Advice on exercising for your health is easily available, so much so that it can become overwhelming. To highlight one important aspect of a complete exercise program, today’s focus is on stretching and flexibility. The simplicity of doing stretches to improve flexibility is that it can be done just about anywhere…no trip to the gym required. Although it is important to fully understand when and how to stretch properly, the outcome of improved flexibility holds great benefit.
Stretching is a powerful part of any exercise program. Most aerobic and strength training programs inherently cause your muscles to contract and tighten.
Stretching after you exercise may help improve the range of motion about your joints and boost circulation.
As a general rule, stretch your major muscle groups after you exercise. In some studies, pre-athletic event stretching has been shown to decrease athletic performance.
Overall, however, stretching after exercise can help you to optimize your joint range of motion. If you don’t exercise regularly, you may want to stretch a few times a week after a brief warm-up to maintain flexibility.
When you’re stretching, keep it gentle. Breathe freely as you hold each stretch for around 30 seconds. Try not to hold your breath. Don’t bounce or hold a painful stretch. Expect to feel tension while you’re stretching. If you feel pain, you’ve gone too far.
Moving in sport- or activity-specific motion planes in gradually progressive speed (dynamic stretching) may be a helpful complement to static stretching and may help improve athletic performance.
Source: Mayo Clinic
Benefits of Increased Flexibility
When done properly, stretching can do more than just increase flexibility.
-enhanced physical fitness
-enhanced ability to learn and perform skilled movements
-increased mental and physical relaxation
-enhanced development of body awareness
-reduced risk of injury to joints, muscles, and tendons
-reduced muscular soreness
-reduced muscular tension
-increased suppleness due to stimulation of the production of chemicals which lubricate connective tissues (see section Connective Tissue)
-reduced severity of painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea) in females
Unfortunately, even those who stretch do not always stretch properly and hence do not reap some or all of these benefits. Some of the most common mistakes made when stretching are:
- improper warm-up
- inadequate rest between workouts
- performing the wrong exercises
- performing exercises in the wrong (or sub-optimal) sequence
The flexibility exercise component consisted of eight exercises: lying gluteal stretch, standing quadriceps stretch, hip flexor stretch, lying hamstring stretch, standing calf stretch, chest stretch, triceps stretch and shoulder stretch.
Source:ACE Research Study: Sequencing Exercise for Optimum Results