What is stretching?
Placing parts of body into positions that lengthen the muscle tendon and ligaments, which is important for the physical health and fitness of our body.
What happens when we stretch?
When we stretch a number of changes happen within our muscles, and then other tissues such as the ligaments, tendons, fascia and skin start to change as they adapt to the stretching process. When a particular part of the body is placed into a position that lengthens the muscle, the overlap between the thick and thin myofilaments begins to increase. Once this has been achieved and all the sarcomeres have been fully stretched, the muscle fibre is at its new resting length. At this point further stretch will help to elongate the ligaments and tendons further.
The benefits of stretching
Stretching therapy is used in the rehabilitation of an injury, and to compliment treatment by your sports massage therapist or physio. When a muscle has been recovering from injury, layers of muscular fibres develop. These fibres are very weak and inflexible, so it is important to introduce flexibility, strength and subtleness so the muscle can achieve normal range of movement.
Improving the range of movement
This is achieved by placing a particular part of the body in a certain position, we are able to increase the length of the muscle. Thus reducing tension to the muscle, so our normal range is increased. By increasing our range of movement we are increasing the distance our limbs can move before we risk injury. So the more flexible and pliable our muscles are the further our leg, for instance, can move in any direction and the greater the ability for us to move more freely.
By increasing the length of our muscles we will then increase the distance which our muscles are able to contract. This will increase power and strength, helping to reduce weakness to the muscles and improving athletic ability and performance.
Reduced post muscle soreness
We have all experienced soreness, stiffness and tightness in our muscles when we have over worked them, often referred to as post exercise muscle soreness. This soreness is the result of micro tears, (minute tears within the muscle fibre), blood pooling and accumulated waste products, such as lactic acid. Stretching as part as of a cool down, helps to alleviate this soreness.
Muscle fatigue is a problem a lot of people face when they regularly exercise, it reduces both physical and mental performance. Increasing flexibility through stretching can help to reduce the effects of fatigue by taking pressure off the working muscles. For every working muscle there is an opposite and opposing muscle. If the opposing muscles are more flexible than the working muscles, they do not put so much force on the opposite muscle, thus making the movement of the working muscle easier.
Along with the benefits of stretching described above, a regular stretching program will also help to improve posture, develop body awareness, improve co-ordination, promote circulation, increase energy and improve relaxation and stress relief.
The rules of stretching
- Avoid stretching an acute injury or damage tissue
- Stretch little and often to gain full benefit from your programme (once or twice daily, more if rehabbing an injury)
- Never stretch a cold muscle
- Gradually increase the length of time you hold the stretches from 10- 30secs
- Stretch opposite and opposing muscles
- Do more dynamic stretch to warm before exercise
- Stretch after exercise
- Stretch gently and slowly
- Stretch to the point of tension, not pain
- Remember to breath when you stretch