TO STRETCH OR NOT TO STRETCH
Not all people stretch pre or post exercise, therefore neglecting this aspect of their fitness regime.
Yes stretching can be a tad on the less adventurous side, can feel repetitive, and lacks excitement, but most research has expressed how important it can be for performance, recovery and injuries.
BENEFITS OF STRETCHING
- Helps improve flexibility (range of motion)
- Assists in correct posture by lengthening tight muscles that pull areas of the body away from their intended position (because so much time is spent on computers many of us have tight chest muscles which pulls the shoulders and head forward leaving a hunched shoulder look)
- Potential to decrease injury by preparing the muscles for work before activity minimising the risk of torn or pulled muscles
- Increases blood and nutritional supply to muscles
- Optimises performance
- Can calm the mind and provide a mental break and gives your body a chance to recharge
PRE WORK OUT –ACTIVE STRETCHING
Active stretching, also known as dynamic stretching is a warm up for your muscles. It involves moving parts of your body gradually increasing the reach of the muscles and speed of movement.
It does not involve complicated routines and benefits when your stretching routine uses the same muscle groups as the exercises you are about to perform e.g. moving your arms in circles to get the blood flowing in your muscles or a few low impact squats.
The purpose of active stretching is to elevate your heart rate, loosen up muscles and get your body ready for the exercise programme ahead.
This is very useful because it triggers your body’s neuromuscular system in readiness for physical activity. Exercising consumes a lot of energy therefore stretching helps in preparing the muscular cells for an intense metabolic activity. This sets the body in motion and powers it through the exercise session.
By doing a pre workout stretch, you are essentially reducing the risks of possible injuries from the workout. Effective pre workout stretch routines will minimize the rates of torn muscles or pulled muscles while exercising. Muscles can be stiff especially after a long period of inactivity. Sudden and intense tensile forces can cause the muscles to overstretch. Imagine suddenly pulling an elastic band despite its capacity to stretch. This sudden pull can make it snap. The same logic applies to the muscles. Stretching before exercise is important to slowly introduce the tensile forces in small and manageable sizes. This synchronizes every part of the body achieving the required level of flexibility to undertake the main exercise.
POST WORKOUT-STATIC STRETCHING
Static stretching pre workout, which could be touching your toes, stretching your leg out on a bench increases the risk of injury and does not promote flexibility as you are in effect stretching cold muscles.
In the same vain bouncing the stretch or pushing the stretch to the point of discomfort does not improve flexibility and increases the risk of injury.
On the other hand static stretching post workout helps your body to recover after an intense workout. It involves holding a stretch for at least 20 seconds without moving allowing the muscles to relax.
Listen to your body and push the muscle a little without overtaxing it, hold a comfortable reaching stretch in unison with deep breathing relaxing into the stretch and over time you will reach further as your muscles lengthen and adapt to increased demand.
Static stretching helps to prevent the effects of accumulated lactic acid(acid created by the body as it breaks down carbohydrate to produce energy) which leads to fatigue, for those new to exercise this can be an uncomfortable experience so it is very important to stretch to prevent muscle pull and soreness.
In summary although pre and post workout stretching has not shown it significantly reduces muscle soreness, an effect of exercise. Active and static stretching does benefit muscle tightness and if your goal is flexibility and the other benefits associated with stretching it is important that you incorporate it as part of your exercise regime whether at home or in the gym.