Stretching, whether you are sporty or not benefits everyone!
By stretching you increase (and maintain) your flexibility and range of joint movement. Unfortunately, flexibility tends to lessen as we age, but you CAN regain and maintain it.
What Are the Benefits?
Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles. Improved circulation can help reduce
your recovery time if you’ve had any muscular injuries. Your circulation
removes waste and normal/ natural by-products in the muscle tissue
Regular stretching can help you to maintain an improved posture, which minimizes tension, aches and pains.
Stretching relaxes tight muscles that often accompany stress.
Maintaining the full range of joint movement can enhance your co-ordination and balance.
How To Stretch Correctly
It is essential to practice a ’good’ stretching technique. Doing so will allow you to avoid unnecessary injury’s. Tips to proper stretching technique include the following:
- Warm up first. Stretching muscles when they’re cold increases your risk of pulled muscles.
- Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. It takes time to stretch the muscle(s) safely. Hold your stretches for at least 30 seconds ( up to 60 seconds for a really tight muscle or problem area.)
A point to remember is that during the first 10 seconds the muscles ‘prepares’ itself for stretching, and warms-up, the remainder of the time is when it lengthens (stretches)
- Don’t bounce! Bouncing as you stretch can cause small tears in the muscle this can lead to scarring of the tissue as the muscle heals. The scar tissue tightens the muscle further, resulting in less flexibility and the possibility that you will be more prone to pain.
- Focus on a pain-free stretch. If you feel pain as you stretch, you’ve gone too far. Reduce the intensity until you feel no pain, then hold the stretch.
- Relax and breathe freely, never hold your breath while you’re stretching
- Always stretch both sides. Make sure your joint range of motion is as equal as possible on each side of your body, if you stretch one side and not the other you are creating an imbalance. You could be increasing your chance of injury (and) or pain.
- Stretch before and after activity. Light stretching after your warm-up followed by a more thorough stretching regimen after your workout is the most efficient regime.
Conditions in which stretching should be avoided include:
Acute Muscle Sprains/ Strains.
People who have suffered an acute muscle strain should avoid placing further stress on the muscle through stretching activities. An injured muscle should be given time to rest.
Stretching muscle fibres in the acute period can result in further injury.
Broken/ Fractured Bones
After breaking a bone, the fracture site needs time to heal. Stretching the muscles which surround an injured area can place stress on the bone and prevent it from healing as efficiently, worse still it can further displace the break. Stretching a joint that surrounds a broken bone should never be done until cleared by your GP.
Joint Strain/ Sprain
When you sprain your joint, you overstretch the ligaments that help stabilize the bones that form the joint. For this reason stretching early after a joint sprain should be avoided. As with fractures, these structures need time to heal and stretching too early in the injury will delay this process.
So just to remind you (in brief) here are the top 10 tips for safe stretching:
- Balance your routine. Work opposing muscle groups each time you stretch i.e. if you start by stretching the muscles in the back of your thigh, then follow by stretching the muscles at the front of it.
- Breathe normally when stretching. Don’t try to hold your breath or perform special breathing exercises.
- Get advice to avoid injury. Check with your doctor or health professional before stretching if you have an injury, are unsure of how to stretch properly or have had a previous injury.
- Hold a sustained stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Don’t bounce when stretching. Overstretching causes muscle to contract and can cause small tears in fibres.
- Include stretching in your daily routine. Gentle stretching can improve your circulation which will help reduce muscle tension and soreness.
- Make stretching part of your other warm-up and cool-down activities. It will help put you in the right frame of mind before exercise and help you relax afterwards.
- Only stretch to the point of mild discomfort. Once your muscle feels comfortable, increase the stretch then hold it again. If it hurts, BACK OFF! You are pushing your body too far.
- Prevent boredom. Check out new alternative stretches.
- Stretch for 10 minutes every day. Regular stretching improves your balance, strength and flexibility.
- Warm up your muscles before stretching. Try 10 minutes of gentle exercise like walking, or after a long hot shower or bath. Remember, stretching cold muscles may result in injury.