The Importance of Stretching
The first thing most people do when they get to the gym is stretch! This is great in theory, but we want to ensure that we are preparing the body for the stress it will endure during a workout. I am not only talking about if you are doing a HIIT workout or even heavy lifting. Anyone placing his or her body under stress induced by physical exertion needs to warm up their body by getting that the heart rate up a little and increasing the blood flow to the muscles!
When it comes to stretching, there are two main types: static and dynamic. Although it is often overlooked, stretching is a vital aspect of fitness. Reason being, stretching helps maintain optimum ROM (range of motion) in the body and prevents muscle from tightening. For example, you may notice when people who are transitioning from a sedentary lifestyle tend to have difficulty doing certain movements such as squats properly because their muscles lack the elasticity to reach the standard 90-degree squat. To correct such problems, it is important to start any kind of physical activity by warming up the body. How do you warm up before exercising? By simply performing some sort of dynamic stretching.
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Dynamic stretching is simply movement-based stretching of any kind that mimics the physical activity that follows. Examples include walking, jumping jacks, arms circles, air squats, high knees, and butt kicks to name a few. Dynamic stretching is best utilized when the body is cold. By getting the heart rate up and sending blood to the muscles, you prevent injury by loosening up the muscle fibers within the muscles which can greatly increase performance and lower the risk of injury. Once the full exercise session is complete, it is good practice to cool the muscles down to help reduce muscle stiffness and soreness.
This is done by performing static stretching. Static stretching is basically an eccentric pull of a muscle group that is held for an extended amount of time. The most common mistake when it comes to stretching is that people often do static stretching before physical activity instead of after. With that being said, research has shown that static stretching before exercising can reduce performance while also increasing the likelihood of minor injuries, but when static stretching is utilized correctly it can greatly increase the athletes performance by enhancing flexibility and increasing joint ROM. Proper placement of dynamic and static stretching are critical when it comes to safety in fitness. The risk of injury should be kept to a minimum by properly warming up and cooling down the body. It’s highly recommended that people transitioning from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one should warm up and cool down before and after each workout because those who are sedentary are more likely to undergo muscle strains, the body’s muscles are tight which impacts the joint’s range of motion greatly, thus resulting in poor execution with certain exercises. When it comes to dynamic stretching, take 3-5 mins before the workout to get the body warm.
Make sure the movements performed covers all the muscle groups that are going to be engaged during the activity. If you’re going to be doing squats of any kind, knockout some air squats or weightless walking lunges to get the blood in the legs flowing. The same applies if you are doing bench press. Hit some warm up reps with the bar or lighter weight that you’re going to be working with. Once the workout is complete, perform static stretching to cool down the muscle groups used. For 20-45 seconds, hold a pose that elongates the muscle group. After squats, it would be ideal to stretch out the quads, hamstrings, and hips to reduce the soreness or stiffness that may come after a taxing workout. No matter what fitness level you exhibit, stretching is a vital tool to help improve and maintain your body’s peak performance.
The soreness we all experience after hitting the gym hard or knocking out some much needed yard work is because of the lactic acid build up in the muscles. Long story short when we workout and put or muscles through the ringer we lose our breath. This is because our muscle need oxygen (O2) to undergo several cellular reactions to produce energy. Some might now that as ATP. When we get to the point where our muscles do not have enough O2 to keep up with the demand it will undergo a process known as anaerobic respiration. This is the process which our body can create energy without O2. The by product is lactic acid.
This is where static stretching comes in. We stretch out the muscles after a workout to elongate the muscles promote blood flow which will carry nutrients in and wastes out promoting muscle growth and recovery.
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