If you exercise regularly, stretching is vital. The benefits of stretching are numerous. They include:
*increased range of movement for sports or fitness performance
*reduced risk of injury
*increased mental and physical relaxation
*reduced muscle soreness after exercise
*an improvement in posture
As we age, the flexibility of our connective tissues-the ligaments, tendons, cartilage and muscle all decrease. This is inevitable. Yet research indicates that by performing regular flexibility work, we can increase our range of motion by as much as 20-30 percent at any age.
We can stretch our connective tissues in many ways-actively, passively or with or without a resistance. Flexibility is improved by using a contolled force to increase the range of motion and lengthening the connective tissue.
The main form of stretching is called Static Stretching. This is a contolled stretch.
With Static Stretching, you take the muscle to the point of mild tension. This places the muscle in a lengthened position and the stretch is usually held for ten to 30 seconds. The most important aspect of this stretch is that you remain static through the stretch and don’t bounce. With Static Stretching there are both Maintenance stretching and Developmental stretching. Maintenance stretching or easy stretching, should be done slowly and without bouncing. The purpose of maintenance stretching is to maintain your current level of flexibility and reduce tightness in the muscle. An example of maintenance stretching would be the standing thigh stretch, where you bring one leg up behind you, bringing your foot towards your butt, to stretch the thigh.
Maintenance stretching also prepares the muscles for Developmental stretching.
Developmental stretching aims to improve your current level of flexibility. So, for example if you are unable to touch your toes at present, a developmental hamstring stretch should, over time, improve your flexibility levels and eventually allow you to touch your toes.
A developmental stretch is performed by increasing the stretch by a fraction until you feel the mild tension in the muscle again, hold this position and when the tension eases repeat again. If the stretch becomes painful, you have gone too far. Again, this should be done with control and without bouncing. Bare in mind that a developmenal stretch should be held for 20 seconds, to the point of tension, not pain, then you should relax into the stretch and aim to hold it for another 20 seconds. Remember to always breathe during your stretches. I myself, always aim to hold my stetches for at least 30 seconds as opposed to 10-20 seconds.
To see any noticeable gains in flexibility, you must stretch three to four times a week. Flexibility gains can be seen in as little as two to three weeks.
Here are some guidelines to follow before you stretch:
*Warm-up before stretching(you want to stretch warm muscles not cold ones)Warm muscles are more elastic than cold.
I always stretch following my workout for about 15-30 minutes depending on whether i’m doing maintenance or developmental stretching.
*Isolate the muscle to be stretched, which means to place it in a position that makes the target muscle more susceptible to be stretched. For instance, to isolate the calf muscle, you would bend the knee and this would release tension in the calf.
*Move slowly and smoothly into the stretch
*Breathe normally(don’t hold your breath)
*Hold the stretch(usually 10-60 seconds) and relax.
*Do not strain or passively force a joint beyond its normal range of motion.
*Come out of each stretch carefully
Much like everything else, we all have our own levels of flexibility. Some of us are more flexible than others. Work at your own pace, don’t rush it. Over time, your flexibility will increase. You may be at risk of an injury if you try to stretch too much, too quickly so work at your own pace, not someone elseâ€™s.