This article is a good guide for stretching and explains the benefits with regard to running and jumping better, having a larger range of motion, decreased chance of injury, and increased athletic performance.
If there is an area of fitness that is little understood, little employed, and for which little patience exists – it’s stretching and flexibility. The benefits of investing the time and mental energy are gigantic.
Flexibility varies based on age, gender, body type, life style, joint structure, activity levels and past injuries and the effectiveness of rehabilitation, if any. People who are completely sedentary for long periods and overweight will be as tight and inflexible, as those who repeatedly use the same joint in repetitive motion without any stretching.
Carpenters, roofers, etc. may have joint stiffness as severe as a couch potato, or an overweight traveling salesman who sits on a fat wallet six hours a day. Those who exercise intensely without stretching, suffer inevitable injuries without proper rehab, will have a stiff gait and will suffer what many think of as "the inevitable ravages of aging". That is the ultimate rationalization.
What is flexibility? It is the capacity of the musculature and fascia surrounding a joint to achieve a full range of motion. What is the purpose of stretching?
- Increase the range of motion of the joint.
- Relieve muscle soreness by enhancing blood and, hence, oxygen to muscles and joints.
- Expand capability for sports because flexible muscles require less energy in activity.
- Enhance musculotendinous flexibility. Muscle can be stretched 1.6 times its resting length before rupturing.
- Elongate the fascia, which provides the sheath to support muscles and other body tissues.
- Prevent joint and muscle strains and tears.
- Reduce potential for spasm and cramping.
- Reduce neuromuscular tension, a wonderful mind-body derivative.
- Increase body temperature and range of motion prior to activity.
- Provide enhanced blood flow to a fatigued area, purge toxins, relax muscles and reduce soreness from lactic acid buildup.
Why does the average person lack flexibility and hence underperform against his or her potential, as well as risk serious injury?
- Overuse of a particular joint(s), without maintaining flexibility and strength of the abused muscles.
- Aging effects which reduce connective tissue elasticity, as muscle mass deteriorates. Inactivity, particularly for prolonged periods, causes hard and inelastic tissues. Disease, injury, inactivity, overuse can all result in elasticity.
- Muscle imbalances where the antagonist and agonist (opposing) muscles are of far different strength . Weight trainers are notorious for concentrating on some but not all the muscles of a joint and ignoring stabilizers (hip adductor and abductors, and rotator cuff muscles). This causes the weaker opposing muscle to be vulnerable to strains and tearing.
While the fitness center shows stretching techniques in some detail, we would offer the following advice.
- Do not bounce or pulse your stretches, because the tactic can cause muscle strains and tears which create inflexible scar tissue. Further, bouncing stretches creates tightened muscles rather than relaxed muscles, and might cause contractions of the muscles stretched rather than lengthening.
- Hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Exhale into the stretch and inhale into the release for 5 seconds. Repeat for two or three repetitions and feel the musculo-skeletal increased capacity to elongate.
- Increase blood flow, oxygen, and nutrition to the connective tissues prior to and after exercise. Repetitive isotonic activity delivers enhanced blood flow which carries the oxygen and nutrition to the muscles.
- Fuel for muscle action comes from the deployment of fatty acids and glucose accompanied by oxygen. Glucose emanates from glycogen, which is stored muscle fuel derived from carbohydrates in your diet. If oxygen is lacking due to improper warm-up, then oxygen will be deficient, causing the muscles to get energy by converting glucose to lactic acid. Lactic acid is a waste product or toxin that causes muscle to fatigue and ultimately fail.
- Drinking water and stretching after exercise will cause the lactic acid to dissipate, leaving you pain free and flexible for your next endeavor.
- Stretch to the point of mild discomfort, not pain. However, to increase the range of motion it is necessary to reach the existing limit regularly and exceed it.
- Intensify the contraction of the agonist muscles opposite to the antagonist muscles that are reciprocally relaxing and lengthening on the opposite side of the joint. Contraction of certain muscles will cause a concomitant relaxing and lengthening affect with the opposing muscle. In other words, contracting the quads will relax the hamstrings.
- Improving range of motion takes time and daily commitment, but the dividends are large.
Give stretching a real chance. You should realize a significant improvement in running and jumping performance. Further, you should be much less susceptible to injury.