Physical education is a vital part of a child's education, and it is essential to ensure that students develop healthy habits and skills at a young age. One crucial aspect of physical education that is often overlooked is flexibility. Flexibility refers to the range of motion of a joint or group of joints, which can be increased or decreased by stretching. Improved flexibility has several benefits, including increased range of motion, improved posture, reduced risk of injury, and enhanced athletic performance.
By teaching flexibility movements to students, physical education teachers can help them improve their overall health and well-being. Stretching exercises should be tailored to each individual student's needs, as different students will have different levels of flexibility. This article will provide an overview of the significance of flexibility in physical education for kids and teens, as well as highlight some useful exercises to help them get more flexible. Additionally, I will discuss effective methods for instruction when it comes to teaching flexibility in PE classes.
What is Flexibility?
Flexibility is the range of motion in a joint or a group of joints that enables movement. It is the ability of muscles and joints to stretch and move freely without any discomfort or pain. It is an essential health-related component of physical fitness that helps maintain a healthy body and prevents injuries. In a physical education class, flexibility can be improved through stretching and other activities that involve controlled movements which increase joint range of motion.
Some examples of flexibility activities in PE include yoga, gymnastics, circuit exercises, dynamic stretching warm-ups, partner stretches, and static stretching cool-downs. Engaging in these types of movements is a prime way for students to improve their range of motion, flexibility, and overall physical fitness.
Benefits of Incorporating Flexibility in Physical Education
Flexibility exercises have several benefits for physical and mental health. Some of these benefits include:
1. Reduced Risk of Injuries: Tight muscles and joints can lead to strains, sprains, and muscle fatigue, especially during physical activity. By increasing flexibility, individuals can reduce the risk of injury and ensure safe participation in physical activities.
2. Improved Physical Performance: Flexibility exercises enhance physical performance by increasing range of motion, reducing delayed onset muscle soreness, and improving balance and coordination. This aids students in mastering complex movements with greater speed and accuracy. Flexibility significantly increases a person's range of movement causing opposing muscle groups to interact harmoniously.
3. Improved Posture: Poor posture due to tight muscles and joints can lead to aches and pains, which can affect physical performance and energy levels. Flexibility exercises help improve enhance postural stability by reducing muscle tension and allowing for proper alignment of the spine and limbs.
4. Range of Motion: Adding flexibility to the mix can improve students' range of motion and normal joint flexibility in the major muscle groups, which can increase power and speed in activities that require explosive movements, such as sprinting and jumping.
5. Relaxation/Improved Overall Health and Well-Being: Younger kids tend to spend a lot of time in sedentary positions, such as sitting in class or playing video games. Flexible muscles and joints are less tense, leading to a relaxed body and mind. This can help students stay focused during physical activities, as well as reduce their overall stress levels.
Does Implementing Flexibility in PE Help Meet Required Standards?
To comply with SHAPE America Standard 3, and help students secure the skills they need to lead healthy lives, flexibility should incorporated in physical education classes. Adding stretching routines and other flexibility exercises to physical education classes can help students meet their goals for health, performance and overall well-being. By teaching these skills, teachers can help students gain the necessary knowledge and movement competencies to lead healthy, active lifestyles.
Primary Types of Flexibility for PE
Understanding the two primary types of stretching and their benefits is essential to plan an effective physical education program. Let's take a look at what these two main forms of flexibility are:
Dynamic stretching involves making active movements that stretch the muscles to their full range of motion. These exercises often simulate functional movements and help prime the body for more intense training. Dynamic stretching involves movement and is typically used as a warm-up before a physical activity. It helps to increase body temperature, blood flow, and muscle activation. Dynamic stretching is beneficial for improving flexibility, range of motion, and coordination. Examples of dynamic stretching include leg swings, arm circles, and walking lunges.
Static stretching is a common type of stretching used in a PE class. It involves holding a stretch for a specific period, usually around 10-30 seconds. Static stretching is beneficial for increasing flexibility, improving range of motion, and reducing muscle soreness. It can also help to improve posture and relieve tension in the muscles. Examples of static stretching include hamstring stretches, quad stretches, and calf stretches.
Examples of Flexibility Exercises
Below are 10 examples of flexibility exercises (fitness task cards) that can be incorporated into your physical education routine:
Hamstring Stretch: Start in a standing position and grab your knee and pull it up in front of you toward your chest. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds.
Downward Dog: Start on all fours and walk your hands a few inches forward. Curl your toes under and slowly press your hips up toward the ceiling. Bring your body up into an inverted V shape.
Straddle Stretch: Start by sitting down on the floor with your legs in a “straddle” position. Reach forward and hold the stretch for 15 seconds.
Low Lunge: Take a giant step forward and bend your front knee to 90 degrees. Keep your front shin upright to the floor and place your arms straight up over your head.
Butterflies: Start in a seated position with the soles of your feet together
Push your knees down with your elbows and hold the stretch.
Leg Swings: Swing your right leg from the front to the back and then switch over to your left leg to swing.
Child's Pose: Sit back on your heels and roll your midsection forward. Bring your forehead to rest on the ground in front of you. Stretch downward and extend your arms in front.
Runner's Stretch: Sit down and bring the sole of your right foot to the inside of your left thigh. Hinge forward from your hips and fold over your left leg. Extend your arms forward.
Quad Stretch: Start in a standing position and grab your foot and pull it up behind you towards your backside. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds.
Warrior Stretch: With your legs apart, turn your left foot out 90 degrees and your right foot in slightly. Extend your arms out to the sides and bend your right knee to 90 degrees.
The flexibility task card visuals depicted above can be found at Cap'n Pete's Power PE site located here
12 Effective Methods for Incorporating Flexibility in Physical Education
Physical education teachers can help students improve their flexibility through a variety of activities and exercises. Here are ten effective ways to include flexibility in your PE lesson plans:
1. Warm-ups (Dynamic Stretches) : A warm-up utilizing dynamic stretches involves controlled movement that gradually increases range of motion, such as arm circles, leg swings, or lunges. These stretches help to activate the muscles and should be used as a precursor to any physical activity or sports play.
2. Four Corner Fitness (instant activity): This activity involves having students use a variety of locomotor movement to travel between four corners of a room, each with a different flexibility exercise (dynamic or static) to perform such as arm rotations, hamstring stretches, butterflies and/or leg swings. It is recommended that students stretch for 10-30 seconds to complete each exercise prior to transitioning onto the following one.
3. Paper Plate Activate: Several laminated paper plates can be distributed around a learning area (i.e. gym floor) with a flexibility exercise written on each plate. For a cross training experience, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, balance and other components of fitness can also be incorporated. To maximize engagement and fun, play some upbeat music as you rotate each student around to the next laminated plate every 20-30 seconds.
4. Circuit Training: Circuit training is an excellent way to combine flexibility exercises with strength and/or cardio drills. For example, students can perform 10-12 reps of squats followed by 30 seconds of a wall seated hamstring stretch. For a predetermined amount of time, students travel from one circuit fitness station to the next to perform flexibility and other fitness exercises.
5. Fidget Spinner Fitness: Use a pie circle visual and add flexibility movements (or other component of fitness exercises) on the pieces of the pie as depicted below. Students place a fidget spinner in the middle of the board and spin it (until it stops) to indicate an exercise/movement to perform. The Fidget Spinner also serves as a timer to regulate the amount of time a student moves and exercises. They “move” while it “spins”!
6. Yoga (Mindfulness): Incorporating yoga/mindfulness into PE classes is a great way to help students improve their flexibility and balance, as well as reduce stress levels. This type of movement involves stretching one's body into various postures that help enhance flexibility while calming the mind. There are numerous poses that can be done in a classroom such as Downward-Facing Dog, Warrior Pose, Triangle Pose, and Cat-Cow Poses. Students should hold each pose for 10-30 seconds before transitioning onto the next.
7. Relays: Flexibility can be key when it comes to relay activities, especially as students wait their turn for a certain task or assignment. When students are in small groups, they can perform a flexibility exercise such as a standing quad stretch or trunk lift while the active student is moving to and from the start and end line of a relay activity. This keeps them active throughout the relay, compounding flexibility with locomotor movement and manipulative skills. You can also be creative and incorporate flexibility in the relay activity as showcased by Nick Spencer below.
Video by Nick Spencer @PE4Life_Spencer
8. Pilates: Pilates is another form of exercise that focuses on core strength, flexibility, and balance. It is a holistic approach to exercise that focuses on the coordination of your body and mind, emphasizing proper breathing and form. Through the practice of various controlled movements, there is improvement in flexibility, body awareness, and muscle control. Some Pilates exercises can be adapted for younger kids, such as "Rolling Like a Ball."
9. Stretching PE Games and Activities: Adding stretching and flexibility into games during physical education classes can make it an experience, especially for younger children. It provides an opportunity to learn while still having fun! Games like tag, limbo or "animal action" can encourage younger students to practice stretching with movement and are a great way to get the whole class involved. For older students, you can incorporate cooperative games into your classes utilizing resistance bands and balance boards for a comprehensive stretching regimen. These types of activities boost physical activity, creativity, and overall enjoyment of the class.
Video by April Baugh @baugha
10. Playground Play: Utilizing playgrounds can also be a great way to improve flexibility especially for younger kids. Monkey bars, climbing walls, and other playground equipment can give students the opportunity to not only build upper body strength but also become more limber.
11. Cool Downs (Static Stretches) : Static stretching involves holding a stretch for a certain period of time, such as a hamstring stretch, sit and reach, or a quad stretch. It can help improve flexibility by lengthening the muscles and increasing range of motion. This type of stretching helps to increase flexibility and can be used as a cool-down after physical activity.
12- Fitness Testing: Fitness testing can be conducted to measure the improvements in flexibility. Tests such as sit and reach, shoulder flexion, trunk extension or back scratch are all activities that measure a student's range of motion and are great ways to monitor one's progress over time. The results can then be used as motivation for students to continue with their physical activity routine.
Pic by Dana G @MissG_PE
Physical education classes play an important role in helping students improve their flexibility and overall fitness levels. There are many activities, exercises, and games that can be incorporated into a PE class to help enhance the student's experience while still achieving physical goals. From yoga and Pilates to playground play and static stretching cool downs, there is no shortage of options when it comes to increasing flexibility in your classroom.
Additionally, teachers should consider incorporating fitness tests into their curriculums as they can provide great motivation for students to stay active and monitor their progress over time. Ultimately, these types of activities will lead to improved motor skills, reduced risk of injury, increased sense of wellbeing - all leading towards healthier lifestyle habits! As always, it is important for physical educators to ensure they are providing proper instruction related to stretching and safety guidelines.
Pic by Diamond View Elementary PE @DiamondViewPE
Do you have any other ways you incorporate flexibility in your PE program? What are some of your favorite dynamic and static stretches that you teach in your classes? We can't wait to hear your thoughts! Please share them with us in the comments below!
*SHAPE America. (2013). National Standards for K-12 Physical Education. Reston, VA: Author
Do you need some PE Component of Fitness Task Cards for your physical education program that includes detailed instructions and state-of-the-art graphics and visuals? If you do, Cap'n Pete's Power PE has you covered!
Fill in the form below to download 20 FREE Component of Fitness Task Cards. The set is a PDF digital download that includes two visuals (cards/signs) from the following sport stations sets: 1. Cardiovascular Endurance, 2. Flexibility, 3. Muscular Endurance, 4. Muscular Strength, 5. Agility, 6. Balance, 7. Coordination, 8. Power, 9. Reaction Time and 10. Speed.
They are simple to use and effective for learning PE fitness movements. Just print laminate, cut out and then place them in sections of your learning area for your students to use during physical education lessons.
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