If you’re reading this and in your 20’s and NOT stretching, then just start right now. I can tell you that even though I’ve never felt stronger in my 30’s, my flexibility remains a constant challenge for me. In fact it almost hinders my progress at times, and can be frustrating. It’s never too late to start, so if you’re in your 40’s then start.
I doubt I’m alone here, and I could almost guarantee that’s what most peoples aches and pains would span from their inflexibility. And I’m here to tell you that through experience of my own body and that of other clients, poor mobility first and then lack of strength in muscle is very common.
Stretching and Flexibility
Why is it so important and what are the major benefits of undertaking a flexibility program? Ask a professional athlete why it’s important? They may say because they’re always exercising. Why are we any different as civilians? If you’re an arm chair athlete, it’s just as, if not more important, because you’re probably not getting enough exercise as it is. At the very least you should be working on this element of your fitness.
Flexibility is basically range of motion (ROM) around a joint, such as the knee joint. The major limiting factor of ROM is the makeup of the joint. The main reason for this variability in ROM is the elasticity in the muscles and the tendons that lie close to the joints.
For instance someone with a sore lower back is usually candidate to having tight hamstring muscles. When the hamstrings are tight they pull unnecessarily on the lower back muscle causing imbalances and strain.
Flexibility exercises help in altering the elasticity of muscles and tendons. Stretching exercises help in balancing the muscles and tendons associated with the joints. Sounds like a good thing right? So what are the other 5 benefits?
1) Decreases Risks of Injury
Flexibility exercises increase the range of motion of the joints and decreases the risk of injury. Stretching also reduces resistance in tissues and thus reduces the chances of injury by increasing tissue extensibility during activity.
Thus regularly stretching will increase your overall physical performance whether you’re a pro athlete, gym junkie or home exerciser.
2) Helps to improve posture
Flexibility exercises develop muscular balance and improve posture. As a result of gravity and improper postural habits the soft tissues of the body become poorly adapted.
Stretching helps in realigning soft tissue structures and maintenance of good posture during daily activities.
3) Helps to improve blood supply to body tissues.
Another important benefit of stretching is that it increases the amount of blood supplied to the body tissues. Especially to the joint structures and this may aid in the prevention of diseases such as arthritis.
As a result of stretching, the tissue temperature increases, after which the blood circulation also increases. This enhances the elasticity of tissues surrounding the joints and will improve performance in the gym and during everyday activities.
Think of it like the oil in your cars moving parts, specifically the engine. Like your muscles (the body’s engines) It needs to warm up and lubricate before it get’s to full speed. The body releases joint synovial fluid- a lubricating fluid (like oil) for your joints.
4) Helps to improve supply of nutrients.
The increase in blood circulation boosts the amount of nutrients transferred to the tissue. Blood transports nutrition, regardless of the quality, so be sure to consume quality nutrition… given.
Regular stretching promotes the transportation of nutrients to the cartilage of the joints which will inevitably increase the range of motion and also decrease joint degeneration because it’s getting quality nutrition.
It seems logical to me now, but so many think that nutrition is only linked being overweight. But I can tell you know that joint disease is also helped along by poor nutrition.
5) Helps to improve muscle coordination.
Flexibility training helps to improve neuro-muscular coordination. Improving motor skills and your biomechanics (the performance of your movement) is heavily related your flexibility too.
The time taken to carry a message to the brain and then feed back again improves with regular stretching. As a result the contrasting groups of muscles work in a more coordinated and balanced manner. Seems logical right?
If you’re back is bent over the CNS (central nervous system) where those messages travel may get hindered. Contrast that to those who have a stronger upright back, who would most likely be able to function better.
I’ll use the example of bending a water hose while it’s turned on? The water gets blocked. The same would happen if you’re muscles where tight enough to restrict the message from your brain back to your body. You function is definitely hindered.
Flexibility training or stretching also decreases the soreness of muscles, for better recovery. It also helps to relax both the body and the mind and brings about a sense of general well-being.
Stretching – MAKE time for it!
I was once told by my myotherapist to just do some stretches whilst you’re wait for the kettle to boil. Good advice I think. So while you’re watching the TV or standing wait for the phone call. Make the most of that time to incorporate some gentle stretches daily.
While most will cry to the doctor at first sign’s of aches/pains, I would also be looking for a long term solution through regular stretching and mobilization.
Either way, you should try and incorporate a flexibility program in your daily life, and aim for a minimum of 10 minutes per day. But what kind exactly? Just like writing fitness program, every body is different and there are a few types of stretching, so be sure to get consulted on the right type for you.
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