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Stretching?

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This is one topic that I haven’t talked enough about . . . like NEVER.  Stretching, it’s the one key part of a workout that most people will skip or just see as unnecessary.  However, stretching is key to overall health and fitness and especially important to us as we age.

No matter what sport you’ve participated in chances are that you have heard of how important it is to stretch before and after a workout.  Stretching can improve your flexibility, reduce risk of injury and improve your overall quality of life. By adding stretches that focus on all major muscle groups before and after you exercise, you will get more out of your workout and decrease muscular soreness afterward.

1.) IMPROVE FLEXIBILITY

Their is no doubt that stretching increases your flexibility and increased flexibility can improve your physical performance during exercise.  What most people don’t realize it that it can improve your everyday life as well.  By keeping your muscles flexible you will reduce your risk of injuries by increasing the range of motion in your joints.  As you age, stretching becomes even more important as your flexibility decreases, thus making your body stiffer and less mobile. By incorporating stretching into your routine you can counteract this process and maintain your current flexibility.  A great component of Beachbody workouts is the fact that all of their workout routines begin and end with a stretching routine specifically designed for that workout.

When you stretch a muscle tiny fibers which make up our muscles begin to tear allowing our muscles to get longer than they were before.  The tiny breaks are then repaired during our recovery and the gaps bridged with new muscle fibers.  As a result, with careful stretching after a workout your muscles will recover in a “longer” state than before and your flexibility will be improved.

2.) IMPROVE CIRCULATION

Stretching increases blood flow to the muscles.  The blood flow allows the muscle more flexibility and pushes essential nutrients to the muscle for increased growth.  Blood flow can also help removes more waste byproducts from the muscles. Increased blood flow can also help speed up recovery from muscle and joint injuries.

3.) IMPROVE COORDINATION

The increased flexibility that comes from stretching improves balance and coordination. Improved balance and coordination lowers your risk for falls.

4.) INJURY PREVENTION

Injuries to your muscles occur when too much strain is placed on them, then the fibers in the muscle end up tearing beyond what it can quickly repair itself.  When you stretch as part of your warm up, those muscles are then prepared for the amount of strain in your workout.  It will also ensure that you have a good range of motion so that during the exercise they aren’t pushed beyond their abilities.

Proper stretching can minimize a number of injuries that can frequently occur in training, for example runner’s knee, sprained ankles, shoulder injuries, neck and back strains are all very common injuries in sports.  It well worth the time to properly stretch before your workout to keep your workouts on track and to keep you on the injured list. 

Other Benefits

Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles, which is important for exercise because it increases mobility and prevents your muscles from tiring too soon.  Stretching throughout the day can also be beneficial. For example, if your muscles are tight from sitting at work all day you can gently stretch your neck, legs and arms to release tension and prevent sore muscles.  If you are experiencing soreness from a previous workout, stretching before your next workout can help loosen up your muscle and prevent increased soreness.

Proper Stretching

When you incorporate stretching into your exercise routine it is important to follow certain guidelines.  First make sure that have raised your heart rate slightly by performing slow controlled movements to a good sweat going before starting your stretching routine.   Some people believe stretching is the warm-up  consequently stretching cold muscles can make you prone to injury.

Considerations

Stretching after your workout is equally as important as stretching before. Since it increases blood flow to your muscles, stretching afterward can lessen muscular soreness and aid in muscle recovery. If you already have an injury stretching it may not be best because it can cause more strain and prolong the injury.

Four basic types of stretch techniques include ballistic, dynamic, static, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF).

Ballistic – The ballistic stretch makes use of repetitive bouncing movements. It increases range of motion and triggers the muscle’s stretch reflex.  Ballistic stretching can lead to injury if not performed properly, so it is recommend only for those who are in good physical shape.

Dynamic Dynamic stretching incorporates movements that mimic a specific sport or exercise in an exaggerated yet controlled manner; often include during the warm-up or in preparation for a sports event.

Static – This is the type of stretching that most people are familiar with.  The static technique involves passively stretching a muscle to the point of mild discomfort by holding it in a maximal stretch for an extended period. It remains a very effective, relatively safe, and popular method of stretching.  You should hold static stretches for approximately 3o seconds to 1 minute.

PNF – PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) PNF stretches are great for pushing the muscles beyond there normal range of motion, but they often require a partner or in some cases they can be performed using a towel or band.  PNF stretching usually involves a 10 second push phase followed by a 10 second relaxation phase, typically repeated a few times.  These stretches are typically what you see in P90X 2.

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