The importance of stretching
Think you’re saving time by skipping this step in your training routine? Think again.
Don’t underestimate the power of stretching. It goes way beyond being a ‘warm-up’ or ‘cool-down’ procedure – in fact, it really it should be considered a training unit of its own. ‘The great thing about it is that you can basically stretch anywhere, any time and can adjust it easily to your needs and wants,’ says Head of the BODYTEC Training Academy, Sharne Botha.
Regular stretching helps improve flexibility and increases your range of motion. The Mayo Clinic reports that better flexibility may improve your performance in physical activities, or decrease your risk of injuries by helping your joints move through their full range of motion and enabling your muscles to work most effectively. With consistent stretching, the body becomes more flexible. You’ll find it easier to bend, stand and squat! Muscles that have not been stretched tend to remain constricted which prevents you from using them to their full capacity.
When your muscles are pushed during a workout your muscle length shortens; this can leave them feeling tight and sore. Stretching helps to reset your body to a natural position and posture. It also increases blood and nutrient supply to muscles, thereby possibly reducing muscle soreness and promoting muscle repair. The moment you work out muscles, the body produces lactic acid which makes the muscles fatigued and sore. Stretching eliminates the lactic acid that has accumulated inside your body.
Your heart will also thank you when you do a good session. It’s vital to gradually reduce your heart rate after an intense workout to avoid putting a strain on the heart muscle. Stretching helps you to do that.
Different Stretches, For Different Goals
‘There are different types or protocols for stretching, as they are for endurance or strength training,’ says Sharne. ‘We can separate stretching into Dynamic stretching, Static (or classic) stretching and Assisted stretching.
- Dynamic stretching is characterised by a short time period for which the end position is held – a person ‘crawls’ controlled into the aimed stretch position and holds the end position for a maximum of three seconds and then slowly ‘crawls’ backwards into a starting position. This can be repeated 3 – 10 times per stretch and the whole repetition (including 'crawling times') should last maximum 8 seconds.
BENEFITS: Increased blood flow in the involved muscle groups, therefore a decreased risk for injuries and improvements in flexibility and joint mobility.
- Static stretching is probably the most common type of stretching and is characterised by a slow movement pattern towards the aimed stretch position and is followed by a person remaining in end position for 10 to 20 seconds, before moving back into a starting position.
BENEFITS: People who do this type of stretching will experience a tension relief or ‘detonisation’ of involved muscle groups, as well as improvements in flexibility and in many cases a relief of muscle pain symptoms.
- Assisted stretching follows the same principle as static stretching, but involves an element that assists a person to move into a stretch end position. Such assistance can simply be a wall or door frame which is used as a stabilisation point, but can also be a second person that guides the movement into the stretch position and that applies controlled pressure, as well as a band that pulls the intended body part into the end position.
BENEFITS: Increased range of motion, meaning you can go further into end positions.
Which type of stretching method is most beneficial, depends on the individual training goals of a person, but it is generally advised for starters to try out all different types and make the experience towards a best-fit decision.
Some Important Tips when Stretching
- Don’t stretch when you first wake up in the morning. Your body will still be too stiff from inactivity during the night.
- ‘Working’ your muscles with light walking or jogging for 5 - 10 minutes before you stretch will warm them up, reducing your risk of injury.
- Strive for symmetry. Everyone's genetics for flexibility are different, so take note that you work towards building equal flexibility side to side.
- Focus on major muscle groups. These are your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders.
Make sure that you stretch both sides.
- Don't bounce. Bouncing as you stretch can cause injury to your muscle. You want a smooth stretch.
- Don't aim for pain. Expect to feel tension while you're stretching, not pain. If it hurts, you've pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don't feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
For more tips on stretching, also read:
6 Stretches to build strength