However, when someone is offered "stretching," the offer is almost always received with a resounding and enthusiastic expression of gratitude and acceptance.
What this tells me is that everyone enjoys and needs to be stretched, but no one enjoys doing it themselves. I am with you on this one, folks. However, flexibility is a crucial component of any exercise or sports performance program, and here are some of the reasons why.
First of all, a supple muscle will be able to tolerate physical stress much better than an inflexible one and will be much less prone to injury. Second, the increased range of motion allows for greater speed and force production as well as more freedom of movement. This will lead to greater comfort when performing any movement or while exercising, and will also lead to improvements in athletic performance.
Finally, stretching helps increase total and specific range of motion and enhances recovery from exercise by assisting in the flushing of metabolic waste from the muscles.
Tight muscles also lead to musculoskeletal imbalances that can cause injury and lead to pain. This is especially common in the lower back of individuals who run, cycle, or just sit at a desk all day and whose hamstrings and hip flexors are tight.
Like most people, I do not stretch as much as I should. However, I have stepped it up as a result of injuries I have had in the past, which improved with flexibility work.
I also have athletic goals that will be more easily reached with a body that is supple and pain-free. Watch someone's attitude toward flexibility quickly change once they are injured or experiencing pain. Hopefully, many of us will see the importance of flexibility work and start to stretch before we get to get to this point.
So, give this stepchild of the training world a little more attention, and maybe those aches and pains will not be such a bother to you anymore.
Here are a few methods for working on your flexibility as well as a few resources for information or services regarding stretching and flexibility training.
In a dynamic warm-up, the limbs are taken through a range of motion about eight or more times, with a half-second hold or stretch. This is done in attempt to warm up the body through specific ranges of motion for the sport or activity about to be performed.
This exercise elevates the core temperature of the body, mimics and prepares the body for the movements about to be performed, and lubricates the muscles and joints to enhance performance and prevent injury. Example: taking the arm across the chest and holding with the opposite arm for one second and repeating, to warm up and stretch the shoulders. Try exercising with and without a warm-up and see which one works better.
Best performed after a cardiovascular workout or warm-up when the muscles are warm and supple, and the joints are lubricated. Each muscle or muscle group is stretched to the point of tolerance and held for at least 30 seconds. This is where your flexibility improves and recovery is enhanced.
It is always nice to have someone else stretch you, and it might make this laborious process more fun.
Here is an excellent way to improve your flexibility while also enjoying the other myriad benefits of an ancient practice.
Get your personal trainer, massage therapist, or other allied health professional to educate you about flexibility, or even better, to work on you on a regular basis. Most people do not know that this service often is offered by these professionals and do not take advantage of this wonderful resource.
Other methods that are often used include PNF, (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation), active assisted, and active isolated stretching. Information on these methods can be found in books or via the Web.
Some additional resources on flexibility include Michael J. Alter's 311 Stretches for 41 Sports, and Aaron Matte's Active Isolated Stretching and Specific Stretching for Everyone.
Jeb Stewart, M.S., C.S.C.S., is a USA Cycling Elite and USA Triathlon Level 1 coach and is certified by the ACSM, NSCA and NASM. He has a master's in exercise science and health promotion and is co-owner and head coach of Endurofit, LLC. For more information, visit www.endurofit.com or contact Jeb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813-230-2900.