Stretching is the term used for the process of elongating something nd moving it from its present state. For athletes stretching refers to the elongation of tissue, which can either be muscle, fascia, or nerve tissues. Stretching either helps us maintain our flexibility or improve it and can be done in a number of ways.
Stretching is a subject with many opinions and views, from how to stretch, to how much to stretch, to whether you need to stretch at all. Coaching advice on stretching will range from never stretching to creating 3-4 one hour stretching training session in your week, each week.
Sports science has shown us that muscles work by stretching –it is the essential action for our muscle to perform. The stretch, and the range of motion (ROM) of each muscles around the bone to which is attached (the joint) dictates our flexibility. So our flexibility refers basically to how much our muscles can stretch or the range of motion that each muscle has. Flexibility varies immensely from one individual to the next. Even when you were a kid you probably noticed that some of your friends could do the splits, or do back bends, and some couldn’t, and everybody notices that flexibility decreases with age. Increasing your flexibility is a way of keeping your body young and supple, and of allowing it to perform better and more pain free.
Each individual has an optimal flexibility and range of motion that promotes a healthy pain free body. Issues with inflexibility are generally a feeling of tightness in the muscles and joints, pain and injury. Tight muscles do not function to their full range of motion, which means that speed and power are compromised, as will be the natural efficiency for movement. Working on maintaining your body’s unique flexibility will allow you to perform better, recover faster from workouts, and will reduce the risk of injury.
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How to Stretch
Stretching will improve muscle flexibility and performance but it is very important not to overstretch, and not to stretch overly tight or cold muscles. Overstretching is counterproductive in athletes, and causes little micro tears in your muscle tissue that can lead it more soreness and injury.
Some people prefer to stretch before and after workouts, or only before, or only after. Generally it is easier to stretch muscles when they are warmed up a little, after about 10 minutes of light exercise. There are two types of stretching we will consider for this post, static and dynamic.
Dr Nicholas Cowan, Chiropractor with FIX Healthcare in Victoria, suggests that Static (or held) stretches are the most effective for runners. ”Holding a stretch for 5-10 seconds is generally the best stretch for returning muscles to their normal state and most common for walkers/runners. These are the stretches we learned back in highschool. These are best done after you workout, or before you go to bed, when you are unwinding, talking about your day with your kids/partner/pet/stuff animals”.
Cowan also advises that holding stretches for longer than 2 minutes or spending an hour on stretching one muscle group is used for increasing the flexibility of muscles and should be done under the guidance of a professional or by very experienced people. The risk is injury is greater in long stretches and posture and technique are very important. Having poor posture in stretching will usually cause muscles in a different group to be overstretched.
There is another style of stretching that Cowan recommends - and that is a Dynamic Stretching technique which can be a fluid movement to activate the muscles you are about to use. Legs swings and arms swings fall into this category. To be avoided are the ballistic stretches from the old exercise videos which have lots of bouncing,
The main muscles groups in running and walking that need to be stretched properly are:
Quadriceps and Hip Flexors: these are the large muscles in your thighs and at your hips, responsible of the dynamic movement of running and walking.
Glutes, Hamstrings and Piriformis: the muscles in your buttocks, hips and the back of your thighs react to the movement of your front of leg muscles contracting. Working on improved flexibility in these areas can help prevent the lower back pain associated with running and walking.
Soleus/Gastrocs (calf): the muscles on your lower legs affect the function of your knees, feet and ankles, which is important to the impact of running and walking.
Pecs and Deltoids: muscles in the upper body and torso, and shoulders. While upper body isn’t as crucial, you want to avoid tension through the neck and shoulders so arm swings and stretches can help you stay relaxed, which helps posture and breathing.
Because of the postural requirements of stretching it is highly beneficial for beginner athletes to watch a professional video or work with a professional that can teach them the proper way to stretch that.
When and how much to stretch is going to be something that you learn through experience. The recommendation is to start gently and be conservative, stretching a little before and after workouts. Often, busy people neglect to stretch at all, but rush away from a workout to get back to work or home for dinner. Taking a few extra moments to stretch your muscles post workout will, like post recovery nutrition, enable your body to recover faster and better from the session, and set you up to improve.
February 20, 2018
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