Factors Affecting Flexibility

Flexibility is very different from person to person. An individual with very good flexibility in the hips may not have good flexibility in the shoulders. There are many factors that can influence one's flexibility. First is body size, meaning that usually people with high amounts of body fat have a harder time moving their joints through a full range of motion. Usually these people have a sedentary lifestyle so they do not have a significant amount of strength, which as mentioned before is necessary to move body limbs.

In addition, some of the soft tissue on these individuals can get in the way of certain movements, so in certain stretches their bodies have to move more flesh out of the way.

Inactivity and Injuries Affect Flexibility

Activity or inactivity also plays a part in one's flexibility. People who are inactive lose flexibility due to the soft tissues and joints shrinking and losing extensibility. When an individual is not active, the muscles are maintained in a shortened position and more likely to stay that way.

Injury can cause a lack of flexibility. Have you ever had to wear a cast? If one of your joints is placed in a cast, when the cast is removed it is very hard to move the joint that was held immobile. At this point physical therapy is necessary to bring the range of motion back to normal. Similarly, when an injury occurs that does not necessarily need to be immobilized but is painful, the natural response of the body is to avoid movements that hurt. As a result, the area usually becomes tight due to lack of movement.

The Effects of Age and Gender

Age is another factor in flexibility. During early childhood years, kids show an increased aptitude for flexibility. Upon reaching adolescence, however, that aptitude begins to level off. There is a dramatic loss of flexibility with aging, which can be due to failure to maintain an active lifestyle. It can also be related to many of the muscle aches and pains that occur with aging.

Gender can be considered a factor in flexibility as well. In general, females are more flexible than males. It is thought that this is due to a hormonal effect. Males have higher levels of testosterone, which can lead to muscle growth and shortening. On the other end of the spectrum, women have higher levels of estrogen, which promotes muscle lengthening and joint laxity. This is why women who are pregnant become more flexible. The body releases high amounts of estrogen, which allows the joints to become lax. Women need that laxity in order for the pelvis to widen to give birth. This hormone does affect other joints in the body, which is why it's crucial for women who are pregnant (and even after pregnancy) to be careful in how they perform certain stretches.

Experience Counts

Previous athletic experience can also influence one's flexibility. Usually individuals who come from or have experience with sports that require large dynamic movements, such as gymnastics, dance, or martial arts, will have a better range of motion than someone with a sedentary lifestyle. Even a sport you played ten years ago affected learned motor patterns in your body that can benefit you in the future.

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