Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Importance of Stretching

The Importance of Stretching

What Gym class didn't teach you..

In today’s fast paced world, everyone is so focused on seeing results now, that they overlook perhaps the most important exercise; stretching! You can’t run without learning how to walk, and you will never reach your fitness goals without taking the proper time to stretch. Your muscles need the right flexibility in order to perform their best, and that’s hard to achieve without stretching. Stretching your muscles not only improves your range-of-motion, but it also increases blood flow, helps you burn fat, and improves your efficiency for building muscle.
Believe it or not, taking the time to improve your flexibility will also improve you posture. If you’ve ever seen pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was competing for Mr. Universe, his biceps were so massive that he walked around like his arms were always half bent. This was probably due to lack of stretching while he was developing his biceps. When you stretch, you elongate the muscle, improving your posture, and will ultimately look better.
Like any other type of exercise, there is a right way and a wrong way to stretch. Most physical education teachers you might have encountered in grade school more than likely advocated the static stretch technique. This method involves extending the muscle, and holding it for 12-18 seconds.
While this method can be beneficial for certain workouts, when it comes to strenuous exercises involving prolonged cardio and weight training, this is the wrong technique. When you hold a muscle in a static position like that, you’re really doing a relaxed stretch. This technique forces the muscle to relax itself in order to adapt to the stress you put on it when you stretch it. This is NOT what you want. Instead, utilize a full range-of-motion stretch. This can include grabbing a light weight, like 5 or 10 pounds (something light), and doing a continuous motion that relates to the workout you will be doing on it.
For example; if I wanted to do a shoulder exercise, for my stretch routine I would grab a 10lb dumbell weight, and rotate my arm in a giant circle from my waist to up above my head, and back down in a smooth controlled motion. This style of style of stretching not only prepares your muscle for the work it will soon be doing, but also adds all the benefits of stretching (flexibility, muscle gain, fat burn, posture, etc). This method of stretching is usually referred to as full range of motion or dynamic stretching since it requires movement and change of position.
Other ROM/Dynamic stretching could include walking, lunges, twists/turns, or even jumping jacks. Basically anything that is light weight that involves moving the muscle group you wish to workout in a continuous fashion. Stagnant stretches can still be useful though, it just has a different kind of use. Try doing static stretches after your workout is done. It is a common misconception to only stretch before hand, but stretching afterwards is just as important. Muscles can lock up after a tough workout, so relaxing them is equally as crucial. Much like an injured football player stretching out his hamstrings on the sidelines, stretching can also help hurt muscles and tissue recover faster. For this, we would utilize static stretches. Take 5 minutes after the gym and stretch each of the muscle groups you worked that day. Doing so will reduce how sore you are tomorrow, as well as prevent cramping and bad posture.
So we have gone over the basic ins and outs of stretching, and why it is so important. Something that takes less than 5 minutes is so commonly overlooked, yet can yield such great benefits. So next time before you go and try and put up 3 plates on the bench, stretch out those muscles, and see how much it can really help.


jacob said...

Interesting Post

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I am a 24 year old college graduate from California. I am big into health and fitness, and feel everyone should get out there, be active, and live the best life they can.

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