While studying for your ACE exam, you learned that maintaining a normal range of motion via regular stretching is an important part of any well-rounded fitness program. But the truth is, many clients rush through the flexibility portion of their workouts — if they include it at all. Who wants to spend time stretching when you can be doing Zumba®, high-intensity interval training or an ab-blaster workout— right?
It's easy to promote cardiovascular and strength training as exciting, high-energy ways to boost fitness and well-being, but stretching is often viewed as … boring. As an aspiring or new trainer, what can you do to get clients interested enough in flexibility training to make it a habit?
Set Realistic Expectations
Clients lose interest in training when they don't experience the benefits they're expecting, so make sure you communicate current information on what stretching can and can't accomplish. For example, we used to advocate regular stretching for injury prevention and to help minimize delayed-onset muscle soreness, but current scientific evidence doesn't support those claims. In fact, increasing flexibility beyond a normal range has been shown to increase risk of injury.
Promoting flexibility training to maintain or restore a normal range of motion is a more accurate message. Explain to clients that a normal range of motion is important for optimal sports performance, activities of daily living and overall well-being. It's also a good way to relax after a hard workout or a long day.
Since time is an issue for many people, reassure your clients that a total-body stretching routine doesn't have to take more than about 10 minutes. When they consistently perform stretching exercises at least 2-3 times a week, they can expect to notice improvement in about 3-4 weeks.
Link Flexibility Benefits to Goals
When clients understand how specific training components relate to their short-term or long-term goals, they're more likely to buy in. Explain that flexibility naturally begins to decline in both men and women in young adulthood, and without flexibility training, they'll experience a decrease in function and mobility, and an increased risk of falling.
If sports training is your client's focus, illustrate how performance declines with decreased joint mobility and improves with improved flexibility. A golfer, for example, needs a good range of motion in all joints involved in the swing.
For those interested in general fitness and weight management, explain how maintaining a normal range of motion helps them get the most out of cardio workouts; how effective strength training requires movement through a complete range of motion; and how stretching helps reduce muscle tension and even mental stress.
Boost the Fun Factor
Whether it's cardio, strength, flexibility or sports training, enjoyment is a key element of sustainability. No matter how "good for you" something is, people have a hard time sticking with it unless there's an element of fun. Help your clients find ways to make flexibility training more pleasant, whether it's dynamic movements as part of a warm-up, static stretches after a cool-down, or anything in between:
- Stretch with a workout partner to help keep each other accountable for consistent stretching and good form.
- Create a flexibility playlist with slower-paced or relaxing music, meditations or affirmations.
- Choreograph a stretching routine, synching it with favorite tunes.
- Customize and track your progress with a smartphone-based flexibility routine.
- Sign up for a yoga or Pilates class with a friend, or follow a stretching DVD together at home or work.
- Mix up your flexibility routine with combinations of different dynamic, static and PNF stretches.
- Stretch outdoors whenever possible.
Nothing's more fun or motivating than seeing progress. Before your client implements a new stretching program, establish a baseline by assessing current flexibility, using tests such as those described in the ACE Personal Trainer Manual (4th edition).
Evaluating progress periodically, such as every 4-12 weeks, helps provide specific feedback for the client and gives you the information you need to make adjustments to the training plan.
There's been a great deal of controversy and confusion about flexibility training over the past several years. Pre-exercise static stretching, for example, has been discouraged due to evidence of a negative effect on maximal muscle performance.
Staying on top of flexibility research enables you to give your clients top-notch training advice and helps them get the results want, which in turn helps motivate them to make stretching a lifelong habit.
Interested in learning more about how to incorporate stretching into your training sessions? Check out ACE's Biomechanics of Assisted Stretching home-study course, and learn safe and effective ways to enhance your clients' flexibility, while earning CECs toward your ACE certification.