Stretching is often an overlooked part of a workout routine or sporting activity. But flexibility and range of motion in our joints is important for many reasons when it comes to our muscles and connective tissue. It is common to leave out this activity pre or post exercise, but maybe some of the benefits will persuade you to add stretching to your routine or to your day.
You don’t have to stretch your whole body every day, but at least focus on a couple of problem areas that could use some attention. We subconsciously stretch all the time, like when we reach for the ceiling upon rising out of bed or lean over to tie our shoes. Reduced pain and stiffness is part of improved health. Stretching is a good type of self-inflicted pain.
Flexibility is the extensibility of the tissue around the joints that allows range of motion. Imbalances can occur as the result of too much or too little activity and injury. When the functional length of muscles is compromised, control of the joint and performance with exercise on even daily life activities, can become impaired. Tight muscles pull areas of the body away from their intended positions. For example, time spent in front of a computer screen can lead to hunched posture. This is a result of the head sticking out to see the screen which creates tight chest muscles that pull the head and shoulders forward.
When we stretch, we are creating tension that causes autogenic inhibition. We feel the tightness until the activated muscle spindles start to relax. Over time, greater range of motion is produced due to the muscle and tissue changes that take place when the joints are in a new position after being stretched. Muscle soreness can be reduced by increasing blood flow to these target areas. Stretching can reduce the likelihood of injury too. Stretching can also feel like a mental break when just 10 minutes is taken to really tune into the body.
There are 6 forms of stretching:
- The most common type is static stretching, which is when the position is held for at least 30 seconds.
- Dynamic stretching is about movement. This is common in athletics. A sprinter might do long strides in order to stretch for an upcoming race.
- Ballistic stretching is the bouncy type. It is used in some athletic drills but can increase risk for injury.
- Active isolated stretching (AIS) involves several repetitions of holding the stretch for only 2 seconds. Each time the person can try to reach a little further (like when reaching for the toes in a seated position).
- Myofascial release is when a foam roller is used. Small back-and-forth movement is done on the roller, relieving the tension of the fascia (connective tissue).
- Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) is assisted stretching when someone else is applying resistance to push against.
Our body does a lot for us every single second of the day. Stretching is part of self-care. The two ends of the spectrum can create muscle imbalances which involve either too much repetitive movement or too little movement at all. When we exercise, we are putting a positive demand on the body, but it must be rewarded with stretching. Living in an uptight world is no fun, so don’t place this tightness upon your body. Take a moment, stretch, and feel the benefits of better posture, range of motion, and better health.