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Stretching not only improves appearance, lengthens muscles, and gives that lean, toned look on stage, but it also improves fitness and health. It is the ultimate for preventing injuries; in fact, at least 50% fewer overextension injuries are reported with athletes who use a regular stretching routine compared to those who don't! Stretching is a great warmup or cooldown and improves muscular coordination, as well as prevents soreness and promotes faster recovery.
Who should stretch?
Everybody can benefit from the positive aspects of stretching! The best thing to do is to follow a regular stretching routine or program of stretching exercises. Any age of person can stretch and benefit from the baby to great-grandpa. All athletes should obviously include stretching along with their training...even many professional teams now have a flexibility trainer. Granted, some people are stretchier than others...but that's no excuse! Women are usually more flexible than men, children more flexible than adults...but you already knew that right?
Why should you stretch?
For one thing, jump on the bandwagon...many champions in bodybuilding, sports, and olympics use regular stretching routines. Look at Lee Haney, Tom Platz, David Robinson, John Stockton, Shannon Sharpe, Mike Johnson...just to name a few...in fact, I bet pretty much every professional athlete stretches! But, what are the real reasons to stretch? What benefits does more flexibility give you?
- "It builds bigger, better-quality muscles." --Boyer Coe (World Pro Grand Prix Champion)
- Stretching helps prevent postural problems.
- It results in far less muscle-pulling overextension injuries compared to not stretching.
- Simple stretches increase range of motion.
- It improves muscle appearance.
- Flexibilty exercises help prevent overuse injuries from occuring.
- Stretching gives you more flexibility, which prevents soreness, allowing for faster recovery and better muscle growth.
- Stretching allows for a more active lifestyle later in life.
- It invigorates the circulatory, respiratory and neuromuscular systems.
When should you stretch?
The best of the best will tell you that stretching will improve appearance, flexibility, health, and overall performance. First, warm-up for 5-10 minutes at a low intensity (such as the elliptical machine, exercise bike, or treading mill) and stretch the muscles used. If your workout time allows it, a cardiovascular exercise for at least 20 minutes at a faster pace is recommended. Then, a 5-10 minute cooldown at low intensity should be completed. cool down for 5-10 minutes at a low intensity (50-60 percent of your maximum heart rate). Now that you've warmed up, you should stretch every major muscle group.
Best case scenario is to stretch every single day for a minimum of 10-15 minutes. At the least, 3-4 times per week. A 10-15 minute stretching warmup is preferrable. In addition, recuperation can greatly be increased when one stretches 10-15 minutes as a cooldown. Another good time to stretch is right before bed. It relaxes the muscles and will help you unwind from the tension of the day and have a good night's sleep.
Stretch between weightlifting sets to keep your muscles flexible and "loose". Your muscles will appreciate the added rest and recuperation given to them between sets when the static stretching principle is applied. If your pressed for time (nearly all of us are) then the best stretching routine may be to do a light warm up (maybe 5-10 minutes on the bike), then proceed with your usual workout, stretching between sets as you go. When you are done with your workout, you will have thoroughly stretched all of the major muscle groups without taking up much additional time. If you apply this method, it will soon become a subconscious event to stretch in between sets and exercises.
How should you stretch?
Stretching should not include bouncing, it should be gentle, slow, and controlled if you want to receive most of the benefits. This type of stretching is called static stretching. We recommend static stretching for all the major muscle groups.
Bouncing seems like it would be effective, but it actually causes your muscles to slightly flex as a reflex to the bounce. Also, it's better if you gradually ease into the stretch, so as to not pull or injure any muscle fibers. It's not uncommon to take 30-60 seconds to ease to the point of your stretch. This maximum point is what experts refer to as the "pain edge". Once you find this maximum point, try and hold the stretch a little less than the point of feeling pain. That is your stretch zone and it's where you should strive to hold the stretch (not any further), working up to 2 minutes of holding.
Keep your beathing soft and consistent in a normal rhythm during the hold. Relax and move on to the next movement. Over time, you will gain more flexibility and be able to stretch further with more comfort.