We always hear how important it is to stretch, but many of us don’t fully understand why it is so necessary. Here are a few basics on stretching and why it is important.
Stretching is necessary to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. There are various stretching techniques that can be used to improve flexibility, two of which I will discuss here.
The most common stretching technique is static stretching. This is when a muscle is taken to the end of its range (slight discomfort) and held for about 15-30 seconds while the muscle is completely relaxed. Static stretching is most effective post exercise to reduce muscle pain and stiffness.
The second technique is dynamic stretching which involves the individual moving his/her own leg through its full range of motion. As the muscle warms up, the individual will be able to swing the limb further and further through its range, never taking it more than the point of slight discomfort. Dynamic stretching is most commonly used prior to strenuous exercise to increase joint mobility and thus decrease the risk of injury.
Various other techniques exist, including ballistic stretching, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) and active-isolated stretching; however, these techniques are more complicated and usually require the assistance of a therapist, such as a biokineticist or physiotherapist.
Stretching should be done pre and post exercise, as part of a warm up and cool down. Stretching before exercise assists in reducing the risk of injury, while stretching after exercise helps maintain increased flexibility of muscles and helps to reduce muscular pain and stiffness following exercise. Remember: never stretch a cold muscle; rather do a gentle warm up such as a walk or light jog and then stretch before starting any strenuous exercise.
When stretching, one should feel slight discomfort, not pain. Overstretching a muscle beyond its limits can cause damage to the tissue. The range of movement at a joint, or this point of slight discomfort, will increase as flexibility improves with regular stretching. Every person and every joint is unique and flexibility will vary depending on the joint, activity levels and types of activities performed on a regular basis, so only stretch as far as YOU can.
Stretching provides a great form of relaxation and stress relief as well. People of all ages and activity levels need to stretch to reduce the risk of injury, maintain joint mobility and keep the body moving with ease and minimal pain.