What is stretching?
Stretching, as it relates to physical health and fitness, is the process of placing particular parts of the body into a position that will lengthen the muscles and associated soft tissues.
Upon undertaking a regular stretching program or routine, a number of changes begin to occur within the body and specifically within the muscles themselves. Other tissues that begin to adapt to the stretching process include the ligaments, tendons, fascia, skin and scar tissue.
Stretching is a simple and effective activity that helps to enhance athletic performance, decrease the likelihood of injury and minimize muscle soreness.
But how is that accomplished and what are the most important benefits of stretching?
1. Improved Range of Movement
By increasing our range of movement we are increasing the distance our limbs can move before damage occurs to the muscles and tendons. For example, the muscles and tendons in the back of our legs are put under great strain when kicking a football. The benefits of an extended range of movement includes: increased comfort; a greater ability to move freely; and less susceptibility to strain injuries.
2. Increased Power
By increasing our muscle length we are increasing the distance over which our muscles are able to contract. This results in a potential increase to our muscles power and therefore increases our athletic ability, while improving balance and control of our muscles.
3. Reduced Post Exercise Soreness
Stretching, as part of an effective cool-down, helps to alleviate the soreness by lengthening the individual muscle fibers; increasing blood circulation, and removing waste products (eg. lactic acid).
4. Reduced Fatigue
Increase flexibility through stretching can help prevent the effects of fatigue by taking pressure off the working muscles.
Along with the benefits listed above, a regular stretching program will also help to improve posture; develop body awareness; improve co-ordination; promote circulation; increase energy; and improve relaxation and stress relief.
The subject of stretching and flexibility has evolved considerably over the last 10 to 15 years, but the one constant remains – stretching is physiologically crucial for pretty much everyone.