Flexibility training, or stretching, is one of the most overlooked components of fitness. Regular stretching will not only allow you to push yourself further in the gym but gives your muscles a chance to recover faster. That means you’ll hit your fitness goals faster – and keep your body healthier while you do it!
Benefits of stretching:
Stress often means tense muscles. When your body is under physical and emotional stress, your muscles tighten. Regular stretching reduces mental tension and requires a focus on your breathing while you are stretching. This can help reduce stress and anxiety. When you’re stressed, areas of stretching to focus on would include common stress areas: neck, shoulders, back.
Enhanced range of motion
Tight muscles decrease your range of motion. When this happens, you’re more likely to strain the muscles. Stretching can not only help heal an existing injury, but a regular stretching routine can strengthen your muscles and reduce risk for strain.
Minimized wear and tear on joints
Stretching prior to physical activity helps prepare your muscles for activity. This helps enhance performance and even decrease the chance of injury. Full range of motion helps keep your body better balanced and allows for your muscles to work more efficiently. Coordination and balance keep you mobile and less prone to injury. Well stretched muscles allow you to maintain proper posture, which minimizes discomfort.
Better recovery time
Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles – which brings nourishment and gets rid of waste in the muscle tissue. This can also help shorten recovery time if you’ve had muscular injuries and reduce soreness.
Types of stretching
Static stretching: holding a stretching in a challenging, but comfortable (not painful) position for time – typically 10 to 30 seconds.
Dynamic stretching: a stretch performed by moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly (think 10-12 times). This is not a bouncing stretch, but rather a movement through a range of stretching. Dynamic stretching is controlled, smooth and deliberate.
Passive stretching: uses outside assistance to help achieve a stretching. The assistance could be body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. This requires a relaxed muscle and your stretch relies on the external force (the assistance) to hold you in place.
Active stretching: stretching by actively contracting the muscle in opposition of the one you’re stretching. You do not use your body weight, strap leverage, gravity, another person or a stretching device. With active stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the opposing muscle to initiate the stretch.
All stretches are a combination of either static/dynamic and passive/active.
How to stretch
Warm up – take a short walk or jog or jump around for a few minutes
Hold stretches for 10-30 seconds
Focus on a deep – but pain free -stretch
Relax and breathe
Stretch both sides
Stretch before and after activity