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Starting an Exercise Program (Flexibility): Part 4 of 4
By Laurie Batchelder   View more articles by this author
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November 16

By now, I hope you have a general understanding of the cardio and strength components and have been able to utilize this information to structure your own fitness program.  We can now move on to one of the most important components, as well as the most neglected.  Although stretching is often missing from a person’s program, I find when people learn how to stretch properly, they enjoy it and it feels great.  Here is a statistic I often tell:  80% of the American population has back problems simply due to tight hamstrings.  The hamstring muscle group is located on the back of the thigh.  This muscle group is made up of three individual muscles which span two joints.  Its origin (beginning) is on the sit bone located on your pelvic bone and its insertion (ending) is on the lower leg bone after it passes behind the knee joint.  The hamstring is considered a large muscle group and places both the back and knee in a vulnerable position for injury.  Want to know if you have tight hamstrings?  Here are two simple flexibility tests you can perform on yourself to determine if you have adequate flexibility for the hamstring muscle.


Flexibility tests for the hamstring muscle:


  1. Lie on your back with both knees bent and your feet on the floor.  Grab your right leg with both hands lifting your right foot off the floor while keeping your left knee bent and your left foot on the floor.  Slowly extend your right leg.  You should be able to straighten your leg at the knee and your hip should be at 90 degrees.  If you are unable to do this, you are probably feeling tightness either behind your knee or across your low back and down your leg or both.
  2. Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you.  Sitting up nice and tall, keep your knees straight, slowly reach both arms toward your feet.  You should be able to extend your finger tips just pass your toes.  You may find you have to bend your knees slightly because of tightness behind your knee or maybe you are having difficulty sitting up in a 90 degree position.


Don’t be discouraged if you are unable to pass these flexibility tests at the moment.  In fact, you can use these two tests to improve your flexibility and achieve proper back and knee health.  In order to understand why stretching is so important, remember when muscles are worked, whether during a fitness workout or on a daily bases, muscle fibers shorten causing the muscles to pull on the joints they cross.  Stretching should be done everyday, whether you workout or not.  In doing so, you will find your flexibility will improve and you will move easier without those typical aches and pains we all feel, especially when we first get out of bed.


When organizing your flexibility program, make sure you stretch every major muscle group in the body.  This would include areas which are generally tight due to stress or maybe even from your daily activities such as your neck, upper and lower back.  Remember, stretching should feel good, so only stretch to the point where the muscle begins to feel tight.  If you push a muscle too far, it could spasm or even worse, you could injure the muscle.  It is also important to stretch a muscle when it is warm, because it responds more effectively.  When stretching a muscle, perform each stretch slowly so you can gauge how tight you are.  When you begin to feel the tightness in the muscle, hold the stretch for at least 10 seconds. At this point, try to reach a little further, holding the new position for an additional 10 seconds.  This method can be repeated as many times as needed. 


Now you know the three basic components of a balanced fitness program.  From here, I plan to give you specific exercises that can be added to each component for motivation and continued success with your fitness program.  Remember, this is a lifetime commitment.  Most of all, you should enjoy what you are doing and feel great when you are finished.  The feeling of looking forward to your next session is a great mental goal to achieve.  Fitness will impact your life in such a positive way regardless of any limitations due to injuries or illnesses.  Enjoy and Stay Healthy!


Starting an Exercise Program: Part 1.


Starting an Exercise Program: Part 2.


Starting an Exercise Program: Part 3.



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