Monday, April 14, 2014

The Importance of Stretching

   I hear it all the time; "I forget to stretch", "I don't like to stretch", or "I don't see the point of stretching". You all are some kind of crazy... stretching is my favorite part of my workout! I get to relax, bring my heart rate back down from the rate similar to a speeding train and it feels great! If I'm really lucky, I can get a good back crack or a hip to pop out of it too. Stretching also though has it's benefits. The biggest one: Injury Prevention. Think of it... you just lifted weights or ran, or both, you went until the burn was too much and you started to cramp. Your muscles did all of those moves by tightening up and tearing. Think of a piece of spring, all coiled tight- that is your muscles after a workout. You need to stretch them so you can regain function! Muscles work by attaching to bones to allow movement and humans are built for force and range of motion, but if your muscles are too tight then you lose range of motion and something usually overcompensates and potentially gets injured. No one needs an injury when they're really starting to see results, let alone because they didn't stretch. And let me tell you, pulling a muscle, ligament, or tendon is not a fun feeling at all.
   Stretching also helps improve a muscles elasticity and your overall flexibility. So, what kind of stretching is best and when? I'm going to break it all down for you! There are four types of stretching:
 1. Ballistic: rapid bouncing where you are using momentum to get the maximum stretch. The muscle contracts to protect itself.
 2. Static: holding a stretch with no bouncing or movement for 30 seconds with gentle tension.
 3. Dynamic: a movement stretch that is slow and controlled.
 4. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facillitation (PNF): targets a specific muscle for the job it does. You use a partner mostly, and resist against the stretch and then relax, allowing for a deeper stretch.
Some common stretches I do for hips, legs, and back!

   Many people also argue over if stretching is appropriate before exercise; the answer is yes, but only if they are dynamic stretches. Ballistic stretching is almost always dangerous so I never recommend it. Static stretching is great as part of an exercise cool down. PNF stretching though is my favorite. It allows for the greatest range of motion. You don't want to stretch too much before exercise because you don't want the muscle fibers overstretched. A warm up such as walking or biking will usually suffice for getting the muscles ready to work.

   Other benefits of stretching include increasing blood flow. Increased blood flow leads to the production of synovial fluids (the fluid that encases your joints and keeps them lubricated- very important!) and the prevention of arteries hardening. You want nice flexible arteries so blood can flow freely and easily through them! Stretching also prevents arthritis (in part by producing synovial fluid) and helps stabilize the body's natural posture. Posture is extremely important and keeping muscles stretched helps reduce tight muscles keeping you almost folded in on yourself. Regular stretching also helps protect your joints and makes you more aware of how they attach and how your joints feel. Not to mention, it feels great! Who doesn't love a good stretch?!
Stretching with a foam roller

You never want to "over stretch" aka as stretching to the point of pain. You should feel slight tension, but it shouldn't be causing you physical pain. Feeling sore from your workout the day before? Stretch!

Don't know how to stretch? Google it. Common stretches are as simple as touching your toes while keeping your knees straight or hugging yourself tight. Stretching can get much more scientific and complicated, but you are always welcome to ask me, or a fitness professional for tips on stretching. I like to pair stretching with foam rolling, which is an active kind of stretch and a whole topic in itself. Here are a few to get you started though!

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