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Flexibility - Mobility

What is flexibility?

Flexibility, mobility, and suppleness mean the range of limb movement around joints. In any movement, there are two groups of muscles at work:

  • agonistic muscles which cause the movement to take place and
  • opposing the movement and determining the amount of flexibility are the antagonistic muscles

See the page on muscle movement to determine what happens when you stretch or contract a muscle.

Why do flexibility exercises?

The objective of flexibility training is to improve the antagonistic muscles' range of movement.

What are the benefits?

Flexibility plays an integral part in the preparation of athletes by developing a range of movement to allow technical development and assisting in preventing injury.

How will I know if I am stretching correctly?

When you perform a stretch correctly, you will feel mild discomfort in the antagonistic muscles. If you feel pain or a stabbing sensation, you must STOP.

What do I need to consider before conducting flexibility exercises?

The body responds best to a stretching program when it is warm, and the muscles and joints have been exercised through their current range of movement.

What types of flexibility exercises are there?

The various stretching techniques may be grouped as Static, Ballistic, Dynamic, Active, Passive, Isometric and Assisted. Click here for some examples of general mobility exercises.

Static stretching

Static stretching (isometric contractions) involves gradually easing into the stretch position and holding it. The amount of time a static stretch is held depends on your objectives. If it is part of your cool-down then stretches should be held for 10 seconds, if it is to improve your range of mobility, then hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Often in static stretching, you are advised to move further into the stretch position as the stretch sensation subsides. Click here for some examples of static stretching exercises

Ballistic stretching

Ballistic stretching uses the momentum of a moving body or a limb in an attempt to force it beyond its normal range of motion.

Dynamic stretching

Dynamic stretching (isotonic or isokinetic contractions) consists of controlled leg and arm swings that take you gently to the limits of your range of motion.

Where the event requires a dynamic movement, then it is appropriate and perhaps necessary to conduct dynamic stretching exercises. Start with the movement at half speed for a couple of repetitions and then gradually work up to full speed.

Active stretching

An active stretch is one where you assume a position and then hold it there with no assistance other than using your agonist's muscles' strength. Active stretching is also referred to as static-active stretching.

Passive stretching

Passive stretching is also referred to as relaxed stretching and static-passive stretching. A passive stretch is one where you assume a position and hold it with some other part of your body, or with the assistance of a partner or some other apparatus.

Isometric stretching

Isometric stretching is a type of static stretching that involves muscle groups' resistance through isometric contractions (tensing) of the stretched muscles.

Assisted stretching

Assisted stretching involves the assistance of a partner who must fully understand their role; otherwise, the risk of injury is high. A partner can be employed to assist with Partner stretches and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) techniques.

Partner stretches

Your partner helps you maintain the stretch position or ease into the stretch position as the sensation of stretch subsides. It would help if you aimed to be fully relaxed and breathe easily throughout the exercise. Partner assisted stretches are best used as developmental exercises, with each stretch being held for thirty seconds.

PNF technique

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) involves the use of muscle contraction before the stretch in an attempt to achieve maximum muscle relaxation.

  1. You move into the stretch position so that you feel the stretch sensation
  2. Your partner holds the limb in this stretched position
  3. You then push against your partner by contracting the antagonistic muscles for 6 to 10 seconds and then relax. During the contraction, your partner aims to resist any linb movement.
  4. Your partner then moves the limb further into the stretch until you feel the stretch sensation
  5. Go back to 2. (Repeat this procedure 3 or 4 times before the stretch is released.)

Which method is best?

Static methods produce far fewer muscle soreness, injury and damage to connective tissues than dynamic or ballistic methods. Static methods are simple to carry out and maybe conducted virtually anywhere. For maximum gains in flexibility in the shortest possible time, the PNF technique is the most appropriate. Dynamic - slowed controlled movements through the full range of the motion - will reduce muscle stiffness. Where the sport or event requires movement, then dynamic stretches should be employed as part of the warm-up.

What order should the flexibility methods be used?

When conducting flexibility exercises, it is recommended to perform them in the following order - Static, Assisted and then Dynamic.

When should they be performed?

Flexibility exercises could be part of

  • the warm-up or cool-down program
  • a stand-alone unit of work

It is considered beneficial to conduct flexibility exercises as part of the cool down program. Still, it should not include ballistic or dynamic exercises, as the muscles are tired and more prone to injury. Static exercises are recommended as they relax the muscles and increase their range of movement.

Factors limiting flexibility

Internal influences

  • the type of joint
  • the internal resistance within a joint
  • bony structures which limit movement
  • the temperature of the joint and associated tissues
  • the elasticity of muscle tissue, tendons, ligaments and skin
  • the ability of a muscle to relax and contract to achieve the greatest range of movement

External influences

  • the temperature of the place where one is training (a warmer temperature is more conducive to increased flexibility)
  • the time of day (most people are more flexible in the afternoon than in the morning)
  • the stage in the recovery process of a joint (or muscle) after
  • age (pre-adolescents are generally more flexible than adults)
  • gender (females are generally more flexible than males)
  • the restrictions of any clothing or equipment
  • one's ability to perform a particular exercise
  • one's commitment to achieving flexibility

Flexibility program

All athletes require a basic level of general flexibility to benefit from other training forms. Also, athletes will need to develop specific flexibility for those joint actions involved in their events or sports techniques.

"Mobility Training" (Brook 1990)[1] contains a collection of flexibility exercise diagrams, including Track and Field event-specific exercises.

Additional information on mobility training can be found at Sports Fitness Advisor.


If you are a Massage Therapist, Personal Trainer, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Chiropractor, Physical Therapist, Athletics Coach or do any type of bodywork then consider certification in Stretching and Flexibility provided by The Stretching Institute.


  1. BROOK, N. (1990) Mobility Training. 2nd ed. England: Reedprint Ltd

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (1997) Flexibility - Mobility [WWW] Available from: [Accessed