Stretching is one of those things that you know you should do you just rarely ever do it. Stretching increases our flexibility which increases our range of motion and reduces our risk of injury.
Why is stretching so important?
Keeping a joint in the same position causes the muscles and ligaments to stiffen, and with lack of movement, your muscles will shorten and become tight. This can be avoided with good flexibility to the muscles and joints. Stretching aids in injury prevention. It helps minimize muscle soreness and improves all physical activities.
People whose daily lifestyle consists of long sessions of inactivity, such as sitting at a desk, can experience the stiffening of joints. It is difficult to straighten out from that chronic position. Good flexibility helps prevent this by maintaining elasticity in the muscles and providing a wider range of movement in the joints.
Simple daily tasks, such as bending over and touching your toes, is easier when you have good flexibility and maintaining it is a necessity to be able to put our shoes on!
How much stretching should an average person do every day?
What if I said 5 minutes? Yup, 5 minutes! If you were to be able to spend 15 seconds per major muscle group, you would only need approximately 5 minutes with a stretching routine. Stretching can be done before and after a workout; but ideally, I would say static stretching should be done at the end of a workout and dynamic stretches should begin any workout as part of the warmup.
How Stretching Works
Muscles have muscle spindles. Those muscle spindles have a dynamic component as well as a slow static component that provides information on the amount and rate of change in length.
- Fast length changes can trigger a stretch reflex that attempts to resist change in the muscle length by causing the stretched muscle to contract.
- Slower static stretches allow the muscle spindles to relax and adapt to the new longer length.
There are four major types of stretches:
- Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF)
Static: You stretch a particular muscle or group of muscles by holding that stretch for a period of time. For upper body, you can hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. For the lower body, 15 to 30 seconds.
Ballistic Stretching: This type of stretch involves short bouncing movements near the end of the range of motion and does not involve holding the stretch for any length of time. Since ballistic stretching can activate the stretch reflex, be mindful of being gentle in the movements.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF): This type of stretching refers to a technique that tries to fully incorporate the actions of the proprioceptors by stretching a contracted muscle through a joint range of motion. After moving through the complete range of motion, the muscle is relaxed and rested before it is stretched again. This type of stretching is best done with the assistance of another person.
Dynamic Stretching: A dynamic stretch is more functionally oriented. It is a more specific movement of the limbs through a greater range of motion than normal. Dynamic stretching is generally characterized by swinging, jumping or exaggerated movements in which the momentum of the movement carries the limbs to or past its regular limit of a range of motion and activates the proprioceptive reflex response. When done correctly, this type of stretch enables the nerves to fire up more quickly, enabling the muscle to make fast and more powerful contractions.
Benefits of a Stretching Program:
- Improved flexibility
- Muscular strength
- Reduced muscle soreness
- Improved muscle and joint mobility
- More efficient muscular movements and fluidity of motion
- Ability to strengthen the muscle through full range of motion
- Prevention of joint pain and problems ie. lower back, neck, knees, feet, shoulders
- Improved appearance and self-image
- Improved body alignment and posture
- Better warm-up and cool-down within your exercise session
Static and Dynamic Stretching Recommendations:
- Include all the major muscle groups of the body in your stretching program
- Do at least one stretch for each joint movement
- Before any physical activity, use light and dynamic stretches as part of the warm-up
- After an exercise routine, cool down with light to medium intensity static stretches.
You may be tempted to skip the stretching. We all are especially when we’re in a hurry. Plan accordingly and fit the stretches into your day and your workouts.