What is stretching and why will it benefit you?

Think about that amazing feeling you get when you have been sitting in a particular position for a long time and then you stretch unconsciously – feels good doesn’t it?

Stretching is a natural body mechanism which feels good but also, if done consistently, produces large gains in flexibility and joint movement.

Conscious stretching is also known as flexibility training. It helps to develop and maintain a healthy level of flexibility, and increase in joint mobility and without it your muscles will tighten and the range of motion in your joints will decrease as you age.

It’s so easy and beneficial to make it a part of your daily routine. 

Stretching can:

  • reduce muscle tension
  • give you better muscular coordination
  • increase circulation
  • increase energy levels 
  • delay onset muscle fatigue
  • enhance performance in daily life
  • improve posture
  • provide mental relaxation
  • add variety, enjoyment and satisfaction to your exercise programme.

If you are a bit of a gym bunny, or partake in regular exercise, post-exercise stretching can aid in workout recovery, decrease muscle soreness and ensure that your muscles and tendons are in good working order. The more conditioned your muscles and tendons are, the better they can handle the rigors of sport and exercise, making it less likely for you to be injured.

 

How should you start a stretching routine?

A great way to work out how much stretching you should do, is by keeping the FITT principles in mind (Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type).

  • Frequency – is the number of stretching sessions per week. The more you do, the quicker you will gain flexibility. We recommend stretching all of the major muscle groups on a daily basis, or at the very minimum, each time you exercise – 3-4 times a week.
  • Intensity – is how deep you should make the stretch. Ensure each stretch is completed in a slow and controlled manner – don’t bounce or force your muscles to move as this can cause them to tighten, increasing your risk of injury. Stretch slowly until you reach the point of mild discomfort – if you stretch until it is painful then you have stretched too far.
  • Time – is how long you should stretch for. We recommend that people stretch for a total of 10 – 15 minutes per day and hold each stretch for between 30 and 45 seconds, keeping a comfortable level of stretch for the whole time.
     
  • Type – is the activities which count as stretching. We will describe a few of the methods below, however, the two most common techniques are static and PNF stretching. Static stretching is a low-force stretch where you hold the muscle at the greatest possible length for up to 30 seconds. 
 
PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation and involves tightening a muscle and then immediately after, doing a static stretch for the muscle.
 

Choose a stretch that suits you!

PNF

If this sounds a bit like you, then there are two kinds of stretches to consider:

  • A contract-relax (an isometric contraction of the muscle, followed by relaxing and then stretching to the point of limitation) 
  • Contract-relax-agonist-contract (an isometric contraction of the muscle, followed by relaxing, stretching to the point of limitation and then contracting the opposing muscle, followed by a stretch to the point of limitation).
 
 

Passive stretching

Increase the range of motion by using an external force, such as a partner, the wall or the floor.

 
 

Active stretching

This involves taking a position and then holding it there with no assistance, other than using the strength of your “helper” muscles. 

An example of this would be when you lie on your back with one leg extended up in the air and you hold it there without any assistance. These types of stretches are frequently used in Yoga and are usually held for 10 to 15 seconds at a time.

 
 


Dynamic stretching

This involves controlled and gentle, leg and arm swings which take you to the limits of your range of motion. These could be anything from slow, controlled leg swings to arm swings or torso twists. 
 

 
 

Key points to remember

In order to get the most out of your stretching routine, it is essential that you learn how to stretch properly, as stretches done incorrectly can do more harm than good.  And remember to stretch the tight muscles - not just the easy ones to stretch.

  • Always warm up before stretching in order to decrease the risk of muscle pulls or tears.  Some Simple arm and leg movements will be sufficient. 
  • Do not lock your joints when you stretch – keep them slightly bent.
  • Don’t hold your breath! Breathe normally – in through the nose and out through the mouth and relax!
  • Take your time – long held, mild stretches reduce unwanted muscle tension and tightness.
  • Avoid high impact, short duration stretches which use rapid bouncing motions or momentum. You have less control with these stretches and a greater risk of injury.

But most of all – ENJOY it! Stretching is awesome! It’s good for the mind, body and soul, so incorporate it into your daily routine and start reaping the benefits today!

Need advice? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with your physiotherapist or contact us -our clinic is conveniently located in Albany on the North Shore. 

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