How many of us have said this countless times. We are going to start stretching. Yet, once we start our day, we don’t seem to take the time.
We are fortunate that many of our exercise classes, such as spin class, take time at the end to ensure all participants are guided with some stretches. This ensures that muscles don’t tighten up unnecessarily. Not all of us are entirely aware of what good it truly does. Many of us may not attend a live class, or we may have to get back to work, and we forego the stretch at the end. If we skip this on a regular basis, we may begin to feel that we have ‘tight’ muscles.
What is happening.
At times, we can experience an injury of unknown origin. Some of us seem to incur an injury that arises repetitively. Ultimately, this is the result of the muscle and/or joint’s inability to tolerate the load thrown at it. We may become aware of increasing tightness in a particular area or feel something go ‘ping’.
Some people return to an exercise regimen after a longer than expected hiatus, only to suddenly experience an injury that propels them once again to step away from any activity in order to recover.
Whatever the reason, choosing to practice a regular stretching routine will allow us to continue our activities and experience injuries less frequently as a result. As well, it will help us optimize our regimen and improve our strength and mobility, allowing us to optimize our current health practices and set new goals.
Remember, when we need physiotherapy to recover from an injury, there are always stretches recommended to assist with the healing process, sooooooo doing this in advance may prove helpful in reducing the risk of injury.
Your body tries to protect itself, and if the brain message interprets an activity that strains the area, it can prompt the tightening of the muscle to protect the body, which in turn, may preclude a muscle injury. Training the muscles to become familiar with certain movements and increasing their capacity will minimize tightening of muscles at the most inopportune time.
What to do.
Consider why an injury occurs. Does it have to do with technique? Perhaps the muscles supporting the joint are not strong enough, and in turn the load shifts onto another muscle or structure that may not be designed to tolerate that type of load, ultimately causing injury.
Listen to your body. Notice if there is discomfort and consider modifications to minimize injuries. Consult a trainer or physiotherapist on what stretches may be beneficial to improve mobility in that area in order to strengthen and improve your performance.
It’s not only about stretching. Think about technique and our capacity to perform. Perhaps those walking lunges need to be done with less of a lunge for a period of time until our muscles become familiar with the demand, and in the same token, strengthen in order to support that activity and improve technique. This does take time and will not only alleviate injuries but improve performance.
When experiencing discomfort, either reduce the strain and decrease the volume of the training load OR increase the body’s ability to deal with this training load. We prefer that second option. Ultimately, the goal is to train the body to tolerate the load and activities that we are having our body undergo.
What type of stretches?
Normally warming up for 5 to 10 minutes prior to an exercise, with moderate cardio activity will get that blood flowing and improve circulation.
Dynamic stretches are recommended when undertaking an activity that will apply stress to an area. These are gentle fluid movements mimicking the activity that we are about to perform but without the tension. This approach allows for some familiarity of movement, and circulation within the area so that the activity can be performed with less stress. If this is a new movement, then caution is required here to not strain these muscles or joints. Here is some additional information for dynamic stretching.
No matter what they said in high school, do not bounce during a stretch since this can cause the muscle or joint to reach a greater range than is tolerated, and result in injury. This is a ballistic approach that is not recommended.
Static stretches are what we initially think about when we talk stretches. They are the positions that we hold for 30 to 90 seconds in order to increase muscle length and ultimately flexibility and range of motion. This approach is best performed following exercise. It is certainly also recommended to do them daily even if not associated with an activity. It is not recommended to do static stretching before a strenuous activity since these have been shown to potentially contribute to an injury. Here is a guide to some stretches for improved flexibility.
As time goes on, regardless if we fall off of that exercise wagon, we need to maintain flexibility and range of motion as we age, not to mention a certain level of strength, balance, and agility. Maintaining our activity level in these areas will prolong our independence as older adults. It may not seem like a lofty goal, but when we hit our elder years, if we were to fall, we will have done well for ourself to be able to get up off that floor without assistance.
Time is ticking. Perhaps it’s not as big of a stretch as we thought.
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Shelly Hosman Ink