Many clients (hopefully not too many…) don’t fully understand the importance of stretching before and after training, and as part of post training recovery i.e. at home! I’m sure there are some of you out there that stretch religiously (or am I kidding myself?), but for those of you that aren’t quite in that category, read on…
Why is stretching so important? Because it plays a vital role in keeping muscles and joints strong and pliable so they are less susceptible to injury. In its most basic form, stretching is a natural and instinctive activity. People often stretch instinctively after waking from sleep or after long periods of inactivity. But stretching pre and post exercise is something that should be done 100% of the time. Just 5-10 mins devoted to stretching could mean the difference between keeping your muscles strong and in working order, or spending days or weeks on the “sideline” nursing an injury.
When done correctly stretching helps strengthen muscles, and in turn strong muscles are important to stretching safely and effectively.
However, stretching can be hazardous when done incorrectly. There are many techniques for stretching in general, but depending on which muscle group is being stretched, some techniques may be better or more effective than others.
See below for a list of pointers to follow when stretching to make sure you are performing them safely and to achieve maximal benefit and reduced risk of injury:
- Breathe slowly, deeply and evenly – if breathing is strained, you’ve gone too far
- Stretching should never be painful
- Stretch only when muscles are warm
- Hold the stretch in a comfortable position
- Concentrate on relaxing the area being stretched
- Stretch before and after (and even during) an extended period of exercise
- Use Dynamic stretching rather than Static stretching when warming up
- Stretching should progress from major joints to specific joints
- Flexibility training should be regular – at least 3 times/week
- Always maintain good posture whilst stretching
- Pregnant women should only do flexibility training under supervision
When done correctly (and regularly), the benefits of stretching go beyond that of just increased flexibility. Some of the benefits include:
- 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
- and even reduced severity of painful menstruation in females!
So next time you think you don’t have that extra few minutes to devote to your stretch down, think again! Stretching is a crucial part of your preparation and recovery from training and is a must in your program. We’ll give you a little help while you’re here, but the rest is up to you.