A Fitness Trainer's Advice and Warnings about Stretching
Stretching can be critically important.
Let me tell you a little story about my partner who hadn't a clue about the subject.
When Bruce, about 7 years ago at the age of 40, decided he wanted to get back in shape, (mid-life crisis?), running was one of the first activities he jumped into.
After the third day in a row of stop and start running for about 2-3 miles, he was in serious pain.
Every muscle and joint in his legs seemed to be on fire. This would go on all day and made even walking and sleeping difficult. He knew there would be some discomfort as the leg muscles strengthened and grew, but this was ridiculous!
When he finally spoke to me about this I pointed out that he wasn't a teenager anymore and asked him what kind of stretching he had been doing.
His answer was..."Stretching?...am I supposed to stretch?"
His lack of knowledge about the function and benefit could well have ended his new-found enthusiasm for fitness, at least the running part.
When he incorporated a warm-up stretch and a cool-down stretch routine, the pain was greatly relieved.
The truth is that while stretching is the most overlooked and disregarded exercise, it is one aspect of fitness that helps to increase endurance, strength and posture while at the same time helping to prevent injury and reduce stress.
Flexibility is the range of motion that is possible around a joint. Range of motion is affected by age, gender, physical activity, muscle temperature and individual physical structure. For many years the primary focus of fitness programs has been cardiovascular and strength training. However, flexibility is a very important part of a total fitness program.
Stretching prior to getting started warms up the muscles before they are exposed to hard work and strain. It protects and prevents injury; your muscles will be more pliable and able to withstand the heavier strain and deeper stretch a training session will place on them. It increases your range of motion, making it easier to move thus avoiding injury.
In between workout sets it increases blood flow to the area being worked, removing toxins and bringing in nutrients that will help repair muscle fibers. Between sets it will help to maximize your performance in weight lifting.
After a workout it is important for decreasing muscle soreness and improving flexibility. It increases your range of motion by stretching out tired and tight muscles, making it easier to move.
The benefits of flexibility training are becoming more apparent with current research. Classes are growing in popularity because the educated exerciser realizes that it is an important complement to aerobics and muscle conditioning. This is one reason that yoga classes fill up fast.
Tight muscles limit the range of motion of a joint and can lead to injury that won't heal by itself.
Some time later, Bruce provides us with another fine example I can use here (he should learn to listen to me!).
While he was doing some rudimentary stretching after a run, he wasn't making any real gains in the flexibility department. One day, without realizing it, hamstring exercises on his workout equipment caused a small injury to the upper tendon (near his butt). Movement of the leg became progressively more painful to the point he had to quit running and couldn't play recreational hockey.
The pain went on for months without finding an answer from his doctor as to what was wrong or what could be done. Xrays, of course showed nothing out of the ordinary.
Finally, a chiropractor who was a client of his renovation business, asked about his limp. An examination at the clinic quickly got to the root of the matter which was acute tendonitis being aggravated by overly tight hamstring muscles.
The damaged area of the tendon couldn't heal because there was constant tension on it.
What was needed?... Stretching of course!
Well, a little more than that. Because of the injury, Bruce had to make many painful visits to a massage therapist to help loosen the muscles to the point that progress could be made. Scar tissue in the hamstrings and calf muscles had to be broken up and to do it, the therapist applied pressure with the elbow to the point that her feet would come off the ground! It was an excrutiatingly painful experience! (grown men do cry!)
But it worked. As soon as the muscles began to loosen, the pain started to subside as the injury healed. A full recovery was made.
Muscles stretch best when pre-warmed, such as after aerobic training. Individual stretch exercises should begin with gentle range motion movement and gradually become a full static stretch. Body stabilization, alignment, and the use of abdominal muscles for support will enhance flexibility gains. There is a great variation in natural flexibility between individuals and everyones response to training will be different. Not everyone will be able to touch their nose to their knees!
There are a variety of positions that are effective to stretch muscles. Choose the one that best fits your flexibility level. Remember, the fittest exercisers make flexibility training a regular part of their exercise routines.
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