No matter what your fitness level is, many of us do not give enough (or proper) attention to a key factor in maintaining muscle health; the dreaded stretch.
It hurts. It’s boring. These are just some of the excuses I hear from my clients on a daily basis.
Stretching has long suffered a lack of respect by weight lifters and cardio addicts alike. Save for those yoga buffs amongst us, stretching is seen as a slow, boring and often painful chore, and not truly necessary for physical fitness. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Whether you work your muscles through extension and flexion, contraction and retraction or aerobic impact, the end result will be muscle tightness (and often followed by shortness, i.e. the compaction of the muscle). When muscles get tight and short they restrict movement. They then pull on other muscles thereby over-stretching those muscles.
The shortened and over-stretched muscles are then not able achieve full range of motion when called upon. This leads to muscle weakness rendering the user less able to lift the amount desired as well as aches, sprains, strains and tension which further translates into headaches, backaches, body immobility etc.
If your goals are toned, elongated muscles (the ever-coveted long and lean but strong physique), you will not achieve this fully if you do not stretch post workout (after). Post workout is important because not only do you have sufficient blood flow and body warmth to work the muscle without the potential for tearing, but that is when your muscles need it most.
Warming up the body prior to exercise should not be confused with stretching. A proper five minute low-impact cardio warm up will ready the body, without over-taxing the muscles prior to resistance training or repetitive cardio impact.
A few key techniques to use when stretching are:
1. Hold each stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds then push the stretch a bit further for another 20 seconds. (It takes an average of 12 seconds for the tendons involved in the stretch to relax thereby allowing the muscle to actually be fully stretched).
2. Foam Rollers (SMR Self-Myofascial Release) – rolling the tight muscles over a foam roller is a great way to work muscles that are knotted up. Roll very slowly in one direction and then back the other direction, stopping and pressing where ever the muscle knot is the tightest (most painful). Once the knot feels looser, then perform a traditional static stretch (stationary), whether standing or sitting, of that muscle to elongate it again.
3. Remember to stretch when the body is warm. Stretching cold muscles can result in pulls and strains. Also, stretching immediately after completion of your exercise routine allows you to properly cool down.
Once you make a habit of stretching, it will become more enjoyable and you’ll definitely find the benefits worth the brief discomfort.
Got stretch? If not, get it!
[Photo Credit: Aidarile]