When people think of flexibility they often think of a gymnast doing the splits or a figure skater or dancer who can lift their foot over their head and touch their knee to their nose. That’s range of motion – the distance a joint can move between the flexed position and the extended position. But, its not the same thing as flexibility.
In their book Fascial Stretch Therapy, Ann and Chris Frederick encourage the use of the online definition from Merriam-Webster for flexibility: “characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements.” Flexibility is about adaptability.
In a webinar with Human Kinetics a few weeks ago Ann and Chris pointed out how flexibility or adaptability draws on all the qualities we associate with athleticism; strength, power, speed, agility, quickness and mobility.
John Kiely, a leader in the strength and conditioning field and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lancashire refers to what he calls “robustness” or a wide variety of options in how an athlete adapts and responds to the demands of training or competition. When those athletic qualities are diminished through injury, fatigue, lack of skill or improper training we loose that robustness, have fewer options to choose from in our response the the challenges of training and competition and become more vulnerable to injury and underperforming.
Mobility is an important factor on that list. As Chris pointed in the webinar we’re talking about functional mobility, our ability move in order to accomplish a task.
Developing flexibility is about integrating all those factors in an effective way. For example I worked with a collegiate volleyball player this summer who was strong in the weight room and had a better than average countermovement jump demonstrating power. By addressing hip and ankle mobility through a self stretching routine and Fascial Stretch Therapy sessions and then incorporating specific plyometric training designed to improve elasticity and reduce ground contact time she was able to increase her block jump by over 8 inches. Working on her conditioning and agility she is better able to take that jump where it’s needed on the court and repeat it effectively throughout the match and adapt to the challenges of the game.
Good training produces athletes who are healthy, robust and as Steve Myhrland has said, “ adaptable not adapted”. A flexible athlete may not be able to touch their palms to the floor but they move optimally in response the the changing demands of training and competition. How flexible are you?