“Sometimes you may find yourself wondering why you’re not as flexible as your friends, or why you’re flexible in different ways. Everybody has his/her own personal potential for flexibility, which means just copying how other people stretch might not only be ineffective it could also be unsafe. Here are a couple of things to know that you can use to make smart choices about how to find your own best flexibility.

What is flexibility?

Flexibility refers to the range of motion (ROM) that you are able to achieve at joints based on the condition of your muscles and soft connective tissues. This is one of the categories of what we call mobility, which describes your overall ROM at a joint. Mobility also includes things like joint laxity, which has to do with the length and looseness of the ligaments holding your joints together. While flexibility can be beneficial, laxity generally contributes to instability.

What determines my flexibility?

Joint shape: As you can imagine, the shapes of your bones and how they fit together play a major role in mobility in general. The motion available at a joint is determined by anatomy.

Muscle length: Muscles have a range over which they can contract (shorten), relax (rest) and stretch (lengthen).

Connective tissue tension: Connective tissues that can affect ROM might include tendons, which can stretch somewhat along with muscles, fascia and ligaments that don’t really stretch.

Nervous system responses: There are receptors in your joints, muscles, tendons and skin that relay information about how much these various tissues are stretching, and your body reacts accordingly.

Age: Flexibility tends to diminish with age.

Sex: Women tend to be more flexible than men.

Activity level and type: Using muscles a lot can make them tight. But, as dancers, you’re already doing activity that will keep you pretty limber. Other high impact and high power activities can cause ROM restriction either through muscle tightness or size.

Can I change my flexibility?

Some of these factors that affect your flexibility are modifiable, while others are not. Some things like the shape of your joints and maximum muscle length are out of your control. Some things are largely out of your control, but they will still change naturally with age and activity. There are other things that you can potentially modify and will give you greater ROM, but they would be really detrimental. An example of this is over-stretching your ligaments so a joint becomes more lax. But happily, there are other things you can modify and that you can work on to reach your flexibility potential.”

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Sourced from Dance Informa.  Written by Leigh Schanfein