Ever heard of stretching? Be it muscle soreness, a catch in the muscle, inflexibility, or simply an ache in your joints, you would have had either your doctor, your trainer or a friend suggest stretching that muscle. That’s right. Stretching releases all this and much more.
Today, let’s understand the importance of stretching,types of stretching exercises and their benefits better.
What is Stretching?
In simple words, Stretching is when a muscle or muscle group is flexed or stretched in order to wake up the muscle and improve its elasticity to ease out its function. The result is a feeling of increased muscle control, flexibility, and range of motion.
The extent to which you can stretch or flex a muscle is called “Range”.
When can you stretch?
Once you feel that your muscle has been in one position (relaxed) for a long time, you need to wake it up before giving it a go, to avoid sudden shock to the muscle. It is advised to stretch before a work out as it wakes up the body and slightly warms up the muscles. And post work out stretching is recommended as well since repetition of muscle movement during exercise causes muscles to tense up.
Benefits of Stretching:
- Increases flexibility – This helps keep the joints active, have better and swifter movement and delays reducing mobility that aging causes.
- Increases your range of motion – It stretches out the muscle and pushes it to its maximum extent to give you the freedom of movement, without causes the cramps that come with sudden or extended movement of the muscle.
- Increases blood flow to muscles – It improves blood circulation in the body and the muscle, and provides oxygen which is needed to quick muscle recovery and to avoid soreness.
- Improves posture – It corrects the posture and body balance by reducing the musculoskeletal pain and encouraging proper alignment of the mind, muscle and body.
- Relieves stressed – Given the sedentary life style and desk jobs muscles tend to get tensed and tightened due to emotional and physical stress, causing aches and pains. Stretching moves the static muscles and releases stress.
- Prevents and heals back pain – The back muscles are used more than we know, increasing the likelihood of straining the muscles. Stretching can help heal an existing back injury, prevent future back pain by strengthening your back muscles and reducing your risk for muscle strain.
- Eases your day-to-day activity and reduces sudden cramps of the muscles – Stretching eases out the whole body. Giving the muscle a sudden push after relaxing it for a long time causes us to have “catches” wherein we get a pinching pain and are unable to move. Stretching helps avoid such “catches”.
Types of Stretching:
- Static Stretching – Static stretches are performed slowly and gradually. It involves holding a stretch in a comfortable position for a period of time. This form of stretching is most beneficial after you exercise.
- Ballistic Stretching – The ballistic method stretches muscles much suddenly, farther and faster. It can help increase their range of motion, which may be beneficial for their performance. It requires extra force as it extends the muscles and tendons through a larger range of movement.
- Dynamic Stretching – These are active, faster movements that cause your muscles to stretch and are usually done before exercise to get your muscles ready for movement. It doesn’t push muscles past their normal range of motion and there is no bouncing or jerking involved.
- Active Isolated (AI) Stretching – Stretching a specific muscle to its maximum stretching point until you feel tension, and then hold the position for just one or two seconds.
- Passive Stretching – Passive stretching is similar to static stretching, the difference being that, with passive stretching, you don’t supply the force to stretch a muscle. Instead, a stretching partner or outside apparatus does.
- Isometric Stretching – This is a type of static stretching during which tension is developed without contraction of the muscle. This is achieved by getting a muscle into a stretched position, then resisting the stretch, (pushing against force) with the help of a partner or outside apparatus.
- Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching – A technique combining passive and isometric stretching in order to achieve maximum flexibility. Types of PNF stretching include hold-relax, contract-relax and rhythmic initiation.
How to start Stretching?
Start of slowly and learn your body’s range. When you first start off, you may find it difficult to flex the muscle completely as it takes some time to get used to this new movement. But over time, by pushing yourself, the muscle gets used to and range increases. What initial hurt will now ease, relax and comfort your muscles. Practice caution when learning your range and do not exert yourself as you can run the risk of muscle tear. When starting off, do it under the supervision of a trainer / doctor.
With this, I hope you understand stretching better and will implement this basic exercise to keep fit and swift. Should you have any doubts, drop a comment below and I will be happy to answer them.