Does stretching take a backseat in your exercise routine? You may think that stretching your hamstrings and calves is just something to be done if you have a few extra minutes before or after pounding out some kilometres on the treadmill. Well let me tell you, stretching is a lot more important than you think! Stretching is so often something people neglect to do at the end of a training session because they are too tired to do anything else. Or when they do, they just rush through each stretch and so don’t get the full benefit of each one.
Why is stretching so important? We stretch to improve our flexibility. Flexibility is the range of motion that is available to a joint or joints. Flexibility is important because it:
- Improves muscle balance around a joint, thus improving posture
- Reduces the chance of injury when playing a sport or in everyday activities.
- Increases the blood and nutrient supply to muscles and cartilage, thereby also reducing muscle soreness after training.
As we age, our muscles tighten and range of motion in the joints can be reduced. This can put a damper on general lifestyles and even hinder activities of daily living. Tasks that used to be simple such as zipping up a dress, reaching for a jar off of the top shelf, cutting your own toe nails and even getting up and down off the floor now become extremely difficult. A regular stretching program can help lengthen your muscles and make daily living activities easier.
There are two main types of stretching: dynamic and static. Dynamic stretching is usually done at the beginning of an exercise program, after or as a proper warm up, while static stretching is usually performed after exercising.
Dynamic stretches closely mimic movements made during exercise, so they’re usually used to prepare for athletic events. It is stretching that involves movement such as hip swings and leg kicks to “wake up” the muscles.
Static stretches are used to improve flexibility and cool your body down after you exercise, and are therefore done when the body is standing still. The goal of static stretching is to increase flexibility, increase range of motion around a joint, bring muscle fibres back into alignment and reduce muscle tightness and pain.
It is important to stretch before and after doing any physical activity. When muscles perform any exercise, they tighten and shorten as a result. Stretching them out helps to restore and improve their length. Each major muscle group should be stretched slowly and with control, holding each stretch for a minimum of 30 to 60 seconds and be repeated 2-3 times. With static stretching, hold each stretch at the point of mild tension or tightness, not to the point of pain.