Flexibility is an important component of Fitness. It is the ability of the muscle to lengthen and allow the joints to improve the range of motion.
When the muscles and tendons are in a shortened state for a long time, they prevent the joints from moving through their full range of motion. Stiff muscles and tendons are like old and dried out elastic bands that pop easily with one pull. Muscles too are more likely to pop and cause us an injury when they are stiff. Stretching therefore, should be an integral part of an everyday exercise regime.
Stretching is not just for athletes or people who workout. Everyone can benefit from stretching exercises at every age. It is relatively a gentle form of exercise that can keep you staying healthy and fit. It is good for the body and the mind. As we age, our body becomes less flexible and stretches allow us to maintain some amount of flexibility over the years. It slows the degeneration of the joints by increasing the blood supply to the muscles and joints. It allows for greater nutrient transportation and improves the circulation of blood through the entire body. It is also a good stress buster and helps in calming the mind.
Stretches are mandatory for athletes, gymnasts, people working out at the gym and people playing any form of sport. However, it is important to know what stretches are best suited for you before and after workout. Dynamic Stretches are stretches done before workout whereas Static stretches are done after workout.
What are they?
It is also known as Pre Workout Stretching and is necessary to warm up the muscles and prepare them for activity. Warming up before exercise is important. It helps raise the temperature of your body and your muscles so they will be ready for exercise and prevent injuries. Dynamic stretching requires the use of continuous movement patterns that mimic the sport or exercise being performed. The key is to not hold in any position. The purpose of dynamic stretching is to warm up and increase flexibility for a given activity or sport.
So WHY is it so important?
Think of your muscles as rubber bands. When the body has been in an inactive state for few hours, like when you are asleep or if you have spend all day sitting at a desk, hunched over a keyboard, those rubber bands have gone almost completely unused for quite sometime. Your bands are now extra tight and constricted. In this state if you go to a gym and immediately start lifting heavy weights or sprinting really fast, those cold, unstretched rubber bands get pulled apart very quickly and can possibly snap.
By jumping around and getting your muscles loose, active, warm, and ready for action, you will keep yourself strong and injury free. Doing a dynamic warm up can also help activate your central nervous system, priming your body muscles for a great workout that produces your best effort. Improved blood circulation is also one of the many benefits of warming up, which will help you perform well in each exercise. When your body is properly warmed up, your muscles and joints are ready for maximum flexibility, which means you can perform each exercise with proper form (like deep squats, for example) that maximise results and minimise risk of injury.
So, whether you are running, strength training or getting ready to play a sport…a proper warm up with dynamic stretches is probably the most important 5 – 10 minutes of your day.
Examples of Dynamic Stretches:
- Front Knee Lifts or Marching
- On the spot jogging or jumping jacks
- Side leg swings (each leg)
- Arm circles
- High Kicks
- Walk out
- Shoulder rotations
- Body weight squats
- Body weight lunges (each leg)
- Hip rotations each leg
- Spiderman steps (each leg)
They are also known as Post Workout stretches and are as important as your warm up or dynamic stretches. Except that, static stretches are done as a cool down, after your workout and each stretch needs to be held for at least 10 -15 seconds. It relieves the stress the muscles go through during any workout and helps in reducing muscle soreness.
Static stretches/ Post workout stretches are important because muscles are very warm after a workout and very receptive to stretching. It involves extending a specific muscle group to its maximum point, just a little beyond your comfort zone, and holding it for anywhere between 10 – 30 seconds to get maximum results. It can be repeated a couple of times. Breathe out as you stretch and continue to breathe as you hold the stretch. The focus of static stretching is on relaxing the muscle or joint being stretched, letting it naturally go further on its own.
After a hard workout, stretching your muscles reduces muscular tension and enhances muscular relaxation. It helps keep the muscles loose and lessens the shortening and tightening effect that can lead to post-workout aches and pains. Stretching while the muscles are already loose from a workout will help you recover faster and prevent injuries.
Static stretches should not be done before any workout because it can inhibit your performance.
Examples of Static Stretches are: (hold each for for 10 -15 seconds)
- Hamstring stretch
- Butterfly stretch
- Cat & camel stretch
- Cobra abdominal stretch
- Knee to chest lower back stretch
- Kneeling hip flexor stretch
- Neck stretch
- Tricep stretch
- Shoulder stretch
- Quadricep stretch
- Wrist stretch
- Chest stretch
- Calf stretch
Foam rolling after a workout also has its benefits. The increased blood flow helps bring nutrients to your muscle tissue, so you recover faster. The blood brings anti-inflammatory properties to the area, which may help you to not be as sore later on.
Our muscle fibres are very pliable. A muscle can stretch up to one and a half times its original length. But tendons are not nearly as flexible. Stretching a tendon just 4 percent beyond its resting shape can cause permanent damage. Most of the time, injuries occur when tendons are stretched too quickly or in unexpected directions. That is why it is extremely important to stretch them slowly and consistently.
Stretching should be done beyond your normal level of comfort, however, it should be done with a lot of focus and caution. Stretches should be performed slow and with no bounce. Stretching can give you a feeling of tension and stress across the muscle being stretched, but there should be no pain. If there is any pain, you should stop the stretch immediately because it can otherwise cause damage to the muscles as well as the ligaments. If you have a chronic condition or have been recently injured, you may need to adjust your stretching techniques. If you already have a strained muscle, stretching may cause further injury.
“If you stretch correctly and regularly, you will find that every movement you make becomes easier.” – Bob Anderson