Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Benefits of Stretching and Flexibility

The following is the text of the presentation I gave in Biomechanics yesterday. We were all supposed to pick a topic based on things we'd learned about doing the year, and it was fun to hear and see all of the wide variety! I also did some examples of different stretches throughout the presentation. Please note: I don't necessarily endorse the websites I've linked to and that I got information about stretching off of.

Stretching is good for everyone, not just dancers or athletes, as you shall learn as you read the following!

As we all know, there are many benefits of stretching. Though at first you may not be able to stretch very far, it’s encouraging to see how a wide range of flexibility can be gradually developed.

According to About.exercise.com in the article "Why You Need to Stretch," flexibility is important so that your joints will be able to move through a wide range of motion. This flexibility enables you to “move smoothly, avoid muscle tension, and to keep your body protected from injury.” The little time it takes to stretch and stay in shape is definitely worth preventing an injury and being in better overall health!

Stretching also brings with it a lot of benefits. In the article “Stretch Your Limits” from About.exercise.com, it says that stretching reduces soreness (for example, when you stretch after hard workouts, like before bed, it helps you not feel so bad the next morning), makes you perform better, increases the blood flow to the body, improves your coordination, keeps you active and mobile – which is especially important as you age! – and best of all, it feels good!

In addition, stretching can also help your mental health! On the website “Stretching Routines: Tips and Advice” it says that consistent stretching improves the circulatory system, which puts people in a positive and better over-all frame of mind. The increased amount of blood and oxygen in the brain caused by stretching increases our capacity to learn and think and helps us make decisions and judge things better!

Though the positions of various stretches won’t feel like the most comfortable things in the world, it’s also important that you don’t hurt yourself by overdoing it while stretching. If the stretch really hurts, get out of it. You don’t want to tear or strain something. At the same time, you need to push yourself beyond what is comfortable in order to progress in flexibility. For example, if you can't touch your toes, you should keep trying to reach further down. If you can comfortable touch your toes, aim to be able to put your hands flat on the floor and put your nose to your knee. You can always progress!

Another important thing is that you stretch warm muscles, for stretching cold muscles can cause injury. For this reason, it’s often suggested that you stretch at the end of your exercises, or at least during your routine, after you’ve done a warm-up. You’re also never supposed to bounce when you stretch, for this can cause you to pull a muscle. The proper way to stretch, according to Exercise.About.com in the article “Why You Need to Stretch,” is that you should go down until you feel a gentle pull.

So, how long do you need to stretch? A quick down and up usually won’t accomplish many lasting benefits. According to Tree of Fitness, Inc, the most effective way to increase a muscle’s flexibility is to hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds while breathing smoothly and attempting to relax. When you stretch, a muscle’s first reaction is to get tense, so stretching for a longer period of time gives it the opportunity to relax and lengthen.

There are 4 basic types of stretch techniques spelled out on ExRx.net, the “Exercise Prescription on the Net”:
Ballistic – repetitive bouncing movements, abandoned because of safety concerns
Dynamic – mimics a specific exercise, exaggerated but controlled
Static – passively stretching a muscle by holding it in the maximum it can go for an extended period of time
PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) – with the help of a partner, altering the contraction and relaxation of both agonist and antagonist muscles

The key to becoming very flexible is being consistent and not giving up. Progress will happen a little at a time. You can’t expect to be able to do the splits or touch your toes overnight, but if you consistently stretch, you’ll find that you’ll be able to do it after a while. All-in-all, being flexible is fun! *At this point I cartwheeled into the splits. =)


Ella said...

I am not that flexible =) But I do try to stretch out my muscles. My chiropractor wants me to stretch my ankle tendons so I can adjust better. It is helping!

PoetLady said...

Wow, Anna, you're like a piece of spaghetti. Very impressive:)Flexibility is something I need to work on more!

We'll see you tomorrow.

Your sister,

Lexie said...

I try to gain better flexibility so I do pilates and yoga to help me gain better flexibility.

Harmony said...

Thank you so much for your post! I am the most unflexible person you could ever meet. When I reach down in the "touch your toes" position my hands barely make it to the middle of my shins! I sometimes get on a stretching "kick" and will try stretches every evening for a couple of days or so, but get discouraged whenever I don't see immediate progress. (Me? Impatient? Why do you ask?) But your post has inspired me to stick with it and keep stretching. Maybe someday I'll actually be able to stretch farther than an inch!

Maria Pauline said...

Oddly enough, I recognized much of this from my fitness course...