Understanding The Importance Of Stretching

Why Stretch?
Stretching is probably one of the more neglected health related components of fitness, with people giving a range of excuses for skipping it such as ‘it’s not important”, “it’s boring” or “no time left”. However healthy or desirable flexibility is the capacity to move freely in every intended position – and if we spend all our time contracting and tightening the muscles during our workouts and daily life without taking time to stretch them out, sooner or later we are going to cause more tightness in our body. A lack of flexibility can lead to injuries, postural imbalances, or just generally make our workouts and daily life harder. Suppleness or flexibility refers to the range of motion (ROM) of a joint or group of joints and is important in both athletic performance and in the ability to carry out the activities of daily living, which becomes increasingly more important as we age and lose the natural suppleness we may have had when we were young. Some of the benefits of stretching are:

*Decreases the risk of injury
*Enhances posture
*Reduces muscle tension and joint stress
*Increases blood supply and nutrients to the muscle
*Assists in the healing process of microscopic muscle tears (why we feel sore after a workout), and
*Promotes relaxation and reduces stress

Stretching Tips
*Stretch muscles when they are warm – they stretch much better. ROM stretching or dynamic stretching is great for warm ups to keep warm and increase blood flow to joints however it is less effective for improving flexibility. Longer static stretches are what is needed for this, but these are better left to the end of a workout when the muscles are thoroughly warm.

*Never force a stretch – always perform stretches slowly and with control. Muscle spindles are sensitive to changes in the length of the muscle and the speed at which lengthening occurs. Muscle reflexively contracts and shortens to protect itself from being overstretched (the stretch reflex). The slower we go into a stretch the more likely we are to minimise and ease through this reflex and gain more benefits from the stretch.

*Aim for good alignment of the body ie. Keep a neutral spine; keep the chest lifted when bending over etc.

*Stretch to a point of tension or discomfort but NOT pain.

*Breath and try to relax the rest of the body – don’t tense up areas you are not stretching.

*Aim to stretch after every workout in addition to every couple of days especially after doing an activity that has warmed up the muscles such as gardening, walking the dog etc.

How Long Do You Hold Each Stretch?
If you are wondering why you never seem to make improvements in flexibility it is very likely because you are not holding the stretch long enough. A good idea is to actually time yourself next time you stretch. A lot of people will find that while they think they are holding a stretch for 30 seconds it is only 10-15 seconds in reality. While this is certainly better than not stretching at all, when we understand the process that occurs in the body when we stretch, we realise that it takes at least 30 seconds just for the stretch reflex to disengage (the body realising the muscle is not in any danger) and the muscles to start to relax.

It is only when this process has occurred that we can really make flexibility gains, and so relaxing into a stretch for 1-2 minutes for tight muscles is ideal. If you are not used to holding stretches for 2 minutes you may need to increase the time slowly and have a ‘rest’ day just as you would between intense workouts as this deeper stretching can be quite intense.

Many people find they are very inflexible all over, which means while they are quite stable they are less mobile, and they need more flexibility training to enable them to move freely. In other words, 5 minutes at the end of a workout is great, but it can’t make up for an hour of contracting muscles so it’s ideal to go to a longer stretching class, or maybe try tai chi or yoga a few times a week to help balance things out.

If you are really keen to improve your flexibility you may like to try out a Yin Yoga class. This is a slow yoga which differentiates from other yoga classes because each pose is held traditionally 3-5 minutes and sometimes even longer to get deep into the muscles. This is a very intense deep stretching and may not be ideal for everybody or everyday stretching but can be great as a compliment to other exercises.

The Exception To Long Stretching: Hypermobility
A quick note about hypermobility. This term refers to people who are very flexible. Hypermobile people need to be aware of how having too much flexibility can increase their chance of injury. This is because their increased range of motion at a joint results in less joint stability which is important in protecting the joint and keeping control during exercising. Therefor instead of spending time on a lot of stretches it is recommended that these people keep the stretches short and focus more on strength training to improve joint stability.

Crank Stretch and Flex Class
Crank is trialling a “Stretch and Flex Class” on Saturday 7th June from 8am-8.45am in Leeming – so please come along!! If this class is popular, it will be held on Saturday mornings from 8.15am-9.15am in Leeming. To register for this FREE class, please follow the instructions below:

1. Go to this website: http://www.crankhf.com.au/personal-trainers-perth-services/perth-group-fitness/
2. Scroll down to the bottom of the page where the Group Fitness Schedule is, click “next” to change the date to the week June 2- June 8.
3. Scroll down to the Stretch and Flex class on Saturday June 7 and click “sign up” then follow instructions through Mind Body Online.

LIKE this post if you need to spend more time stretching either after your workout or during the week. We all do, it’s ok!


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