Making time to stretch – Part 2

Last week we started to looked into the benefits of stretching, this is a continuation or part 2 of that, highlighting some of the other benefits we can gain by introducing a solid stretching routine into and around our training program.

Increase your range of motion gaining greater freedom of movement, allowing your joints to work through their entire range.

A flexible muscle requires less energy to complete a fuller, wider range of movements. If the muscle requires less energy to perform the movement our performance increases, we’ll take that!

It would be easy to think of performance as an athletic based measure and whilst true, it also works in everyday life when our muscles have to respond quickly to a stimulus, having a greater range of movement gives additional protection to quick reaction movements such as tripping/twisting etc.

Having an increased range of movement and reducing muscle stiffness can also assist in slowing the degeneration of joints.

Improves your performance in physical activities, this is the easiest benefit to sell, everyone wants to increase performance in one way or another.

When we exercise, we are stressing the body. We want to ensure our muscles are ready to perform for us, in the most optimum way.

Let’s take a look at what we need to prime the body for exercise:

Prepared muscles – ready for the chosen movement paths and are warmed ready

Connected – our mind and body know which muscles are being used and is able to activate them on request – they have been primed during the warm-up.

Looking at a deadlift, if we don’t prepare our hamstrings and glutes, we could end up using our lower back which could result in a decrease in performance or an injury.

Range of movement is critical to performance, keeping our body in balance helps to make sure we can perform when required in the specified way.

In short, the greater the range of movement we have, the greater amount of the muscle we can activate. If we have a tight muscle, we may only be able to utilise 40-60%, if we increase our flexibility, our strength and performance will increase along with allowing a wider range of exercises to be undertaken.

Increasing blood flow to your muscles – it’s fair to say, that over the last 12 months we have become more sedentary, working/studying from home has meant less up and about time.

When seated some of our muscles begin to adapt to the positions and shapes we are staying in for long periods, this shortening or as we experience it tightness of the muscles is caused by restricting the movement of the muscle.

Luckily, our muscles have got our backs on this one, they just what to relax and stretch out!

By promoting circulation (blood flow), we can increase the supply of blood to our muscles and joints allowing for better delivery of nutrients and removal of waste products. This in turn leads to a shortening in recovery time for exercise and assists in removing the tightness we face from prolonged time in a single position.

Furthermore, joint stiffness can be reduced by regular stretching.

Pinpointing body imbalances is a positive side effect of stretching. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to predict potential problems with our muscles?

Stretching allows us to recognise areas of tightness (if its tight, this could lead to injury if continually placed under load), see how symmetrical our muscles are, and fine tune our body to reduce the imbalance.

If we are stretching in a lunge and can open our hips up more on one side than the other, chances are that we will experience this restricted movement in our main workout, for example when squatting we may experience hip shift when moving into the bottom of the squat, and as we apply force to return to standing, these issues are exacerbated when loads are added to the equation.

We can utilise stretching to understand what we should improve (or correct) before the issue becomes a problem or worse still, an injury.

Stress relief – stress causes additional tension in our muscles; this is due to our bodies tightening up physically in response to emotional feelings. Typically, we tend to hold stress in our upper back, shoulders and neck.

Well, stretched muscles hold less tension, combined with good hydration can help alleviate stress.

It can also help reduce tension headaches, reducing overall body tension will assist with the tension from headaches.

Stretching can allow you to relax and mentally unwind, coupled with controlled breathing allowing us to let go of some of our stressors. Stretching doesn’t need to be for performance, it is equally as important for relaxing and spending some time working on ourselves.

Quick takeaways

When warming up, consider the activity you are about to undertake, look to use dynamic stretches to mimic the movement paths we are going to use, warm and prepare those muscles ready for that purpose.

When undertaking static stretches, we still need to be warm, if we are stretching after exercise we are covered, if it’s not after exercise make sure we have conducted some movement, light jumping jacks, walking up and down the stairs etc can help get the blood moving and allow us to have a productive stretching session.

Time is important, but longer does not equal better. We would look to hold stretches for 30-60 seconds – this can be shorter whilst we are starting out:

Get into the stretch position, feel the tension, it shouldn’t be painful.

Wait for the tension to reduce, allow yourself to ‘sink’ into the stretch a little more if you can and hold for the rest of the 60 seconds – shorter when we first start out.

Don’t bounce in the stretch, we want to allow the body to feel the tension in a controlled, smooth manner.

Regulate your breathing during the stretch, try to have a normal breathing pattern.

Focus on larger, main muscles such as lower back, thighs, hips, shoulders and neck.

Aim for symmetry, we want to be equally flexible on both sides of our body, this is especially important when recovering from injury.

Allow stretching to be a relaxing activity, be that after exercise, when unwinding from a tough day or as a self-relaxing activity. It is not a sprint, we are looking to relax our muscles, remove tension and generally feel better afterwards!

If you have any further questions or would like to understand how stretching can improve your daily activities or performance speak to one of us at Spike Fitness.