Stretching is often neglected during exercise. You don’t feel like it at the end of a training session because you are too tired, and you neglect it after your warm up because you have limited time and you just want to get into it! But stretching has many benefits and you are short changing yourself if you don’t.
Benefits of stretching:
Increased Flexibility & Posture: This not only reduces the chance of injury, it increases the range of motion around joint improving muscle balance that in turn improves posture.
Reduced muscle tension: Slow, static stretching helps reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Static stretching involves a slow, gradual and controlled elongation of the muscle through the full range of motion and held for 15-30 seconds in the furthest comfortable position (without pain).
Enhanced muscular coordination: Stretching increases neuromuscular coordination. Nerve-impulse velocity (the time it takes an impulse to travel to the brain and back) is improved with stretching. This helps opposing muscle groups work in a more collaborative, coordinated fashion.
Increased energy levels: This is a result of increased circulation which increases the blood and nutrient supply to muscles and cartilage, thereby also reducing muscle soreness after training.
Increased enjoyment: Flexibility training also means enhanced enjoyment, and a fitness program should be fun if you want to stick with it. Not only does stretching decrease muscle soreness and increase performance, it also helps relax both mind and body and brings a heightened sense of well-being and personal gratification during exercise.
When and How to Stretch:
Stretching should not be done as a warm-up to an activity as you could injure your muscles if stretching them when they are cold. At least 3 to 5 minutes (with up to 10 during the winter months) of cardiovascular / aerobic training is needed to warm up the muscles sufficiently. Each major muscle group should be stretched slowly and with control, holding each stretch for 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 60 seconds. Hold each stretch at the point of mild tension or tightness, not to the point of pain. DO NOT bounce into the stretch. This is a common error and can lead to injury.
It is important to stretch after doing any exercise, regardless of the type. When muscles perform any exercise, they tighten and as a result, shorten. This is compounded when doing strength training exercises. By stretching you restore and improve their length. It is advisable to therefore stretch each muscle group directly after performing each set.
If you find that you general feel stiff, then think about dedicating an entire workout session to stretching. Yoga is both an excellent form of exercise and a great way to stretch and increase your flexibility. Other classes include body balance and pilates.
When NOT to Stretch:
Now that the advantages of stretching are clear I am sure you will build it into every workout.
Be kind to your muscles and they will be kind to you!