The Importance of Stretching

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Stretching should be a regular part of an athletes training program, the benefits of stretching throughout training can optimise an individual’s performance ability. There are different types of stretching and each has a different purpose and different benefits. When the right type of stretching is done at the right time, the positive effects can be infinite.

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Stretching is an important part of an individual’s routine; it keeps the body’s range of motion free and fluid while giving the individual increased flexibility and can help decrease the risk of injury and sore muscles.

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Different types of Stretching

There are different types of stretching; each have various benefits for different times of exercise/training.

Static Stretching – A stretch is held for up to 30 seconds without changing positions. Best performed during and after workouts.

Dynamics Stretching – A stretch that requires the individual to move continuously throughout the stretch and is repeated fluidly. Best done before and during workouts.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) or Passive Stretching – Often done with a partner or with a force while stretching so that as the body relaxes, gravity/the equipment can push the stretch further. Bets done after a workout.

Active Stretching – Involves contracting the opposing muscle to the area that is relaxing into the stretch. Best done before, during and after a workout.

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Benefits of Stretching

The benefits of stretching are dependant of when a stretch session is performed.

Benefits of stretching before exercise:

Prior to exercising warming up and stretching an individual’s muscles can enable a greater range of motion and several other benefits.

  • Aids in preventing injury – lengthening the muscles can reduce the risk of injuring muscle fibres and other tissues. Increasing the range of motion to muscles and joints enable the individual to perform better and improve technique.
  • Increase blood flow throughout the body – lack of blood flow can decrease performance, stretching can encourage increased blood flow to muscles which allows oxygen and nutrients to flow through the bloodstream which can increase performance.
  • Reduce fatigue – after stretching, an individual will feel more able to continue exercising for longer as stretching.
  • Increase energy and motivation – when muscles are not used or lengthened, blood can accumulate which makes them more prone to injury. Stretching can increase circulation which pushes oxygen around the body and allows for more energy. Blood and oxygen also flow to the brain which increases concentration.
  • Improved performance – fresh oxygen pumping around the body, reduced risk of injury, and boosted energy will collectively increase an individual’s performance.

Benefits of stretching during exercise:

Research has shown that frequent ‘stretch breaks’ throughout exercise can benefit an individual immensely. After working on a specific area of the body, stretching that body part can allow it to begin to recover ready for the next session.

  • Increases coordination – stretching when a muscle group is fatigued can re-establish pathways from the mind to the muscle group which allows for increased coordinated movements and can aid in developing safe technique.
  • Energy boost – a delivery of fresh oxygen and nutrients will be delivered to the muscle groups when stretched which allows the body and muscles to stay energised.
  • Body awareness – stretching mid-workout can prevent injury and can give an individual a sense of fatigue levels and energy needs. This is a way to determine whether a workout is too hard or too easy. Stopping to stretch can provide time to focus on what the body is saying throughout the workout.
  • Reduce lactic acid build up – lactic acid build up leads to pain and fatigue. Stretching aids to eliminate and disperse lactic acid from muscles. Lactic acid can decrease performance, while stretching relaxes muscles which helps to dissolve accumulated lactic acid.
  • Deepen body movement – lengthening the muscles and reducing tension in connective and soft tissues will allow for greater range of movement.

Benefits of stretching after exercise:

Studies have been conducted that conclude that stretching post-exercise is a particularly important step in a training routine. Exercising makes muscles flex and contract repeatedly, stretching lengthens muscles allowing them to relax, resulting in the ability for muscles to engage better every workout.

  • Muscle repair – stretching enables improved blood circulation, allowing muscles to relax and receive important nutrients and oxygen needed to repair.
  • Increase flexibility – flexibility can reduce muscular tension and pain. Stretching, especially static stretches, increases flexibility and enable the muscles and surrounding tissues to lengthen, therefore, increase range of motion.
  • Protect joints – joints within then body are surrounded by connective tissues and have muscle attachments. Stretching allows the body to move through its full range of motion around joints, therefore, reducing tension, tightness and improve mobility by reducing the pressure around joints.
  • Decrease risk of cramping – stretching can aid in eliminating lactic acid build up from muscles by allowing increased blood flow and nutrients through the blood stream which aids in removal of harmful waste from muscles. Reducing the lactic acid build up can speed up recovery.
  • Cool Down – increasing circulation can lower an individual’s heart rate and gradually returns the heart rate to resting. Bringing your body gradually back to balance through stretching allows a sense of calmness and relaxation after a workout.

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Individuals that incorporate stretching daily experience many benefits relating to performance. When stretching is utilised on a regular basis, it improves overall health and assists in recovery which has a direct effect on an individuals ability to excel in their chosen sporting performance.