We all get told to stretch, but why? What benefit does it have?
When I first started out in the fitness industry, stretching
before and after a workout was just ‘what you did’. Maybe it’s still what you
What if I told you that research on stretching appears to show no
correlation to a reducing injury? What if I told you weight training reduces
injury rate more than stretching?
Don’t get too excited though, this does not give you the green
light not to stretch.
Stretching is now viewing as a way to increase flexibility; we all have probably judged our flexibility by trying to touch our toes.
For fitness and health, how much flexibility do we need? What are
we trying to achieve? And why?
As we age, our posture changes, and we put this down to ageing, but we can do things to help. As we age certain muscle get tighter and can cause our posture to change, but if we stretch and target the muscles that are getting tighter, we are not only able to maintain an adequate range of motion for health, but we help prevent lower back pain (tight hamstrings are associated with lower back pain) and maintain a good range of motion and improve our posture.
The following are muscles that get tighter with age:
What happens when we stretch?
When we stretch, we are trying to make the muscle more supple – we are trying to make the muscle as long as possible. This does not mean you have to force the muscle into a stretch, just take it to a point where you feel a stretch to begin with.
By increasing the suppleness of our muscles, we are trying to
increase the range of movement we have.
How flexible do you need to be?
Can we be too flexible?
The answer to this is yes! Some sports you want to be flexible, like
gymnastics. However, in other sports being to flexible can lead to injuries.
Some people are known as hypermobile, you can test for this here. If you are hypermobile you need to be more aware at the end
range of movements, keeping a slight bend at the joint and not locking out as
you may over-extend.
What stretching can you do?
The static stretching that you might have been told to do in the past has been replaced by dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching involves taking a muscle through a dynamic movement. By doing this we are trying to increase the range of movement we have at a particular joint.
Static stretching helps with increasing the ‘length’ of a muscle. The length of time you hold the stretch for is key. Developmental stretching is good for this, and is carried out after a workout. Developmental stretching involves holding a stretch, every 10 seconds you then look to increase the stretch if it feels comfortable to do so, do this for a total of 30 seconds.
Partner assisted stretching can also help improve your flexibility, this is known as Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is a more advanced form stretching. The target muscle to be stretched is place under tension, you then contract this muscle for 5-6 seconds – pushing against your assistant or immovable object. The muscle is then relaxed and a controlled stretch applied, increasing the stretch. Hold it here for 10 second before repeating twice more.
Benefits of stretching
- Improved range of motion
- Improved circulation
- Better posture
- Improved coordination
Everyone will be starting at different points and certain stretches will be more applicable to do than others depending on your level of flexibility. Start with stretches that you feel comfortable doing and then progress when you are ready.