Factors, Guidelines, and Types of Flexibility Training

24 Mar Factors, Guidelines, and Types of Flexibility Training

The training components of flexibility and balance are integral components of a comprehensive strength and conditioning program for the athletic population. At times the athletic population does not necessarily understand or even misconstrue the importance of these two components for successful athletic performance and prevention of injury. To provide support for the importance of these components of training and provide explanation as to the processes of implementation can be of great benefit. Providing substantial background information and scientific support can assist in the understanding of flexibility and balance relative to the athletic population.


Flexibility is centered upon the concept of range of motion (ROM) and is associated with the articular, soft tissue, and neural systems of the body. Range of motion can be defined as the degree of movement occurring about a joint (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Flexibility is a measure of range of motion and is comprised of both a static and dynamic component (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Recognizing the definition of flexibility and the direct relationship to range of motion, the summation can be made connecting flexibility to the ability to execute movement patterns associated with sporting activities.

For example, a soccer player who is required to perform sprinting actions during competition relies heavily on the ability to generate ground reaction forces. The ability to generate ground reaction forces efficiently is partly based upon triple extension of the ankle, knee, and hip during the initiation of a sprinting action. In order to systematically create triple extension in an efficient manner where the greatest amount of force is generated for the purpose of propulsion. Specific range of motion requirements are needed in the ankle, knee, and hip. The articular ranges of motion of these lower extremity joints are partially based upon the flexibility aspects of the soft tissues surrounding these joints. If the extensibility of the soft tissues surrounding these lower extremity joints is limited, the ability to generate maximum force in an efficient manner may be compromised.

Static and Dynamic Flexibility

Flexibility is both static and dynamic. Static flexibility is defined as the range of possible movement about a joint and surrounding soft tissues during a passive movement (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Static flexibility requires no voluntary muscular actions, external forces in the form of gravity, machine, or partner (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Whereas dynamic flexibility is the available range of motion during active movements in which agonists, stabilizers, antagonists, and neutralizers are active within the movement (Clark & Lucent, 2010) The importance of acknowledging flexibility as both static and dynamic is very relevant to sport. A key component as stated in the example above is the role in which flexibility plays in relation to an athlete’s patterns of movement. Movement patterns and ranges of motion vary depending upon the requirements of the athlete’s sport. These variances lead to differing requirements of both passive and dynamic flexibility for the athletic population depending upon sporting requirements. As a result, it is important to acknowledge both components and implement the appropriate modalities specific to the requirements of the athlete from both an individual and sporting requirement perspective.

Sporting Performance and Flexibility

The ranges of motion can be very specific to the requirements of the athlete’s sport of choice. Recognizing this pertinent point leads to the concept of optimizing flexibility in relation to specific activities rather than just increasing flexibility exponentially (Haff and Triplett, 2016). For example, the overhead striking activities of the volleyball player will invariably require a specified amount of range of motion within the glenohumeral joint. This will allow the volleyball athlete to optimally perform the overhead striking activities associated with the sport. On the opposite side of the spectrum, increasing the soft tissues extensibility of the soft tissues surrounding the glenohumeral joint exponentially could potentially lead to joint laxity. The unintended circumstances resulting from such a situation are potentially a lessening of performance and injury.

The development of greater ranges of motion via the process of flexibility has the underlying goal of improving the athlete’s performance. The increasing of ranges of motion can be a key component of having the ability to assume key technical positions required in a sport (Haff and Triplett, 2016). This invariably provides the athlete with a greater opportunity of success in competition when he or she can position the body in the appropriate positions required during competition.

Secondly, a limited range of motion may be a constraining factor in overall power production. Increasing an athlete’s flexibility and corresponding range of motion may allow for the ability to apply force over a greater range of motion which can lead to increased power outputs (Haff and Triplett, 2016). This requires attention not only to the required ranges of motion associated with the technical aspects of a sport, postural position of the sport, but also the force patterns required through the ranges of motion associated with the sport. Overall, range of motion and corresponding soft tissue extensibility is imperative for optimal performance, though it is necessary to address one’s flexibility parameters specific to their sport of choice and athletic requirements of competition.

Factors Affecting Flexibility

A number of factors affecting flexibility are related to anatomical and training-related variables. These factors can readily be classified as either kinesiologic or physiological (Hoffman, 2019). Kinesiologic based factors are primarily related to anatomical factors associated with joint structure, muscular origin and insertion positions, muscle cross-sectional area, and connective tissue elasticity (Hoffman, 2019). Whereas physiological components are associated with age, sex, and levels of physical activity (Hoffman, 2019).

Kinesiological factors affecting flexibility include the type of joint structure. The articular structure of a joint will directly affect the potential range of motion and associated flexibility. For example, a ball and sock joint, such as the hip or shoulder allot for motion in all anatomical planes (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Whereas a hinge joint such as that of the knee is primarily associated with sagittal plane motion. The type of joint, soft tissues surrounding the joint, and the joint’s articulating surface will affect range of motion and corresponding flexibility (Haff and Triplett, 2016).

The kinesiological factor of a muscles insertion and origin may affect range of motion. Individual location of a muscle’s insertion and origin must be considered in range of motion (Hoffman, 2019). As an individual may vary in context of these two components relative to standard models of muscle anatomy.

Connective tissue will affect range of motion about a joint. Connective tissue is comprised of collagen or elastic tissue. Connective tissue comprised primarily of collagen is limited in its’ ability to stretch (Hoffman, 2019). Whereas a connective tissue composed primarily of elastic tissues will have a very large range of motion potential (Hoffman, 2019).

Finally, cross-sectional area may affect range of motion and flexibility. A significant increase in muscle bulk may adversely affect range of motion by impeding joint movement (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Depending upon the requirements of the sport, the development of muscle bulk may supersede the need for extreme joint mobility, though where range of motion is crucial for optimal athletic performance negative effects may occur (Haff and Triplett, 2019). For example, these goals may differ in relation to an American football player and soccer player, where muscle bulk may outweigh joint range of motion for certain positions in the sport of football.

Physiological factors affecting joint range of motion and flexibility can be centered upon age and sex (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Young people tend to be more flexible than older people and females tend to be more flexible than males (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Differences in flexibility between young men and women may be due in part to structural and anatomical differences in addition to activities (Haff and Triplett, 2016). The aging process results in the elasticity of musculature decreasing. This reduction is based upon increases in fibrous cartilage (Hoffman, 2019). The fibrous cartilage replacing degenerative muscle fibers, the increasing of adhesions, and buildup of calcium deposits result in overall decreases of extensibility (Hoffman, 2019).

Level of physical activity affect range of motion and corresponding flexibility. An active person tends to be more flexible than a sedentary individual (Haff and Triplett, 2016). It is important to note physical activity does not equate directly to improved flexibility. Rather the type of activities can directly affect flexibility, and exercises requiring the body to move through full ranges of motion are more likely to have a positive effect on flexibility (Haff and Triplett, 2016).

Recognizing the kinesiological and physiological components associated with range of motion can assist the athletic population and individuals associated with a particular sport to input the correct programming.  An example would be the variances between soccer and volleyball. Both sports have differing requirements for competition.  These competition variances directly affect the flexibility requirements for each athlete. As a result, both the soccer and volleyball athlete should be aware of the kinesiological and physiological aspects of flexibility associated with their sport

Types of Flexibility Training

Stretching requires movements of a body segment to a point of resistance in the joint range of motion (Haff and Triplett, 2016). At this point, resistance is applied in either a passive or active manner. Passive and active stretching can be classified into three different types of stretching: static, ballistic, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (Hoffman, 2019). All three types of stretching improve range of motion within a muscle (Hoffman, 2019).

Static stretching is a slow and constant with the end position of the exercise held for 15 to 30 seconds (Haff and Triplett, 2016). A static stretch includes the relaxation and concurrent elongation of the stretch muscle (Haff and Triplett, 2016). This type of stretching due to slow movement and long duration reduces the potential for pain or injury (Hoffman, 2019). Static stretching could easily be inserted into either the soccer or volleyball athletes programming due to it being easy to learn and execute. Static stretching for the athletic population can be implemented at various points with their programming from a warm-up to cool-down, or a separate time frame outside of structured practice or training.

Ballistic stretching typically involves active muscular effort with the use of a bouncing type of movement in which the end position of the exercise is not held (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Ballistic stretching is often used in the pre-exercise warm-up, however, if not appropriately controlled or sequenced, injury may occur (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Recognizing this information, ballistic stretching may have a place in the dynamic warm-up segment of the athletes requiring dynamic movements (Hoffman, 2019). It is important to acknowledge both the soccer and volleyball athlete do perform dynamic movements during competition and practice. Thus the inclusion of ballistic stretching may be beneficial within a warm-up section if performed correctly and monitored by a professional within the industry.

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) incorporates two separate techniques generally performed with the assistance of a partner (Hoffman, 2019). Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation involves both a passive and active muscle action (Haff and Triplett, 2016). During the PNF stretch, three specific muscular actions are used to facilitate the stretch. Both isometric and concentric muscle action of the antagonist are used prior to a passive of the antagonist to achieve autogenic inhibition (Haff and Triplett, 2016). The PNF technique is completed in three phases, hold-relax, contract-relax, and hold-relax with agonist contraction (Haff and Triplett, 2016). PNF stretching may be superior to static and ballistics format because it facilitates muscular inhibition which may induce a greater response in terms of soft tissue extensibility (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Recognizing the requirement of PNF stretching needing a skilled practitioner to execute properly, the use of this mode by the soccer or volleyball athlete is most likely to going to involve a member of the athletic training or strength and conditioning staff. As a result, the placement of such programming would most likely be based upon the recommendations of these members of the athlete’s performance or medical staffs.

Another potential position for flexibility exercises within programming for the athletic population is within a designated warm-up. The warm-up is a segment of programming with the goal of preparing the athlete for exercise or competition. An appropriately designed warm-up is geared toward addressing a series of physiological components which can potentially increase performance (Haff and Triplett, 2016). One facet of a structured warm-up can be the inclusion of flexibility exercises.

The components of a warm-up generally consist of aerobic exercise, followed by stretching, and completed with a period of exercise programming similar to the upcoming activities to be execute by the athlete (Haff and Triplett, 2016). Both the soccer and volleyball athlete could utilize a warm-up program with the inclusion of stretching exercises specific to the requirements of their sport in terms of athletic activities performed.

Balance Training

Neuromuscular efficiency allows the body to synergistically produce force, reduce force, and dynamically stabilize the kinetic chain in all planes of motion (Clark, 2001). One component associated with this is the ability of the body to maintain postural control. Postural control is centered upon the concept of balance. Balance can be defined as the ability of the body to sustain or return the body’s center of mass or line of gravity over its base of support (Clark and Lucent, 2010). The ability of an athlete to maintain balance provides the opportunity for greater efficiency within the kinetic chain to produce force, reduce force, and translate energy during movement patterns (Clark, 2001). As a result, balance training has become a component of programming for the athletic population (Hoffman, 2019).

Balance training is based upon improving ones’ proprioception and kinesthesia awareness (Clark, 2001). The improvement of these qualities over time will enhance an individual’s balance capacities and in turn improve postural control during patterns of movement. The key component associated with improving balance capacities is limits of stability. Limits of stability can be defined as the distance outside an individual’s base of support they can go without losing control of their center of gravity (Clark, 2001). To improve an individual’s balance capacities, it is necessary to challenge their limits of stability in multi-planar and proprioceptively enrich environments during the execution of functional movement patterns (Clark and Lucent, 2010). This type of training over time can improve an individual’s balance capacities.

The progressions associated with the process of challenging ones’ limits of stability is based upon creating a more proprioceptively challenging environment in relation to movement patterns. This is achieved through the implementation of exercises which are safe and move from a stable environment with controlled patterning to an unstable environment with more challenging patterns. An example of such of progression could be as follows: Balancing two-feet on a T-board, moving to a single leg stance on a T-board, then to a squat pattern on a T-board (Hoffman, 2019).

Research indicates balance training does not directly affect jump power, strength, or strength-endurance in the athletic population (Hoffman, 2019). Recognizing this information dictates the placement of balance training into the athletic population’s strength and conditioning programs. Balance training appears to be positioned frequently in the warm-up section of healthy individuals (Hoffman, 2019). Looking at either the soccer or volleyball athlete, balance training could be a component inputted into their respective warm-up programs. The inclusion of these exercises in conjunction with flexibility training, and additional modalities could represent a very comprehensive program to prepare either athlete for exercise or training.


Range of motion is invariably important in the ability to perform multi-planar functional movement patterns associated with sport. The processes of improving or maintaining joint range of motion is centered upon flexibility. The inclusion of flexibility exercises in the form of static stretching, ballistic stretching, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation are all processes by which flexibility and corresponding joint range of motion can be improved. The placement of these exercises can be within a warm-up programming preparing the athlete for exercise or training. In addition, the positive effects of balance training dictate the implementation of these modalities into programming. Overall, both flexibility and balance training have positive physiological attributes to the athletic population. As a result, these components should be inputted into the programming of the athletic population.


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