Stretching is the most often overlooked part of an exercise program. Often when it is done it is done incorrectly. This article goes over the HOW-TO'S for stretching muscles for flexiblity and injury prevention.
Talk to your doctor before starting a stretching program.
Flexiblity is the most commonly overlooked area of an exercise program, but it is one of the most important. Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move freely through its entire range of motion. It is estimated that 80% of low-back problems are because of improper alignment of the spinal column and pelvic region, a result of weak and tight muscles.
A regular flexibility program helps to maintain good joint mobility, increases resistance to muscle injury and soreness, prevents spinal problems (not to mention improved posture), and even helps to develop motor skills throughout life. When our body is flexible there is an ease of grace and improved personal appearance and self-image. There are numerous benefits, but how should you go about a stretching routine?
An adequate stretching program includes the entire body. There are two types of stretching: ballistic and slow-sustained stretching. Ballistic stretching is detrimental, because it uses jerky, rapid and bouncy movements. This causes micro trauma to the muscle tissue and, as a result, there is an increase in muscle soreness and injury. Proper stretching involves a slow-sustained “hold” of the muscle. The muscles are lengthened slowly and through the joint's full range of motion and are held there 10 seconds. This type of stretch causes little pain and a low risk for injury. Hold the muscle to a point of tension for 10 seconds then relax it. This stretch should be repeated 3-4 times to get maximum results. With each successive stretch, you will find that you can increase the range of motion of the joint. A stretch needs to be held for 10 seconds to allow the muscle to “realize” that it has experienced a change and begin to relax.
When should you stretch? Definitely not right after your alarm goes off in the morning. Give your body some time to warm up and get the blood flowing. Try stretching after your shower or after you have done some chores around the house. Stretching should also be a part of your warm-up and cool-down routines. During warm-up it gets the joints and muscles ready to be worked and in cool-down it allows for greater relaxation. Stretching as a cool down will decrease the amount of soreness you might feel from exercising.
Stretching is a form of exercise that can even be done by someone who is bed-ridden. Almost everyone can allow his or her body to function more efficiently by stretching. It is great for stress relief too! For the most part, a stretching should be done 5-6 times per week. Once a your flexibility has been developed, it can be maintained by two sessions per week.