The Benefits of Stretching: The Forgotten Aspect of Fitness
Physical fitness consists of three equally important aspects; cardiovascular fitness, strength and flexibility. So why do we focus on two of them and neglect the third? If you're guilty of skipping your stretches or are in the habit of doing the same few quick ones after your run or gym session let me convince you to set aside at least a day or two a week to focus on flexibility.
There are four factors which contribute to a persons flexibility; joint structure, segment length (e.g. body proportions), muscle elasticity and nervous system response. While you can't change your joint structure or segment lengths you can make positive changes in muscle elasticity and nervous system response. So it might be more challenging for some people than others, especially if you have a history of injuries but despite this, stretching is for everybody! Everybody can get bendier and here's why you should:
1. It reduces injury risk: the more flexible you are the better your body can absorb unexpected impacts or awkward movements that would often cause injury e.g. slips, falls, bumps, twists. If a muscle is very tight, even a small impact or stretch may cause an injury such as a strain or tear but if it can stretch far enough to absorb the demand placed on it, the risk of injury is low.
2. It improves sporting/exercise performance: range of motion has a massive impact on a persons ability to perform many of the movement patterns used in many sports- not just when competing but also when training. Strength and power training basics require people to be able to squat, deadlift, perform exercises overhead etc. I could go on forever. In many of these movements you need a good range of motion in order to perform exercises safely and to be able to recruit the right muscles effectively. There is also research suggesting that regular stretching reduces DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) from exercise. Although, it is worth noting that you should never perform static stretches before explosive exercise or competition as short-term it reduces muscle power production.
3. It can reduce back pain: I constantly see people who suffer from back pain through my work with the Musculoskeletal Clinic and every single one of them says that they feel stiff- especially first thing in the morning. However, often the fear of making the pain worse stops them from exercising at all which makes them less flexible and it becomes a vicious circle. Regular mobility exercises especially first thing in the morning, paired with static stretching to improve flexibility long-term can reduce pain and decrease the chance of flare-ups in the future.
4. It makes you feel better and looks awesome! Come on, who doesn't think it looks cool to be able to do the splits? Or do those arm balances with your legs above your head (I'm still working on that one)! Plus taking some time out to stretch is great for your well-being. Whether you do it in front of the TV or take some silent time out for yourself it can be great for reducing stress and anxiety, improving your mood and can even help you to sleep better.
Personal training doesn't have to be weight training or cardio, it can also be mobility drills and assisted stretching- it's your time to ask your trainer to help you improve any aspect of your physical health that you want.
If you would like to be added to my stretch group on Facebook for regular stretching videos please get in touch. I also teach a stretch class at Corbridge Parish Hall at 9:30am on Wednesdays for £5 everybody is welcome.