You may think that stretching is time-consuming, dull, bordering on pointless, that it’s something performed by only gymnasts, and that we should put our efforts into fitness training rather than just stretching. But hold it right there, stretching is crucial to us all, and even more so if you’re an active person!
Why is stretching so important?
Repetitive athletic movements can reduce your range of motion by tightening the muscles and tendons. Sure, a certain tension is required, especially in strength sports, but too much tension shortens and tightens the muscles. Then, when you call upon these muscles for physical activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. This decreased range of motion not only reduces the quality of your performance but can put you at serious risk for injury. Stretching, therefore, keeps the muscles flexible and healthy. It also accelerates the speed at which proteins that make up the muscle fibers are synthesised; thus, your body gains muscle tone, strength, and resilience.
However, you can’t just stretch once and expect to be able to do the splits, whilst at the same time turn your muscles into those like Mr. Schwarzenegger’s. It may have taken months for you to get tight muscles – sitting in an office chair all day often results in tight hamstrings for instance. It takes regular stretching, for weeks or months to gain flexibility.
Top tips for Stretching
Whilst you can indeed stretch anywhere, at any time, stretching incorrectly can actually do more harm than good. Therefore, you need to make sure you stretch safely and effectively, using good technique – so here are some top tips to ensure we all stretch properly!
• Stretching is not a warm-up – if you stretch cold muscles, you could hurt yourself. So warm your muscles up with some light walking, jogging or cycling at a low intensity for 5-10 minutes first, or, even better, stretch after your workout when your muscles are nice and warm!
• Don’t aim for pain – yes you can expect to feel tension while you’re stretching, but not pain. If it hurts, you’ve gone too far. It’s great that you’re trying to improve your flexibility, but not all in one go! If it hurts, back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, and then hold the stretch.
• Don’t bounce – stretch in a smooth movement without bouncing, because bouncing can actually contribute to muscle tightness and cause injury.
• Hold your stretch – hold each stretch for about 30 seconds, or in problem areas, even up to 60 seconds. And don’t forget to breathe!
• Keep up with your stretching – this is where the tortoise wins the race, not the hare. Slow and steady, daily and gently. If stretching helps you to increase your range of motion, then your range of motion may well decrease again if you stop.
• Know when to exercise caution – if you have a chronic condition or an injury, you might need to adjust your stretching techniques as stretching may cause further harm. Therefore, talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the best way for you to stretch.
Remember, stretching does not mean that you can’t get injured, but regular stretching is a fantastic way to keep your muscles long, lean, flexible and healthy!
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