Stretching is an essential part of any fitness routine, playing a key role in the preparation and recovery of the body that will dictate the effectiveness of the work out itself. Without stretching the body will feel the negative effects of fitness through muscle strain, soreness and light-headedness. Stretching will not only make the body more flexible but it will also reduce the recovery time for the muscles between work outs by helping the muscles to contract, shrink and stretch out.
Yet stretching itself has various levels and kinds depending on the type of workout planned and the desired outcome. There are several kinds of stretching forms available each with their own benefits for the body.
Static stretches – involves slow, gradual stretching movements used during the cool down to assist in helping the muscles realign muscle fibres and return to a normal range of movement. Static stretches can also be used to improve flexibility simply by increasing the hold time of the stretch, with the general rule of thumb being 10 seconds for a cool down and 30 seconds for a lengthening stretch.
Dynamic stretches – suited for a warm up, these involve stretching out muscles and cutting down stiffness. Usually a stretching through motions or swinging of the limbs to warm the joints.
Ballistic stretches – generally reserved for athletes or those with high fitness, this style pushes the limbs and muscles beyond its normal range of motion through bouncing motions. Basically it is when a double bounce is performed at the end range of movement to encourage greater overall movement.
Passive stretches – similar to static stretching but where the body is stretch and held into position by other part of the body (such as one arm holding another in place)
Active stretches – this is where the stretch is held without any assistance from other limbs
Warm ups are an important part of any exercise regime that prepare the body to perform at its best physical level during the following workout.
The warm up is a crucial part of any fitness routine or work out as it essentially prepares the body for the impending exercise and stress therefore allowing minimal strain or jarring of the body’s muscles and joints. Additionally, a quick warm up before exercise will minimise any muscle stiffness post work out which is thought to be directly related to muscle injury.
Essentially there are three types of warms ups design to prepare the body targeting different areas. There is the warming of the joints through stretching, raising of the pulse and heart rate and drills or sport-related activity.
Notable benefits of the warm up include:
Increases heart rate, releases adrenaline and enables oxygen to travel through the blood at a greater speed which then allows the muscles to fatigue slower and provide greater synovial fluid between the joints recuing friction
Speeds up the rate of contraction and relaxation of warmed muscles
Reduces muscle stiffness
Increase in the actual temperature of the muscles, allowing for thinning of the blood for greater flow around the body and transportation of oxygen. This warming up will also allow for the muscles fibres have greater extensibility and elasticity.
Increased metabolic rate
Greater enzyme activity
Better flexibility during the workout
Increase in speed of nerve impulse conduction
The benefits of the cool down are easily apparent the days following a fitness work out especially when compared to those days when you do not stretch afterwards as there will be a significant difference in the soreness and tight feeling in the muscles.
When talking of the cool down period, what is meant if the ten minutes of so following a workout where the heart rate begins to slow and the body starts to recover. This is the critical time for the redistribution of blood throughout your body to allow maximum recovery.
Notable benefits of the cool down include:
Reduced effects of DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness)
Heart rate returns to normal pace and reduces ‘racing’ feeling
Allows body to expel the level of adrenaline in the blood and lactic acid
Reduces possibility of feeling light-headed by giving blood the chance to move away from limbs back towards the head and core of the body