Stretching is the basic stimuli when it comes to physical exercise or training. We have been told for years that stretching is an essential part of a fitness program to make sure the body is properly prepared for any physical activity. However, what stretchers should we practice? When is the best time to stretch, before or after a workout? Are there any real benefits of stretching? These are the questions we’ll be looking at within this article.
What happens when you stretch?
Cats know that it’s not their paws that help them climb safely over walls or jump over obstacles, rather their great flexibility. But from where does this flexibility come from?
A muscle fiber is composed of several sarcomeres (the basic unit of contraction in the muscle fiber) connected together, in turn, many muscle fibers join together to make a whole muscle. In a normal state, these muscle fibers are closely packed with each other and are thus pretty disorganized.
Stretching is a physical exercise that tends to deliberately contract or flex the muscle in such a way that it lengthens or achieves comfortable muscle tone. Stretching helps the body to realign any disorganised fibers in the direction of tension. Stretched muscles are thus more toned, flexible and pliable.
Why is stretching beneficial?
Warming up or stretching is a cornerstone to staying alert and flexible, especially if you are sedentary during the day or exercising right after waking up. Warm-ups prime your body for performance i.e. regulates the brain and heart for increased delivery of blood, oxygen and nutrients. Stretching is the best way to prevent soreness, decrease the risk of injuries and enhances performance.
What stretch is best?
There are two different stretches; static and dynamic. Static stretching is a pre-exercise workout that is usually held for 30 seconds or more in the same position (think of toe touching while standing). Recommendations to either static stretch or not, change from year to year, and from expert to expert. As some believe it actually hinders physical performance while others tend to think that it does have its own benefits such as improve flexibility and posture.
On other hand dynamic or PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitations) stretching involves active movements that tend to resemble an actual workout or sport-specific actions e.g. walking lunges, butt kicks and hip circles.
The active motion during a dynamic stretch helps maintain your body at a higher core temperature as well as a cardio warm-up. Research indicates that dynamic stretching improves your muscle strength, an-aerobic capacity, agility and overall performance and it is safer and more effective way to prepare your body for the activity to come.
Most of the researchers, however now believe that static stretching is most beneficial during the cool down phase, i.e. after a training session as the muscles are more pliable when they are warm and dynamic stretching before any workout will minimize the chances of injury and tend to maintain the balance in body mechanics.