You know for a fact that stretching is a crucial aspect of an exercise programme. For one, it gears you up for the grind ahead. Other general benefits are as follows:
* Reduced muscle tension
* Increased rate of movement in the joints
* Enhanced muscular coordination
* Increased circulation of the blood to various parts of the body
* Increased energy levels (resulting from increased circulation)
There are many types of stretching. For today, let us focus on two types and how they should be incorporated into your fitness regimen:
1. Dynamic stretching-essentially, dynamic stretching involves repeatedly performing challenging stretches that do not force the muscle past a comfortable range of motion. Its short definition is "stretching as you are moving." Each movement is controlled and requires a good amount of coordination due to the repetitious motion.
These rhythmical movements are often included in the warm-up of an exercise routine. This form of stretching should be smooth and intentional, whilst gradually increasing the range of motion over a set of 10 to 12 repetitions.
Here are some examples of dynamic stretching:
a. Joint rotations-from a standing position with your arms hanging loosely by your sides, flex, extend and rotate your fingers, wrist, elbows, shoulders, neck, trunk/shoulder blades, hips, knees, ankles and your feet.
b. Lateral flexion-lower your left ear toward your left shoulder and then your right ear toward your right shoulder; 10 to 12 repetitions.
c. Shoulder circles-stand on a slightly-wider-than-shoulder-width stance. Raise your right shoulder toward your right ear, take it backwards, down and then up again to the ear in a smooth motion; 10 to 12 repetions.
d. Hip circles-with your hands on your hips and feet spread wider than your shoulders, make circles with your hips in a clockwise direction for 10 to 12 repetitions. Repeat for counter-clockwise movements.
e. Leg swings-stand sideways onto a wall. If your right side is facing the wall, stick out your right arm touching the wall for balance. Your weight should be focused on your left leg. Swing your right leg forward and backward. Do 10 to 12 repetitions on each leg.
One of dynamic stretching's main benefits is its ability to prepare and loosen muscles for a workout. Other benefits as noted by Gregory A. Frederick's study in 2001 in the Strength and Conditioning Journal include increase in core and muscle temperature, stimulation of the nervous system, improved elasticity and a decreased injury rate.
Dynamic stretching should be done before every workout. It has a cumulative effect over an extended period of time. After about four weeks, gains in mobility, flexibility and ability to move smoothly during training sessions should already be noticeable.
2. Static stretching-this is when you stretch and hold the muscle just beyond its normal range of motion. You are not moving around but simply elongating a particular muscle or group of muscles. Each stretch is ideally held for 15 to 30 seconds. Its primary purpose is to increase flexibility of the muscles and ligaments.
Some examples of static stretching are as follows:
a. Gastrocnemius stretch-stand facing a wall. Place both of your hands on the wall at chest height. Position your right leg back and your left leg forward. Keep both heels on the ground and lean forward toward the wall. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, switch legs and repeat three to four times.
b. Pectoralis stretch-stand in the doorway with both of your elbows at 90 degrees. Position your body in a staggered stance and lean forward until a stretch is felt in your chest and shoulder area. Hold stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three to four times.
c. Quadriceps stretch-whilst standing, hold on to the edge of a chair. Grab your right ankle with your right hand and bring your leg toward your glutes. A tolerable stretch will be felt on the front part of your thigh. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat three to four times for each leg.
d. Triceps stretch-whilst standing, bring your right arm overhead and try to bring your forearm as close to your upper arm. Take your left hand and place it on top of your right elbow and slowly apply backward pressure. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat three to four times for each tricep.
Static stretching helps people maintain flexibility and joint range of motion as they age. It also corrects muscular imbalances, such as when one side of the body is tighter than the other.
Static stretching is best done after a workout because it helps re-lengthen the muscles that have tightened during the workout. It is not recommended to do static stretching before intense physical activity because the pre-lengthening of muscles can decrease the power output of the muscles. This has been studied to decrease performance.
To conclude, incorporate both types of stretching into your fitness programme. Do dynamic stretching before working out and then do static stretching after your workout.