Stretching is a workout element which is frequently overlooked. But it could actually be one of the most important parts of a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle. Potential benefits include reducing DOMS, increasing performance, preventing injury and rehabilitation. But what kind of stretching is best for your flexibility goals?
If you’re a fellow fitness fanatic you’ll be keen to learn how to prevent DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Although there is no cure, stretching can help reduce the pain. The American College of Sports Medicine (1) suggests that most people should do static stretching 2-3 times a week. Each stretch should be held for 15-30 seconds. Do this before you workout, followed by an active warm up. By incorporating this into a well-rounded exercise program, you’ll activate your muscles so they perform at their best and recover effectively.
We now know how much stretching you should be doing as a warm up. Now the question is, what kind of stretching? This depends on the kind of exercise you’re doing. We’ll keep it simple and create two categories: exercise that requires flexibility (gymnastics, dance etc) and that which is high impact. For flexibility static stretching is most effective. This is because you are able to isolate single muscles which improves your flexibility quicker. For high impact sports (such as running or basketball), dynamic stretching is really useful. This is to enhance the way your body responds to flexibility. If you are stretching while moving (e.g. while doing yoga) you’ll improve your coordination and therefore your performance.
Many people believe that stretching helps prevent injury. This is because it increases flexibility in joints and muscles. Logic would suggest that being supple would allow your muscles and joints adapt to the movement and impact of exercise, but there is little evidence to back this up. In fact, some studies have revealed that injury prevention is improved by a strong muscle-tendon unit which is not directly affected by stretching. The good news is, however, that stretching does not negatively impact your performance or put you at a higher risk of injury. So, for the other benefits we have looked at previously and the possibility that stretching could actually prevent injury, definitely add it to your exercise schedule!
Recovering from injury
Stretching is a major component in rehabilitation therapy. If you’re recovering from a sport-related injury then stretching can move the process along faster. The most effective type of recovery stretching is PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation). This involves the contracting of muscles when stretching specific muscle groups. To do PNF, you should position yourself so you are stretching the intended muscle group. Then contract your muscle and increase the resistance on your stretched muscle for 5-6 seconds. You should feel as though you are working against yourself to inhibit movement. To begin with contract your muscles lightly then increase during your next workout. Next, relax your muscle and stretch it for about 30 seconds. Repeated this 2-4 with around half a minute rest between each rep.