The Purpose of Stretching
By definition, stretching is movement of a joint or muscle to full extension by lengthening the tissues. The affects and benefits of stretching are numerous. They include everything from increased range of motion and enhanced workout effects to injury prevention and rehabilitation. Warming up and cooling down periods are essential to maximizing the results of your training, and stretching is a crucial element of that. The advantages of stretching go beyond the external rewards.
Increased Range of Motion
Flexibility refers to the movement of the joints smoothly through the entire range of motion. Stretching exercises improve that motion. Gymnasts, martial artists and dancers are among those who focus heavily on flexibility and increasing their range of motion due to the nature of their activities. Intensive stretching exercises designed to help you improve your flexibility require healing time, so you should allow your body to heal between sessions.
Stretching and Strength Training
Range of motion increases may prove detrimental to those spotlighting strength and muscle gains. Excessive flexibility can destabilize your joints in certain positions as tension lends itself to improved power. Mild to moderate stretching however, helps ward off soreness. To get this benefit, stretch gently after training and stop before reaching the point of discomfort. Low-intensity stretching also speeds up waste removal.
Sports that require remaining in the same position or carrying out the same movements can decrease your range of motion because they target specific muscle groups and create an imbalance. Connective tissues shorten to adapt to these conditions and lose their ability to function to full capacity, resulting in instability. Stretching can improve or reverse these affects. Warming up before training will raise the temperature of your muscles, amplify their suppleness and facilitate muscle lengthening, all of which can help to prevent injury. Cooling down is equally valuable because it ensures muscles move through their full range of motion regardless of the activity performed.
If you are injured, stretching can accelerate healing by expanding your range of motion to accommodate proper performance in the joints. This process should be gradual, matching your progressing ability. Overdoing it during the rehabilitation period often causes further harm, and damage to already injured joints may be irreversible. You may undergo medical treatment and rehabilitation simultaneously to get you back to your pre-injury fitness level quicker.
Proper form and technique allow you to reap the benefits of stretching while avoiding pain. Static stretching is usually fits the bill due to the lack of forced motions and improved muscle relaxation. This involves holding a stretch for a set duration without moving. These stretches calm muscles, encouraging stability and support, as opposed to ballistic stretches that mandate muscle lengthening through bouncing and often result in injury.
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Natalie Woodhurst is a U.S. Air Force Veteran, former mental-health professional and ISSA Nationally Certified Fitness Trainer who began writing in 2010. Her enthusiasm for fitness and entertainment comes through when writing for various websites. Woodhurst is currently continuing her education in performance nutrition and fitness therapy.