There are millions of devotees to the practice of stretching: from yoga enthusiasts to Pilates buffs. Turns out, stretch-based fitness should be an integral part of any fitness regimen. Should we stretch before exercise or after? That depends. But there is no doubt, stretching should be a vital part of your exercise program.
For the typical person, stretching should be done prior to exercise. However, one note of caution, research over the past 10 years has clearly shown that stretching before a big athletic event like a competition or marathon, can negatively affect performance. “It is clear that from the standpoint of maximizing muscular performance, stretching creates an acute decrease in performance (Knudson 2010). This is only true for major athletic events not everyday workouts and stretching routines.
For non-athletes and those of us who are just fitness and strong bodies, stretching loosens muscles, warms up bones and increases the body’s heart rate in preparation for exercise. Stretching also helps us build flexibility and better balance. “Two parts of fitness that are often overlooked are flexibility and balance,” said a report from the American College of Sports Medicine. Stretching can benefit everyone from youth athletes to professional sports players.
Proper stretching techniques can be found everywhere online. A good place to start is the American College of Sports Medicine which recommends stretching be done at least two days of week for 40 minutes. For those who are getting on in years or who experience stiffness of muscles and joints, the college recommends stretching exercises be done daily.
Static stretching occurs when the muscle is stretched slightly but held for at least 20 or 30 seconds. Each stretch should be repeated three to five times on each side of the body. Static stretching, according to the Encyclopedia of of Sports Medicine, is to “desensitize tension sensors in the muscle.”
The increase in the range of motion of our muscles after static exercise has been proven literally hundreds of time.
Dynamic Stretching is when one stretches both the joint and muscle through the full range of its motion. This is done repeatedly in sets. Start small and work up to more sets. Dynamic stretching is a controlled set of movements. Dynamic stretching is the most common form of stretch before exercise and the most safe.
Dynamic stretching is needed to elevate the temperature of our muscles and get our central nervous system fired up so when we begin that first set, our body is ready to go.
Stretching also plays a role in balance. Particularly as we age, balance becomes more important. Many elderly are hurt by falls that could possibly have been prevented with balance and stretch training. For those recovering from hip and replacement surgery, stretching is always part of the recovery process to regain range of motion and strength, according to the American association of Hip and Knee Surgeons. “Much of the therapy after hip replacement is walking with general stretching and thigh muscle strengthening.”
Stretching and flexibility are essential to any workout enthusiast. Two different studies determined that stretching of all types found static and dynamic stretching directly increase flexibility on an acute basis. In other words, the benefits of stretching were found to be very significant. Stretching makes us stronger as well. A January 2007 article in the Journal of applied Physiology found that the ‘torque’ or strength of a muscle was increased after stretching.
Stretching can, and does, warm up muscles prior to regular exercise. It can help prevent injuries and loosen up your body so that it is more prepared for the work it is about to do. If you are over 40 and starting an exercise program for the first time, make sure you get clearance from your doctor.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should keep stretching gentle, avoid bouncing and if you feel pain, stop, know that you have stretched too far.
In conclusion, stretching should be an integral part of your exercise program. Stretching increases your flexibility and strength and improves the performance of your joints. So the next time you get on the floor to do push-ups, stop. Get back up and start stretching. You will do your body some good and give it more ammunition and flexibility for a workout.
Ramona Fortanbary is a Northern Virginia-based freelance writer and editor. Ramona has served as a writer in many industries. She has been a newspaper editor, corporate communications manager and public affairs specialist and senior writer-editor for the U.S. government. Ramona has studied at Chapman and Harvard universities. Her interests include fitness, reading, traveling and volunteer work. Ramona currently serves on the board of Heart Marks Art Therapy, a 501(c)(3) organization offering free art therapy sessions to at risk segments of our society.
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