To perform Tae Kwon Do high kicks, and ballet moves are not the only reasons to improve flexibility. And benefits of flexibility are not limited to martial arts and dance.
The confusion of what exactly is flexibility makes many flexibility training programs ineffective or inappropriate. This confusion prevents most to give flexibility stretches the priority it needs as part of conditioning.
Flexibility used to have its advocates among training specialist as an important step in injury prevention until research made that argument debatable.
Flexibility in some cases could be counterproductive. Many version or ankle inversion practiced as part of the warm up like in running makes the ankle unstable.
To help clear the air lets defined what flexibility actually is.
Flexibility is not a function of muscles even though you feel your muscles stretch during flexibility training. Flexibility is a function of your joints. You have increased flexibility when you increase your ability to move your joints through their complete range of motion.
To accomplish this, your muscles must cooperate. Muscles that are too short or too tight will not allow your joints to go through their full range of motion.
Why is the distinction important?
Consider a simple quadriceps stretch.
Imagine how runners grab their toe or ankle and yanked it back toward the buttocks. They believe that they are stretching the quadriceps. Even when the heel or ankle touches their buttocks, they continue to pull. In individuals who do not carry a lot of extra fat around the thighs, glutes and buttocks, those individuals who can run safely, when the heel touches the buttocks, the knee joint has reached its maximum natural healthy range.
If all is well, you should not feel any stretch feeling at that point. However, you may feel the stretch if you continue pulling. This additional pull moves your knee joint out of its natural range of motion and stress the ligaments holding it in place.
This is an example of how focusing on the feeling of the muscle can backfire on the joint.
Same flexibility training principle applies to every joint in your body. You need to focus on joint motion through their full range of natural, safe motion but no more.
By trying to move the joint beyond their range, to “feel” the muscle, you will hurt the joint. While your flexibility exercises pay attention to a specific joint you are trying to move, understand its range of motion and stay within that range.