Developing Flexibility: Principles & Skills

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

In this lesson, we will tackle two questions: Why do I need flexibility? How do I gain flexibility? Stretching and flexibility help us stay limber, remain injury free, improve performance, and generally achieve better health and wellness.

Why We Need Flexibility

As children, we are naturally flexible; we can bend, twist, reach, and run without effort and with no warm up. But as we grow older, this natural flexibility diminishes, and we need to take time to make sure we are doing what we can to help the body retain flexibility. As we age and lose range of motion, other problems tend to crop up like joint pain, injury, stiffness, and muscle imbalance. Stretching has benefits that will help you improve your performance, diminish soreness after exercising, and avoid injury and stiffness.

Stretching Makes Us Healthy


When you apply stretching techniques on a regular basis over time, you will be rewarded with a myriad of benefits in range of motion and flexibility as well as improvement to the muscles. To make the program effective, you must consider the principles of progressive overload, specificity, reversibility, individual differences, and balance.

Progressive Overload

We will see improvement in joint movement when we achieve both elastic and plastic elongation. Elastic elongation occurs when there is a temporary lengthening of the soft tissue. This happens when the muscle is allowed to stretch and then return to its normal length. When there is longer or more intense stretching, the outcome is plastic elongation, which is a semi-permanent lengthening of the tissues.

The ultimate goal of stretching is to achieve plastic elongation. This happens when static stretching, a slow stretch that is sustained for a period of time, is applied to the muscles. Once the muscle is stretched, the tissue will gradually relax, and the result is that it will require less force to reach that same level of elongation the next time.

It must be noted that in order to reach this level, a prolonged stretch is required. This is not something you can rush; you need to relax and breathe through the stretches so your muscles will lengthen and respond to what you are asking them to do. Progressive overload is this gradual increase of stress placed on the body during exercise.


Flexibility in one joint does not mean you will be flexible in another joint. To achieve the level of flexibility your body needs, you must patiently work through the muscles, all of them, so you feel them open, lengthen, and relax. We may not be as flexible in all joints. You may be able to place your right leg behind your neck, but your left leg may not cooperate.


Don't think that once you have whipped your body into flexible shape that it will just stay there. It won't unless you continue to work at maintaining the flexibility. If you stop stretching, you will notice that your range of motion decreases and within three to four weeks you will be back where you started. If you want to maintain the flexibility you have worked to achieve, then you need to stretch two to three days a week.

Individual Differences

It is no surprise that no two people are alike when it comes to flexibility. Genetics plays a dynamic role in your range of flexibility and ability, but we all can reach a level of flexibility. Try not to get discouraged if your friend is more able than you are; you can improve your range of motion with stretching and practice, but you may not reach her level of flexibility because your muscles, tendons, and joint ranges are biologically different.

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