Flexibility and Performance
By Nate Shaw, ATC, RSCC
Flexibility involves more than sitting on the ground and pointing at your toes
What is flexibility? Flexibility is defined as the ability of a joint or joints to move through a full range of motion. If you are limited to bending over and pointing at your toes, can’t reach behind your neck and touch the middle of your upper back or lay your ear to your shoulder, it’s time to step up your flexibility program to help improve performance on the field and reduce the risk of injury.
Flexibility is muscle and joint specific, i.e., you can’t stretch your hamstrings and expect improvement in your shoulder. While strength improves week-to-week, flexibility improves day-to-day. For max results, you need to stretch several times per week, not just before or after workouts, practice and games. All stretches are important and stretching routines should be personalized and based on individual needs and weaknesses.
Benefits of being flexible. A reduction in the risk of injury is one benefit you will gain by incorporating flexibility into your daily routine. Flexibility increases a joint’s range of motion, relaxes muscles, increases mobility, decreases stiffness in muscles and tendons and reduces post-exercise soreness. When a muscle is properly stretched, the associated joints become more flexible and range of motion increases. Failing to maintain flexibility can lead to muscles tightness, joint stiffness and increased risk of injury.
Flexibility training can also be used as a form of “preventative maintenance’.” Maintaining flexibility has been shown to be an effective way to help protect joints and smaller muscle groups, so you can train with full mobility and range of motion and avoid injury.
Flexibility and performance. Flexibility isn’t just about preventing a hamstring pull. Flexibility directly impacts athletic performance. A lack of flexibility can severely hinder speed, because of resistance in tissue structures (muscles around the joint). If, for example, you lack flexibility in the hips, you won’t have the necessary range of motion while running, which can make you slower. Without adequate flexibility, your stride length will be shorter, and since speed is the product of stride length x stride rate, you will be slower. Flexibility also plays a vital role in strength training. If a muscle isn’t flexible enough to allow you to perform an exercise through its full range of motion, max increases in muscle strength and joint flexibility are not possible.
As a baseball player, you need normal or acceptable range of motion, not gymnastic range of motion. You need stable joints that allow you to apply force through a full, acceptable range of motion. Unstable, hypermobile joints are not stable and can result in energy leaks and increase the risk of injury during repeated high-velocity movements.
It’s important to note that flexibility or stretching exercises are not the same thing as warm-up. Warm-up increases body temperature and prepares the body and joints for the more intense activity to follow. Stretching increases tissue elasticity and range of motion. You warm-up to stretch. You don’t stretch to warm-up.
Flexibility is an essential component of performance in sports. Athletes who Improve flexibility become quicker, faster, stronger and more durable. Increased flexibility also helps improve recovery and increase circulation. It promotes blood flow to muscles and prepares the body for vigorous activity by increasing muscle elasticity, which decreases the likelihood of muscle strains and muscle soreness. If an injury does occur, being flexible will help speed up recovery time.
Sources of information on flexibility and exercises. It is beyond the scope of this post to provide specific flexibility exercises. Readers who would like more information on flexibility training and specific stretching exercises are directed to the following references in http://baseballstrength.org/
- Half-kneeling hip flexor and hamstring stretch: http://baseballstrength.org/half-kneeling-hip-flexor-and-hamstring-stretch/
- Catcher’s pre-game mobility program: http://baseballstrength.org/cleveland-guardians-catchers-pregame-hip-mobility-program-by-joe-kessler-rscc-fms-and-ryan-lavarnway/
- Why we don’t do the sleeper stretch: http://baseballstrength.org/why-we-dont-do-the-sleeper-stretch-in-baseball/
- 90/90 Hip flexor stretch: http://baseballstrength.org/90-90-hip-stretch/
- Increase T-spine and hip flexion at the same time: http://baseballstrength.org/increase-rom-in-t-spine-and-hip-at-same-time/
- Dynamic warm-up: http://baseballstrength.org/dynamic-warm-up-by-mike-lidge-philadelphia-phillies/
- Upper and lower body flexibility exercises for youth baseball players: http://baseballstrength.org/upper-lower-body-flexibility-exercises-for-youth-baseball-players-by-nate-friedman-cscs-arizona-diamondbacks/
- Half-kneeling hamstring stretch: http://baseballstrength.org/half-kneeling-hamstring-stretch/
- Open and close the gates hip and groin warm-up: http://baseballstrength.org/open-and-close-the-gates/
- Three lower body stretches to prevent adaptive shortening: http://baseballstrength.org/three-lower-body-stretches-to-prevent-adaptive-shortening/
Nathan Shaw ATC, RSCC, is the Major League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the Arizona Diamondbacks Baseball Club.