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Climbing / School / Flexibility and Stretching Intro

Flexibility and Stretching Intro

Flexibility and Stretching

by Rich Simpson

Lack of flexibility is one of the most frequent causes of poor performance and inefficient technique, and is also one of the most used excuses for climbers to blame their poor performance and lack of success even though it one of the easiest things to improve.

By increasing flexibility in the upper and lower body, the climber will reduce the risk of injury, increase recovery, he/she will also be able to save energy on climbs, find better resting points and have a wider choice of footholds whilst still being able to keep the body closer into the wall.

Although each individual’s flexibility is somewhat genetic, it is possible for everyone to make significant gains in their flexibility so long as a regular routine is maintained

However stretching is not only good for improving flexibility, it can also help to relax and speed recovery of the muscle groups after a hard days climbing (see warming down article.) Any of the stretches mentioned throughout this article can be used for recovery purposes. However it is important that you are gentle with the stretches and don’t push the muscles too far when using them for recovery since this will make the muscles ache more.

Flexibility development

To increase flexibility in the muscle the muscle must be stretched beyond its habitual length, using two essential forms of stretching.

Static stretching

This involves a slow sustained movement in which a muscle is lengthened and then held in that position for 15-30 seconds. Each stretch should be followed by a relaxation of the muscle group and then a further stretch of the same group. This should be completed at least three times for each muscle group. Correct forms of static stretching are also ideal for the second phase of a warm up routine and will also assist recovery from soft tissue injuries, or recovery after a hard days climbing.

Active stretching

Active stretching is particularly useful for climbers since it requires no form of assistance or resistance other than the opposing muscle group. This is important since it’s very rare when climbing that you will have something to help you lift you leg up into a high position and maintain it there.

An active stretch is one where you assume a position and then hold it there with no assistance other than using the strength of your agonist (opposing) muscles. For example, bringing your leg up high as if you where doing a high wide step in climbing and then holding it in that position without anything other than your leg muscles. The tension of the agonists in an active stretch helps to relax the muscles being stretched (the antagonists) since it is always easier to stretch a relaxed muscle and when an agonist (opposing muscle group) is contracted it forces the antagonists (muscle you want to stretch) to relax.

Active stretching increases active flexibility and strengthens the agonistic muscles. Active stretches are usually quite difficult to hold and maintain for more than 10 seconds and rarely need to be held any longer than 15 seconds.

Guidelines for stretching

1. It is essential that you are warmed up before starting a stretching session and are also in a relaxed state of mind

2. Ease into each stretch to the point where it becomes comfortable, it should never be painful since this may damage the muscle fibres.

3. Stretch so that the pull is felt in the bulky central portion of the muscle and not on the joints. It may be helpful to concentrate on relaxing the muscle or muscle group which is being stretched, and gentle moving around the arms or legs until a comfortable position is found.

4. As the feeling of stretching decreases, stretch a little further making sure it feels comfortable and you remain in a state of good balance.

5. Do not bounce in or out of the stretch.

6. Do not hold your breath whilst stretching; try to breathe calmly and rhythmically to help relaxation.