For many people, the idea of stretching seems to be spending a lot of time in the back of your mind gathering dust and not really getting the attention it needs. Don’t worry you’re in the same boat as a large percentage of the people in the gym, but it’s crucial to understand the role of stretching and the many incredible health benefits associated with it.
Why it’s Important - Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong and healthy. Without it, the muscles will begin to shorten and tighten up. This can cause many issues with the alignment of your body. For example, if a person has tight hamstrings this can cause the pelvis to be pulled into a backwards tilt creating a flat back in replace of the natural curved back, this can turn minor injuries such as muscle pulls into more serious back injuries.
Not stretching can also put you at risk of damaging the muscles and joints. When tight muscles are used suddenly for a strenuous activity that stretches them, such as running, they may become damaged from suddenly being stretched beyond their capability. This can result in the muscle tearing or not being strong enough to support the surrounding joint/s, leading to joint damage.
Where to Start - With so many different muscles and muscle groups in the body, knowing where to begin can be quite overwhelming. The three big muscle groups you want to focus on are:
LEGS - This is the biggest muscle group in your body and requires the majority of your attention. Tight leg muscles can have a big impact on your training and in your general day to day activity. Whether it’s your quads or hamstrings, we have no choice but to use our legs daily when we walk, run, stand even sitting on the toilet involves our leg muscles.
BACK - The back is the second largest cluster of muscles. Unlike the legs which are made of 2 large muscles, the back consists of several smaller muscles and a larger muscle. This can make it a little harder to stretch, but it also is a source of stress and pain if tight.
CHEST - The chest still needs some attention despite being smaller than both legs and back. A tight chest can lead your shoulders to roll over and your back start to hunch over.
Proper Execution is Key - Hold a stretch for 30 seconds. Don’t bounce as this can be a major cause of injury. You should feel tension during your stretching, but you shouldn’t feel any pain.
There are two types of stretching for your session at the gym:
Dynamic Stretching - Should be utilised before your main work out and play an integral role in your warm up. Dynamic stretching prepares your muscles to work and increases their core temperature. The advantage of this type of stretching before your workout is that they gently work your muscles up to their full range of motion instead of holding a maximum stretch.
Static Stretching - Should be utilised after your workout is over. This type of stretching helps to alleviate tight muscles and should be held between 20-90 seconds for each. Static stretching helps the muscles cool down, and they should be repeated until you feel the tension leaving your muscles.
Get moving with some basic stretches for your legs:
RECLINED HAMSTRING STRETCH - Lie on your back. Raise your left leg as high as you can keeping your pelvis flat on the ground. Hold your lower thigh and slowly pull the leg towards your head. To stretch your calves as well, try to flex your foot towards your shin. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat with right leg.
BASIC QUAD STRETCH - Stand on right leg with your knees touching (if you need help balancing hold onto a chair or wall). Grab your left foot with your left hand and pull toward your butt keeping your chest upright. Repeat on the right side.
Stretching increases the blood flow to the muscle, decreases the risk of injury, improves performance and enables your muscles to work more efficiently. Start to enjoy the ritual of stretching and work it into your daily routine, so it’s not pushed to the back of your mind!