The Benefits of Stretching
For decades we’ve believed that stretching the body before physical activity was key to increasing flexibility, avoiding injury and improving athletic performance. Unfortunately, we made a lot of assumptions about stretching that were not tested with appropriate scientific scrutiny.
In their article “Myths and Truth about Stretching” that appeared in The Physician and Sport medicine, medical doctors Ian Shrier and Kav Gossal admit there are numerous misconceptions and conflicting information about stretching and acknowledged the contradictions. But they concluded that “stretching may provide substantial benefits if used under the appropriate conditions.”
Your chiropractor is a great source for advice on stretching. Before making recommendations, a chiropractor takes into account a patient’s physical condition and health history. Regular stretching can help sustain correct body alignment and posture. It extends the flexibility and range of motion of your joints. When your joints can’t maintain their full range of motion, you tire more easily. This makes it more difficult to complete daily tasks you normally take for granted. Stretching keeps your body better coordinated. This can be especially helpful to seniors, who are more susceptible to falling. Stretching also helps relax stressed muscles. Keeping your joints and muscles loose allows for better blood circulation so every part of your body gets sufficient oxygen and nutrients.
The following information gives you an overview of stretching as it relates to a general fitness plan.
Never Skip the “Warm-Up”
It’s essential that you do an adequate warm-up before stretching. This helps awaken the muscles and prevent strains. What qualifies as suitable warm-up activities? Try a brisk five minute walk of a mild jog to send more blood to the muscles. The foal is to engage in a light intensity activity that warms your muscles sufficiently to be prepared for stretching, but not so intense as to cause strains or injuries.
Types of Stretching
While there are many kinds of stretching (to many to list here), your probably familiar with techniques that fall into the following categories.
This involves moving your body while engaging in stretching techniques. An example would be walking while swinging a leg up to your mid section, hold it for a second and then release. You then repeat with your other leg. Some studies indicate dynamic stretching is best conducted before engaging in physical activity.
The goal is to stretch the muscles (or group of muscles) to its farthest point without causing pain. You generally hold a static stretch for 30 seconds. If the area is particularly stiff, you can extend it for up to 60 seconds. Research suggests static stretching is best done after physical activity.
These are bouncing stretches. The research about the benefits of ballistic stretching has been mixed. Some experts believe it can put you at risk of pulling muscles more easily than other types of stretching.
Although not as familiar to the public as the other categories mentioned, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is an effective but advanced system that used by many professional athletes. PNF involves contracting specific muscle groups using resistance. And it seems to activate muscles mire quickly than other types of stretching. Due to its advanced techniques, PNF is best done at first with a health care provider who has expertise in this area.