The Importance of Stretching

The flexibility component of your workout is important in preparing your muscles for the greater workload to come when done near the beginning of your workout, and for optimizing recovery and increasing flexibility after your training when your muscles are increasingly warm.  Never stretch cold muscles; it can be the equivalent of stretching a rubber band just out of the freezer -POP! Ouch! Capitalize on stretch training when your muscles are warm and pliable, making them more conducive to increasing your range of motion (ROM). 

There are so many benefits of flexibility training so it's important not to neglect it. It's critical for maintaining muscle balance. Other benefits of improved flexibility include: Flexible muscles reduce the risk of injury during exercise and daily activity, reduces stress and tension in the muscles you just trained, helps to dissipate lactic acid, minimizes the occurrence of muscle cramping, reduces the risk of injury during exercise and daily activities, enhances performance in exercise and sport as well as in everyday activities of life, promotes mobility, and flexible muscles assist in good posture which minimizes stress and maximizes the strength of all joint movements. 

Flexibility techniques can provide two functions: relaxation and flexibility. There are many types of alternative methods used to promote relaxation such as: yoga, Pilates, meditation, tai chi, visualization exercises and breathing exercises. Some of the different types of flexibility techniques for stretching include:

STATIC STRETCHING, the most known and common of all techniques. The muscle and connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) are gradually lengthened and a position is held for 10-30 seconds and repeated 2-3 times.  This promotes a relaxation response, increased blood flow to the muscle and facilitates elongation of the muscle. The goal is to encourage the muscle to move to a state of increased flexibility beyond its original normal position.

DYNAMIC RANGE OF MOTION: These exercises involve dynamic movement of the muscles at each major joint. A slow and controlled active range of motion (ROM) is performed starting from a large range of motion and moving to a smaller range. This type of stretching is useful to prepare the muscles for static stretches that are more intensely targeted. This method of stretching should be performed when muscles are warm and pliable. 

PROPRIOCEPTIVE NEUROMUSCULAR FACILITATION (PNF) technique involves an initial isometric contraction of a muscle group followed by a static, lengthening stretch.  This is a more advanced technique that can help in areas that are resistant to improved flexibility.  For best results when stretching, be sure you have warm muscles and work within your personal limits and understand how to alter the difficulty of a stretch.

Susan Arruda