Discover The Benefits Of A Flexibility Routine.
There are few things that evoke more debate in the fitness world than a discussion of stretching benefits. First, we were told that stretching before exercise would reduce the risk of sore muscles afterward and injury during the workout program. That philosophy was changed to state that stretching provides no benefit to the body and is an unnecessary part of a fitness program. In fact, the type of stretching that many of us learned in gym class has now been found to cause more injury than it prevents. Can we find a happy medium to this fitness dilemma? Apparently we can, with the latest research showing numerous stretching benefits when the exercise is done correctly and at the proper time.
As basic stretching has evolved into what is currently known as ‘flexibility training’, the health benefits of stretching have transformed as well. Flexibility training is an essential component to a full-workout program because it increases range of motion, improves circulation and promotes better posture. Regular flexibility workouts can also reduce tension and relieve stress. Plus, stretching just feels good, which is as good for our psyche as it is for our bodies. The jury may still be out on whether stretching can effectively prevent injury when performed before other types of exercise, but there is no doubt that this type of workout is good for us in many other ways.
Types of Stretches
There are basically two types of stretches: assisted vs. unassisted stretching exercises. Assisted stretches require some sort of assistance to make and hold the stretch. It might be a workout band, your body weight or gravity. It can also be a workout buddy, who is trained to help you hold a stretch without causing you injury. Assisted stretches, or passive stretches, can help you improve flexibility, but they will probably not do much to enhance your performance in sporting activities.
Unassisted stretches, or active stretches, involve stretching one muscle by contracting another. Unassisted stretches are more challenging to perform, but the potential benefits are much greater. These benefits include improvements in sports performance, flexibility, strength and posture.
It is also important to learn the difference between static and dynamic stretching. Both static and dynamic stretching can be either assisted or unassisted. Static stretching involves holding a position for a short period of time, usually between 10 and 30 seconds. You should feel tension in the muscle that is working, but never pain. Never use static stretches until you have warmed up; reserve these exercises for muscles that have been sufficiently warmed up with physical activity such as walking, jogging or cycling for at least five minutes. If you plan to do a full-flexibility workout of static stretches, it is best to warm up for at least fifteen minutes prior to stretching. While static stretching is a good choice for increasing flexibility, this type of exercise can slow muscle activation for some time after a workout. For this reason, it is important to avoid static stretches before sports competitions, since they may hinder your performance.On the other hand, the benefits of dynamic stretching are specifically geared to the performance of athletes. Dynamic stretching incorporates movement with the stretch, such as neck circles or arm swings. This type of stretching will improve flexibility and warm up the body, making them a good choice before a sports competition. Dynamic stretching will also increase flexibility effectively. Do not confuse dynamic stretching with the bouncing stretches, also known as ballistic stretching, that we all used to do in P.E. classes. Bouncing into stretches, especially when using cold muscles, can lead to injury of the muscles and joints.
Another advanced type of stretch is known as the proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation or PNF stretching. These exercises should be done with extreme caution, and preferably under the supervision of a trained professional. PNF stretches are touted as some of the best for increasing flexibility. These stretches combine passive stretching with isometric stretching. Isometric stretching uses contractions of stretched muscles to provide further resistance and thus to increase the flexibility factor. PNF stretches require a partner to assist with the resistance part of the exercise. A passive stretch is performed before the isometric stretching, and then again afterward with an increased range of motion.
The How-To’sNow that you are well versed in the benefits of stretching muscles, it’s time to learn how to make the most of your flexibility training. First, it is important to warm up your muscles with some light activity before you try to stretch them. Try targeting specific groups of muscles, and make sure that you address all of the major muscle groups of the body for balance and full flexibility. The Mayo Clinic advises people to focus on the calves and thigh muscles of the legs, and the entire length of the spine, which includes the neck and shoulders, lower back and hips. Stretch the muscle until you feel tension without pain, and hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds. Relax and breathe deeply during your stretch, since sending oxygen to the working muscle will allow you to coax a bit more movement out of the stretch.
A complete flexibility program can be done three or four times each week for maximum benefit, but it doesn’t have to take more than 10 or 15 minutes to complete your flexibility workout. One to four repetitions of each stretch should be sufficient to reap the best stretching benefits. Focus on performing each stretch slowly and accurately to avoid causing soreness or injury to the area you are working. If there is a particular area of your body that is naturally tight, daily stretching of the area can help to loosen the muscles and improve flexibility to the area.
Are there Benefits of Stretching before Exercise?This has been one of the least understood aspects of stretching, but the majority of the information today seems to point to no benefit of stretching before exercise. To sufficiently prepare your body for any type of workout, you need to warm up your muscles instead of stretch them. The best method for warming up the body is light aerobic activity such as walking, jogging or a few jumping jacks. However, stretching certainly has its place in a regular fitness program, as discussed above.
There are plenty of reasons to begin a flexibility training program. Increased range of motion, better circulation, improved posture and enhanced balance are just a few of the stretching benefits that have been proven. Many people enjoy their stretching workout because it releases tension and relaxes the body and the mind. And the best part is that you can stretch anytime and anywhere without the need for an exorbitant amount of space or expensive fitness equipment. Go ahead – reach for your toes or reach for the stars. Your body will reap the benefits in many different ways.