Stretching. Do you remember at primary school when you had to do some kind of sport and attached to whatever the activity was there was this quiet non committed suggestion of a stretch? You would wriggle around a bit, touch your toes and roll your shoulders a couple of times and that was it. Looking back this kind of made us think stretching perhaps isn’t that important. The problem is in most cases the person guiding us didn’t really know what they were doing or why stretching is so important.
What is stretching?
Stretching is the active extension of a muscle and tendon with the aim of increasing it’s length. This helps to increase the resting length of the muscle reducing unnecessary pressure and discomfort.
Why do we need to stretch?
Over time due to ongoing muscle contraction and/ or a sedentary lifestyle your muscles shorten. This gradually increases the pressure on joints like elbows, knees, hips, spine, wrists ankles etc. As joints are designed to operate at an optimum level of tension they begin to struggle to perform regular tasks. This can lead to decreased mobility other issues such as:
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Lower back pain
- Knee pain
- Plantar fasciitis
- Tennis or golfers elbow
If left untreated these problems can lead to disc injury, osteoarthritis and joint degeneration. In worst case scenarios this can require joint replacement, fusion or other types of surgery. Unfortunately, these types of intervention do not always work and can result in ongoing pain and dysfunction.
What happens to muscles with age?
Physical activity changes significantly between our teenage years and our late 20s – early 30s. As a result your muscles atrophy and you lose muscle mass, not all of the muscle just some of it.
With age we generally decrease the load put on the muscles and don’t move them in as wide a range of motion. With less use muscles begin to become more fibrous, shorter and as a result more prone to injury. Something you could do easily when you were 18 becomes a lot harder and potentially greater risk when we are 45.
Stretching helps to reduce the speed and magnitude of this change and in some cases can help to reverse it.
How does stretching work?
By regularly increasing the range of movement and holding for a period, of we recommend 30 seconds, you are able to break up the fibrous tissue that occurs with age and reduced activity levels. This helps to make the muscles rubberier and more pliable improving their performance significantly.
What are the benefits of stretching?
- Increase muscle range and mobility
- Reduced pain and soreness after activity
- Reduce the risk of joint degeneration
- Improves posture
- Assists with stress relief
- Clams the nervous system
When should I stretch?
- Before exercise – this is more dynamic stretching to prepare the body for activity. This is most useful if you are in competitive events or high intensity training.
- After exercise – static stretching is the most effective here to prevent the muscles contracting too much as they cool down. It also improves circulation to help remove lactic acid from the muscle tissues reducing Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
- First thing in the morning – Most of us think that after a good night’s sleep our muscles should be nice and relaxed. Actually, the opposite is true. All of our muscles even in a resting state have a partial state of contraction occurring which is called tone. As a result, through the night due to less movement your muscles gradually shorten. This leads to what many experience as early morning stiffness i.e. it takes a while before you can get going and move easily. Doing a series of static stretches when you first wake up helps your muscles work into the day.
How long should I stretch for?
This one is really important as a lot people who visit Evolve with muscle pain think they are stretching when they hold a stretch for 10 seconds. Technically they are but not effectively. When we move into a position to lengthen a muscle or muscle group initially they contract for approximately 8 seconds before letting go and allowing the full extension to occur. So if you only stretch for 10 seconds you are essentially going backwards. The best length of time for a stretch is between 30 and 60 seconds.
How often should I stretch?
My preference is small amounts regularly. Yes Yoga is amazing for the body but most people do 1 or maybe 2 classes a week. This leaves a long time in between stretches giving the body the ability to tighten up. My preference is 10 minutes first thing every morning when you first get up and 10 minutes after any kind of vigorous exercise. That way you keep your body tip top and ready to give you the freedom in life you want.
Download some simple stretch tips here. stretching-tips-newcastle