Flexibility training is one of the three major elements of exercise that I recommend everyone do. Stretching your muscles keeps them healthy and healthy muscles are less likely to become injured with a strain. When your muscles, tendons and ligaments are properly stretched, and remain flexible, you’re less like to injure a joint, such as a sprained knee or shoulder. Stretching creates and maintains the full range of motion throughout the joint.
The process of stretching brings blood flow to the muscles, tendons and ligaments, so they will heal faster if you do injure them. This is also why you are less likely to feel severe muscle soreness after exercising, plus that soreness will cease much sooner in elongated, supple muscles. Stretching will also reduce tension you feel, especially in your neck, shoulders and back.
As we age, we naturally become less flexible. Muscles, tendons and ligaments shrink and become dry and brittle and injure easily. While stretching on a regular basis will not completely prevent this from occurring in our later years, it will delay it into much later years than if you’ve never stretched at all.
Stretching correctly is extremely important. If you’re especially inflexible, you’re likely to injure a muscle by trying to stretch it beyond its limits. You may even feel like you’ve done an aggressive workout by overstretching the first time you try. But over time, with continuous flexibility training, your muscles will remain in their elongated state. This does take time, and that amount of time differs for everyone.
It is important to note that you should only stretch when your muscles are fully warmed up. The best way to do this is on one of the cardio machines, such as an elliptical trainer. You can also warm up in a hot bath, whirlpool tub or shower. Once you’re warm, you can stretch all the muscles in your body. Drinking plenty of water helps the muscles stay hydrated, also important to get a good stretch and to maintain that elongated muscle.
I have my clients stretch fully both before and after the workout. If a particular muscle feels tight or burns during the workout, I have them stop and stretch it. This will almost always immediately stop the burn, giving them the ability to go on with a good workout.
There are many different types of stretches, but the one I use most often is called an Active Static Stretch, where my client will provide their own force to stretch the various muscles. This is safe because they can feel if the stretch is too far beyond their particular range of motion. I sometimes need to coach them to push their limits far enough, though, in order to make a difference. Static means that they hold the muscles in the elongated position for 10 to 30 seconds, depending on individual needs. There are times to utilize the other stretching techniques such as Passive, Ballistic, Dynamic and PNF stretching, but these should only be needed in extenuating circumstances where a particular muscle is having trouble releasing.
Stretching is relaxing and does not take up a lot of time. It can be done just about anywhere, with modifications of course. It can be used as a stress reducer, and to enhance a feeling of well being.