by inhibiting the stretch reflex and allows you to stretch further than normal.

Contract Antagonist/Relax Method:  This stretching method uses isometric contraction of the opposing muscle before stretching. This operates on a similar principle to working antagonistic muscles back-to-back during weight or resistance training.

Although regular stretching (especially static stretching) is one of the most effective ways to improve flexibility, there is very little evidence that stretching before or after sports or exercise prevents injury. In fact, some research suggests it may actually negatively effect performance.

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Category: Fitness, Health & Exercise Glossary

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Comments (3)

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  1. Fitness Centers (1 comments) says:

    Flexibility is affected by the form, type, and structure of a joint.

  2. Taylor (2 comments) says:

    Fitness wise, I don’t think there is anything more I hate doing than working on my flexibility and there’s also nothing that makes me feel as good after I finish.

    Truly a love / hate type of thing

  3. Alice (1 comments) says:

    Hey:)  Does anybody know how flexibility helps you when you’re doing difficult steps in dance?

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