You probably see many athletes doing some stretching such as bends, extensions and movement repetitions before their games. You see this in warm-up sessions for basketball where players sit on the ground, legs extended and arms reaching as far forward as possible. You can also see this when ballerinas are about to dance, when they stretch their legs to their full length, one at a time. There are two primary benefits to stretching: stretching lets your joints achieve its full range of motion and it also helps you avoid injury while moving. By giving you more flexibility in your motion, you are able to move more efficiently and in an easier manner. For instance if you regularly hike, it would help to stretch your Achilles tendon before every hike in order to keep it more flexible. This reduces tightness in the area and over time may help you avoid tendonitis or tendinopathy in the area. Stretching is also said to improve blood flow to the muscles.
Stretching is also a good routine to condition your mind before brisk activity. It lets you concentrate on your body and gives you a relative mental quiet to help you prepare for the activity ahead. Over time, you may learn to enjoy the little ritual and incorporating it in the routine will be very easy.
Stretching itself can lead to injury however if not done properly. Consider the following pointers to ensure that you are doing your stretching correctly.
- Warm-up before you stretch. Stretching should not be considered a warm up activity. They are two separate parts of your exercise so consider warming up with a light jog or a brisk walk before you stretch your muscles.
- Do not do stretching prior to an intense activity. If you plan on doing a sprint or track and field activities, it is best to skip stretching because some suggest that this could do more harm than good.
- Stretch major muscle groups. Major muscle groups include the calves, the hip muscles, the shoulder area and the lower back. What you do one side of your body should also be done on the other.
- Hold each stretch for 30 seconds. Holding it for 30 seconds makes sure the stretch sets in. you can repeat each stretch for about 3-4 times. You should also avoid bouncing to prevent the risk of muscle tears.
- Don’t stretch until it’s painful. Pain is not the objective here. Your stretching exercises should still be comfortable and if it begins to be painful, then you’re probably doing it wrong.