Why is Stretching Important?
First, what exactly does stretching mean? Stretching is actually a form of physical exercise itself! It’s where a muscle, or muscle group, is moderately flexed. Typically you’d do this before, during or after exercise. Stretching allows your muscle tissue to lengthen, which comes with many benefits. We’ve explored a few of these below.
Why Should You Stretch?
People have probably told you that it’s important to stretch. From P.E. teachers to personal trainers, everyone encourages you to stretch before, and often after exercise. But why is it so important? We’ve listed the top four reasons below:
Injury Prevention – Stretching helps to prevent possible muscle damage. This includes strains and sprains. By warming a muscle up and elongating it, through performing holds, over time this will allow muscle fibres to release stress and improve elasticity. There is therefore far less risk of injury when more strenuous exercises are carried out.
Performance – Athletes may choose to perform stretches in order to improve their performance. When exercising, muscles will contract and relax. By stretching before exercise, you can improve blood circulation to the active muscles and increase the supply of nutrients. This helps with recovery and the ability to perform at a high level for longer.
Range of Motion – Closely linked to performance, stretching before exercise helps muscles become more pliable. The muscle can then achieve a greater range of motion. You can therefore improve your sporting performance.
Cooldown – After performing any type of exercise, it is important that you give your body enough time to recover. To help bring the heart rate down gradually, you can use stretching as a technique. This is often used to relieve aches and pains and prevent injury. At the same time, you’ll be getting blood back into a muscle that has been put under stress.
Types of Stretching
There are three main types of stretching. You’ll need to decide which method of stretching works best for you, as some are considered to be better than others! The first two methods listed are more common, but perhaps you’ve been recommended ballistic stretching before.
Static stretching – This is a form of stretching where a participant holds a position for typical 30 – 60 seconds. Static stretching allows muscles to become elasticised. However research suggests that the application of this method of stretching and doing it for long periods of time can hinder the muscle’s performance before exercise. This is because, before you even start your workout, your muscles are being put under a period of strain.
Dynamic Stretching – Usually performed for no longer than a few seconds, this allows the muscle to increase in length without suffering fatigue. Again, there is a risk though. You can cause yourself an injury if dynamic stretching is performed incorrectly or too rigorously.
Ballistic Stretching – Sometimes considered a controversial method of stretching, this form of stretching uses quick and dynamic movements in order to warm up muscles. There is a risk of it putting strain on muscles before they are warmed up with ballistic stretching. This of course could mean possible injury.
Stretching and Wellbeing
Research not only highlights the importance of stretching for sports performers, but also for individuals in everyday life. Everyday activities such as sitting at a desk for long periods of time can contribute to tight hamstrings. This is simply because the person has not been active. Walking can then be more difficult. Injured or damaged muscles may not support your tendons and ligaments and can therefore cause injury.
Muscles can hold a lot of tension after exercise. This is particularly true at the beginning the day, when you’ve been at rest for hours, and at the end of a day, after a person has been physically active. By performing stretches, this will help you feel less stressed, which helps mental wellbeing.
People suffering from medical conditions may also be given a daily stretching routine to perform by their doctor or physio. This can help lessen the impact of the condition. Or it may simply aid the individual to live life without any discomfort.