The Importance Of Stretching
It is easy to forget to stretch both before and after a workout, and is very overlooked as results are not visible. Many of us that have desk jobs tend to suffer more with our flexibility due to excessive time sitting down and often stray away from stretching because we 'aren't good at it' or 'aren't flexible enough'.
Those who tend to be seated for longer amounts of time suffer from tight hamstrings which in time can also lead to problems within the back. Starting off, simple ways to prevent this is by keeping active during your time at work. Keep standing and stretching your glutes and hamstrings to keep the muscles awake and active.
Flexibility does take a lot of time and patience to improve, but when done correctly and maintained you will notice the benefits much greater.
What are the benefits of flexibility training?
Any activities which are going to lengthen and stretch the muscles can help prevent injuries, back pain and balance.
Increasing the range of movement in a muscle will in time prevent it from injury, taking away the strain from joints, tendons and ligaments, and improves functional movements such as reaching, bending or stooping, making even daily tasks much easier. Furthermore you can bring your flexibility into sport specific exercise training, whether this is weightlifting, rugby, football, running, cycling... the more range of movement your muscles will have, the easier it will be for them to use your their muscular potential.
Stretching can also increase blood flow and energy, and can be a great way to get the body moving before a workout. Performing Dynamic stretches at a low intensity before a workout not only stretches the muscles but also increases circulation and nutrient flow throughout the body, preventing injury to the muscles during your workout.
So what types of flexibility training can you do?
Static stretching- most of us will have performed a static stretch at some point in our life. Static stretching is slow and constant with the end position held for around 10-30 seconds. A slow and smooth stretch prompts less reaction from stretch receptors and therefore allows to muscles to relax. This form of stretching should be performed to the point of mild discomfort, where the pull is felt but not to the point of pain. There are two types of static stretching- active and passive. Active flexibility refers to the ability to stretch an antagonist muscle using only the tension in the agonist muscle. An example is holding one leg out in front of you as high as possible. The hamstring (antagonist) is being stretched while the quadriceps and hip flexors (agonists) are holding the leg up. Whereas, passive flexibility is the ability to hold a stretch using body weight or some other external force. Using the example above, holding your leg out in font of you and resting it on a chair. The quadriceps are not required to hold the extended position.
Never bounce while stretching as this can increase the risk of muscle injury and can also put extra strain on the joints.
Dynamic stretching- this involves movement and muscular effort for the stretch to occur. While static stretching takes a muscle to its full length and holds it there, a dynamic stretch takes soft tissues to their full length and rather than holding, after a brief pause, remain back to the starting position. This type of stretching also provides a good warmup before any sport or activity, as it gets the blood flowing and activates all muscles.
PNF ( proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation ) stretching- this is a more advanced stretching technique, and involves both stretching and contraction of the muscle group being targeted. It usually requires a partner and takes more time than static stretching, but is a great way to increase flexibility on specific muscle groups.
An example of PNF stretching which is used most often is a hamstring stretch. The muscle being stretched is positioned so that the muscles are stretched and under tension. The individual then contracts the stretched muscle group for 5-6 seconds while a partner, or immovable object, applies sufficient resistance to inhibit movement.
The contracted muscle group is then relaxed and a controlled stretch is applied for around 20-30 seconds. The muscle group is then allowed 30 seconds to recover and the process is repeated 2-4 times.