How Important is Stretching Anyway?

by tgiffitness on April 9, 2013

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Stretching is a vital component of any fitness program. In fact, for many people, it is where they should begin when starting a fitness routine. How flexible your muscles are can dictate how well you are able to perform a particular exercise, as well as how that exercise will impact your body and its joints (ie. knees, hips, spine, etc.). Tight muscles can put a great deal of strain on your joints and prevent your joints from articulating smoothly. In my experience, it is not just a lack of flexibility that can cause joint problems, but rather an imbalance in the flexibility and/or muscular strength of opposing muscle groups. For example, having really flexible or weak hamstrings (back of the thigh) while having tight or strong quadricep muscles (front of the thigh) can cause alignment problems within the knee joints (as well as other joints including the hips and low back). As we age, it becomes increasingly important that we maintain our flexibility as it can impact our ability to perform functional daily activities, and in return impact our quality of life.

Benefits of Regular Stretching:

  • Reduce pain caused by sore muscles
  • Maintain a functional range of motion in all joints
  • Prevent chronic injuries (Stretching once before a single workout is not likely to prevent an (acute) injury from happening during that workout)
  • Relieve pain caused by arthritis
  • Reduce cartilage degradation
  • Relieve stress
  • Restore proper joint function and articulation
  • Improve exercise form

We’ve all done it. Finished a great workout and headed straight to the showers without stretching. You tell yourself that its not that important, you don’t need to stretch right away, maybe you’ll stretch later… maybe. Of course you never do and one day you wake up and can no longer touch your toes. Or maybe your back is starting to feel stiff, or you’ve got a little pain in your knee when you go down the stairs. Stretching is important! Setting aside a few minutes each day to stretch can save you a boat load of pain in the future.

Types of Stretching

Static Stretching – the muscles are lengthened to their stretched position and then held there for the duration of the stretch. (Hamstring Stretch)

Dynamic Stretching – the muscles are actively brought through their full range of motion. Dynamic stretches involve continuous movement. (Rotations)

When should I stretch? Before or after I workout?

Performing static stretches after a workout is a must! If your workout is going to require a large range of motion, you may choose to perform a few dynamic stretches before you start. Static stretching before a workout is not necessary. The goal of your warm up is to increase your heart rate, blood flow and respiratory rate, in order to meet the increased demands of your workout. Static stretching does just the opposite. Because you are not moving, and you are most likely lying down, static stretching will decrease your heart rate. For this reason, static stretching is a perfect part of your cool down to help bring your body back to a resting state.

How long do I hold each static stretch?

Hold each stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat each stretch 2 to 3 times.

Tips for safe stretching

  • Always move into your stretches slowly.
  • The beginning of each stretch should feel like a gentle pull in the muscle that you are trying to stretch.
  • As the muscle releases, gently move deeper into the stretch.
  • Make sure you are able to breathe freely during each stretch. If you are holding your breath, the stretch may be too intense.
  • Do not pulse your stretches. Flinging your limbs into the stretch, or pulsing your stretches can lead to injuries.
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