Modern life can mean sitting at a desk for many hours a day. Our bodies aren’t designed for this.
If you exercise regularly, you’ll have heard of the importance of stretching before and after your training session. There’s lots of expert information on the internet for you to read up on. Unfortunately, lots of ‘experts’ have conflicting views. So who do we believe?
Here are the facts:
During a workout, muscles contract and small tears occur in muscle fibres. During the resting phase between workouts, muscles rebuild themselves stronger.
Without stretching, muscles can shorten over time. This will decrease their range of motion and can encourage bad posture. Having good flexibility means that your muscles can generate power to their full capacity. Good posture is essential to avoid injuries.
The scientific view is that we have muscle spindles which act like brakes when the muscle is overstretched. This stops any potential damage to the tendons which attach muscle to bone. Torn tendons are serious and take a long time to heal whereas most muscle tears repair themselves in 6 weeks. By relaxing the body during stretching the muscle spindles will allow more movement.
Yoga practitioners believe that the power of the breath can nourish muscles when the breathing is relaxed. Long deep breaths when stretching, help our muscles to relax. So the common theme is relaxation and there’s no better way to relax than to take deep and slow breaths. Stretching should be gentle. This is important so as not to tear the muscle fibres too much. Stretching in this way also has a calming effect on the mind. It’s a great way to chill out.
Your stretches should be sports or activity specific.
What are you looking to achieve? Karate fighters obviously need flexible legs for high kicks whereas runners need to stretch their legs to prevent their muscles from tightening. Golfers need their backs and hips to be flexible. But because of the way our muscles connect to other muscles and joints, it’s important to stretch the whole body.
One of the best ways to increase flexibility is a technique called Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF). It’s basically stretching with a partner who offers gentle resistance.