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April 10, 2015
By Joseph Strongoli, Contributing Columnist



It’s hard enough to convince yourself to get up and go to the gym in
the first place, let alone actually put yourself through strenuous,
tedious, repetitive, and difficult exercises.  

Because of this, stretching before and after exercise generally becomes
an afterthought. After all, just rousing ourselves to go and get a
workout in usually uses up most of our willpower.

But don’t neglect this all-important pre- and post- exercise ritual:
recent research shows that stretching before and after physical
exertion has widespread benefits. Even if you aren’t planning on
exercising today, stretching on its own is beneficial and healthy,
especially in the prevention and treatment of chronic pain, poor
circulation, and stiffness and achy muscles in the elderly and the
sedentary.

Three Types of Stretching

Stretching is typically classified into three types: Static, Dynamic, and
Pre-Contraction. Static, the traditional and most common way of
stretching, involves holding a specific position with the muscle put
under tension to the point of stretching. This can be performed
passively by the use of a partner, or actively by a the person
themselves.

Dynamic stretching involves two types: active, and ballistic. Active
stretching involves moving a limb through its full range of motion, to its
limits, and repeating several times.  Essentially, it is stretching in
motion. Ballistic stretching includes rapid, alternating movements or
bouncing at end of range motion. This kind of stretching can be
dangerous though, and shouldn’t be attempted unless under the care
of a professional supervisor.

Pre-contraction stretching involves a contraction of the muscle being
stretched. Essentially, it involves stretching the muscle out, and while
its stretched, contracting it by flexing, so that it gets pulled from both
ends.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends static stretching
preceded by an active warm-up, at least 2 to 3 days per week. Each
stretch should be held between 15 and 30 seconds and repeated 2 to 4
times.

Static Stretching Weakens Your Muscles?

Its important to note however, that these different methods are not
equal. Static stretching may be good, for example, in injury
rehabilitation, improving flexibility and fighting off the stiffness and
aches that come from passive muscle tension, but according to a 2008
study at UNLV by Dr. Samuel et al., it actually weakens the muscles for
about 30 minutes!

The study found that athletes generated less force from their leg
muscles after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all,
due to a neuromuscular inhibitory response to static stretching.
Essentially, the muscle protects itself from being overstretched.

Dynamic Stretching Increases Muscle Power

Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, increases power, flexibility, and
range of motion without the inhibitory response: on the contrary,
during dynamic stretching the muscles receive an excitatory message to
perform! So based on your physical needs, and the activities (or
inactivity) that you partake in, make sure you choose the right
stretching routine for you.

Here are the top 7 benefits of stretching:



























1.
Increase Your Range of Motion

Range of motion, (ROM) describes the natural limits of the movements
our body can make, based on the geometry and congruency of our
anatomy, i.e., how our joints are configured, and the capabilities of our
muscles to move our limbs by contracting.  

A 2012 study by Dr. Phil Page published in the International Journal of
Sports Physical Therapy showed that the greatest increase in ROM with
a static stretch occurs between 15 and 30 seconds, and that 10 to 30
second stretch durations was sufficient for increasing flexibility.

2.
Improve Your Performance

As noted above, the different methods of stretching have different pros
and cons, and while static stretching is not the best option before a
workout or a sports game, dynamic stretching on the other hand,
combined with warm-up activities that get blood flowing and raise the
body temperature, were found to increase performance drastically.

A 2010 study at Bloomsburg University by Dr. AJ Fradkin et al.,
discovered this startling fact ---
athletic performance increased by 79%
in workouts and sports that were preceded by a warm-up and dynamic
stretching
.

That's 79%! You’d be cheating yourself and perhaps your teammates if
you didn’t get a proper warm-up and stretch in before the game!

3.
Prevent Injury

The 2010 study at Bloomsburg University by Dr. Fradkin from above
found another startling statistic: warm-up and stretch before physical
activity and you are nine times less likely to be injured.  “It was eye-
opening”, Dr. Fradkin, an avid golfer, stated in an interview following
her study. “I used to not really warm-up. I do now.”

Stretching is especially effective in
reducing back injuries.


4.
Increase Muscle Length (Extensibility)

A 2001 study by Dr. S.P. Chan at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
showed that 8 weeks of static stretching actually increased muscle
extensibility.  

Extensibility refers to increased muscle length, and is important in
maintaining tissue health/integrity, blood flow, muscle tone, and
muscle growth through tissue expansion. Increased muscle length also
leads to relaxed muscles and less tightness, which brings us to our next
benefit.

5.
Relax Muscles and Decrease Muscle Tightness, Passive Stiffness

Muscular tightness and stiffness can lead to chronic aches and pain and
poor blood circulation.

According to Dr. Page’s 2012 report from above, muscular tightness
occurs due to an increase in tension from active or passive
mechanisms.  

In passive situations, such as prolonged periods of sitting or inactivity,
muscles can become shortened through postural adaptation, atrophy,
and scarring. In active situations, muscles can become shorter due to
spasms, or involuntary contractions, and cramps.

In both cases, muscle tightness limits range of motion and creates a
muscle imbalance. This can lead to joint injury and muscle tears. But
since muscle tension is inversely related to muscle length, with
increased length corresponding to decreased muscular tension, these
symptoms can be cured by consistently adding stretching to your daily
routine.


6.
Increase Your Flexibility

To get the true benefits of stretching, you should do it everyday,  not
only on days when you exercise, according to Dr. Gloria Beim, an
orthopedic surgeon who is the team doctor for the US Cycling Team;
“Stretching right before you exercise three times a week isn’t going to
do it. You need to stretch every day to get its benefit.”

While it sounds like a big commitment, the upside to stretching
everyday is the increase in flexibility that it brings.

Flexibility is necessary to perform our everyday activities comfortably
and without pain. Increased flexibility improves posture by balancing
the tension placed across your joints by the muscles that cross it.
Flexibility also improves blood circulation, decreases pain, as well as
providing a feeling of enhanced vitality, energy, limberness.

Flexibility in your back , shoulders and hips is needed to maximize the
speed of your golf swing or to improve the stable, smooth launch of
your jump shot or football throw.

7.
Aids Injury Recovery/Rehab and Reduces Pain

A  1984 study by Dr. K. Lewit published in the Archives of Physical
Medicine and Rehabilitation applied stretching therapy to patients with
chronic musculoskeletal pain.

They found immediate pain relief in 94% of cases and lasting pain relief
in 63%, as well as lasting relief of point tenderness in 23% of the sites
treated. These results confirmed the study’s hypothesis that the
increased tension of the affected muscles and the resulting pain and
dysfunction are both relieved by restoring the full stretch length of the
muscle.

A 2004 study at the Sports Medicine Clinic of Segas, in Thessaloniki
Greece by Dr. N. Malliaropoulos et al., studied 80 athletes with
hamstring injuries. The study found that the athletes recovered faster
by performing more intensive stretching, over those who did not
stretch at all during the recovery/rehabilitation process. This was due
to the alignment of collagen fibers during muscle healing, and the
improvement of blood flow to injured areas.





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