How Stretching Prevents Injury
Start the Day Off Right
Stretching in the morning before you start your day is ideal and highly recommended by physical therapists around the world. Physical therapist David Nolan of Massachusetts General Hospital encourages his patients to stretch. Doing so in the morning prevents low back pain and increases your blood circulation.
"A lot of people don't understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis. It should be daily."— David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Stretching as Part of Your Workout
Getting our workouts in every week is a victory we all would like to achieve. Trying to fit our workouts into our busy social life and overall daily living can be a real challenge. Added to that, we even need to push ourselves a little further by doing our workouts the right way with plenty of time to stretch before and after our workout.
The benefits of taking the time to stretch before and after your workout enhance physical fitness and sports performance – keep our muscles healthy. It increases mental and physical relaxation and develops body awareness. But, to gain all these rightful benefits, it is crucial that we stretch our bodies – the right way -- gradually and carefully.
Warm muscles help the overall conditioning of the body, in general, in that muscles stretch better when they are warm.
Warm Up Before Stretching
Now that you know you should stretch before your workout, you also need to warm your body up before you stretch. Warm muscles help the overall conditioning of the body, in general, in that muscles stretch better when they are warm.
Before you start stretching, whether in the morning or before a workout, you need to get your body moving -- get your blood pumping.
In the morning, walking around the house or going outside moves the body to warm it up. Before a workout, you engage in at least five minutes of aerobic activity such as brisk walking, light jogging, or jumping rope. You should engage in at least five minutes of aerobic activity such as brisk walking, light jogging, or jumping rope.
Truthfully, ten minutes of light aerobic activity is best. The idea is that the increased blood flow to the muscles raises your core body temperature. It improves muscle performance and flexibility while it reduces the likelihood of injury. You don’t want to get injured.
How Stretching Works
Focus on the idea that each stretch you perform should be for one muscle. You need to place your attention on isolating each muscle as you stretch in a slow, relaxed, static stretching.
This way allows your muscle to reduce tension gradually -- isolating the muscle you are stretching. Your body will experience resistance from fewer muscle groups – getting a better and more effective stretch in the intended muscle. With this method, you gain better control over the stretch, and you can easily change its intensity.
Melissa Joulwan, a certified fitness instructor, and triathlete states:
"If we try to lengthen the muscle too quickly or forcefully, it responds with a reflexive contraction -- it shortens the muscle in a protective response to the stress, so the muscle is tightened, rather than relaxed. To get the most out of your stretch, begin the exercise gently and hold it in place."
How long you should hold your stretch varies from different sources. The most common practice is to hold the stretch for 10 - 15 seconds before your workout. After your workout, which is called “cooling-off period,” you can hold your stretches longer up to 30 seconds. Bouncing up and down on the muscles while you stretch hurts the body. It tightens the muscle and causes pain -- stretching should never hurt.
Before or after a workout, the following steps will help you stretch:
- When starting to stretch, take a good deep breath in and slowly release the breath as you gradually relax into the stretch position.
- The proper way to breathe is to inhale slowly through the nose, expanding the abdomen, not the chest.
- Hold the breath for a moment then exhale slowly through the nose or mouth.
- You then relax further into the stretch and feel the tension in the muscle melt away.
- The breath should be natural, and the diaphragm and abdomen should remain soft.
- There should be no force of breath.
Five Areas to Stretch
According to Joulman, no matter what your sport or fitness activity is, there are five major body segments to be stretched for optimal fitness:
- Shoulders and Back
You start with your back, followed by your upper body and lower body.
"In an ideal world, we'd all have time to start the day with a lovely warm-up and a half-hour of uninterrupted stretching. In the real world, lots of people skip out of the stretching at the end of aerobics classes and we run, run, run, right from the running path to the shower and off to work, without taking necessary cool-down time. Minimally, you should stretch twice a week to keep your muscles limber and your mind relaxed," concluded Joulman.
© 2012 Kenna McHugh