To Stretch or Not To Stretch

From: OPTP Insider Newsletter May 2008
Along with cardiovascular exercise (which raises your
heart rate) and resistance training (lifting weights),
stretching is an essential component of a complete
fitness regime, yet it is often the most neglected. People
perceive it is too easy and, as a result, unnecessary. Many
do not realize all the benefits that come from a regular
stretching routine.

In fact, regular, controlled stretching improves and
maintains flexibility and mobility, corrects bad posture,
reduces the risk of injury, relieves pain, and even helps
counteract the effects of aging. In addition, it relaxes the
body, helps reduce stress levels and can help to boost
self-esteem. Everyone, regardless of age or fitness level,
can benefit from stretching. By making it an integral
part of your lifestyle, you will reap its many benefits.
A stretch may target a muscle, or a group of muscles, but
its benefits will be felt throughout the body, and even
on a mental level.
Stretching Essentials

Good flexibility is known to bring positive benefits
in the muscles and joints. It provides ease in body
movements and everyday activities. When you’re
stretching it is best to target the major muscle groups of
the body which include calves, thighs, hips, lower back,
neck and shoulders. Also stretch muscles and joints that
you routinely use at work or play.

It is best to warm up the muscles before you stretch
them. A good warm-up accomplishes two things, it
improves muscle extensibility and loosens connective
tissues, and it gets the neuromuscular circuits firing.
Warm up by walking while gently pulling your arms, or
do a favorite exercise at low intensity for five minutes.

Better yet, stretch after you exercise – when your
muscles are warm and more receptive to stretching.
Heat makes connective tissues (joint capsules,
ligaments, & fascia) more pliable. As fascial pockets
around muscles become warm, muscles can extend
farther, allowing for an increased range of motion.
Try to hold stretches for at least 30 seconds or longer
if you can. There are different views about how long is
necessary to hold a stretch to get the maximum benefit.
Stretching has both neurological and mechanical effects
on muscles and connective tissues. A stretch needs to be
held long enough for the muscles to relax so they can be
passively lengthened. As you hold a stretch, consciously
relax the tight muscle and feel the myofascial tissue
around it elongate. After the muscle finally relaxes, the
connective tissues can begin to stretch. It takes time to
lengthen tissues gently and safely. That can seem like a
long time, so keep an eye on the clock or your watch.
Remember to relax and breathe freely. Take several slow
deep breaths while holding the stretch, and then repeat
the stretch on the other side.
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