There are many factors that can influence your flexibility including joint structure, ligaments, muscles and tissues. With age, our overall flexibility decreases and so we can be prone to unwanted injuries and strains. In particular, our hamstrings (a big muscle group that runs from your hip joint towards your knee joint) can impact significantly on our daily functions such as sitting, walking and running. Therefore, it’s important to maintain flexibility and strength in your hamstrings.
According to Gigi Berardi, there are three limiting factors that can impact our lack of flexibility: occupational demands, movement demands and training oversights. We need to work with our existing range of movement and build it gradually, avoiding injuries that might result fromextreme challenges to our flexibility.
It’s important to maintain our level of flexibility by regular practice as you can lose it pretty quickly. I can talk from my own experience when I was recovering from my recent knee surgery. I wasn’t able to use my right leg properly and had lost all my muscle strength in only ten days! I could not believe it and it was a true example of “use it or lose it”.
How do you know if your hamstrings are too tight?
Well, you might not know it until you try to do certain exercises. On the other hand, if you’re experiencing any pain in the lower back area or at the back of your hip it might relate to tight hamstrings or a possible injury. The best way to find out if your hamstrings are tight is to see a physiotherapist who can assess the strength and flexibility of your hamstrings.
How can you avoid hamstring injuries long-term?
The best way to avoid injury is to increase your range of motion and to strengthen your core and lower back muscles. Physiotherapists and exercise professionals recommend an active exercise to build your hamstring strength. This approach will also teach you how you can stretch them in a safe and effective way.
This is really not rocket science and it’s one of the reasons why I decided to study Pilates as I wanted to maintain a reasonably good level of flexibility for as long as I’ll be around.
Some people worry about their appearance as they age and turn to plastic surgery to feel younger. I really think that it’s much more important to look after your body from the inside out to keep going strongly for a long time.
So which exercise can improve your flexibility?
I strongly believe that the most effective exercise routines are yoga or Pilates. Both disciplines work towards the same goal – increasing your range of motion, flexibility and strength, with better co-ordination and balance.
What is the difference between yoga and Pilates?
YOGA - by practicing regular Yoga, you can gain stamina and flexibility and improve your concentration leading to a calm outlook. It's quite common to see outdoor athletes practicing yoga. Through stretching opposing muscle groups people practicing yoga develop strength through weight-bearing postures. Once you learn the basics, you can commence more advanced postures. Some advanced styles of Yoga (Vinyasa and Ashtanga) focus on fluid movement and are ideal for climbers and surfers, as these sports require strength, great body awareness, and maximum flexibility.
PILATES puts more emphasis on the balance-boosting core muscles of the back and abdomen. Pilates can effectively correct the strength imbalances that some athletes develop. This discipline is suitable for the ballet community, skiers, and trail runners who need to build strength without bulk. But you don’t have to be an athlete to benefit from Pilates. Pilates is beneficial for pregnant women, post-pregnancy or anyone recovering from injury or looking to tone their body.
For people who have never done either of these two disciplines, I recommend you start with Pilates which will teach you how to build core strength and stabilise your muscle groups. Then, you can commence Yoga which enables you to use your strong stamina, to create calm and focus.
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