Mild stretching exercises, Myofascial Release and Dynamic Stretching can follow the circulatory warm-up. A proper stretch at the beginning and end of your workout can improve flexibility, function, and performance, as well as reduce injuries. The muscles are still not as warm as they should be, therefore, more intense stretching is better left for the end of the workout. Warm tissues stretch more easily, providing more permanent results and less risk of injury. Although athletes may require this phase, non-ballistic activities like walking, swimming and cycling may not require a stretching warm-up. Just start slowly and gradually build intensity as your body warms up. Stretching cold is worse than not stretching at all. If your time is limited, save your stretching until the end of your workout.
Fascia is a thin tissue that covers all the organs of the body. It covers every muscle and every fiber in each muscle. You store stress and tension in your muscles and connective tissue. This causes them to become stiff and locked which results in discomfort and pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, “It is thought that tightness within the fascia (connective tissues) causes restriction of muscle and other tissues, resulting in back pain and loss of motion. Injuries, stress, inflammation, trauma and poor posture supposedly contribute to this tightness.” Myofascial Release loosens and frees this connective tissue. This means that any physical condition the tightness of the fascia is exaggerating can be relieved by Myofascial Release. This is thought to include fibromyalgia, a slew of muscular and joint pains, fatigue, tensions, and even some of the physical side effects of old age. It is also thought to help with injuries and other sustained physical damage.
Myofascial release is used to equalize muscle tension throughout the body. You use your own body weight to roll on a round foam roller to improve muscular balance and performance. This technique massages away restrictions to normal soft tissue extensibility. Simply by using your own body weight on the rolls, you will be reducing pain and tension, and restoring normal muscle length and balance. Optimum muscle balance helps to provide optimum joint motion leading to optimum performance.
Dynamic Stretching involves moving slowly and with control through a range of motion with the goal of improving the joint’s functional capacity for movement. You must have completed a thermal warm-up for this to be safe. To make it effective it should be multi-directional, and challenge your stability and coordination. For example, in a lunging calf stretch (gastrocnemius), slowly bend your back knee, lifting your heel off the floor. Now straighten the knee slowly and press the heel back into the floor. Repeat several times. Other examples are: walking knee hugs, cross-overs (grapevine), elbow to instep, lateral lunges, walking quad pulls, skips, and walking forward kicks.
The final stretch is the last segment of your workout and should consist of five to fifteen minutes of myofascial release, stretching and relaxation exercises. This will improve your flexibility and may reduce the chance of delayed onset muscle soreness. Since your muscles and connective tissue are completely warm, it is okay to stretch using more tension than you did in the stretching warm-up. Always move slowly into the stretched position, hold at least 10 seconds and release slowly from the position. In addition to increasing or maintaining flexibility, this stretching serves as a final cool-down from the aerobic and muscular conditioning exercises. After the final stretch you should feel slightly fatigued but not exhausted. Your body temperature and heart rate should be close to your resting levels and the majority of perspiration should have evaporated.
Benefits of a Proper Stretching Program
• Improved posture and body symmetry
• Increased range of motion for each joint
• Minimize low back pain and problems
• Delay onset of muscle fatigue
• Minimize soreness
• Promote relaxation and reduce anxiety
Types of Stretching
Consists of quick, repetitive, bouncing type movements. Although this method is somewhat effective, the increased range of motion is achieved through a series of jerks and pulls on the resistant muscle tissue. The momentum can result in damage to muscle and connective tissue and may be responsible for increased muscle soreness.
Involves gradually going into a position of stretch until tension is felt. The position is then held for ten to thirty seconds or even longer. Optimal gains have been reported with four sets of 12-18 seconds per stretch. If your time is limited, hold each stretch 10-15 seconds. Since static stretching is more controlled, there is less chance of exceeding the limits of the tissue thereby creating injury.
Involves moving slowly and with control through a range of motion. You must have completed a thermal warm-up for this to be safe. For example, in a lunging calf stretch (gastrocnemius), slowly bend your back knee, lifting your heel off the floor. Now straighten the knee slowly and press the heel back into the floor. Repeat several times.
Contract and Relax:
This method involve contraction of muscles or muscle groups for five to ten seconds followed by relaxing and stretching. Traditionally, this procedure has been utilized by therapists and personal trainers for rehabilitation purposes. If carefully instructed and supervised, contract/relax methods can be effective in flexibility programs. Some of the positions require a partner, however, which increases the risk of overstretching and consequent injury.
Sport Specific Stretching methods simulate the positions required for your sport. Gymnastics and Football are examples of sports that require extreme positions and possible force. A specific stretching program can prepare the body for this trauma.
General Rules for Stretching Safely
Avoid extreme hyperextension of the Spine:
(arching the back)-This position places the back in a vulnerable position. The disks pull away in the front and spinal processes can grind against each other. A small amount of active and passive back extension is necessary to maintain back health. A cautious approach is necessary to avoid injury.
Avoid Forceful Locking of any Joint:
When stretching, performing muscular conditioning exercises, lifting weights, or any other activity it is important to keep the knees and other joints "softened" to guard against unnecessary stretching or tearing of ligaments and connective tissue.
Never Force a Movement:
Do not place your body in unnatural positions and do not perform movements which cause discomfort. Notice signs that you may be overextending your limits.