Stretching is a natural gesture that maintains physical form and well-being. It is a primary method to increase flexibility. Instinctively, stretch is the first thing we do when we wake up. Beyond this, it is also a good way to increase your athletic performance & flexibility. In fact, flexibility is an important part of physical fitness but it is often overlooked during workouts.
Stretching is a form of exercise in which a muscle group or a specific muscle is stretched. It definitely helps in the prevention of injuries.
5 Benefits of stretching:
A) Maintain an Increase Range of Motion
Athletic movements done repetitively can reduce your range of motion by tightening the muscles and tendons. Stretching regularly can prevent this problem.
In sports like, swimming or gymnastics, stretching must be done regularly so that the range of motion of joints can be increased.
B) Increase Muscle Tone
Stretching accelerates the speed at which proteins that make up the muscle fibers are synthesized. This helps your body gain muscle tone, strength, and resilience.
C) Warm up before Workout
Stretching helps in warming up the muscles, tendons, and joints, which thereby prepares the body for physical exertion.
D) Relieve Stress
It has oxygenating effects due to which it minimizes the stress that can tighten muscles.
E) Prevent Injuries
Most muscular efforts compress various joints as well as the spine. Stretching decompress your back as well as joints. This prevents injuries while accelerating recovery to the joints and muscles.
Stretching can be done during warm-up while exercising, immediately after a workout & even between workouts.
Too Much Flexibility Can Diminish Performance
It is impressive to be flexible, but beyond a certain point, too much flexibility can diminish performance. So, there must be a good balance between flexibility and muscle tension. To prevent injuries, muscles must be flexible enough. But not so much more, that your joints move around easily like a rag doll.
Stretching has an ability to increase or diminish performance levels. So, you must be careful to use it properly.
Factors that influence flexibility:
1) muscle temperature
Warm muscles stretch more easily than cold muscles.
2) Physical activity
The flexibility of sedentary individuals is less whereas, active individuals tend to maintain or even increase flexibility.
Injury can limit the range of motion.
4) muscle composition
Most muscular individuals have good flexibility because they have trained their muscles through a full range of motion. Overly bulky muscles may limit movement. Fat can also limit movement and flexibility.
As the person ages, flexibility declines more due to inactivity than to the aging process itself. They can maintain flexibility by doing stretching activities regularly.
Diseases such as arthritis can make it uncomfortable or even painful to move joints. Arthritic individuals can improve their joint mobility through exercise.
Static v/s Dynamic Stretching:
|STATIC STRETCHING||DYNAMIC STRETCHING|
|DEFINITION||It consists of holding a stretch for 10 sec to 1 minute.||It consists of pulling more or less forcefully on a muscle using small, repetitive movements for 10-20 sec.|
|ADVANTAGE||It is very unlikely to cause an injury if practiced in a controlled and progressive manner.||It is least likely to cause a decrease in performance when done before a workout.|
|DISADVANTAGE||It can cause a decrease in performance if done before a workout.||It is most likely to cause an injury.|
Breathing During Stretching:
Breathing affects muscle tone in these ways:
- Muscles can express their full power only when you hold your breath.
- They are a little weaker when you exhale.
- They are the weakest during inhalation.
Holding your breath during a stretch will stiffen the muscle. So you must relax your body. You should synchronize your breath with the stretch and exhale during the intense part of the stretch.
Unilateral or Bilateral stretch. Which is better?
You must have noticed that you are always more flexible when you stretch one limb at a time. When you stretch both sides together, there is diminished flexibility.
So, to increase your range of motion quickly, you should do more unilateral stretches than bilateral.
Stretching to prevent sports related problems
We often hear that playing sports is good for our health. But, athletes often have annoying problems such as cramps, stiff muscles, etc. No doubt, stretching regularly can reduce the frequency of their problems.
Cramps often happen to athletes. They are due to an involuntary and forceful contraction of a muscle. The pain goes away after a few minutes and sometimes after just a few seconds.
They are often caused by poor hydration, a lack of magnesium or sodium, an insufficient workout, an inappropriate movement, or an incorrect position.
To eliminate a cramp, stretch the cramped muscle to force it to relax immediately.
Stiff muscles are muscle pains that can affect several muscle groups at the same time. Stretching regularly before and after workouts will eventually prevent muscle stiffness.
However, in a short term, stretching can actually cause muscle stiffness. When you perform a new exercise, you stretch the muscle or tendon in an unfamiliar way. This can damage the muscle fibers and thus can cause stiffness. But, this can work as a vaccine for further future stiffness. If you do the stretches again after a few days, you will feel no stiffness.
A spasm is the presence of a hard and painful knot in the muscle. They can take days to resolve. They are a symptom of fatigue and injury.
A good stretching program should focus first on problem areas in order to prevent muscle spasms.
The first stage of a serious muscle problem is a pulled muscle. It occurs when a muscle is stretched too forcefully or beyond its normal length.
To prevent pulled muscles, stretching is one of the best ways.
It occurs when you continue to push yourself too hard even with an injured muscle.
If the muscle is not completely healed, a second tear can cause serious problems.
Just as for pulled muscle, stretching is the best way to prevent tears.
We have discussed a lot of reasons, why stretching is important for us to do before and even after the workout. Stretching not only affects our performance efficiency by increasing flexibility but also prevents a lot of injuries associated with sports.
Make Stretching a part of your daily routine and take your workout to the next level and never let injury hinder your path.
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