Stretching Fundamentals: Stretching benefits the body by keeping the muscles flexible, strong, healthy, and able to maintain optimal physical performance. As with any other discipline stretching correctly requires using the proper form, correct technique, and practicing regularly. The angles need to be accurate; the body has to move at the right speed and maintain correct posture. The focus should be moving the joint as little as possible as the muscle/s stretch and elongate.
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Stretching should become a daily activity that turns into a healthy habit. The muscles need frequent maintenance from daily/nightly bending, twisting, reaching, carrying, and lifting work. This is especially true for individuals dealing with constant soreness, aches, pains, and problems with tight, tense, and stressed-out muscles. When the body is stressed, heart rate increases, and individuals tend to tighten up. Stretching benefits include:
- Stress relief.
- Increased muscle blood flow.
- Increased body flexibility.
- Helps joints move through their full range of motion.
- Improves performance in physical activities.
- Decreases soreness, aches, and pains.
- Injury prevention.
- Improves posture.
- Improves sleep.
- Preps the body for exercise and activities.
- Improves mental health.
Human nature is to take the path of least resistance, which makes the body feel flexible and comfortable. This is a common reason individuals consider stretching unnecessary or too painful to engage in. However, stretching fundamentals need to be maintained as stretching carelessly or poorly can negatively affect other muscles and joints and worsen injuries/conditions.
To stretch safely, it is recommended to do a proper warm-up, stretch slowly, working the right muscles and joints. The guidelines make stretching safer, more effective, and increase body awareness.
- Warming the muscles increases blood flow.
- Warming up muscles before physical activity/workout is crucial for preventing injuries and maximizing effectiveness.
- Stretching cold muscles activates a reflex that prevents overstretching, resulting in shortening and tightening of the muscles.
- A healthy warm-up should consist of light cardio and dynamic stretches for the major muscle groups.
- Dynamic stretching involves moving into and out of positions through a full range of motion rather than holding a stretch for a prolonged period.
- Dynamic stretches are recommended to be held for 2-3 seconds for 4-6 repetitions.
Take It Slow
- Stretching out too fast can make the body think that the muscle is about to get torn or injured.
- To protect the muscle, it contracts, preventing it from reaching the full stretch.
- This is why the correct technique needs to be observed.
- A couple of degrees in the wrong direction can mean the difference between a healthy stretch and pulling a joint capsule causing injury.
When engaged in physical activity, exercise, or working, microscopic tears are happening to muscle cells. Because of the body’s stress and fatigue, hormone and enzyme levels fluctuate, and inflammation increases. This helps in fat loss, increases metabolism, increases strength and muscle growth. However, these benefits only happen with proper recovery. Different types of recovery include:
- These are the quick moments’ in-between physical movements.
- For example, the time between each stride when jogging.
- This is the time between activities or sets of exercises.
- For example, the rest periods between doing a heavy job or sprint intervals.
- This is the time between when one workout or job ends, and the next begins.
There is no one size fits all, as everyone’s body is different; it is recommended to consult with a trainer or fitness expert and experiment with what feels right.
- For some individuals, 24 hours is enough.
- For others, it can take 48 or 72 hours to feel fully recovered.
- Other factors that affect recovery are:
- Fitness level
- Work/exercise intensity
Behm, David G, and Anis Chaouachi. “A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance.” European Journal of applied physiology vol. 111,11 (2011): 2633-51. doi:10.1007/s00421-011-1879-2
Freitas, S R et al. “Stretching Effects: High-intensity & Moderate-duration vs. Low-intensity & Long-duration.” International journal of sports medicine vol. 37,3 (2016): 239-44. doi:10.1055/s-0035-1548946
Hotta, Kazuki et al. “Daily muscle stretching enhances blood flow, endothelial function, capillarity, vascular volume and connectivity in aged skeletal muscle.” The Journal of physiology vol. 596,10 (2018): 1903-1917. doi:10.1113/JP275459
Kataura, Satoshi et al. “Acute Effects of the Different Intensity of Static Stretching on Flexibility and Isometric Muscle Force.” Journal of strength and conditioning research vol. 31,12 (2017): 3403-3410. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001752
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