The Benefits of Flexibilty Training
Again, many people head to a flexibility class because they already enjoy stretching and like how they feel after or they’ve experienced an injury and have finally given in to the fact that they ‘should’ stretch. Either way, most students are just looking to feel better. What many find is that the benefits extend far beyond feeling loose and being able to reach a little closer to the toes. Stefan Matte, Founder of StretchOut Studios with locations in Florida, Connecticut and Massachusetts, says that their students unexpectedly find that they prevent injury and build confidence after gaining flexibility. “We see people all the time that were sure they would have injured their ankles in the past if they slipped and fell,” he says, “Because of their increased flexibility they had the range of motion to move safely.”
In addition, NYC-based Pilates and S.O.S. (Stretch Out Stress) instructor, Robin Powell says her students find several benefits after beginning a regular flexibility routine, including:
- Improved posture
- Feeling lighter
- Their clothes fit better
- Breathing improvestest
- They move with more ease in other activities and throughout daily life
- They report better concentration
Weight Loss and Fat Burning Potential
Stretching alone will not drop pounds from your frame but increased flexibility can lead to a healthier lifestyle and the added ease of movement can inspire a desire to workout more in general. “Stretching can help one achieve better alignment and understanding of the body because one tends to feel healthier and look better,” says Powell, “which can inspire one to continue to exercise and eat right.”
One of the biggest impacts flexibility has on weight loss is the reduced stress associated with stretching. Both mental and physical stress levels can shrink as your muscles lengthen and Matte says this helps regulate hormone levels and appetite. “One thing that happens is we are helping the client to change their alignment in gravity making it easier to stand and they have less tension,” he says, “Sometimes they have a low-grade ache. The low grade aches that we accept are the ones that we get over in the long run and if the ache is strong enough, our bodies will release cortisol and this can influence our desires to eat.” Less tension and aches can lead to lower releases of cortisol and a smaller, healthier appetite.
Toning and Muscle Building Potential
Just like with weight loss, flexibility can make an impact but the effects are indirect. Matte says the increase in muscle length allows for strength because it improves range of motion and you can target areas of the muscle that were inaccessible when inflexible.
Again, the domino effect of improving your health tends to spill over into all other areas of wellness and Powell says that improved flexibility means improved “alignment, strength and stability” and has a balancing effect on the body (and sometimes mind) so you’re more efficient in all areas of fitness.
Classes: What to expect; should I take them?
As with all fitness classes, a live, in-person class should mean an attentive instructor who can offer adjustments, tips and modifications that you just can’t get at home so if classes work for your schedule, location and budget, give them a try. Some classes or private sessions will even include ‘assisted stretching’ where the instructor is very hands-on to guide you into the correct depth of stretch and sometimes push you further than you could (or would) on your own. You’ll also get the community aspect that just isn’t the same anywhere else – even strong online fitness communities fall short of the face-to-face interaction you get in a group fitness class.
“We post stories on our Facebook page, clients share their successes on our Facebook Reviews page, and we post testimonials on our website,” says Matte, “Sometimes clients will email their run times or that they just did something pain-free where before they would not have attempted to even try. It’s very exciting for us when an excited client comes in to the studio leading with the results from their last session!”
Stretching class can include a variety of movements and some may have roots in yoga or Pilates but it isn’t regulated the same as yoga or Pilates. Most stretch-based classes are all levels so show up with any amount of experience and call ahead to find out if you need to bring a mat but any additional props should be available at the studio when you arrive.
Instructional Videos and Training at Home
Since stretching requires little equipment, it is easy to practice at home but if you’re brand new to the concept, an online video or DVD will help with some basic alignment and tips about how far to stretch (it should feel like a tension release which might be uncomfortable but should not be painful).
Both Powell and Matte support students stretching at home in addition to their classes. “I always encourage my students to take what they learn in my classes out into the ‘real world’ if they can find the time to do a few of the exercises,” says Powell, “whether on a plane at their desk in their hotel room or at home!”
Note: Pregnant women should always consult a doctor before starting any new fitness routine. Yes, even a simple at-home stretching routine should have doctor’s permission since a hormone called Relaxin causes pregnant women’s joints to relax for childbirth and this can easily lead to over-stretching and injury. Relaxin can be present in the system from the early weeks of pregnancy through 6 months to 1 year postpartum so if you can all of a sudden do the splits it’s probably too good to be true!
To get the most out of your stretch class or at-home routine, here are a few tips:
- Take Baby Steps: Powell and Matte agree that students should be patient and take the exercises slow to avoid injury.
- Rinse and Repeat: Flexibility comes and goes so Matte suggests repeating exercises after you get to the end of your range of motion.
- Appreciate the Little Things: Powell says that sometimes stretching can actually be harder than strength work because ‘the rewards seem to come in tiny increments.”
- Let Go: Just like in yoga, try to forget about the rest of your day and any stresses in you life. Easier said than done but the added stress relief will increase your benefits from stretching.
- Close Your Eyes: “Once you know the movement and it is safe to close your eyes, do so,” says Matte, “By taking your eyes out of the picture you take away one sense and heighten others such as feeling. This an easy trick for self-discovery.”
Clothes and Proper Attire
As mentioned above, steam rooms are reserved for minimal clothing. If you’re comfortable in your own skin, you can relax in the nude. A towel and/or bathing suit are also acceptable options. Just remember the sweat will be plentiful so the more clothes you have on, the more sopping wet clothes you’ll have to deal with later.
And don’t forget to protect your feet with shower shoes or flip-flops.
(2 of 2)