Whatever the chosen event or form of exercise, we all know that we should engage in some form of stretching as part of our program, but how many people really understand why they are doing it, the benefits of it, when to do it or even how to do it?
Firstly it’s important to remember that when stretching before exercise, this only forms a critical part of the warm-up, but it is not the warm-up itself. Warming up the muscles first prepares the body for more strenuous activity.
Stretching muscles effectively will enhance athletic performance, decrease the likelihood of injury and minimize muscle soreness. This is achieved through a number effects such as an Improved Range of Movement. This is when increasing the distance your limb can move before damage may occur to the muscles and tendons. When you increase the distance by which the muscles can contract, you then increase their power and therefore their athletic ability.
When we stretch as part of a cool down, this helps to alleviate post-exercise muscle soreness by lengthening the individual muscle fibres, increasing blood circulation and removing waste products such as lactic acid. Then as you start to achieve increased flexibility through stretching, this will help prevent muscle fatigue, as it will take the pressure off of the working muscles when you exercise.
Whilst there is no such a thing as a good or bad stretch it should be specific to the individual and their requirements. Look to stretch after a warm up and then again after exercise, remembering only to go to the point of tension. It is important to stretch all the major muscle groups, gently and slowly whilst breathing slowly and easily.