So what is stretching, and why do we need to do it?
Muscles, there are approximately 650 muscles in the human body. They make up around 50% of our total body weight. Our muscle tissue can be divided into three types, skeletal, smooth and cardiac. I am only looking at skeletal muscles in this blog.
So what are our skeletal muscles and what do they do?
Our skeletal muscles have many roles in the body, but predominantly they
* give us our shape.
* maintain our posture
*provide support to our internal organs.
* keep our joints in place.
And of course, provide movement and flexibility to our skeleton. Flexibility is essentially how far we can each turn, bend and reach our joints. Stiff or tight muscles interfere with our normal range, and our freedom of movement. They create pain and discomfort in our joints, alter our posture, affect our performance and reduce our strength.
So why do we stretch?
We stretch to improve range of movement. This helps us to move freely and accurately, reduces discomfort and reduces our susceptibility to injury
We stretch to improve our muscle power - by increasing the length of our muscles we can increase the length that our muscles can contract. This in turn increases the power of the stretched muscle, potentially improving our athletic abilities.
We stretch to reduce our post exercise muscle soreness, also known as DOMS, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. We are all familiar with that post gym stiffness that hits you 24-48h after a workout. What you may not know is that this soreness is thought to be a result of microscopic tears in the muscle fibres. By stretching after exercise, we increase the length of the muscle fibres which helps to improve the blood circulation and aid repair.
Other noted benefits of regular stretching are, improved posture, better body awareness, better circulation, more energy, less stress and we are more relaxed.
So we can see why stretching is so good for us, now we need to look at when and how to stretch.
As we have discussed, the purpose of stretching before exercise is to improve our freedom and range of movement, thus helping to prevent injury.
There are several different types of stretching. I am going to discuss basic static and dynamic stretching.
Static stretching is the one we will be most familiar with. We hold our body into tension in order to stretch different areas.
Static stretching is best performed as part of a cool down post exercise, and when you are, well, static!
The main focus of stretching after exercise is to enhance recovery and aid muscle repair. Static stretching is designed to lengthen the muscle fibre and maintain range of motion and improve our flexibility.
To perform a static stretch without any prior activity, when our muscles are cold, puts them at risk of damage from tearing.
To do an effective static stretch we hold the muscle into a lengthened position. We feel this stretch as tension in the muscle. Maintain that position for 30 seconds.
After 30 seconds you may find that the stretch has become more comfortable - this is due to the muscle fibres beginning to lengthen. Take the stretch a little further to find the new tension barrier, and again hold it for 30 seconds. It is useful to repeat a stretch for 3x30 seconds.
Now we come to dynamic stretching. Now this type of stretching we may not be so familiar with.
Dynamic stretching is active stretching. Dynamic stretching most useful as part of our warm up – or when we are active!
To perform a dynamic stretch we use controlled movements during activity to increase the blood circulation, improve range of motion to the joints, to improve our awareness of body and the location of our limbs. All of this helps to protect them from injury and fatigue and to improve our performance.
Dynamic stretching is NOT to be confused with Ballistic stretching. Ballistic stretching involves jerking, bouncing movements that force a stretch further and take it beyond its natural range. I do not recommend ballistic stretching.