The Benefits Of Stretching Exercise
Flexibility is defined as “the range of motion within a joint along the various planes of motion” according to the American Council on Exercise Personal Trainer Manual.
Many people believe that improving flexibility is the only benefit to stretching and those who are already very flexible will usually eliminate stretching from their fitness routines altogether. This is a huge mistake as a solid stretching program does much more than just help us with flexibility.
The Benefits Of Stretching Include:
1. Improved muscular balance.
2. Improved range of motion.
3. Improved joint mobility.
4. Ease joint pain.
5. Improved balance.
6. Quicker muscle recovery after tough workouts.
7. Reduce risk of injury when participating in physical activities.
8. Enhance the speed of movement.
9. Improve sports performance.
10. The optimal range of motion during peak performance.
11. Increased blood and nutrient supply to the joints.
12. Decrease risk of lower back pain due to tight muscles or muscle imbalance.
13. To relax and ease stress.
Different Types of Stretching Methods
The type of stretching you should do depends heavily on the goals you wish to achieve with your stretching program.
Gradually elongating your muscles through a full range of motion. There is no bouncing or contracting of opposing muscles. This is a long duration, low-intensity stretch technique. As muscle spindles and the CNS begin to adapt to the lengthened muscles, muscle relaxation occurs. To ease muscle tension, relax, improve flexibility and reduce your risk of injury static stretching is king.
A lot of supposed scientific reports have been release stating that static stretching does more harm than good but a little something was left out of these reports. The responsibility of the person performing these stretches.
For static stretching to be effective, you must be properly warmed-up. You need more than just surface sweat, you muscles should be warmed to the core! This requires at least 10 minutes of cardio activity prior to stretching. You also need to understand how to perform a static stretch.
Most people who injure themselves doing static stretching usually go too deep into the stretch to begin, use poor form and try to force their flexibility which is a formula for strained over-stretched muscles.
Proper static stretching:
After properly warming up, begin with your larger muscle groups and work down to your smaller ones. You want to ease into your stretch until you feel the gentle tension and hold it for 15-30 seconds.
If your stretch eases up after 15 seconds, go a little deeper. If your stretch doesn’t ease up after 15 seconds, come out of it and shake out the muscle then repeat the stretch.
What happened here is that you probably went a little too deep into the stretch, to begin with. Your stretches should ease up at about the 15-second mark allowing you to go a little deeper into the stretch to work on your flexibility.
Before going deeper into your stretch always take a deep breath and increase your stretch as you exhale.
Static stretching after weight work is great but never do flexibility training after weight work because your muscles are tighter than when you began so your goal should be to return your muscles back to their resting length.
When I do static stretching for flexibility, I usually hold my stretch for 60 seconds going a little deeper every 15 seconds.
Ballistic stretching involves rapid, uncontrolled bouncing motion using the forces of gravity to help you stretch your muscles; incorporating a high-force, short-duration stretching of the targeted muscles.
While ballistic stretching can help improve sports performance, this type of stretching isn’t for everyone and due to the nature of the stretch, there is an increased risk of injury.
This style of stretching is great for those involved in sports that require the need for good flexibility during explosive movement.
Ideally, you should engage in ballistic style stretching only if it is to prepare for a ballistic sport.
I do ballistic stretching in karate all the time. Some moves that require flexibility while defying gravity include: jumping splits kick, jumping front kick, jumping side kick and jumping spinning back fist just to name a few.
Dynamic stretching is often included with ballistic stretching, but dynamic stretching gives you more control over your movements. This style of stretching involves taking your body through certain movements increasing your range of motion as your body gets warmer.
Dynamic stretching is great to perform during the warm-up phase of your workouts.
A good example of dynamic stretching is the straight kick we do in karate to help us get warm. Now I can easily kick over my head, but when I am cold I just take my kicks high enough to feel a gentle stretch in the hamstrings. As I get warmer, I’m able to take my kicks higher while keeping the stretch gentle.
PNF-Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation stretching was developed for use by a physical therapist to help rehabilitate their patients.
PNF stretching quickens neuromuscular responses by stimulating neural proprioceptors.
There are many forms of PNF stretching and it can get pretty complicated, but here is one example of this stretching technique as I use it when doing my hamstring stretches:
Laying on the floor, I will raise one leg holding it at the ankle and pull it to me to statically stretch my hamstring. I will go a little deeper into the stretch every 15 seconds until I have to stretch it for 60 seconds. (I will release and relax the muscle here if I need too, if not I continue on.)
At this point, while holding the stretch, I flex my foot to add intensity to the stretch. Once the tension eases up I isometrically contract my hamstring by pressing my leg into my hands but I don’t allow my leg to move at all.
So now my leg is stretching as far as it could comfortably go with static stretching, my foot is flexed and I am pressing my leg into my hands to isometrically stretch my hamstring. When this stretch eases up I add one more element.
I press my hips to the floor. This movement causes my hamstring to begin stretching from the belly of the muscle up towards the glutes so I am not stretching my hamstrings in both directions.
I hold this for about 30 seconds, then I release all elements of the stretch. I shake out the muscles then I go back into the static hamstring stretch. At this point, I can usually stretch just a little bit deeper than before.
This is very intense! If you wish to try this method of stretching make sure you are properly warmed up and add on the different elements in stages.
Stretching During The Warm-Up
There is a lot of press these days saying that we shouldn’t stretch during the warm-up phase of our workouts save it until the end. Well that really does depend on certain factors:
Does the warm up provide you with enough time to actually get warm? You have probably noticed that warm-ups today are usually 2 minutes of useless ballistic movements.
What kind of stretches are you thinking of using in your warm-ups? Dynamic stretching is a fantastic way to help you warm-up by gradually increasing your range of motion as your muscles begin to respond to the heat generated by your movements.
Static stretching is not the best stretching to do during the warm-up but that is up to you.
I know some people simply need a few minutes of static stretching after the warm-up phase of their workout. This is usually because the warm-up was not sufficient enough to properly prepare them for the work to come so they need a little extra stretching.
If you do decide to use static stretching during the warm-up phase of your workout remember, this isn’t about gaining flexibility! Stretch the muscle for a count of eight then move on.
A lot of people fear that stretching during the warm-up will adversely affect their workouts. I’ve read numerous studies on this and most of these studies involved participants holding their static stretches way too long for a warm-up. They weren’t able to lift as much or their muscles fatigued faster.
Well, unless you are involved in a sport where absolutes are vital, what difference does it make. Who cares if you had to squat 30lbs instead of 35lb. Your muscles still get worked, just with a slightly lighter weight.
The Value of Regular Stretching
Personally, I couldn’t live without my stretching routines. I usually add 10 minutes of stretching to the end of my cardio intensive workouts. This is a time for me to relax, bring myself down from my workout and appreciate what I just did for me. I hope you too can find the value in making the time to stretch your muscles. Remember to never force a stretch and to listen to your body.