The Importance of Stretching
Have you ever woken up the next morning after a workout so stiff that you could barely get out of bed?
Many people do not recognize how important stretching is for fitness.
- Improve your flexibility. Flexibility is defined as the joints ability to move through a full range of motion. Stretching helps balance your muscle groups that may have been overused during your weight lifting session.
- Decrease your risk of injury. It is well accepted that stretching loosens muscles and connective tissue, thus lowering your risk of injury. Many coaches and trainers believe that the more prepared your muscles and joints are for an activity, the more protected you are against injury.
- Improved circulation. Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles. Blood flowing to your muscles brings nourishment and gets rid of waste byproducts in the muscle tissue. In addition, improved circulation can help shorter your recovery time if you have had injuries.
- Enhanced coordination. Stretching enhances coordination and gives you better balance. Improving your coordination and balance will keep you mobile and less prone to injury from falls, especially as you age.
- Provides stress relief. When you stretch, it relaxes tight, tense muscles that can occur when you are under stress.
Now that you know the many benefits of stretching, lets review some of the stretching essentials.
- Perform static stretching. Static stretching is a gradual, slow and controlled elongation of the muscle through the full range of motion and held for 30 seconds in the furthest comfortable position. If you feel pain when you stretch, thats your bodys signal that you have gone too far.
- Warm Up. Warm up gently for around five to ten minutes before stretching. The warm up could be walking while pumping your arms, light aerobics, or any exercise that gets your blood circulating throughout the body and into the muscles.
- Hold the stretches. Many people do not hold their stretches long enough. Conventional rules are that you should hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds to lengthen your muscle tissue safely.
- Dont bounce. Ive seen many people in the gym bouncing as they hold their stretches and this is just asking for an injury. Bouncing while stretching causes micro tears in the muscle. These micro tears can leave scar tissue when your muscle heals, which tightens your muscle even further. The end result is less flexibility not more.
- Stretch between your weightlifting sets. If you are aiming for optimum flexibility, I recommend stretching between your weightlifting sets. During the time that you would normally rest between each set is a great time to stretch the specific muscle that you were working. This rest period between sets is the optimum time to stretch because your muscle is warm.
- Breathe freely and relax. A common occurrence during stretching is holding your breath. Be sure to breathe through the stretch, which can actually help you to stretch a little deeper.
- Stretch both sides equally. Dont favour one side or the other because its more flexible. Stretch each side equally, for the same amount of time. Always remember to stretch each of your major muscle groups.
Sample Stretches to Perform
One of the most important things to remember is that you should stretch all your major muscles groups when stretching for weight lifting. Also, be sure to follow the principles outlined above to ensure you are performing your stretches safely. Below are just a few ideas of great stretches, perfect for when your weight lifting.
- Quadriceps stretch. While lying down, straighten both legs and relax. Pull left leg and knee in towards your chest while keeping the back of your head on the mat. Hold and repeat with right leg.
- Hamstring stretch. Sit with your right leg straight - out at a slight angle. Place the sole of your left foot on the inside thigh of your straightened leg. Lean slightly forward from your hips and stretch hamstrings of your right leg. Hold stretch and repeat with left leg.
- Thigh and groin stretch. While sitting on a matt, place the soles of your feet together in a comfortable position. Put your hands around your feet and slowly pull yourself forward until you feel an easy stretch in your inner thigh and groin.
- Lower back and hip stretch. Sit with your right leg straight out in front of you. Place your left foot outside of your right knee, with your left knee bent. Now, bend your right elbow, resting it outside of the upper left thigh, just above your knee. Your left hand is resting behind you; slowly turn your head to look over your left shoulder while rotating your upper body toward your left hand and arm.
- Calf stretch. Stand with your right leg out behind your left leg until your feel a stretch in your calf. Hold and repeat with your left leg.
- Chest and shoulder stretch. Interlace your fingers behind your back. Slowly turn your elbows inward while straightening your arms. Hold and repeat.
- Triceps stretch. With your arms overhead, hold the elbow of one arm with your other hand and drape the other arm behind your head. Gently pull the elbow to stretch the tricep muscle. Hold and repeat with other arm.
- If youre very tight in your neck and shoulders, finish off your stretching with some gentle head rolls and neck stretches.
Stretching can provide you with a great many benefits including improving your flexibility, coordination and reducing your chance of injury. Regular stretching will leave your body feeling great!
All the best,
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