Stretching is an important component of any physical fitness program. Stretching increases joint and muscle flexibility. Often overlooked, this “other exercise” doesn’t receive the same top-drawer billing as aerobic exercise or weight training; yet, it is no less important.
You can stretch anywhere and at any time. Stretching is a great way to limber up in the morning, relax after a hard day, and reduce stress during the day. Stretching before and after exercise can also enhance your workout. For peak fitness, be sure to include stretches in your daily routine, especially before strenuous activities.
Stretching benefits your body.
During most exercises, muscles contract and flex which creates tension. Stretching elongates the muscles alleviating tightness, which may prevent cramping. But, that’s not all. Take a look at these other benefits of stretching.
- Improved circulation. As you stretch, you increase blood flow to your muscles which provides oxygen and nourishment and rids the muscles of waste. Improving your circulation helps your muscles heal more quickly.
- Increased flexibility.Flexible muscles can improve your daily performance. As you lengthen your muscles, you increase muscle elasticity and range of motion which increases your flexibility.
- Reduced injuries. As you become more flexible, you will be able to move more freely and reduce your risk of muscle, joint, and tendon injuries. As your range of motion increases, it results in better balance and less injury. The benefits of flexibility become increasingly important as we age.
- Improved balance, coordination and posture. As you lengthen and strengthen your muscles, you will notice an improvement in your coordination and posture, which may minimize discomfort, aches and pains.
- Pain Relief. Stretching and strengthening the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and low-back muscles may help relieve low back pain.
- Stress Relief. When you experience stress, your muscles tighten. Stretching helps you relax your tense muscles and can help you feel rejuvenated.
What type of stretch should you use?
To be most effective, there are certain types of stretches that should be done before and after exercise or activity.
- Dynamic Stretching is comprised of simple movements like arm circles and hip rotations. Many experts agree that this method of stretching is most effective before a workout or competition because the controlled, slow, and gentle stretches to a muscle’s range of motion limit helps ready it for more vigorous activity. Dynamic stretching does not include bouncing or rapid movement.
- Static Stretching can be achieved by assuming a stretch position and gently holding it for 30 to 60 seconds. This type of stretch, most effective after a workout, creates a mild pulling sensation in the muscle, but should not cause pain in the muscles or the joints.
- Isometric Stretching lengthens muscle by pushing against pressure or force from outside the body. Often this type of stretching is done with the help of a partner, towel, or wall. Isometric stretches are most effective when the muscles are warm.
- Ballistic Stretching forces parts of the body past their normal range of motion by bouncing the muscle into stretched position. This type of stretch may be used by professional athletes before competitions – however, it is not recommended as part of a daily routine because of the risk of injury.
How you can stretch effectively?
You should stretch at least 3 days a week to improve or maintain your flexibility. Be patient as you begin. At first, you may not notice a difference, but over time you will begin to feel stretching’s benefits. Here are some tips to get the most out of your stretch.
- Never stretch cold muscles. You should warm up for a minimum of 5 minutes and break a bit of a sweat before you stretch. Warming up your muscles increases blood flow, which increases the muscle temperature and makes the collagen fibers more elastic. Warm muscles are more receptive to stretching.
- Take the Time. It takes time to lengthen muscle tissue safely. Holding stretches for at least 15 to 30 seconds before exercise prepares the muscles for activity; holding stretches between 30 to 60 seconds after exercise improves flexibility. Longer stretches increase flexibility. Complete each stretch three or four times on each side of the body.
- Stretch both sides of your body. Make sure your range of motion is as equal as possible on each side of your body.
- Breathe when you stretch. Don’t hold your breath. Concentrate on the muscle you are stretching and breathe to oxygenate your blood.
- Focus on your muscles. Focus on each muscle as you stretch it. Stretch the muscles that you will be using or that you use every day.
- Don't bounce. Bouncing as you stretch can cause small tears in the muscle, which may cause scar tissue as the muscle heals, leaving the muscle tight, less flexible and prone to pain.
- Focus on a pain-free stretch. You should feel tension as you stretch, but you should not feel pain. If a stretch is ever painful, it means the muscle has been stretched too far. If it hurts, lessen the stretch until it no longer hurts and then hold it.
Studies have proven the benefits of stretching for people of all ages.
If you have a muscle injury, exercise caution.
If you have a chronic condition or an injury, stretching may cause further harm. Discuss the best way to stretch with your doctor or physical therapist.
Eight tips for effective stretching
- Stretching should not hurt; don’t stretch a muscle beyond its natural range of motion.
- Don’t bounce.
- Don’t hold your breath.
- Don’t over extend your muscles; overstretching may damage the muscle or ligament.
- Warm up your muscles before stretching.
- Start stretching slowly and work into your full extension.
- Take time to stretch right.
- Breathe deeply to your full lung capacity.