An often-overlooked aspect of exercise is the importance of stretching. Stretching has many benefits which include:
1. Reduced risk of joint injuries, muscle strain and back issues.
2. Reduced post exercise soreness.
3. Quicker recovery from the workout.
4. Increased coordination and range of motion.
5. Improved gains in strength through increased range of motion.
6. Improved body awareness.
7. Increased physical and mental relaxation.
8. Increased mobility.
The tension in a muscle and tendons is detected by receptors known as Muscle Spindles. These spindles monitor changes in the length of the muscle and rate of change length. An important job of these spindles is to protect the muscle from injury. If this change happens too quickly or the muscle stretches too far, and a reflex contraction is activated to prevent injury. The tendons have receptors known as Golgi Tendon Organs, (GTOs). GTOs detect increases in tension, causing the muscle to relax to prevent injury. If a muscle is extremely tight the GTOs need to be stimulated as opposed to the muscle spindles. Slow static stretching following an aerobic warm up is the safest way to achieve this.
Strength training is enhanced when an individual incorporates a stretching program into their training. In order to fully stimulate a muscle, it is important to work the muscle through a full range of motion. If stretching is neglected the muscles range of motion is reduced, meaning it will not be able to reach its full potential. Stretching at the end of a workout helps the body to remove lactic acid from the muscle and sends it into the blood stream.
Posture is also improved by stretching. More and more people are working behind a desk, driving for work or spend a large part of their working day bent forward. This can put a great amount of strain on the muscles of the torso. By stretching the chest muscles and the Hamstrings, imbalances in posture can be corrected.
The type of stretching and when it is performed can have a huge impact on exercise performance. I’m sure some of you reading this remember PE lessons in school when static stretching was performed at the start and end of the lesson. In my own personal experience, I have found that static stretching at the end of my session has produced the best results. This is because the muscles being stretched are at their warmest, therefor they can be stretched further, and the stretch can be held for longer. As far as pre-workout stretching, I have found that dynamic stretching following a five to ten-minute aerobic warmup have produced the best results. These can be walking lunges or bodyweight squats, bear-crawls or the inchworm for a lower-body workout. Dynamic stretching for an upper-body workout can include neck rotations, shoulder circles and hip rotations. I also attend a weekly Yoga class to help me relax and to learn new stretching techniques.